The Euro Stops Here
Sure, we've got Americana up the wazoo in this dry-heated home state, but what about "Britannicana," Britpop-rooted music made in three-digit temperatures? Could it ever happen here? It has, mate, in the form of Eurovox, a classic mod three-piece band styled after the Jam and the Who but without either the fashion regiment or the pill-popping ideology of a youth movement behind it.
Eurovox's fascination begins and ends with mod's economy of sound: a choppy guitar, a bass that acts as a second rhythm guitar, and hyperkinetic drumming. While the Who seized mod to fit in with its audience, and the Jam revived mod to identify itself for an audience while distancing itself from punk, the songs frontman/guitarist Mat Hammond writes for Eurovox are about fitting in and identifying yourself for an audience. Standard universal subjects like true love, being flat broke and finding comfort wherever you can abound on This is . . . Eurovox, like "Billy No Mates," an ode to a dateless mope who might take some solace in the song's masturbatory solution ("the future's in your hands"), and "The Story of a Boy and a Girl."
As for the English element, Hammond sings in a Shepherd's Bush twang that makes "That's how the story go-ooes" sound like he's considering "the town of Story Ghost." And he's not singing about the towns of Tempe, Mesa, or any of our localities, either -- not unless Arizonans adopt "bollocks" and "sussed" in daily conversation. Unlike most besotted Anglophiles affecting a dropped-"h" pronunciation, Hammond's accent is not the product of wishful thinking, but the genuine article.
Still, this London-born musician has taken a lifetime to arrive at his natural speaking voice in song, largely at the urging of Robbie Watson, the band's producer, invisible fourth member and another Brit transplant to boot. For the past decade or more, Watson has worked with a wide variety of Valley bands, from the Zen Lunatics to Cousins of the Wize to Hammond's former band, The Living Daylytes, which also contained Eurovox bassist Steve Flores. But with the release of the band's debut on his label, Saville Row Recordings, this is the first project Watson has had a hand in with such a "pronounced" British flavor.
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"It was kind of an own-up time for me and Mat in a way," he says. "One day we just decided, 'Let's just be exactly what we are. Let's talk like that again. Let's stop trying to be mid-Atlantic.'"
"That's what lead to singing with an English accent," agrees Hammond. "Everybody tries to sing with an American accent. All the stuff before, in the Daylytes, sounds really fake to me now 'cause I'm singing with an American accent."
When asked to demonstrate how he might've handled these Eurovox songs in his Yankee elocution, he throws his hands up in mock surrender. "I couldn't do it," he says with a grin. "We were cutting a track that actually never ended up on the album. Robbie suggested trying to sing it in an English accent, and it sounded really bizarre, like some kind of Broadway show tune. Like Oliver Twist."
"That's our favorite movie," cackles Watson. "Now it's more My Fair Lady. I told Mat, rather than slanting the vowels, sing like you speak. If the Beatles didn't have those accents, their harmonies would never have sounded as distinct as they were."
One of the band's most recent gigs was a Fourth of July festival in Seattle. Bassist Flores and drummer C. J. Van Wuffen got into the spirit of things and decided to fake Brit accents to make it a matching mug-and-plate set all around. "We screwed around and some girls thought we were all from England," says Flores. Watson then tries to encourage Flores to do his bad English accent, which sounds more like Apu than the Who. "We want to say he's Pakistani," says Watson. "A little vindaloo."
Meanwhile, people accustomed to Green Day, Good Charlotte and Madonna's ruse Britannia were asking Hammond, "So are you really from England? You're not putting that on?"
Unlike most bands who play their material in clubs for two years before interpreting it in a studio, Eurovox used the studio to craft its stage-ready material before it ever played out, with one eye on the "keep it simple, stupid" principle. After eight songs were ready in the twin-guitars-and-multiple-vocals fashion, the band members decided to stay a three-piece. Without any counterpoint melody between the guitars, or any massive horn or string arrangements, the band and Watson were suddenly able to record one song a day from start to finish.
"We've got the roadmap and it's so fast it's almost scary." says Hammond. "No more seven-part harmonies that sound like a Welsh choir. Or a bunch of sheep-shaggers."
Of the first four songs on the album, three are about the healing power of radio -- and to this end, Watson has hired a record-plugger to get Eurovox across to college radio in the U.S. and interested parties at the BBC back home. "Radio's less regulated there now. In the '60s and '70s, American stations were it -- I'd had friends come back from touring with cassettes of American radio. But now it's even worse in America. The BBC will play anything -- you get Green Day, then Avril Lavigne then Jessica Simpson. In the U.S., there's still a Top 40, but there's no Top 40 format. In the U.K., there is.
"I think satellite is going to compound it even further here," says Hammond. "It's becoming more and more segregated. Satellite will probably lead to stations like 'The Hits of 1984,' where that's all they play."
Not surprisingly, Hammond bristles at the notion that Eurovox could find itself lumped in as a retro format. "It's not retro. Obviously there's some influences there from the '60s, '70s and '80s, but it's the mod twist on that, I hope. Most people don't get it," he says. "The people that do, we're just a good lil' band. We're fun to watch, we're all just a little left of nuts, we have a good time. The songs are solid -- they're all pop, stuff that will stick in your head while you're trying to sleep later that night."
Having set the roadmap for Eurovox with This Is . . . , there's no reason in Hammond's mind that Eurovox need ever expand its sound, add new members and spend more than a day bashing a song into shape in the recording studio.
"Most bands build up. We went backwards. I'm hoping to get to the point when we're four or five albums down the road and there's nothing but complete silence. Just the sound of air."
Sat., Jan. 10, 8 p.m., 2009
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