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By definition, a Richmond Slut would be a resident of a San Francisco neighborhood who compromises principles for personal gain. In context of the indie rock 'n' roll scene, the name suggests the unblushing ability to laud oneself. Yet, at no time would you catch a member of the Richmond Sluts perched on some barstool droning on and on about how bitchin' his band is; or how days of monumental proportions lie ahead for the band; and how the international rock press is all bubbly-mouthed over the band's recently released self-titled debut.
If you're a fan of the Richmond Sluts, don't expect a bombardment of endlessly galling e-mails detailing the band's MP3 chart positions, gig dates, or egomaniacally personal member updates. The gift of graft is lost on the Sluts. The band could give a shit. Conversation with band members reveals a welcome lack of self-aggrandizing hype. They come off like a proper rock band, befittingly fuzzyheaded and with all faculties in imperfect working order.
Nevertheless, the band name isn't exactly rooted in irony.
"We started out in the Richmond district in San Francisco where we were living at the time," deadpans bassist/founder Chris Beltran. He's talking from the San Francisco rehearsal space of the band. "And the story goes that I slept with this girl to get the drum set, and that was our first piece of equipment. It's a true story. Our house in Richmond was basically a little whorehouse with parties and all kinds of shit going on, ya know? The band is basically everything that we were living and doing at the time. That's how it started."
Sluts? Maybe they were once. Now they claim steady girlfriends. Nevertheless, early on Beltran understood the value of spirit over ability, a fact that had many people coming and going in the Sluts camp. It was that attitude that lead him to singer/guitarist/band producer Shea Roberts, whom he met at a party. Roberts and Beltran had similar hairstyles.
"And we found Shea, he was actually a great drummer, still is a great drummer, and he couldn't play guitar. But fuck it, he's got the spirit, you know what I mean? That's perfect. That's exactly what we wanted. At the time Shea really wanted to be a lead singer, and I'm like, nah, 'cause we already had a singer -- our lineup has changed over the last few years. . . ."
The Sluts' ability -- or willingness -- to respond to interview requests from New Times appeared to be hopeless. It took days and days. This story almost didn't run, in fact. Yet the idea of five guys in a band fiercely loyal to the traditions laid forth by their record collections is alluring. And the same thing that makes the Sluts worthy -- this curiously old-fashioned rock 'n' roll dignity -- could very well be the thing that finishes them off. They don't pretend to be doing PR.
The Sluts loathe the music biz for all the right reasons. The members would, in fact, rather yak about cherished San Francisco drinking holes ("The Orbit Room, because one of my good friends works there and gets us drunk for free.") or why Generation X bassist Tony James was the coolest thing about that band, than bore themselves with career-advancing ploys and such gibberish.
Drummer Bradford Artly (late of Brian Jonestown Massacre) sums up the band's approach to rock 'n' roll with an ideal that recalls the pre-Let It Bleed era of bright and naïve liberation. "I don't pay attention to the business," he says in a drawl that sounds almost narcotic-induced. "I have no idea. I just like to get in the van, ya know? Just show up."
Yet, what makes the Richmond Sluts veritable kingcups in the weed-strewn landscape of underground rock 'n' roll is the band's intrinsic apotheosis of rock 'n' roll composure. And it's nothing to do with a shared fondness for Blondie/Bators bouffants and Carnaby Street get-ups, or the occasional misstep on a rock-cliché land mine. It's more about the imagination and lurking individuality expressed in actions based on musical tastes.
Of course being good at what you do rarely translates into major funding. Most Sluts work day jobs. Or at least pretend to. (Though just-added guitarist Jimmy Sweet makes his living as a staff songwriter for a U.K. publisher.)
"Some of us work, some of us don't," shrugs Beltran. "Girls support some, others have moral support, some have mental support. Personally, I play music, and sometimes I sell a lot of records."
What does that mean, he works at a record store?
"No," he says. "Sometimes I have to sell a lot of my own records."
Still, the Sluts are a damn fine argument against the idea that only real rock 'n' roll bands possess identities based on experience. Together since 1997, the youngish band (all claim to be in their twenties) has managed to update sounds into aberrations of a past breaking through; garish riffs from a distance that resemble the Syndicate of Sound, Brian Jones-era Stones, Ramones and Flamin' Groovies. A racket remarkable in its ability to summon the fuck-you spirit of a lost time, one that passes far beyond the limits of two simple chords working against a third. A glimmering instance of garage-rock pluck and punk tenacity that is perceptive enough to recognize the clichés, have a laugh at them, then fling them back into the rotted heap where they belong.