Droll Call

Veteran Valley music oddballs plot to top the Sponge Monkeys

D.R. Wilke, with gray hair, wire-rimmed glasses and an ASU alumni tee shirt, and Paul Taylor, with short curly locks and a white Izod polo, grab a balcony table at the Gordon Biersch brewery nestled atop the Mill Avenue Starbucks and are quickly greeted by a young waiter clutching four specimen-cup-size samples of the restaurant's flagship lagers.

"This is our summertime seasonal -- it's auburn in color, lightly hopped," the spiky-haired server begins in a rapid-fire voice. "The duplis is our next one; it's a Bavarian-style lager, surprisingly light-bodied, also moderately hopped. That's followed by our boch, which is seasonal, strong, robustly hopped -- served unfiltered, for a malty taste, a bit creamy and heavier than it looks. Take a moment to sample each, gentlemen, and I'll be back!"

In a flash, the waiter is off to repeat his well-rehearsed spiel at another table. But Wilke and Taylor are still grinning at each other, as if having just watched an instant-classic Saturday Night Live skit.

"Did you record any of that, his conversation?" Taylor asks the interviewer sitting directly across from them, pointing to the miniature recorder perched at the center of the table. "Good," he says excitedly, "'cause we might want to use some of that in our next recording. 'Robustly hopped,' Ôsurprisingly light-bodied' -- he was just rolling along there. The waiter's in the band!"

Taylor, a 45-year-old utilities industry consultant and part-time musician, and Wilke, 50, a onetime fixture in the Phoenix New Wave scene who now runs an audio production service in Tempe, are the unlikely masterminds behind Droll, a quirky little Internet-based recording band that's quietly becoming a hit among young, punky electronic blip-hop fans in England, New Zealand and certain parts of Tempe.

"It's a good name for the band, because it draws in this community of people from all over the Internet with a droll sense of humor," says Wilke, who quickly adds that not all humor on the Internet is droll, but that the droll are naturally drawn to the blog-friendly Net. "People who see humor in everyday life, just like we try to find the beauty in everyday sounds."

"Except," says Taylor, "we recently found out that in Dutch, 'droll' means 'turd.'"

"Which makes it even better," Wilke counters. "Especially when one of our most downloaded songs is called 'Behind.'"

Wilke, a familiar sardonic face to anyone old enough to remember the vibrant Valley New Wave scene at the dawn of the skinny-tie era, when Wilke and then-wife Peggy "Murph" Murphy led the popular early-'80s club band Blue Shoes, admits he came up with the high concept for Droll -- a "virtual band," assembled from the "limitless supply of talent and contribution accessible via the spoils of the digital revolution" -- after breaking up with Murphy in 1996.

"Up until we split up, all my energy was always focused on finding music that would support Peggy's voice and style," says Wilke, who played kind of a quiet-genius Dave Stewart to Murphy's danger-diva Annie Lennox throughout a series of local power-pop bands in the '80s and early '90s. "At first, after the split, the idea of fronting a band without her was terrifying. But then, it became freeing, like I could do any kind of music I wanted now."

Inspired by a growing fascination with anything-goes electronic music -- not to mention an even more consuming addition to the Internet -- Wilke discovered that he could piece together tunes without a lead singer, using only whatever sounds he could record and upload to his computer.

Turns out Wilke has a special gift for recognizing common rhythmic patterns between seemingly unrelated sounds -- he's the type of "idiot savant," as Taylor affectionately calls him, who intuitively understands why The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz synch together.

For "Lie on It," Wilke created a techno dance track behind a voice recording left on his answering machine from a female friend in New York trying to implicate Wilke in a George Costanza-like job interview scheme.

"She was calling to say she was going to lie on a job application and wanted me to cover for her," Wilke recalls, with a chuckle.

"What was funny was how matter-of-fact her voice was on the recording," adds Taylor, who immediately saw the hit potential of a looped woman's voice repeating the dominatrix-worthy title sound bite in such a non-erotic context. "It was great!"

An even greater discovery was the worldwide community of computer-linked indie musicians who, it turns out, scroll each other's tracks on all the unsigned artists' MP3 sites looking for collaborators.

"I got an e-mail one day from this guy in New Zealand named Desmond," Wilke recalls. "He said he liked what we had on mp3.com -- before it closed down -- and had some tracks he'd like to see if we'd collaborate on. So I went to his page, found one song that I immediately liked, downloaded it, cut some things out, added some more stuff to it, pasted it together and had a whole new song."

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