Recently I was at a show at the Real Bar early in the evening, when the young'uns are out to rock. A two-person band had just finished its set when a crowd of tween and early teen kids with screamo hair (long bangs in their faces, cut short in the back, varying colors), girls' pants (which fit the boys' prepubescent physiques) and all the other requisite junior high hipster fashions rushed to scoop up tee shirts from a free pile near the front door of the club. Soon there were 20 or so shorties running around in black tees with the words "Gay By Default" emblazoned in bold pink letters.
I wondered what the hell their parents would think when they picked up the kids, knowing it was unlikely that the 'rents would know that Gay By Default was the name of the duo we'd just seen onstage.
Gay By Default is a joke band conceived by 21-year-old Joe DeFuria (referred to in local musician circles as Joe by Default), an occasional standup comic who went to high school in the 'Nix but now works in Southern California repairing telephone lines, and uses his considerable income to commute back and forth to the Valley on weekends to play shows with his, ahem, partner, Josh Halvorson, 22.
The "band" came to be after DeFuria lost a bet playing the video game Halo with local impresario Tim Harmon (of HourZero Records), his friend Toivo Mikkola, and the boys from Bless the Fall. The payment was that he had to make a joke band and play a show with Bless the Fall early this year, which DeFuria did with Mikkola's musical assistance, to an audience of about 400 kids at the last show ever at Neckbeard's.
As DeFuria tells it, at a later show at the Real Bar, Mikkola didn't want to be there, so DeFuria kicked him out of the band, and ended up drinking next to Halvorson at the bar. DeFuria told him the story, Halvorson volunteered to play with him, and the current Gay By Default incarnation was born.
I watched Gay By Default play twice, once acoustic and once electric (the duo switches back and forth between playing guitar and drums; DeFuria sings, improvising most of his lyrics). The second time I brought along a contingent of friends around my age -- late 20s to early 30s. While the teenagers were going bonkers for the band, my crew obviously didn't appreciate the irony at all. That's what intrigues me about Gay By Default. Are adults too jaded to appreciate the funniest thing to hit the music scene in ages?
Sadly, I think the answer is yes.
Despite the fact that DeFuria favors pink shirts (think polo with the collar turned up), has a pink cell phone, and wears eyeliner, neither he nor Halvorson is actually gay. By phone from Mission Beach, DeFuria tells me, "Someone was like, 'Dude, you're gay,' and I'm like, 'No, I'm not gay. The only thing that makes you gay is lovin' dudes.' And he's like, 'Then you're gay by default.' I was like, 'Wow, that's an amazing idea.'"
Halvorson doesn't share DeFuria's effeminate stylistics. "He's the one that's gay by default," he tells me. I suppose that just makes Halvorson gay by association.
What I find so fucking hilarious about the band is that DeFuria, for the most part, isn't a musician and doesn't pretend to be. "I don't know how to play guitar," he says. "I know how to play power chords -- that's what they call it when you hold your fingers two spaces apart. It makes a better sound than if you wouldn't have done that. And I know how to play the keyboards, which I just got, so now we'll be featuring a keyboard. I definitely don't know how to make anything sound good on a guitar." Perhaps this is what annoyed my adult friends: They expected more from the music and less juvenile lyrical improv.
Despite the resulting simplicity of Gay By Default's songs -- rhythmic but just interesting enough to carry a lyric, simple rock riffs with declarative vocals that sound like the Dead Milkmen if they'd been a duo -- DeFuria's improvisation guarantees that they're funny.
"Back at my pad, bitches all over me, I'm like R. Kelly but without the pee," he sings on "Wrapping Paper" (which they've recorded and posted on www.myspace.com/gaybydefault). On another song, DeFuria sings, "Black guys make up words that have a lot of z's; they roll up on dubs with diamonds on their teeth. If I was black I'd drink lots of Crown Royal, and my grille would be fly instead of tin foil."
"We got fat chicks, rednecks & people that are gross; our clientele is the thing I hate the most. You get a lot of crap for not a lot of cash, and that's why Wal-Mart is white trash," DeFuria sings on one of Gay By Default's tracks -- but on the printed page it doesn't come across nearly as funny as it does live onstage with his dry, straight-faced delivery. It's juvenile humor, sure, but in a rock-show context, the material scores.
Halvorson tells me, "He sang a song about my ex-girlfriend one night when she was there -- pissed me off."
"The crowd and Josh know as much about what's going to go on as I do," DeFuria says. "Maybe I'll find a fat person in the crowd and I'll make fun of fat people, or a black person and I'll sing a song about black people. Someone's wearing short pants, then I'll make a song about 'spants.' I look around and find something and I sing about it." He's careful not to be too deliberately offensive, though, and from what I've seen, the subjects he targets are flattered to have been singled out. I don't think my adult homies who witnessed the show would have been so thrilled if they'd been ribbed gently from the stage.
DeFuria credits alcohol for much of his inspiration. "We get a couple shots before the show, then a pitcher of beer, and finish that. Then onstage we get a pitcher of beer, we tag that during the show, and I basically kind of . . . he makes a beat, then I think about whatever I feel like thinking about on the spot."
Though booze intake (their own) plays a large role in Gay By Default's dynamics, the band has gained most of its fans from the all-ages set, hence the gaggle of shorties sporting the homo-declarative tee shirts. "I'm doing this specifically for the kids," DeFuria tells me. "I'll have conversations with them -- I'll go out for coffee with any of these kids, if they ever want to hang out. I'm more than willing to have fun with them. I don't think there's a lot of good influences -- I guess this is my soft side -- there's not a lot of cool musical influences for kids that they can identify with and hang out with. They can always hang out and talk to the Gay By Default."
Perhaps this is why my friends didn't get it. The kids appreciate the duo's humor and look up to these guys who are just looking to have a good time with music and do something funny. Seems to me that most adults are past being able to value the connection the band makes with its audience, even if it's by poking fun at them. They don't seem to get that comedy blended with simplistic music can assimilate comfortably into a rock show unless it's Tenacious D (of whom I'm definitely not a fan). That's fine with DeFuria, though -- "Drinkers stay at the bar, the kids get into the shows; that's way more gratifying for me."
Too bad for the grown-ups. They're missing one of the most unique and ingenious acts to hit Valley stages in recent memory.
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