Ready, Art Brut? | Lending Art Brut an Ear

“They can’t sack you, that’s the beauty of it. No matter how bad you are, they can’t sack you.

 

artbrut.jpgTalking with Eddie Argos as he sits waiting for a sound check outside the Casbah in San Diego, it is hard not to picture him in a postman’s uniform. Turns out the lead singer of England’s Art Brut was a postman, though not for very long. “I wasn’t very good at it. I lasted about six or seven months,” Argos says, laughing at the memory. “They can’t sack you, that’s the beauty of it. No matter how bad you are, they can’t sack you.”

In conversation, Argos displays the verbal qualities that so define his stage qualities: quirky and earnest, with a touch of Elvis, circa 1975. He has a certain Monty Python–esque character to him—the kind of person who talks fast and tends to laugh his way through conversations. There is an excitement in his voice that comes from pulling off a hugely successful rock band…despite swearing that he can’t sing. “I’m just shouting, I think,” he says. The four other members of Art Brut—Mikey B (drums), Frederica “Freddie” Feedback (bass), Ian Catskilkin (lead guitar), and Jasper Future (guitarist)—form a tight and entertaining band that ably backs up Argos’ stage antics. The singer effuses when talking about them, revealing that, at the end of each show, he exits first and watches them from the wings. “I look at them and think, ‘They are quite good,’ and then think, ‘Wow, that’s the band I’m in!’ I get very proud. Sounds daft, but it’s nice.”

Art Brut formed in spring 2003. Argos was in a band called the Art Goblins: some music with stage antics, including juggling and various appliances. “The Art Goblins was a funny, arty idea. I used to escape from a sack and things like that. It was more of a show, really. I thought we were being cool, but Jasper [Future, now of Art Brut] tells me we were just being idiots and showing off, which sounds more like the truth.”

While participation in this arty band helped keep Argos away from the more mundane jobs in life, it did not help with his ultimate goal of performing on the British variety show Top of the Pops. Through a series of lucky breaks, chance meetings, and stalking (you can read the complete Brutography on the band’s Web site: www.artbrut.org.uk), the five came together to form a band. Through fits and starts, Art Brut began to play around London, releasing several singles over the next two years. They quickly garnered praise both in Europe and in the U.S., where Blender magazine declared them the best unsigned band in the United Kingdartbrut3.jpgom.

By 2005, they had assembled their debut album, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, an infectious collection of songs, including “My Little Brother”—in which the singer complains about his sibling’s descent into the pit of emo—“Emily Kane”—which Argos calls “a song about being in love with being in love”—and “Moving to L.A.,” which finds Argos threatening an intercontinental move à la another famous Brit popper (hint: his name nearly rhymes with “Hennessey”).

Which begs the question: Has Argos yet met his idol? Argos’ excitement peaks when the Smiths’ famous frontman is mentioned. “No, I haven’t, but I want to. We are playing the V Festival this summer and the headliner is Radiohead one day and Morrissey the next. We really hope to be on the Morrissey day so I can have a Hennessey with him.” He adds with a chuckle, “He moved to Rome now; ruined my song.”

Since the U.S. release of the album last month, the band has toured nearly constantly across America—with brief jumps back to Europe, causing me to question their booking agent’s penchant for sadism. Case in point: The day before their performance at the Coachella Festival, Art Brut played a festival in France. “Yeah, that was a nightmare,” Argos admits. “We slept on the floor of the airport before boarding a plane to America. We got in such a mess that it kind of fixed our body clocks.” Still, touring is not all bad, as Argos reports: “The bus is comfy, and it is so nice to see so much of America.”
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As for world domination, the band has come up with a novel way of spreading the love: Art Brut franchises. “I like the name ‘Art Brut,’ and I felt a bit bad that we had taken it,” explains Argos. “I said, ‘Maybe we should franchise it out,’ sort of off the cuff, and Chris [Chinchilla, former guitarist] put it up on the Internet. The idea took off, and now there are literally hundreds of franchised bands named Art Brut”—with numbers after the name so you can tell them apart. The bands formed in cities across the globe tend to play Art Brut songs or variations thereof, although some have been known to come up with their own music.

“We were away on tour, and when I came back to England, one of the franchises had arranged a festival, like a battle of the bands, to see who was the best Art Brut. Art Brut 3 won.” Argos is quite proud of the Art Brut industry that has sprung up. “It has a mind of its own now; it doesn’t even need me.” When I suggest that maybe he take them on the road, he protests, “To take them on tour would be a bit too much. You would have to take them all on tour, because you couldn’t take Art Brut 3 on tour and not 7; he might get a chip on his shoulder.” Argos pauses and laughs. “I have to be very careful. I am like a father to them all.”

Despite the band’s somewhat nonsensical lyrics, it is easy to see that Argos and Art Brut are true art lovers. Take, for example, the lyrics to “Modern Art”: “I’m in the Tate, and I’m looking at a Hockney/And wow, there is something amazing about that blue/It makes me want to step outside/I wanna loosen my tie/Sweet Jesus, my heart is beating faster and faster/I’m palpitating, I’m sweating/I just can’t help myself.” Not surprisingly, Argos’ first love was art—Van Gogh, in particular. He proudly reveals having recently come face to face with some of Van Gogh’s finest works. “We were playing in Amsterdam and I went to his museum,” he says. “I got all teary eyed and had to leave. I was overwhelmed. He is so romantic.” Despite the initial seeming disparity, the singer’s affinity for the 19th century’s most famous artist is not misplaced; Argos sees a connection between himself and the painter. “Technique and ability wasn’t really important to him; it was expression that he liked, and I agree with him. I value expression much more than technique or ability.”

As the band heads inside to sound check, I ask Argos one final question. What’s with the “Ready, Art Brut?” call he gives onstage before every song? It is both oddly endearing and funny. “I started that when I was nervous, and it just sort of stuck,” he explains. “And it is good to check, because sometimes they’re not. Then I can say, ‘Come on, chop, chop, Art Brut.’” And then, following those words, the band launches into yet another masterpiece.

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