Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Story on Tennessee rockers Pink Spiders

I did two different features on Pink Spiders in October 2008. The first one, below, ran in the North County Times (San Marcos, Calif.). They're currently on tour throughout America and auditioning a new bassist in conjunction with Alternative Press Magazine. Photo of singer Matt Friction: Steve Cross

By George A. Paul

Nashville is not the easiest place to launch an alt-rock band. To stick out among a sea of country acts, the Pink Spiders adopted a retro look and played short gigs where they provoked crowds into buying merchandise.

According to Matt Friction, those confrontational shows (done shortly after the group formed in 2003) are a thing of the past – especially with a new lineup.

“I think it’s downplayed to some degree,” said the singer/guitarist from a tour stop in Pennsylvania. “The personalities are a little more relaxed now (like I am). These guys are my friends. It’s not too abrasive, but still true to how we are…we just have fun with it and get in people’s faces a little. It’s not dangerous.”

As for the musicians’ favored attire – scarves, matching retro sunglasses, pink and black striped clothes – Friction explained “the visuals go along with the attitude of the band…we ripped off Motley Crue, New York Dolls and the ‘70s New York punk scene.”

The Pink Spiders released the full-length “Hot Pink” independently before signing with Geffen Records, which put out “Teenage Graffiti” in 2006. Co-produced by Cars main man Ric Ocasek and Jerry Harrison from Talking Heads, the album featured an exuberant and sleek mix of party hearty power pop/rock. Single “Little Razorblade” received airplay on college and modern rock stations such as KROQ in Los Angeles. High profile tours with 30 Seconds to Mars, Fall Out Boy and Yellowcard followed.

Friction, 27, found the major label experience frustrating. He learned a few lessons along the way though. “Never compromise anything and or let anyone tell you what you know isn’t true. Don’t rely on anyone…start being involved in every aspect of the business.”

Adventurous third effort “Sweat it Out” was just released on an indie (Friction’s own Mean Buzz Records through Adrenaline Music Group). “It’s a much better fit for us, having control and not a daily fight over every little thing.”

“Sweat” was recorded more than a year ago with Brendan O’Brien (The Offspring, Bruce Springsteen) at the helm, while still under contract to Geffen.

Unlike Ocasek, O’Brien was more open to the band’s suggestions. “It was like a brain trust, getting in the trenches every day - like kids in a candy store, having fun and shooting ideas off each other…it’s kind of cliché, but we were having the time of our lives. He said it was one of the more fun recordings he’d had, which is pretty meaningful coming from a guy who’s had all these huge records.”

Highlights include an over-the-top “Falling with Every Step,” with layered vocals and a blistering classic rock guitar solo a la Brian May. “I thought the album needed a big
‘Bohemian Rhapsody’-styled anthem; a song that kept changing gears all over the place.”

“There’s definitely a glam side apparent on the record,” he continued. “I was listening to a lot of T-Rex, Queen and David Bowie.” Insanely catchy single “Gimme Chemicals” revisits Love & Rockets territory and “touches upon the excesses of touring; the social lubricants to get you through, for better or worse. It’s not a pro-drug anthem by any means.”

A stripped down approach was utilized for the gritty, acoustic guitar-led ballad “Don’t Wait for Me,” about being on tour. “The underlying theme of the record is the duality of living two different lives.” Friction found being at home one day, then playing to a packed club on another was “like Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde in some ways…we toured four or five years nonstop. The record touches upon more personal stuff than rock ‘n’ roll.”

Last spring, the Pink Spiders netted their largest media exposure to date during an appearance on hit Fox TV show “Hell’s Kitchen” and saw their MySpace hits increase. “When the opportunity came, of course we were down. It’s network television with 13 million people watching…we flew out there, had a good time and got well fed.”

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