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.


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.

St. Vincent at Metro, 2/18/10

St. Vincent is for lovers.

Or, that’s what it seemed like Thursday night Metro, a post-Valentine’s smattering of pairs, tall and short, black and white, fat and skinny. To the guy behind me: I swear, if I overhear you again telling the obviously bored chick you’re with about how awesome your music collection transitions from Billy Holliday to the Dead Kennedys, I’ll smack you. The stench of your smugness discussing your Yo-Yo Ma jams was equally disgusting.

St. Vincent at Metro, Thursday February 18, 2010

All asides, Annie Clark’s nom-de-plume return to Chicago was nothing short of gorgeous. By that, I mean both the tunes AND the performer.

Her two albums – 2007’s Marry Me and last year’s Actor are two gems of strangely damaged pop music. They’re lush with jagged, uneven soundscapes, nestled with her delicate falsetto. It’s like an angel narrating your nightmares.

I suppose that’s part of St. Vincent’s appeal. She’s pretty, diminutive even, and she makes a lot of noise. Big noise.

What’s great about her music is that is contains a “this-could-go-off-the-rails-at-any-moment” energy without entirely deviating from conventional song structure. The arrangements on her records are meticulous. That insularity doesn’t always translate live.

Quite the contrary. It was striking to find how wide open each song seemed to be. They were airy and almost malleable. This was put to the test very early on.

Her band, (four scruffy dudes) started with a diaphanous version of “The Strangers”, where Clark struggled with the volume malfunction of her guitar during the song’s midpoint. It didn’t really seem to matter though, as the swell of brass instruments easily compensated for the guitar’s absence.

One of the night’s best moments was “Marrow,” a stomp full of guitar squalls and an uneasy, audible tension. Clark’s plea of “H-E-L-P, help me, help me”, followed pounding her guitar’s body during the song’s breakdown showed some of her uncharacteristic wickedness.

Unexpectedly, she eventually abandoned her guitar in favor of keyboards during a gentle version of “The Bed”, a mellow ballad. It was quiet enough to hear the conversation of those inconsiderate enough in the back of the club.

Clark’s music commands seriousness, it’s a relief to find she has a sense of humor. As her band left the stage briefly so she could perform solo, she explained her love for “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube, which was the song that proceeded her on stage. She gave a quick narration of the song, then played another song she considered similar in theme, a sterling version of Jackson Browne’s “These Days”.

St. Vincent at Metro, Thursday February 18, 2010

The breadth of Clark’s powers were on display with the encore of “Your Lips Are Red”. A tension filled mess of guitar, bass and brass instruments, Clark attacked her guitar with the same gesticulation Gena Rowlands displayed during one of her psychotic episodes in John Cassavetes’s “A Woman Under The Influence”. Both were unnatural, unorthodox and generally terrifying.

I suppose there’s another parallel between those two. In the film, Gena Rowlands is a woman who looked crazy and tried to convince everyone she wasn’t. Here, St. Vincent is a woman who doesn’t look crazy and wants to convince everyone she might actually be.

View more photos from the show at our gallery.

These Projectors Need Cleaning

Screen shot 2009-11-14 at 1.00.45 PM

Dirty Projectors at Bottom Lounge, Friday, November 13, 2009

Dirty Projectors’s Friday night show at Bottom Lounge was a definite contrast to the other two bands we’ve seen in the past few days. John Darnielle and his Mountain Goats teeter on the line between celebratory and morose, and Art Brut remains indie rock’s funniest (and musicially exceptional) inside joke.

With vocalist/guitarist Dave Longstreth’s group, there is no humor. It’s a collective of very serious musicians that conciously take the fun out of rock and roll. It’s impossible not to detect a cultist vibe that runs through the Dirty Projectors when they’re on stage. Longstreth is clearly the leader, and everyone seems to be under his spell – the girls especially. Singers Amber Coffman, Hayley Dekle shimmied unconvincingly like 60’s girl group backup singers. Rarely did anyone else challenge his stage presence or his acrobatic guitar stills. This was painfully apparent as his guitar essentially drowned out Coffman’s soaring vocal on “Stillness Is The Move”.

What was terribly disappointing is the lack of the camaraderie between the group. None of them really seemed to enjoy what they were doing on stage. Multi-instrumentalist Angel Deradoorian, a talented solo musician in her own right, remained far stage right all evening and hardly cracked a smile.

On Bitte Orca, the band’s latest record, the songs are infectious. They breathe. They have great hooks and incredible vocal interplay. Live, they’re a mess of noise that is opposite the album’s calculated synchronization. For what Longstreth and Co. have finally accomplished on record, they’ve got a ways to go with their live performance. There are glaring rough edges, and perhaps with a little more collaboration live – stretching the songs with the same kind of elasticity that permeates their singer, they’ll have a more engaging live show. Until then, they’ll continue to sound like a gaggle of sound without a clear direction.

The Gaslight Anthem @ Double Door 8/8/09

Out in a sea of Gaslight Anthem fans – especially those at the Double Door Saturday evening – there’s a meshing of two very distinct types of music fans.

In one corner, there’s the punk rock fans – kids who get their kicks from groups like Alkaline Trio, Against Me!, and the Lawrence Arms. Those bands are scruffier, edgier versions of their pop-punk counterparts that probably spent more time with the first three Clash records than the three hit Blink-182 albums.

In the other corner, there’s the always mercurial indie rock fans, who have been won over by the band’s roots-rock Americana and cinematic lyrics. The band’s working class image is the in rock-and-roll trend right now – it’s a template that they follow like their counterparts Lucero, the Drive-By Truckers, and The Hold Steady. There’s a simple reason for that: it never gets old.

The Gaslight Anthem took the stage shortly after midnight. By then, the club had turned into a sweatbox. Any hopes of recycling a pair of pants or t-shirt for the next day were dashed. Those in the first few rows were dripping from head to toe – it was overwhelmingly soggy.

For a band with as much positive buzz as The Gaslight Anthem, it’s hard to believe that they’d be anything but a sure-thing live act. In that category, they disappoint.

Rock and roll to me, comes from the interactivity. I enjoy watching frontmen like Eddie Argos of Art Brut treat his songs as if they were his own personal theater, jumping into the crowd, faux-sulking while sitting on a monitor, and acting as if his band members are just some second-rate session musicians carrying out his bidding.

So, it’s was a bit maddening as a concertgoer to watch The Gaslight Anthem with a such a short range of motion. Strumming the guitar and occasionally playing to the drummer caused my mind to wander more than I hoped. There’s a barometer I carry to measure my enjoyment level at a show: my cell phone. If it’s out, and I’m texting someone, the performer’s lost me. If you don’t see it, we’ll, let’s just say, I make myself seen.

Despite the glaring shortcomings, the heroic chords of “High Lonesome” were an inspiring open to the set, supercharging the crowd worn out by the heat. “And Maria came from Nashville with a suitcase in her hand/I always kind of sort of wished I looked like Elvis”, vocalist/guitarist Brian Fallon sang. It’s funny, because it’s true.

On stage, he and bassist Alex Levine are a study in contrast to their counterparts, guitarist Alex Rosamilia and drummer Benny Horowitz. Fallon and Levine have adopted a nu-greaser look – short, high and tight haircuts and white tees and Dickies – while the other two deliberately eschew it for more modern stylings.


Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem

The set was culled heavily from the band’s breakout disc, last year’s The ’59 Sound, and a generous heaping of songs from the band’s more aggressive debut disc, 2007’s Sink or Swim. The reason for this, explained Fallon, that after 50 festival shows, the band was excited to be playing another club show.

Despite the band’s lingering greenness, there were moments of brilliance. “The ’59 Sound”, propulsive guitars, huge chorus and all made standing in the heat worth it. The mixture of the stage lights, pumping fists and the room screaming at the top of it’s lungs was a classic rock show moment. Ditto for “Great Expectations”, which produced a similar, equally passionate response.

Then came the lasting image of the evening. The set closing tune “The Backseat” (which Fallon called ‘Backseats’ – Springsteen nod?). As a crowd surfer made his way towards the front, the song climaxed at the chorus, the surfer rose on his hands and knees, mere feet from Fallon, screaming along the words: “In the backseats/we just try to find some room to breathe”.

For those fleeting moments, The Gaslight Anthem’s deficiences were forgotten. Both fan and artist were just two people sharing the same experience: The pure, infectious energy of rock and roll.

Exactly how it should be.

Dinosaur Jr. at Otto’s – DeKalb, IL 4/11/09

Dinosaur Jr.’s choice to play DeKalb, Illinois, a town 65 miles west of Chicago was a weird one. Then again, Dinosaur Jr. is a weird band.

In 2005, the capricious ‘classic’ lineup of the band that fell apart shortly after the release of 1988’s Bug reunited to much fanfare. The legendary feud between singer/guitarist J Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow was finally put to bed after over a decade. Along with drummer Emmett “Murph” Murphy III, the ensuing tour was a triumph, and was followed by a successful comeback album, Beyond in 2007. img_7640

Two years later, the band is gearing up for the release of Farm, due in June, with a run of dates across the US.

The band took the stage in pieces for Saturday’s’ set. Murph and Barlow were first – Barlow, a legend in his own right for his work with Sebadoh and Folk Implosion, was especially well received. Minutes later (or so it seemed), a sedate Mascis wandered on stage and picked up his guitar, standing in front of his giant wall of amplifiers. The band then launched into bouncy “In A Jar” off of 1987’s You’re Living All Over Me. The thirteen-song set was heavy on cuts from the band’s most recent disc, as well as their 1985 debut, Dinosaur. Highlights came in the form of “I Don’t Wanna Go There”; a track off of their forthcoming disc (and being handed out as 7-inch or digital download with every concert ticket purchase) as well as the gorgeous Barlow sung “Back To Your Heart”.

The band is not only a formidable live act, but also a fascinating character study. It’s as if none of them would have anything to do with each other if they weren’t in a band. Then again, they probably don’t. It should be noted that Dinosaur Jr. are an incredibly loud band – to the point where earplugs were not only recommended, but also sold at the merch table.

On stage, Mascis a bit of an artifact – silver haired, stoic and reserved. His guitar playing was sinewy – alternately invigorating and demanding of the concertgoer’s attention. On occasion, he rocks from side to side. Barlow, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. He was energetic, hardly able to stay in one place and conversational with the crowd, to the point where it’s fair to suspect that he may have been indulging a little too much. Murph, seated between the two, was the perfect conduit, providing the steady beat and acting as the glue keeping the two personalities working together.

It seems to work well for Dinosaur Jr. As the band’s original lineup celebrates the twenty-fifth year since it’s inception, they seemed to do something in DeKalb that not many bands that have reunited after a long wait can claim. They picked up exactly where they left off and showed no signs of losing a thing in the process.

See more photos from the show on our Flickr page.