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It is a strange breed of rock 'n' roll band, this Coctails.
The six-year-old quartet's ethos does not include anything to do with sex, drugs or even booze. The members don't care about getting famous, and they're not in it for the money.
"When we started, we were all visual artists. We knew it wasn't going to be four guys up onstage banging it out and drinking beer," says multi-instrumentalist Mark Greenberg by phone from Chicago. "We were thinking about the whole experience, not just, 'Wow, I hope somebody sees me holding this electric guitar onstage.'"
In short, when the Coctails come to town, fathers are not driven to lock up their daughters. No, the band isn't sucking in the babes with enticingly wicked macho rock, but the boys in the Coctails have something that the little girls can relate to.
Dolls. Of themselves.
"We just packed up 100 of them for this tour," says Greenberg. "They're hand-sewn and stuffed."
Beyond the dolls the band will bring to the Valley, the group has something fans of any sex can put on their stereos. Music, that is--an odd m‚lange of sounds and styles that is best described in the Coctails' bio (which is not only honest but accurate, a rarity).
"The music can be characterized as a more chirpy, happy, upbeat mix of pop, jazz, folk, simple rock 'n' roll and ballads. From there, our interests led us in two separate directions: one of a more exotic, somber and sometimes chaotic jazz instrumental path and one of a more stripped-down pop, rock and vocal-ballad direction. Perhaps we have become confusing to see live. . . ." Get it?
"It's not like you can listen to one song and know what the Coctails are, or listen to one record and know what the Coctails are," offers Greenberg. "We don't even know what we are. Every new song is every knew song."
From simple rock 'n' roll to jazz? If this is beginning to sound a tad heavy-handed to be any fun, Greenberg is quick to point out that the four Cocs are definitely not jazz musicians, they just play them on CD.
"It's really more the attempt," he admits. "When we started the band, it was the day I bought my electric piano. Barry had a standup [bass], John had a sax and it was really what we could squeeze out of our instruments. Then, on our third record, which is kind of jazzlike, we were pretty much just picking up instruments that were around and figuring out the parts we wanted. We couldn't go sit in with Wynton Marsalis, you know what I mean?"
The Coctails' latest batch of tunes is gathered under the name Peel, a lot of "vocal guitar stuff," Greenberg says, leftovers that didn't fit in on the jazzy Long Sound album. And notice that while the band changes styles like Green Day changes hair color, there is no mention of actual cocktail music on this page.
Until now, and that's only to enlighten those who might think this band is in any way connected with the newly arisen "Cocktail Nation," a nascent movement devoted to resurrecting the lounge sounds and top-shelf imagery of the Fifties and early Sixties.
"The whole notion of the Cocktail Nation, it's so painful to be included into it," says Greenberg, groaning. "People just automatically lump us in with bands like Love Jones and Combustible Edison--who are great at what they do, but we do a different thing. There are surface similarities; we have a standup bass and a vibraphone, but it's like, Kenny G has nothing to do with Sun Ra, but they're both considered jazz."
Still, there's no denying the band has taken many ingredients, visually and sonically, from the period. Greenberg insists it's merely the philosophy that's influential. "When we were doing this [putting the band together], there was just a certain way to do things, the way that it was done [back then], and that way was right," he says.
The band is more interested in recording than in touring. "We don't really drink and stuff. It's not really the lifestyle that we can do for more than three or four weeks at a time," says Greenberg. But the road provides the necessary revenue to keep the Coctail machine running smoothly.
"I think the money we make has to do with how much stuff we have to sell; we make a certain amount from playing the show, but we usually make twice that in merchandise," reveals Greenberg. What are the Coctails pushing? "Buttons, dolls, tee shirts, four LPs, five singles, calendars. With all that, where other bands might sell somebody just a tee shirt, we might get that person for $60. That stuff really pays off!"
Don't think these men--all of whom still hold day jobs--are getting rich off of this thing; those dolls and calendars aren't exactly being purchased by hordes. Which is fine by Greenberg; he and his bandmates are not concerned with mass appeal. Asked what the Coctails' message to the teens of America would be should big-time success fall their way, the musician's answer is no answer. "I never think about that. I'm not sure that our music has that wide of a draw. I think there's a real small, specific audience, and I don't think that's a bad thing. I mean, Baywatch has been on TV for how many years? The general public is, well, if you sell two million [albums], you've gotta wonder what those two million people are doing."
The watchword for the Coctails is, quite simply, fun. "As long as it continues to be fun and a creative outlet, we'll continue to do it," says Greenberg. "A lot of people I know in bands are really gunning for the carrot or something. As long as we have songs to record and money to do it, that's pretty much our goal."