“I would say this is actually the year I re-embraced rock,” says !!! frontman Nic Offer over a crystal-clear line from Japan. Perhaps not surprising when you consider the band have been supporting rock relics the Red Hot Chili Peppers this year, but it must start to grate when that’s all the media want to discuss and you’ve got a new album to talk about. Especially one this strong. So, dispensing with the obvious chatter about Anthony Kiedis et al, Clash opt to take a fresh approach and find out exactly how third long-player ‘Myth Takes’ came to life instead.
Single ‘Me And Giuliani Down By the Schoolyard’ and 2004’s ‘Louden Up Now’ album saw the California/Oregon/New York collective signed up by Warp in the UK and jettisoned to the forefront of what the music media were desperate to label the return of punk funk. They certainly had a punk energy drenched in funk and squarely aimed at the dancefloor but any two-dimensional tags and comparisons with bands like A Certain Ratio were poorly misjudged. It’s something the band has learned to accept.
“It’s always a bit upsetting when you set out to do something original and someone can just put a simple label on it,” says Nic. “But at the end of the day we’re not getting asked about any other style of music so to argue against it is really kind of futile. At the end of the day, it will all be lumped into this genre and hopefully this will be one of the bands that makes classics of that genre.”
Many other bands have cropped up since ‘Louden Up Now’ and jumped aboard the punk funk bandwagon, making the octet strive all the harder to produce an album with its own distinctive sound and direction. “There’s been a conscious effort of like ‘Everyone’s going right so we should go left’,” Offer explains. “When we started ten years ago it was no big deal to sound like Talking Heads you know? We were the only people that sounded like that, now fucking everybody sounds like Talking Heads, so we better do something different!”
‘Myth Takes’ certainly achieves this aim. Funk-heavy, dance-oriented rock still holds sway and the title track opener rushes straight to the floor from the opening beat like some hormone-addled adolescent. Overall, however, the album shifts, stretches and breaks the boundaries previously laid down by the band with greater focus being placed upon the song writing. “We discovered that good grooves are pretty easy for us to come by and it’s just formulated into something a little deeper. Something a little more complex was what we were after,” divulges Nic. “We focussed a lot more on forming them into songs.”
Lyrically and musically there are still those trademark !!! moments to raise a smile or a limb to but, on both counts, there is greater depth to ‘Myth Takes’ than its predecessor. The hooks are present throughout, the funk constant and undiluted and the tempo generally remains high, but there is a greater cohesion as a set of songs, not to mention a few surprises. ‘Must Be The Moon’ kicks its heels with a chorus that screams for some audience participation while ‘Heart Of Hearts’ is six minutes of pure, amphetamine-fuelled dancefloor action. “I definitely think we’ve found the elusive groove we’ve been chasing,” Nic enthuses. “I really feel like ‘Heart Of Hearts’ is fucking banging. I think that should tear up club floors more than anything we’ve done before.”
When we started ten years ago it was no big deal to sound like Talking Heads - now fucking everybody sounds like Talking Heads, so we better do something different!
It’s the willingness to experiment that really makes ‘Myth Takes’ tick. Leftfield electronics are peppered throughout but when you hear the glam rock inspired ‘Yadnus’ or closing ballad ‘Infinifold’ it becomes clear that mere punk funk pedddlers !!! certainly are not. It would take a heart of lead to remain unmoved by this beautiful slice of downtempo melancholy. “We want it all, we want the whole pie. We want to make them cry,” says Nic. “The last song is supposed to be very tragic. A friend told me that when she heard it she felt like crying. It was like, ‘I think you’re supposed to’. We want to do it all. Live we want to make people dance and on a record we just want to make a good record. I think giving lyrics that you can kind of sink yourself into make for a fuller listening experience.”
Fuller and deeper, by all accounts. “I think we’ve made a record that’s a lot denser and has a lot more depth so I think I’d like to be thought of as something a little like… bigger. I think that dance punk does kind of give it something a little cheap and not quite what we are. I want to be like Pink Floyd,” Nic explains, an influence hinted at through the fantastical, psychedelic cover art. “I listened to ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ the other day and I thought it was fucking amazing. I just really like the scope of it, something that wide with that much depth and that’s what I want our music to be like.”
So how have they managed to maintain the energy that inspired them to call themselves !!! (most commonly pronounced ‘chk chk chk’) a decade ago? “We’ve kept finding reasons to be excited and form that energy. When we first started we were like so excited that we could play stuff that was actually funky,” says Nic. “Now it’s like we’ve been more excited about being able to do something like a ballad or something with a rockabilly feel. Everything has changed but to me it’s absolutely the most important thing in my life.” As long as that remains the case, and their passion and energy continues being channeled into the music, !!! will continue to move both minds and bodies.