Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Things we love: DC Comics, chocolate milkshakes, the Replacements and Art Brut

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The English quintet Art Brut burst on the scene in 2005 with a startlingly fresh album called "Bang Bang Rock & Roll," updating the legendary Modern Lovers for the new millennium and capturing the sheer joy of making an awesome if amateurish noise as lead singer Eddie Argos declared, "Look at us/We formed a band!"

On "It's a Bit Complicated" (2007), Argos' cheeky narrations and the band's garage/metal backings sounded more labored and predictable. But if it hasn't changed the formula on the new "Art Brut vs. Satan," produced by Black Francis of the Pixies, it has returned in prime form with goofy anthems such as "DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes," "Slap Dash for No Cash" and "Alcoholics Unanimous."

I caught up with Argos in London as the band prepared to come to Chicago for a five-night stand at Schubas starting Monday, June 8.

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Q. What was the goal this time, Eddie?

A. Well, because the last one we kind of produced quite a lot, trying to make a good pop album, with this one, we tried to record it straight through--everything in one or two takes. It was two weeks, with the last four days of mixing. At first I thought we had all two weeks to record, but a lot of times, working with Black Francis, we'd do the first take and we didn't even know he was recording it! But my favorite recordings are often the ones done with a boom box in the rehearsal space.

I think the third album was less pressure; we went a bit mad recording the second one. This is my favorite record. I know everyone says that, but it sounds the most like us. And if the dude from the Pixies is there going, "What a good song you've written," then you feel kind of good about it!

Was it intimidating to work with Black Francis?

A. The anticipation was kind of nerve-wracking, but when we met him, he's just such a brilliant person to be around that it wasn't intimidating at all. You couldn't even be nervous, really; he was just such a fun guy.

Obviously, we loved his albums with the Pixies, but the way he records his Catholics album was the way we wanted to go: They're all done pretty much in one take, so he's the expert at that. And we wanted to hang out with him as well!

Q. The song "Slapdash for No Cash" is a manifesto for recording that way. You sing, "Why would you want to sound like U2?/Just press record and play it straight through/They call it lo-fi--if you say so/Cool your warm jets, Brian Eno!"

A. People think we're having a go at U2 in that song, but not really. I'm more kind of celebrating [anti-folkie] Jeffrey Lewis and the Mountain Goats. I like making records on the cheap: People who get a studio for a day to record a single, and then record a whole album. The really weird thing was we didn't know U2 had an album coming out, or that Brian Eno was going to produce. We were like, "Wow, that's a coincidence!"

Q. How about "The Replacements," a song about how you recently fell in love with that band. You really hadn't heard them before?

A. I really didn't, until about six or seven months ago. I don't know how they got by me, because the Replacements are exactly what I like! I'm just assuming that everyone thought I already knew them and never recommended them to me. Then I discovered them and thought, "This is the best thing I've ever heard! How did I get along without them?"

I have to confess this: I discovered them through Pitchfork, which is like the worst thing in the world! But please don't print that.

I think I got the Replacements, the Rentals, the Research and the Residents confused in my head; I thought the Replacements were the Rentals for a long time. Name-wise, I also get Aphex Twin and Violent Femmes confused. I don't know why.

"DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes" is a tribute to two more of your favorite things. So, who's you're favorite DC hero?

A. Booster Gold!

Q. Wow, that's going deep. I guess you really are a comics nerd!

A. Yeah. Everybody always says, "Who?" It's funny, because since that song came out, people keep testing me: "What happened in 'Extreme Justice' issue five?" And I'm like, "Ha! There is no issue five!" I made that up, but there's things like that people try to catch me on.

Q. What's behind the residencies on this tour?

A. We just thought it would be fun. Especially in New York and Chicago, we've played quite a few times now; we thought that this time it would be more fun to do five entirely different sets. We have enough songs now!

Q. Still, playing that many songs is a lot of work, which runs counter to your uber-slacker image.

A. Well, it's fun playing! Also, I've got a bad back at the moment, so I've been laying off the booze because I'm on Valium for my back. And I find I get a lot more done now that I don't drink! Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance writes a really good comic, and I was like, "How the heck do you do that and tour at the same time?" It's 'cause he's straight-edge--that's the secret!

Q. A lot of people thought Art Brut had one idea and would be here and gone, but five years later, the band is going strong. What's next?

A. I've gotten a little bit bored of writing about myself; I think the next album might be called, like, "Art Brut: Other People." The songs I'm writing recently are more about that sort of thing.

I've got an album coming out with my girlfriend at some point in the future, and the plan for that was to write about other people in pop songs. Like, I wrote a song about the boy in [Michael Jackson's] "Billie Jean," and about the other guy in "Jimmy Mack" [by Martha and the Vandellas]--he works in a chip shop. They're really still all about me, but at least they have different names!

FACTS

Art Brut, 7 p.m. Monday [June 8] with U.S. Royalty; 9 p.m. Tuesday [June 9] with Team Band; 9 p.m. Wednesday [June 10] with Unicycle Loves You; 9 p.m. Thursday [June 11] with Lasers and Fast and S--- and 10 p.m. Friday [June 12] with Dusty Rhodes & the River Band

Schubas, 3159 N. Southport

$15 each night

(773) 525-2508, www.schubas.com

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3 Comments

They never heard of The Replacements? Damn kids don't know anything nowadays...

I always thought if someone asked you not to print something, you don't print it. Care to explain that one, Jim?

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