Chris Griffiths doesn't want to hear about dance music. At least not the contemporary, guitar-oriented kind. He doesn't care about rave" dance parties or anything that bands like the Happy Mondays or Stone Roses are doing. Griffiths says he's tired of the neodisco that's infected his native England and that threatens to do likewise here in the States.
So why does his band, the Real People, sound so similar to those dreaded U.K. dance-rock acts?
I don't think we do, actually," Griffiths says by telephone from a tour stop in San Francisco. I mean, we've only got two or three songs on our album that maybe sound that way. And that's because we recorded it well over a year ago and we were influenced by what was going on around us back then." Griffiths adds that the self-titled debut album should be thought of as the Real People at that time."
We tried to make honest, radio-friendly songs-real songs-and I think we did," he adds. But we're a little harder now. And we're a lot harder live."
The verdict on that last pronouncement will be rendered this Saturday night at the KUKQ Birthday Bash. The Real People are scheduled to be the opening act for the radio station's six-band alternative-music festival at Desert Sky Pavilion.
Judging from the Real People's only album, Griffiths has a point about the band's occasional distance from trendier dance stylings. Tuneful songs like the Revolveresque She," the catchy Open Up Your Mind (Let Me In)" and Window Pane" all manage to tame overly familiar grooves with solid hooks and songwriting.
In some respects, the Real People's bouncy chords and choruses bring to mind the more melodic, less rhythmic guitar-pop of the La's, who debuted last year with a winning disc highlighted by There She Goes," an utterly beautiful single. Comparing the Real People to the La's makes added sense, since both bands hail from Liverpool and used to hang out together quite frequently.
Yeah, I've jammed with them, got stoned with them," Griffiths says of the lads in the La's. He then pauses. ÔWe all used to be really good friendsÏmuch more so than now."
Griffiths figures a little bit of competition" may have derailed the relationship once the Real People graduated from pub-land with a record contract and subsequent album of their own. But I don't want to say things about them because I know them and I know they wouldn't want to say things about us," Griffiths cautions in his heavy, Merseyside accent. I will say this, though: They're good songwriters."
As are the Real People. With Griffiths on guitar and vocals, his bassist brother Tony sharing singer-songwriter duties, guitarist Sean Simpson and drummer Tony Elson rounding out the sound, the Real People manage to move minds and feet without massive compromises in either direction.
The brothers Griffiths are especially adept at fusing minimal yet meaningful lyrics to peppy, modern guitar tunes. On Wonderful," for instance, a hip-twisting beat is ladened with lyrics that could have come from an existential hippie staring at a tree: I don't know my way/But I know where I'm heading/Where everybody's beautiful/And being there's just wonderful." But a couple of verses later, with the beat still strong, a sense of reality kicks in: You could say I'm lost/I don't know my name/And you don't know me at all."
Other honest moments of confusion, curiosity and concern are peppered throughout the Real People's songlist; so much so that the band appears to put a high priority on thoughtful word play.
Not so, says Griffiths.
We really don't work on lyrics all that much," he says. I think concentrating on words like that is the worst thing a songwriter can do. You've got to let those sort of things come naturally."
Griffiths adheres to the idea of an artistic muse-a kind of creative virus that strikes both words and music. I don't want to sound like Lenny Kravitz or something, but it has to come from somewhere within," he says. I used to sit around for weeks on end trying to write a song and it would never come. But then all of a sudden, I'd jump up and write one just like that. You can't think too hard about those things or they'll never happen."
What's happening now for the Real People is the gradual realization that the band is a bona fide big-time recording act. Gone are the days when the members first got together and rehearsed in front of scurrying rodents at a makeshift warehouse dubbed The Bunker." Gone, too, are the times when the Bunker played host to what Griffiths describes as these great big acid-house parties."
The big difference now is that we're away a lot-we're seeing a lot more of the world," he says. But we're still `real people,' you know? My brother is still living with my mom and dad and I still live with my girlfriend down the street. And we still work hard. We're rehearsing all the timeÏevery day when we're home. Even when we're not actually rehearsing, we'll just hang out together with our mates and eventually some sort of jam session will start up."
Griffiths goes on to paint a picture of Liverpool that appears conducive to hanging with one's mates. He says the major seaport city is a small town" in many ways, especially in terms of its incestuous music scene. And, says Griffiths, Liverpool is still considered holy ground for Beatles music. He says most club owners in town prefer Fab Four cover bands to groups playing original material.
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But Griffiths adds that with the success of the Real People and the La's, Liverpool is apparently moving past the past.
There's lots of kids around on social security, you know, but they're all writing really good songs," Griffiths says, his thick Liverpudlian accent getting heavier by the word. There's still a dance movement there, though. I don't think it'll ever go away. I guess it's just too much fun for the kids.
But when they go home, they listen to things like early Pink Floyd, or they strum on their acoustic guitars. I mean, you can't play that dance music at home with all that heavy beat, beat, beat. When you're home listening to music by yourselfÏthat's when you want to listen to real songs.