9 Volt Leads the Charge

Tempe power trio proves that it really is a fine line between clever and stupid

In most professions, a deficiency of smarts would seem a serious liability. After all, don't we insist on seeing every last medical diploma a doctor can tack up on his office walls, just to make sure we're not about to be sliced and diced open by an uncertified moron?

Don't we expect our rocket scientists to be devoid of what we call the "Goober factor"?

Not so in the world of popular music, where stupid behavior is our heritage. Brian Wilson is considered a pop genius, yet here is a man who has been known to butter his head and stick it between two slices of bread. Pet Sounds or no Pet Sounds, that sure sounds dumb.

And when you're talking hooks, dumbness is actually the benchmark that all musicians strive for. Stupid is catchy. Stupid is fun. The smart money is on stupid every time. Many times a record label will send a completed album back, complaining that it is not stupid enough, that even its own doltish A&R man can't hear the stupid single.

While dumb hooks and stupid behavior are commonplace in pop, using the word "stupid" in a pop song is a bit trickier. When local lads the Refreshments reminded us that the world was indeed populated with academically challenged peoploids, they reaped great financial rewards.

But then again, look what it did to Culture Club. When Boy George stated, rather diplomatically, not only that "war, war is stupid" but also that "people are stupid and love means nothing in some strange quarters," that hurt a lot of stupid people. Hurt 'em REAL bad!

Andy Mitchell, singer/songwriter and the leading voice behind the hard-rocking power trio known as 9 Volt, wrote a clever song called "Stupid" that's turning a lot of heads, stupid and otherwise. A mere month after its release, the self-titled debut (that's 9 Volt, idjits!) was the fifth-most-added recording on college/alternative radio in the country. When asked if he wrote this song to illustrate the futility of language, how words dissolve like so much vapor when one is trying to articulate the condition of the human heart, Mitchell takes a sip of cold beer before responding with an emphatic "nah!"

"I'm singing this melody that's gonna get stuck in your head. You're gonna fucking hate this song, this stooopid song," he says, laughing.

Drummer Scott Collins is keen to point out, for those stupid people out there who know not which side of the idiot fence they fell off, that the song doesn't single out any group as being imbecilic, but rather that it is the song itself they are listening to that is being derided. "It is what it is. Self-effacing in a sense."

It's also simple, melodic and easy to sing along with, as are many of the songs on this band's smashing debut. Another contender for a single is "Alone," which one local reviewer inexplicably manages to work a Gin Blossoms reference into.

"Let's not even say that," grimaces Collins, who picks up on the fact that the only reason it could possibly remind someone of the GBs is that "there's a little tambourine on the snare drum, playing on the quarter notes. We go from a reference like Tool--to the Gin Blossoms? How do you even fit the two in the same sentence?"

Another thing that quietly rankles 9 Volt are the lame attempts by local press to draw the band into an equally lame pissing contest with Gloritone, another local trio that's getting a lot of national radio attention. If you can manage to use the right adjectives and spell checks, it does make for one compelling story. Once upon a time, there was a popular Valley band called Dish (later known as Verona) that housed both these outfits. Dish virtually split down the middle, and both shards formed power trios that snagged major record-label distributed deals, all within a year of Dish/Verona's implosion.

At the time, this scenario seemed highly improbable for Verona. "Dish drew really well. At our CD-release party, we drew 400 people. Then we had to change our name over the summer to Verona," Mitchell says, shaking his head. "And we lost a lot of college students. It seemed like our draw really came down."

Graduations are tough on bands. So are name changes. The two factors combined with the transient nature of most Arizona residents meant Verona was stuck with undetectable dead weight on its mailing list for months.

A month before Mitchell split to form his own band, Verona consisted of himself and Gloritone in its current incarnation. According to Mitchell, "The biggest thing that caused the split was that Tim [Anthonise] wanted to sing. I didn't have confidence in him as a front man or as a singer, and I couldn't step down. Tim did most of the writing in the band, and it just came to the point where he wanted to sing everything, too.

"Tim had gone on a three-week trip, and it was during that time that I said, 'As soon as he gets back, I'm quitting the band,'" Mitchell continues.

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