Interview: !!!

by tom maxwell


Imagine a world where disco doesn’t suck and indie rockers went to shows to dance. This is the world of Chk Chk Chk. The seven-piece band form New York City comprised of Mario Andreoni (Guitars, bass, mixing), Nic Offer (Vocals, keys, mixing), Gorman Dan (Trumpet, percussion, keyboards), John Pugh (Drums, percussion, vocals, conversation, gong), Tyler Pope (Guitars, bass, keys, drums, conversation, mixing, programming, editing), Allan Wilson (Sax, percussion, keys) and Justin Vandervolgen (Bass, mixing) are doing their best to make the underground music world get up and dance. Their sophomore album, “Louden Up Now” on venerable Chicago, Illinois label Touch & Go is hot, damn hot. The band, which started in 1996, was formed during an all night dance party in Sacramento from the remnants of the Popesmashers, who were a spastic noise band, and Black Liquorice, a disco cover band. One can only imagine the recreational activities taking place to make the bands think about merging these two opposing styles. The experimental pairing becomes even more enchanting when you add songster Nic Offer’s experience as hardcore band Yah Mos’s vocalist. With the unique pieces of the puzzle in place, Chk Chk Chk set out to create a sound that challenged and moved any listener.

One confusing aspect of “!!!” is their name which has come to be pronounced as any three repetitive noises, most commonly as chk chk chk. The band name is intended to illustrate the band’s enthusiasm and is imbedded with a strong craving to shake things up. When asked to comment on people’s reaction to their name, Mario sardonically stated that, “They’re usually confused and so they’ll ask questions on how we came up with that and tell us how stupid it is because ‘It’s not commercially viable.’ and then I’ll tell them I’m getting ready to leave on tour.” This leads me to the next question: “Where the hell did you come up with that name?” Andreoni said, “It was inspired by the movie ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’, like Bush language. Three clicking noises with their mouth was subtitled as three exclamation marks.”

It took dozens of spins of their sophomore album, “Louden Up Now” for me to feel comfortable enough with the sound and the lyrics to get the courage to put to words even a brief description of this band. What I have concluded is that !!! has an obvious agenda, and that is to get your body moving; to charge you to “do something” through pulverizing the listener with catchy intense beats and injecting thought provoking and challenging lyrics. When asked to describe his thoughts on !!!’s music, Andreoni stated, “It’s made to get people to do things. It’s made to get people to want to hit the streets. It’s made to make people want to move. It’s made to force a reaction out of somebody physically. So I’ve ended up lately just calling it ‘body music’.” It’ll be interesting to see how far innovations in sound can be taken by the digital revolution, but right now !!! has pushed the musical stratosphere to the edge. You will not find a single band who sounds like this.

!!! have taken their Sacramento punk roots, in their previous bands and what they grew up listening to, and put them on the chopping block. When the band members wanted to make music that can be danced to, they found themselves using elements of all types of different genres like rock, rap, drum and bass (break beat) and techno. !!! shows signs of even more grassroots types of sounds such as disco and jazz. It is probably their love for rap music evidenced by their thanking both Biggie and Tupac on their list of more than one hundred “Super Hot Thanks”. The heavy produced bass beats are most digital similar to those on a hip-hop album. People have labeled the band as new-wave disco, there is much more to this band. The members have a wide range of influences. Andreoni says that his favorite new record is, “A Little Touch of Jazz” by the Nick Straker Band. He describes it as having his “favorite disco song that makes him feel so good.”

It is the live instrumentation and the thick bass beats that make this band more danceable than anything. When the beats hit your dome it consumes like the plague, instantly swimming between the instruments and melodies as they waver into a coma. The beats hit hard and just seem to make the troubles go away. There are so many crazy intricate noises that requires needs dozens of spins before feeling like a whole track has been digested. When asked about the intricacies and texture of their latest album, Andreoni replied, “We love that and it’s done on purpose because all those things that you hear in your head on the track, you can do it. If it’s mixed well, you can put it in there. There’s little things all over the place that I don’t even remember doing. Sometimes there’s little sounds that come across that sort of embellish them.” The band was also very excited about a 12″ inch due out in July that will include a remix of one of the tracks off “Louden Up Now.” Andreoni really enjoys the remix because it, “Takes aspects of the music that we didn’t even know were on the tracks and embellished that.” Andreoni says, “It doesn’t sound like a remix, it sounds like another track.” With frequent spinning of, “Louden Up Now” you realize that guitars are a soundscape for the rest of the instrumentation but with headphones intact one starts to understand that there can be a symmetry between live drums, guitars, organs, percussions, brass, wind, and (of course) the computer. This album wouldn’t be possible without the computer. This band uses things like a “gonkulator” on the guitars that “Fucking takes the sound and just melts it into something that doesn’t even sound like a guitar anymore. It makes it sound nuts.” Andreoni, adds that !!! is “Constantly fucking with shit.”

!!! has not just created symmetry, but the merging of noises in a way that you realize that there should never have been a question that these things belong with one another. In the case of !!!’s self-described “body-music,” this merging of noises is special and new in a way that no proverbial contemporary will, because as Mario says, it “Breaks a little of the mold” of the musical barriers we call genres. In terms of production, past releases including “Me and Giuliani…(A True Story)”, “We Were Stoned When We Thought Up The Title Of This And We Didn’t Want To Give It A Name That We Had To Explain As ‘Oh Yeah We Were Stoned When We Thought Of It’ So We’re Just Calling It Improvisational Jam 11-02-01” and their self-titled first release sounded more raw. Andreoni says they “Did a lot of the basic tracks live. If anything, what is done electronically is usually the drum machine but the instrumentation and some of the structures were laid down live.” Andreoni also commented that “We want this to be big. We want the tracks to be able to be played in clubs and we want it to bump really hard. I think we were able to kind of do some of that,” adding that “We still want to see if we can get a decent sound playing live.” Andreoni says that they have no inhibitions about using electronics or live instruments, but that it is “A matter of writing better songs and using the tools that you have to make the songs sound as good or as interesting as you can.” This band does take their music pretty serious because they “have hours and hours or days worth of stuff that is just too much to go through.” Explains Andreoni. “In the old days !!! used to record their practices and then work with what ever came out, but now it’s like we have to be more specific. And we have to lift the right songs. Write them from the perspective that, I have this idea for a song, and then jam it out.” The result of this is that the band feels they are “writing better songs” than they used to. It shows. The new album is amazing. A masterpiece of intricacies, thick beats, and a range of influences.

Andreoni says dance music “Makes us feel free. When you’re at a club or you’re dancing with friends and you’re listening to music that has strong grooves, it makes you want to get up and do something. It charges you up like caffeine and makes you feel good.” Luckily, there are some people who feel comfortable with themselves and dance at !!!’s shows. When asked about !!!’s gig the previous evening, Mario said, “Last night there was probably a small circle of people that were actually dancing. It has been somewhat a crusade of ours to get people to say it’s okay to dance if you want to. We’re trying to make music that you can dance to instead of just standing there.” However Mario did add that, “We don’t spend too much time trying to get people to do it because people know it’s okay now so it’s not a big deal.” There is no doubt that !!! is making music to be danced to, and when we as individuals stop being so concerned with what other people think of us !!! will make us cast aside personal inhibitions and dance our asses off. We as Americans have quite a bit of catching up to do because as Mario pointed out, “Barcelona was fucking nuts. People were going completely bananas. It was like a larger crowd of people going bananas. There’s a little bit more of a free attitude about it.”

Then there are the absolutely prolific lyrics of Nic Offer and John Pugh on all the tracks. I can’t get the phrase, “Call the Christians tell ’em all that I’m taller than Jesus; they tore down the parking lot and put in a parking lot, and what do they got?” out of my head. Those lyrics can be taken as a social rant, but are really surrounded with personal frustration over other’s limiting of verbal self-expression. The chorus sort of tells it all: “Like I give a fuck! Like I give a shit about that fuck! Like I give a fuck about that motherfucking shit.” Andreoni says these lyrics should be taken essentially with a grain of salt because they’re, “Not trying to be a politically charged band. It’s all about what we’re talking about, what’s important to us.”

This shit doesn’t push the envelope – it defines a generation. Musically, this band takes the listener hardcore with the guitars and verbal delivery, punk with the drums and guitars, and to a rave with the beats and rhythms.

This type of sound could start a revolution filled with dance clubs and elevate personal freedom on a new level. !!! is making music to make people feel good. These guys don’t just make music, they make innovative music. Not through rehashing old sounds, but building something new from all the things that can be learned from all types of music. What is unfortunate is that as Andreoni stated, “After our first record “(!!!)” came out, nobody still gave a shit about us so we just went along living our lives. But we loved playing music together so we kept doing what we were going to do. Playing shows made us think that we could be doing this more seriously. We’re just trying to spend as much time and energy as we can at this to see if we can do it.” This is exactly why this band is so great. They have the balls to do something, to make music, just like they hope their music makes you get up and do whatever you want.

!!! has come up with some pretty convincing musical arguments that indicate we still have some significant growth capabilities in noise arrangements. It took more than ten years for the whole emo thing to catch on, but with bands such as The Postal Service and The Faint having at least mild success, I don’t think the roaring 2000’s dance music will take long to catch on. !!!’s first album did have some successes within the underground music scene, but “Louden Up Now” is their definite breakout album. Even without commercial success (which is pretty much guaranteed with this captivating sound) these guys are making musical history.

Most people reading this are avid downloaders and collectors that are just looking for something to blow their mind. Let me tell you to look no farther because you have found it. With all the endless name possibilities, I wish you luck in trying to explain what you’re looking for to the guy at the record store.!!!