In the state of Washington, 764-HERO is an instantly recognized alphanumeric code, and for good reason. The superlative phone number is omnipresent along the state's highways; operators are standing by on the other end of the digits should you happen upon one of society's terror-mongers, the carpool-lane violator.
In another, parallel universe, 764-HERO represents more than just a phone number; it's the name of a band (not surprisingly from Seattle) that contrives pulsing, impassioned waves of pop-inflected rock songs. The hundreds of kids (a foreboding 666, actually) who saw 764-HERO open for Modest Mouse at Boston's earlier this year experienced the melancholic band as a two-piece, drummer Polly Johnson and guitarist/vocalist John Atkins. The band has since added a bass player, James Bertram (late of Lync, Built to Spill and Red Stars Theory), and left the ranks of the Northwest's great duos (Quasi, godheadSilo, the Spinanes, etc.)
Since the Valley last saw Polly and John, 764-HERO has released a brilliant 12-inch single of "Whenever You See Fit," the song they performed with Modest Mouse between the two bands' sets on tour. The group then released its second full-length album, Get Here and Stay, last week. "Whenever You See Fit" will undoubtedly prove to be one of the most profound and inventive singles of this year--two bands jointly performing a drawn-out, hypnotic 15-minute opus, with two electronicized DJ remixes on the B-side. Get Here and Stay, although lacking any sense of DJ-enhanced danceability, is no less a monument to 764-HERO's talent and charm. The record seethes with romantic antipathy and brooding, compounded by blasts of angst-fueled potency.
In about a month's time, Valley dwellers will again be offered the 764-HERO experience, when the band opens for the reunited Sunny Day Real Estate at Jackson Hole on Thursday, November 19. In the meantime, Revolver caught up with Atkins to bullshit about records and demographics. Excerpts follow.
Revolver: I don't come across too many bands that perform or record songs en masse with their tourmates. Tell me how "Whenever You See Fit" came about.
John Atkins: About the third night on our tour, we showed up at this church basement show and there was no one there; it was like on a Tuesday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The people that were there were nice, but there was like three of them, so we decided let's just all set up and play together, sorta like one of those "Fuck It" kinda things, and we just played really loud; everyone played, and it was really fun. It was based on this little part of a song that I'd been fuckin' around with every now and then.
So we started doing that every night at the end of our set and the beginning of their set. By the end of the tour, we all had little parts, and there were lyrics. We called it the space jam on tour; we were just like, let's do the space jam. Both of our shows could go good or bad, but if we were like, "The space jam was awesome tonight," that was our gauge of how the night went. I remember the good ones. We recorded the 12-inch on Valentine's Day; we got back home around Thanksgiving, so we just sorta hung out for a little bit, then decided to get it down while we still had it in our heads. That turned out pretty cool. It was good to get something out that we both played on. It was a lot of fun on tour to do, so it was really cool to record it and remix it.
R: Being a two-piece was a defining feature of your band. Why add a bass player?
JA: We just sorta decided to try it out. We had done a lot with just the two of us. Then we played on this radio show in Seattle where you had to fill an hour live, and we were kinda like, "What do we do?" 'Cause we're notorious for playing like 20 minutes. So we got our friend James and thought we'd play some songs with him just for fun, and we totally liked the way it sounded. We started out with the understanding that if he hated it or we hated it, we'd tell. We're all friends anyway; it's not like we just got a bass player, we got our friend to see how it sounded.
R: And you're happier with the bass-enhanced record?
JA: The records have just gotten better; this is one more step.
There's one more person's input; he had a lot of input on the record--obviously there's a bass on the album--it was cool 'cause he played guitar on it and we both played keyboards on it; it was just like one more person's input, more ideas. That's cool, too. It's rocker.
R: This is a tough one: Describe your music for someone who's never heard it before.
JA: I guess . . . fucked-up pop-rock? I dunno. [laughing]
R: I always ask bands to do that, and they're like, "You're the fucking critic, man, you describe it."
JA: I'll fall into that camp.
R: Your lyrics are pretty emotionally heavy. When you're writing them, are you purging your demons or just painting pictures for people?
JA: Both, painting pictures about purging myself. Half of them are just like movies, like here's a scene, here's a scene. They may or may not connect, but I'll figure out later what they meant. Mostly in practice I'll just sing whatever pops in my head and keep the first couple lines and figure out rhymes or something later.
R: Musically your band sounds very mature. I would think your audience is older than a lot of "indie" bands. What's the 764-HERO demographic?
JA: It's pretty across the board. I don't know if there's a typical fan. My friends told me they were selling a church pew to someone the other day, it was this 40-year-old guy they were selling it to. They're like, "Well, I have to go because my friend's band is playing and I have to get up there," and this 40-year-old guy's like, "What's the name of the band?" She's all "764-HERO." He's like, "Oh, I've heard that they're good." So some 40-year-old guy who wants to buy a church pew is potentially our target audience.
R: Have you ever phoned 764-HERO?
JA: Nah. The funny thing is that it's totally an empty threat 'cause you can just rat on anybody. Like, "You were driving in the carpool lane by yourself!" "No I wasn't!" So you can get your ex-girlfriends in trouble. But I haven't done that.
The Caddy That Zigs: It's been quite some time since the release of Sleater-Kinney's last record, Dig Me Out, leaving us who worship the ground the girls' amps sit on to writhe in sweaty discomfort while perusing 45s at the record store, hoping to find a new song somewhere (those efforts proved fruitful months ago, when the little-publicized Free to Fight seven-inch, with S-K's "Big Big Lights," was released). The new Sleater-Kinney LP is in the works, but won't be around until sometime next year. But a fix is available, in the form of a threesome known as Cadallaca.
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Featuring S-K's Corin Tucker (pseudonymed Kissy for Cadallaca purposes) wailing and flailing on the guitar, with two grrlies named Junior and Dusty (we'll skip their real names; both play in the Lookers, and Dusty plays in the Crabs) playing the Farfisa organ and drums, Cadallaca rocks go-go style in the spirit of the Northwest's greatest girl groups. Concurrently sweet and sour, Cadallaca avoided the punk entrapments that define Sleater-Kinney and put together a record of gracefully mischievous pop songs. (K Records, P.O. Box 7154, Olympia, WA 98507)
Foreign Contraband: Revolver tips its Grizzlies cap to Vancouver's garage-rock gods, the Smugglers, upon the occasion of their 10th birthday. The band itself celebrated by releasing Growing Up Smuggler, a 20-song album recorded live in Madrid, featuring tracks spanning the band's long and storied career (including the classics "Alan Thicke" and "To Serve, Protect and Entertain"). The band has entertained and inspired legions of rock 'n' rollers over the years, and with the garage gods' graces will continue to bless the record-consuming public for years to come. (Lookout! Records, P.O. Box 11374, Berkeley, CA 94712-2374)
Pansies in the Desert: We neglected to mention in last month's column on Pansy Division that the backdoor boys will be pussy-footing toward our Southwestern desert of love in short order. The new, improved Pansy Division will grace the stage of The Heat in Tempe on Friday, October 9, with the Peeps, the Dirt Bike Kids, and the Twits. Bring your mom.
Contact Brendan Kelley at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org