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.
"For the most part, if you look at pop music in a grand scheme, if you take it up to what's often heard on the radio, most of the time there are not thoughts that are expressed," Romig says. "We're trying to make fun of all that, but pretty much by doing the same thing that they're doing. In a way, we're trying to parody a whole lot of things."
Adds Greer, "And at the same time, we're concerned with creating the most perfect three-minute pop song possible."
"I guess what Mitch and I are trying to do is have it be about the music, but also have it be almost about the situation being international, living life as an art," Romig continues. "Unfortunately, I don't think many people pick up on the symbolism of what we're trying to do."
The band formed almost accidentally a year ago, when Greer and Romig filled in as members of the Brian Jonestown Massacre for one show. Singer-guitarist-flake Anton Newcombe had chased off most of the members of his band earlier in the tour, so he was forced to find emergency replacements. Romig--who has performed with a handful of Dallas and Denton bands, including playing cello on Centro-Matic's Redo the Stacks--was asked to join because she was a friend of erstwhile BJM bassist Matt Hollywood. She called Greer, whom she had met a few days earlier, and asked him to help out on guitar.
A member of another band--O.E.D.--at the time, Greer had begun writing songs that didn't really fit into that band's more experimental sound. They were more like folk songs, and Greer felt they deserved a new setting. Shortly after the Brian Jonestown Massacre gig, he and Romig began playing these new songs as a three-piece, with drummer T.J. Prendergast in tow. The songs changed as they played them more, mutating into three-chord pop songs that were catchy almost despite themselves. Greer had never wanted to be in a pop band before, and it took a bit of adjusting once he found himself as the frontman of one.
"Most of the songs on the record, they originally started--in my mind--as like a sociological experiment, because I had never been in a pop band and I didn't understand all the scene-ishness that I was experiencing," Greer says. "It just kinda happened. There were some things that were happening in a lot of our lives that I know were making me a lot more pissed off. The climate of the band was just going at this pace. I mean, the songs are still the same; they can be played as folk still."
The songs were modified further as more members joined the band. Guitarist Michael Cullen and keyboard player George Jenson joined the fold as the band began to gig around Dallas and Denton (at the time, under the truly lame moniker She Only Thinks in Manchester), taking the songs further down the road to pop paradise. Tambourine player Mark Crowder, a longtime employee of Bill's Records who spins records weekly at the Liquid Lounge, was brought in around the same time, completing the lineup, though he has played only one show with the band.
It's not necessary to pick up on the symbolism of Go Metric USA's songs to enjoy them. The album--produced by Dave Willingham at his 70 Hurtz Studio in Argyle--sounds like the British invading the Summer of Love, bouncing from jangly, 12-string guitar workouts such as "Just Because Your Garden Grows" to tender, last-dance-at-the-prom moments, like "When I'm Around You." Songs such as "I Met Robyn Hitchcock and Nobody Cares But Me" and "Saints of the Morning After" are affecting musically whether or not you catch any of Greer's lyrical jibes. They're great pop songs, simple and catchy, with melodies that stick in your head like the slug from a .22 pistol fired at close range. It's a timeless record that would have sounded at home 30 years ago, but it sounds just fine now too. There's no need to understand the concepts behind the lyrics--something about how they are aware that they are a pop band, and you are aware that you are listening to a pop band, and how strange that is--for the songs to do their job. Sometimes, just writing a good melody is enough for the band as well.
"We want people to enjoy the music; that's why we make it," Greer says. "We don't sit around like Marxists, composing these songs in smoky back rooms, worrying about how to defame pop culture. We're not completely pretentious."
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"Not completely," Romig adds. "But I think there is a lot more thought that goes behind our pop."
Go Metric USA's pop is an idea that is still evolving. The band is a side project that became full-time, and Greer and Romig have had to refine their themes as they go along. A target that has always been on the pair's mind is the image of the Hammer of the Gods-style rock star.
"It's so cool that Guided By Voices have had the degree of success that they've had," Greer says. "Well, I guess they've had a degree of success. But just the fact that that guy [Bob Pollard] was like an English teacher at a high school, I think that's cool. I think that's great. I would like to see the death of rock and roll as we know it, as it applies to Marilyn Manson and the fucked-up lead singer. I read somewhere that it's all Rimbaud's fault, like the French symbolists are still controlling rock and roll. I don't know if I believe that, but there's nothing that says that we have to be these fucked-up people on stage."
Go Metric USA performs on October 7 at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios. Fuck headlines.