Art-pop explosion!

Go Metric USA makes pop music for smart people

Yesterday, Mitch Greer and Michael Cullen--guitarists in Go Metric USA--sat in Cullen's Denton apartment and talked about wanting to save Dallas from bad rock-and-roll bands. Yesterday, they were laid-back, quiet, like members of any other young band not used to talking about their music. But today--today, that's a whole different story. Today, Greer is on the phone asking if the Dallas Observer can hold off on running this story because he didn't feel the band had been properly represented during our first sit-down. He said he hadn't been in the mood to talk yesterday, and he wasn't sure whether the band's ideology had come across--that is, whether he had properly explained its intention to breed Malcolm McLaren's work with the Sex Pistols and John Cage's "Silence," a piece the late minimalist composer wrote that was nothing more than 45 minutes of pure silence. Greer wants to either schedule another interview or kill the story entirely. After all, it wouldn't look good for a student of McLaren's to mishandle a chance to spread his message.

So Greer, the band's lead singer, and bassist Lindsay Romig phone again and, this time, trade the receiver like old-school rappers as they spout off more theories than an afternoon at the Conspiracy Museum. And this time around, their rap becomes very clear: Go Metric USA is a smart band, but sometimes it's almost too smart for its own good. It's reached the dangerous point where ambition becomes ego, where its own vision is so blinding, it's hard to see anything else. Invoking Cage's name is fine...if you're Thurston Moore. However, if you trade as heavily in pop tradition as Go Metric USA does, talking about Cage seems almost silly, like Hanson bringing up the sociopolitical overtones of "MMMBop." It makes you think that there might not be enough room in pop music for art. Greer, of course, begs to differ.

"I think people need to really rethink this whole thing about art being reserved for artists, or music being reserved for these people called musicians," Greer says. "It's not like we're all born these weird drone bees, where your DNA cultures you to be a musician. Maybe it is [true], but I don't believe that, and I don't want to believe that. I think everyone is capable of writing a really cool three-chord pop song, if they knew how to play guitar a little bit. I think it's fun, and everyone should do it. I think that would be great.

"Music is something that is as human as eating. It's as human as sex and love and hate and everything else, and so is art. The fact that it's reserved for certain people, like these musicians or rock stars or artists or whatever you want to call it, is a bunch of fucking crap."

Romig agrees. "One of the main missions of this band was to show the common man, who thinks that being in a band is ultra-glamorous, that's it's just not. Music is really something that eats up all your extra money, and all your extra time, mostly just to lead to fights with your band members and further frustrations." She stops, then quickly adds, "But there is still some beauty involved."

Talking to Greer and Romig is like having a debate with two of the most annoying students in a graduate-level art theory class. They're smarter than you, and they know it...and worse, they know you know it. They're more than happy to demonstrate this fact, so a conversation about their band includes talk of a pop-music oligarchy (that's "ruling class" to you and me), the continuing influence of French poet Arthur Rimbaud on the appearance of rock-and-roll bands, and the importance of Cage. After about half an hour, you're tempted to ask if any of this will be on the test. It's all very dizzying and stimulating, but it's also so artsy-fartsy and pretentious, you'd think the Republicans were trying to cut their funding. Greer and Romig are prepared for such accusations, because to them, Go Metric USA has always been more than the pop band it sounds like on the surface.

"I don't ever worry about being pretentious," Romig says, "because what we're trying to do is pop music, but it's almost like pop art."

Ah, pop music as art. It's certainly not a new concept. No, the two have been intertwined since the Velvet Underground debuted as the house band at Andy Warhol's infamous Factory more than three decades ago. Warhol and the band forever blurred the line that separated the two; the Velvet Underground's languid droning was either the soundtrack to Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable performance piece, or the multi-media show was a warped backdrop for Lou Reed and John Cale's brooding songs. Either way, countless other bands have the same merger in some form or another since then, including the Talking Heads, Public Image Ltd., Sonic Youth, and locally, Bobgoblin and Dooms U.K.

Go Metric USA's combination of art and pop is not as overt as some of those bands, or even as obvious as Greer and Romig seem to think. It lies in the details, located in concepts found in Greer's lyrics rather than anything musical or visual that the band does, though they have done such things as dressing as Socialist workers onstage. To be honest, not many people would notice its presence at all on Three Chords by Two Verses--the band's forthcoming debut, due in stores in a few weeks--but Greer and Romig swear it's there, hiding in three-minute pop gems that sound like Roger McGuinn sitting in with Ray and Dave Davies.

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