Eddie Argos: The obviate media Interview

Interview by Brendan Hilliard
Transcription assistance by Mike Ross

Eddie Argos and Dyan Valdes of Everybody Was in the French Resistance…Now!

Eddie Argos, the frontman known best for the three albums with his band Art Brut, has returned with another project titled Everybody Was in the French Resistance…Now!. The group, including keyboardist Dyan Valdes and Art Brut guitarist Ian Catskilkin, is on the road in support of Fixin’ The Charts, Volume 1, an album full of ‘response songs’ to tracks like Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. Eddie took a few minutes out of his busy day to chat with obviate before the band played Schuba’s on Thursday evening.

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I’m from Chicago, and it seems to me that with Art Brut has played here quite often in the past year – including that five night residency at Schuba’s last June. What keeps you coming back to the city with such frequency?

Well, we like Chicago a lot. We did maybe overkill it a little bit. What, we played Chicago eleven times last year? Five at the residency, we played the Green Festival, and then a few others. So yeah, we like Chicago. It was good to place the residency at Schuba’s, but the fact that I got to try everything on the menu, I quite liked that. They have a very nice french onion soup there.

That’s excellent. I saw you at Lincoln Hall last year. That was the only time we were able to get around.

Lincoln Hall? I like that venue. It’s the same guys that own Schuba’s.

What was the reason behind starting “Everybody was in the French Resistance…Now”? How did you choose the songs to write responses to?

I always write songs, really. I was in a car with Dyan [Valdes, Eddie’s bandmate and girlfriend] and that song “Jimmy Mack” came on the radio? I’ve always had a problem with that song. I think I’m quite a bad passenger in the car. I was like “I love the music, but she’s so terrible! She’s such a bitch! She said she’s gonna cheat on the boy unless he comes home.” It’s inappropriate ’cause it’s 1967, and the Vietnam War, so I was kind of grumpy about that. I think I was in Dyan’s head a little bit, so she said “Look, write some words down, and we’ll record them when home.” So, I spent the rest of the journey writing the words in my head, and being quiet. That was the trick. It was just fun to write and record that song. Then we thought we could do more responses. It was a fun challenge.

That’s pretty cool. Was there one in particular that was most fun to write a response to?

I really like Elastica, and I like Bob Dylan a lot. So there’s songs on the albums because I liked the bands. For the one I don’t like, were kind of more fun to write. The Avril Lavigne one was fun to write because it was telling her she’s got mental health problems.

Are there any particular differences that you find between touring England and the United States?

Obviously, America is much, much bigger. Even in Europe – we just drove from Seattle to Minneapolis, which is like three days pretty much, that’s a lot of driving. There’s no way you can do that, even in Europe. You’d be out on the side of it. That’s different America’s my favorite place to tour, really.

I like the culture, here. I like comics. I like…food. I like hanging out. It’s a fun place to play. Europe is too. I don’t know. I just like touring America. I like the way it’s different as you drive across it, yet everyone speaks the same language.

Is there any city in particular you like coming to?

We do love playing in Chicago. That’s why we’ve played it so much. I kind of live on the…west coast now. I had to think about that. West, yeah. [Laughs] I do really like playing on the East Coast.

…Yeah, I mean Chicago mainly, and I really like playing LA, it’s like a hometown show. Those places. We played Madison last night. That was kind of fun, because was quiet.

Madison’s kind of an interesting town. It’s kind of in the middle of the nowhere, but it’s kind of hip. I’ve liked it whenever I’ve been there.

I liked it there, it was good. It was kind of fun.

I know you like comic books, and May 1 was “Free Comic Book Day”. Was there anything you were able to pick it up then?

I knew it was Comic Book Day, because literally every year on Comic Book Day, I’m in a van hundreds of miles away from a comic book shop. That was the first day we drove from Seattle to Minneapolis. There was no comic book shops in North Dakota and Montana on that route. [Laughs]. I didn’t get any comic books this year, or last year. I was doing the same drive last year. Or maybe different part of the world. No free comic books for me this year.

That’s really depressing.

I mean, I bought a lot of comics…I bought the new Flash comic. That was pretty good. I think I’m going to try to find a comic book shop when I’m Chicago tomorrow.

There’s a lot of good shops for that here.

I’ve bought comics in Chicago before.

Quimby’s is a good alternative one in Wicker Park, if you ever get over there. Indie comics and stuff.

Oh, I’ve been there. We did pretty much live in Chicago last year. [Laughs]. We’re playing in Detroit tomorrow. It’s only a four-and-a-half hour drive. So, I think we might have time to take a look about before we take off.

You talked about all the comics you do like, but is there one that’s been absolutely terrible?

I like Mark Millar, who wrote a comic I really like, Superman: Red Son, which I thought was brilliant. I thought because of that, maybe Mark Millar was a really good writer. Then I read Wanted. There’s a film with it too. That was pretty much the worst one I’ve ever read. I read Kick-Ass, and I really didn’t like it. I haven’t seen the film yet. I’m still undecided on Mark Millar. I really like Red Son, but I think Wanted is probably the worst thing I’ve ever read in any format of anything. Book, signpost. Just terrible.

So, you’re in a bunch of bands. I think I counted eight when I was doing my research? Other than Art Brut and French Resistance, what other projects do you plan to record and tour with?

I think my main bands are French Resistance and Art Brut. I’ve got a band Glam Chops, which is just fun, really, because I really like glam music, and everyone in that band loves glam music.

Do you have any upcoming plans with Art Brut at this point?

Oh, yeah, we’ve just started writing the fourth album. Ian [Catskilkin, Art Brut guitarist] is in the French Resistance now, so we’re going to try to write some of the album on this year. It should be out later this year or early next year.

Is anyone producing in particular?

Hopefully Frank Black again. We met him lunch the other day and he seems into it. I like to I’d like to do it with, you know, “Black Francis” again.

He must have been a pretty interesting guy to work with.

He took us out for lunch in his car. He’s got a great big Cadillac. It was loads of fun. It made me really want to start recording an album with him. It felt weird, we were just hanging out [instead of making music]. I want to start recording a new album for Art Brut now! [Laughs]

What is your favorite show moment you’ve been a part of, both as a fan and performer?

We played a college place somewhere, Philadelphia. It was like a weird… just, like, college…  We played in a basement and there was a secret stash of beer in the laundry [room] they’d all be drinking. At the end of the show, the entire room fell over. It was so packed in. Literally everyone fell to the floor. But no one got hurt, which was very funny. I think that was my favorite moment of one of our shows. Watching an entire room of people fall over.

Shows to watch? I really like when people talk in between songs. I could watch John Darnielle from The Mountain Goats in particular. I could watch him just talk. Something like that, yeah. Mountain Goats.

What are you listening to as of late?

Future of the Left, I like them a lot, I listen to that. All of us have suddenly gotten into the Super Furry Animals again. I love the Super Furry Animals. I don’t think they’re very famous here though. Do you know of the Super Furry Animals?

Yeah, but I haven’t spent a lot of time listening to them. But they’ve been on my radar, for sure.

I thought I had all of their albums, but there was like three I didn’t have. We listen to them when we drive. In the van, I listen to a lot of Led Zeppelin that Ian plays.

Which records?

I don’t know, it’s a long drive, I think he has all of them. [Laughs]

Yeah, the Dakotas and that whole thing – it’s a long drive. There’s just nothing there. It’s really boring.

Super Furries are good for a bit.

So, I know you’re a big Replacements fan. If there’s one song you had to hold in higher regard to any others, what would it be?

Aw man, that’s impossible to say! Maybe “Here Comes A Regular”? I love that song. When I first started listening to the Replacements, when I first heard that song, it made me cry a little bit. It’s really embarrassing. I was like, on the train to meet Dyan for lunch. Oh, “Bastards of Young,” they’re all good. I can’t pick one.

There’s a guy in Chicago, whenever he comes to see us play, he brings me like, an amazing Replacements thing. Tonight, he’s bringing me a bootleg DVD of when they played in Amsterdam in 1991. I can’t wait to see that.

Wow! Their last show I think was the “Taste of Chicago” in July of ’91. I thought that was interesting.

Yeah, they did this whole thing where like, the handed the instruments to their roadies, or guitar technicians so the whole set ended with an whole entire different band playing the stage. The Replacements had left.

It Ain’t Over ‘Til the Fat Roadies Play, or something like that.

I think I’m getting a CD of that. It’s weird, when we did that residency in Chicago, every night someone would bring me a present with a home recorded Replacements thing. Chicago’s brilliant, you know? Where else would someone bring you presents like that? It’s awesome.

Six shows, Five days, One car

Things are a little less cloudy and my ears have stopped ringing. It turns out the pain I was experiencing was actually a developing ear infection and it’s slowed me down considerably until I went to the doctor and got some nifty antibiotics. I’m just going to ramble here, so if that’s not what you expected, it’s probably best to hit the “BACK” button on your browser right now.

The last week of the tour was probably the most fun I’ve had traveling to see The Hold Steady since I started leaving the region in summer of 2008. The band was incredibly, impossibly tight every night (I’ll admit, the addition of the new dudes left me having some doubts), but as soon as they kicked in with “Sweet Part of the City” that auspicious Tuesday night in Cleveland, it was GAME ON.

The song is a prelude. Think about it. “We were bored so we started a band. We’d like to play for you.” It’s a totally brilliant “welcome to the rock show” introduction.

Day 1

Cleveland, as attendees have previously reported, was a bit out of control. To point fingers – there were a group of kids (allegedly close to two-dozen) at the gig to celebrate their friend’s 21st birthday. No one really seemed to inform them that extreme, belligerent drunkenness pre-show may not be the healthiest decision for anyone. They didn’t respect personal space before the music began, which was the first issue, and the fact that they were openly antagonistic to bystanders was just too much. I can understand the lack of personal space while the music is going on, but before is a big no-no in my book. People were hit. There were the police. The band stopped. Craig said “It can’t possibly be worth it that much”. He was right.

Day 2

My first impressions of Pittsburgh: It’s a city with an east coast mentality featuring an impressive array of subcultures. To name a few: Hip-hop heads, crust punks, goth kids, indie rockers, and a hell of a lot of Penguins fans. I had plenty of time to people watch outside while I waited for doors to open. The venue, Diesel Club Lounge, was most certainly a dance club, and I couldn’t help but crack Wayne’s World jokes, as it reminded me of the place where Crucial Taunt played that revved-up version of “Ballroom Blitz”.

The show itself was certainly unique – a smattering of old jams and an abnormally high number of unreleased b-sides – “Criminal Fingers,” “Touchless” and for some, the why-isn’t-this-on-the-record WTF of “Goin’ On A Hike”. The first few rows of the crowd seemed to contain most of the jumping up and down and singing – while the back rows seemed to watch almost pensively.

Highlights of the evening – my buddy Whiskey Daisy finally hearing “Arms and Hearts” after close to twenty shows – totally special.Also, that ridiculously great steak sandwich I had at Primanti Brothers, post show. Oh my word. Steak. Cheese. Tomatoes. Cole Slaw. French Fries. ALL ON THE SANDWICH.

Day 3

The next morning, we headed for Morgantown, West Virginia. Our drive there was encumbered by an hour and a half long shutdown on I – 376/US 22 Monroeville. Turns out that there was a pretty bad accident where an SUV had flipped over several lanes of traffic. I found it easier just to blame the Canadian that was driving our car. Actually, that was our excuse for a lot of things that week.

Anyways: Morgantown. Very unique place. I made some cracks about meth-heads and Mountain Dew on Facebook, and got an earful about them before I got there. I now regret that. The show at 123 Pleasant Street (not surprisingly, on the street of the same address) was one of those tiny club shows that stick with you for ages. It was so small that rumor had it that there wasn’t a ‘traditional backstage’ area. The instruments were packed in so tight that Bobby had to jump over his drum kit to get behind it. My thoughts of this intimacy and closeness hearkened back to the Iowa City show at the Picador last April. The crowd was jacked that a band of THS’s caliber was in town, and everyone was excitable and great to be around. No brutality, just a lot of high fives.

These super small shows are where the Hold Steady really thrives. The energy is so concentrated and infectious and there’s an entirely different sense of togetherness compared to that at some of the larger shows.

A friend of mine wondered out loud if the band would play “Girls Like Status”. Some of us were skeptical. When the band unleashed in in the encore, it was great to see his face light up at the sound of the opening chords. It’s nice how things work out like that.

Day 4

Earlier in the week, someone mentioned to me “Jersey Mike? Mike Van Jura? That dude seems to know how to throw a party.”

Yes.

I remarked that I hadn’t been so excited for a music-related event since prom like I was for Harrisburg. That’s kind of the truth.

The family reunion vibe to this gig – the fact that so many US-ers had come in from all over the map and were mostly at the same hotel heightened the excitement. Jersey really pulled all the stops out for this one – the “Steadheads” flyers he dropped off in the hotel lobby – the “Stay Positive” symbol entrance stamp, the confetti cannon that didn’t quite work (no fault of his own). All totally silly and totally great ideas that led to the “THIS IS A BIG DEAL” feeling surrounding the show. We felt it. The band knew it, and they killed it.

To exhaust a tired statement: the bar band was back in the bar. It needs to be said. “Barfruit Blues,” “Most People are DJ’s,” and “The Swish” – all AKM era favorites, all perfect, sounding totally and completely infinite. Everything seemed to pop. (Download the recording of this show from the archive. Essential.) So sweaty, so much confetti, punctuated by a divine version of “Killer Parties”. Catching up with and meeting new people post-show was awesome. It makes me wish that more shows I attended were more like that. I’ll never forget that night. One for the ages.


Photo courtesy of Rich Tarbell

Day 5

New York was the perfect postscript to the storybook week that preceded it. Dually, it was the most ambitious day of Hold Steady show-going that any of us had undertaken. Why? It’s simple. Two shows, two venues in one night. One Hold Steady show can be a throughly exhausting physical and mental experience. Two, well, getcha’ Gatorade ready!

So, um, let’s call a spade a spade here and say that I’m ‘particular’ about when to arrive for shows. The fact that there were two shows at two different venues, (and that the doors for the second venue opened before the first show was even over) was a logistical nightmare. How could we possibly wrangle get close up for both?

By the time we arrived at Bowery Ballroom, I was shocked to see that there was a line of people that had arrived over an hour before us. I was astounded, and to tell you the truth, kind of impressed.

One of the guys in line got my attention immediately. A precocious young guy – ‘hollywasahoodrat’ on this board – had some seriously infectious enthusiasm. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s the fan of the future – a total encyclopedia. One moment still has me rolling: During the J. Roddy Walston and the Business set, he turned at me after he saw bassist Zach Westphal’s trademark mustache and exclaimed, “Oh, that’s delightful!”. Absolutely perfect.

Oh – a note about J. Roddy – there’s something richly authentic about them. From the piano rave ups, the huge choruses and the totally unbridled sexuality of their performances. No matter which way you swing, you sense it. They creep up behind an unsuspecting audience and shake them until they’re a bunch of believers. There’s no reason even try to fight it. Drink the Kool-Aid. It tastes good.

Back to the Hold Steady – it’s astounding how night and day different the show at Bowery felt compared to the show in Brooklyn at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. The Bowery show was very relaxed and the crowd seemed to ruminate every note. It’s rare, but that crowd seemed like they were there to appreciate the music more than participate in it. That’s fine. The setlist was conducive to that, especially starting with a stellar “Positive Jam”, the pleonastic (and that is not a complaint) “Cattle and the Creeping Things” to the sedate roll “A Slight Discomfort”.

Not to give the false impression that the show consisted of slower numbers, but they seemed to leave the most lasting impression at the first event of the evening.

We made the decision to split before the encore of the first show. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like going from rocking at maximum intensity to turning on your heels, wading through a crowd, running down two back staircases in the venue then right out into the street. We somehow flagged down a cab in under two minutes, have him be apprehensive about going into another borough, then spending another three minutes convincing him to drive us to Brooklyn to the show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. There was very little time to think about anything else then the task at hand. The five of us had a goal. Six minutes later we arrived at the venue, made it indoors, and to our amazement, found hardly anyone occupied the front area. At this point, you’re probably scoffing. That’s understandable. I don’t care though. It was a lot of fun. Another mission accomplished.

The Oranges Band opened up the second show, as they had all week for the Hold Steady. If you have not heard them, they are a really great, totally underrated group out of Baltimore. Lots of fun, hooky pop songs, including one called “Open Air”, that’s stuck in my head nearly two weeks later. Well worth checking out.

Just like that, The Hold Steady were suddenly on stage again to the strums of “Sweet Part of the City”. With the additional lighting on the stage and the energized crowd, it felt cinematic. I don’t know if the cameras there to capture the event were able to harness that feeling.

The set was peppered with old favorites – I’m assuming “The Swish” was there was a wink to the days when the band played there when venue was known as North Six – to unreleased tracks like “Goin’ on a Hike” and other nuggets like “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night”. My favorite moments came with the flashes of guitar interplay between Koob and Steve. The synchronized solos during “We Can Get Together” were Allman-esque (that’s meant to be complimentary) and the the double acoustic guitars to start “First Night and “Citrus” were a nice twist as well.

With one more set closing “Hoodrat,” it was over. I don’t know what else to say other than what I already said above. It was an amazing week with some great music, excellent friends, and some nice new faces.

I can’t wait to do it all over again.

The Eternal Mixtape Project

This is a project that I have been working on intermittently for years. Now, it’s something I want to put in action.

It’s called The Eternal Mixtape Project.

From when I was in elementary school up until the eighth grade, I didn’t have much use for music. However, when I got “Experience Hendrix: The Best of Jimi Hendrix,” when I was thirteen, my world completely changed.

I turn twenty-five this year. I feel that’s a good time to take stock of what’s happened in my life as I hit the quarter century mark. Why not look back on it with the songs that shaped me?

So, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to assemble a list of every song that’s meant any significance in my life thus far.

I want you to do it too.

Send it to us. Let’s hear your story. That’s the only catch. There needs to be a substantial story (at least a paragraph long) attached to each song that you must write along with it.

They’re due Saturday, March 20 Wednesday, March 31 by 12:00 AM CST. Sign up by placing a comment below, and when you’re done, e-mail the list to eternalmixtape@obviatemedia.net. They’ll all be listed on the site, and a prize will be awarded to the person who best exemplifies the idea of the project.

One more thing. There’s no song limit. It will be as long as it needs to be. Your life can’t be dictated by just a number. It’s all about the experiences you have.

In Defense of “Hot Legs” (sort of): Kelsey Pierson Reports

While Rod Stewart is completely washed up and has been reduced to recording the tenth-thousandth installment of “The Great Amercan Songbook,” his early recordings are damn good.

What I love about is the fact that it seems like he just sat down in his living room with a bunch of people who played instruments and said “I’m going to sing this Bob Dylan song, you play like this, and I’ll sing like that.” It’s all very organic for being an album that was wheeled out like a Kelly Clarkson album is today. It’s intimate, while being poppy enough to sell a lot of copies.

The guitars are always very open. Whoever is playing allows the instrument do it’s own thing and allows for the chords to ring out and carry while Stewart’s voice is almost restrained by his signature rasp. Both create a beautiful soft and hard blend. Here are a few essential and somewhat popular Rod Stewart tracks and why I love them so:

1. “Every Picture Tells A Story” (1970) – One of the feelings I get from this song is the idea of a beginning. Sure, the young man in the song is recounting his travels around the world, but the overall feel of the song reminds me of a guy who sloppily rolled out of bed and decided to change his life. The drums sound like a little kid haphazardly jumping into puddles after a hot summer rain while the steam rises from the sidewalk. The song is epic like the best Hollywood box office busters, and it’s really all because of the drums. It almost sounds like the guy doesn’t really know how to play, and the whole song sounds like at any second it could just stop working. It teeters on a slippery slope. Listen to for Stewart to come in too early at 3:47.

2. “Gasoline Alley” (1969) – This is a driving song. Although pretty much any song with the word “ride” or certainly “gasoline” would be an essential track on any driving mix, “Gasoline Alley” is a bit of a different animal. It’s not just a song about the journey like most great driving songs are, but about the longing for the destination. Stewart and the guitarist melt together into a song about wayfaring. Plus there’s a mandolin part, which sort of adds to the troubadour effect to the song, and the vocals kind of fade out during the last minute of the song, creating the effect that he made it back to Gasoline Alley and is walking away from the song.

3. “Mama, You Been on My Mind” (1971) – I can’t figure out if the woman he’s speaking to in this song is his mother, his girlfriend, or even a short-term lover. A rare Bob Dylan gem, the lyrics are sort of adorable, and whatever the relationship was, the overall message of “Mama, You Been on My Mind” simply spells out that no matter what kind of relationship this elusive mama had with the narrator, he’s thinking about her and seems apologetic that it didn’t work out. As friends often say to me “it is what it is,” and that is the note that Stewart’s performance leaves with me.