Dance-punk veterans reflect on new album,
By Pete Kane Special to MSN Music
Comparative veterans by indie-rock standards, dance-punk band !!! ("Chk Chk Chk") released their fifth album,
"THR!!!ER," April 30. While they were setting up
for their show at Noise Pop in San Francisco, we had the opportunity to speak
with vocalist Nic Offer, guitarist Mario Andreoni and bassist Rafael Cohen about
the album, how new modes of consuming music influenced their songwriting, and on
the legacy of Michael Jackson. [Note: This conversation has been condensed and
slightly edited for clarity.]
You're in Brooklyn now, right?
Nic Offer: We're still all spread out. There's three of us in Brooklyn,
Mario's in Sacramento, [drummer] Paul's [Quattrone] in Pittsburgh.
And it's now six of you full time, with no touring members?
Nic Offer: Yep, six of us full time. It's a life choice.
So, the new album. It's kind of a departure.
Rafael Cohen: We hope so.
Nic Offer: They should all be a departure, shouldn't they? You can't put your
foot in the same river twice. [Laughs] I probably read that on Twitter.
Mario Andreoni: You take three-year gaps between records, and you grow quite
a bit. This is the first record that we've also done with Rafael in the fold, so
Nic Offer: We've never mentioned him in an interview, but since he's here
Mario Andreoni: [Laughs] It's never a conscious choice to do something like
that, but you go with what excites you at the time, and we had a different set
of demos, different-sounding stuff to work with.
Rafael Cohen: Bands are always saying their records are a departure, and
you're never sure. Some of it, you're like, "This one's totally crazy and
different," and sometimes you're like, "This one sounds the same, right?" and
people go, "Nope. That one sounds different. You got it this time." We're
getting a sense that this sounds like !!!, but it's, "Nah, this is a
Mario Andreoni: That's a good thing. That is a good litmus test. For someone
to actually say it sounds different is great.
At first and second listens, "THR!!!ER" is more apolitical and less
scatological. It's more a collection of highly crafted pop songs that one
unified. I'm thinking of [2007's] "Myth Takes" -- not that it's one song, but
they sort of bleed into one another more than on "THR!!!ER."
Mario Andreoni: For me, I stopped listening to albums. I was only listening
to playlists of singles. I found I really liked techno, but I kind of would get
bored in the mixes. When I was going straight to just the songs that I liked, I
liked how different things would sound next to each other. Instead of just
getting into one band, I was getting into all these different kinds of sounds.
So, working on things, they came out different. And it's like, well, if this is
how I like to listen to music, and these are all the different styles that I
like, then why can't our own sound be like this?
Mario Andreoni: These are all obscure reference points, but they're all
tracks that we all sort of rallied around, loved how they felt.
Rafael Cohen: There's a moment when we're all hanging out where someone plays
something and everyone's like, "Hey, what's this one?" and you get the sense
that those songs became touchstones on the record. You're hanging out in Spain
or whatever, and someone's playing songs in the hotel room, and everyone's like,
"You gotta give me this later."
Nic Offer: Yeah, we're just regular guys trading mp3s. [Laughs]
Mario Andreoni: We're just some file-sharing bros, playing Noise Pop.
Nic Offer: Yeah, you get the vibe, right? We're still friends. We're still
bonded by the music.
Seventeen years later.
Nic Offer: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Sixteen!
Fair enough. Still, the album is polished.
Nic Offer: Honed!
But your live shows are anarchic.
Mario Andreoni: Unhoned.
How do you bridge that gap? Or do you even try?
Nic Offer: They're just different experiences
Rafael Cohen: The focus is so much different. You're trying to strive for
something you're hearing in the song, while you're in the studio. Live, you're
always looking for new ways to do it, especially if you're on the road with it
for the next year. Part of our core was always just jamming. Even if there's not
a lot of jamming per se on this record, we're at a point where we do it live and
it's like, "Now I can just see how this sounds." It might fail miserably, but
that's what's so exciting about it.
Do you enter into the studio with a pretty good idea of what the finished
product's going to be?
Nic Offer: We had a stack of demos. We felt like we were going in with the
blueprints and we were going to build it. You know you're going to find stuff
along the way and follow that heat, and suddenly that synthesizer takes the
Rafael Cohen: I think we were really prepared. We tried to tour each time
before going in. We tried to identify the things that gave the demo whatever
kind of magic we felt it had.
Obviously, with the name "THR!!!ER," you're thinking of Michael Jackson. "One Girl/One Boy" specifically
sounds like it's influenced by "Off the Wall."
Mario Andreoni: Honestly? Well, I don't want it to come off the wrong way,
Nic Offer: Mario's glad Michael Jackson is dead!
Mario Andreoni: [Laughs] Somebody had to say it. No -- Michael Jackson's
music has been part of our whole lives. It's never a conscious thing; we never
reference anything. We listened to a couple tracks in the studio, but we did
that because every band listens to "Thriller." Every band is trying to make their
"Thriller." I think if anything, our first album sounds a bit like a broken
version of "Off the Wall," but as of now, it wasn't like we suddenly got into
I remember on [2010's] "Strange Weather" -- it was actually the week he died
when we were working on "The Most Certain Sure." So if there was any strong
Michael Jackson influence, it was then. But on this record, it's just because
Michael Jackson's always there.