By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
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Love 'em or hate 'em, Victims in Ecstacy looks like a band built for success in the music biz.
After all, this is a musical age when subtlety is for losers and permanent cult figures. VIE doesn't suffer from an excess of subtlety. They're loud, abrasive and image-conscious. They're unabashedly ambitious and relentlessly hardworking. Their music is all about supercharged rage, their sound a condensation of everything that's dominating the rock airwaves: thick, overdriven guitar riffs delivered at breakneck tempos, fleshed out with sequencers and industrial loops. And their idea of an understated gesture is for the entire band to pose for a picture in matching suits while flipping the bird at the camera (as they did on the back cover of their Chinese Pornography CD).
In other words, Victims are a record company's dream. That's why it's a bit surprising to find that the band -- which plans to break up after this week's release show for the CD White Box Therapy-- has been at least partly undone by label reps trying to change them.
Four months ago, the group had much reason for optimism. They'd spent most of 2001 at Sound Vision studio with producer/engineer Michael Beck, recording White Box, a CD they believed would sell them to major labels. Last November, the group lined up a sponsorship deal with Pepsi, which ran the group's song "New Taste" on radio ads for the company's energy drink Amp. The Amp hookup also enabled Victims to tour with industrial war-horses Pigface, Gravity Kills, and Godhead. While on the Pigface tour, they were offered the chance to showcase for Geffen Records in Los Angeles.
"They told us to change our name," says singer Jim Louvau. "They said that the word 'victims' isn't a good word right now because of September 11. They said that 'ecstasy' is a drug reference, which it isn't in the way we use it. They told us to incorporate more of the Foo Fighters and Led Zeppelin in what we're doing. And we thought, 'The reason you're here is because we sent you this disc, and you liked it.'"
It's an emotional tango that many bands have been forced to dance, and the message goes something like this: We think you're great, could you change everything about yourself?
It's akin to telling your girlfriend that you're madly in love with her, but would she mind very much having liposuction and a nose job?
Louvau says the group was also unnerved by a management company rep who gushed about Victims when he first saw them (even taking them out for a night of dinner and a strip club), but quickly began pushing the band to follow record-label directives.
"I think that started to tear away a bit at the guys," Louvau says. "I think that's when things started changing. I don't want to be in the fucking Foo Fighters, and no one else does."
These divisive distractions were coming at a time when the band members' nerves were getting frayed from their intensive year of writing, recording and performing. They also coincided with some internal questions about the group's artistic direction. Louvau had grown tired of having Victims be lumped in the industrial-music category, and he felt frustrated that the group's sound had long been overshadowed by the makeup and dresses they wore onstage.
"We came to one conclusion: We're not gonna wear makeup anymore," he says. "I was sick of picking up the newspaper and reading about our band, and seeing people talk about what kind of clothes we're wearing. You've got to remember, we're older now. What we were doing back in 1998 and 1999, at the time that was the right thing. But as you get older, you want to do different things. We just wanted to focus on our music, and making the best possible music we can."
While Louvau was eager to push the band in a more straightforward rock direction, he says the creative shift was tough for drummer Andy Gerold (formerly the group's guitarist) and guitarist Ken Bergeron (formerly the group's bassist).
"Ken and Andy write a lot at the computer," he says. "And a lot of the music that Ken and Andy were writing was more industrial sounding. And I wanted to keep searching for that new thing we were heading for. I always wanted to keep the industrial influence in what we were doing, but I didn't want it in the forefront so much."
So, amid much confusion about their future, the band decided to break up, a move that Louvau didn't want, but has been forced to accept. The breakup has been doubly painful because it comes at a time when the raucous White Boxconvincingly showcases the band's growing rock skills, and as their contributions to tribute albums for Alice Cooper ("Welcome to My Nightmare") and Faith No More ("Strip Search") promise to enhance their profile.
Both tributes were organized by Pigface leader Martin Atkins, and Louvau looks at VIE's tour with Pigface as a triumph that justified all the struggles he and his bandmates endured.
"That tour was the best thing we've ever done," he says. "At the end of the night, Pigface would bring these two miniature drum sets out and let us use them. So we got to play with them almost every night for the last couple of songs. I'm looking over and Martin Atkins is behind me, a crowd full of kids, and it's like an industrial all-star band. So it was a really neat experience, actually doing what we wanted to do."