The guys in Phoenix rock band the Oxford Coma can't stand that image is important to making it in the music business, that you often need a certain aesthetic for a specific demographic to achieve success, and that you might have to act in a way you're not passionate about to garner fans. Hence, you'll sometimes see them wear nothing but underwear on stage, revolting against cool-kid wardrobe choices -- even if that makes them more gimmicky than they really want to be.
"There's an inherent irony of being in a rock band, which is what our song 'Tradition' is about," says singer/guitarist Billy Tegethoff. "So much of it is built up around maintaining a certain image and looking cool and all this role-playing nonsense, which we do because that's what being a part of a band is about. We're three grown men who get on stage and try to entertain people."
The Oxford Coma members still strive to put on visually stimulating shows that go beyond their half-naked bodies on display. The group uses video projections of psychedelic, abstract artwork and band clips, plus a light show and occasional body paint.
"A lot of my favorite bands incorporate a very visually stimulating concert, and it adds quite a bit to the performance," Tegethoff says. "It takes the focus off us and gives people something to focus on while they're listening to the music."
The trio, which includes bassist/vocalist James Williams and drummer Anthony Chamberlain, is excited to play new tracks from their upcoming six-song EP, Morphine, to be released this fall by the lineup. Listeners will hear influences of Tool, Primus, Nirvana, and the Mars Volta, with lyrics inspired by everything from politics to family tragedy.
"I started writing the title track probably eight or nine years ago," Tegethoff says. "I used to have a real bad drug problem, and I started writing the song during that time. It resurfaced this past year. My grandmother passed away last summer, and I watched her last few days in hospice, this shell of a body that had completely lost the personality I knew. She was started on a 24-hour-a-day morphine drip and died probably about 20 hours after that. The song is a reflection on some of the anger I had toward the care she received."
Other tracks are also hard-rocking with similarly intricate themes, which relates to the name of the band itself.
"Initially, it was just a play on words, that we accidentally said Oxford Coma instead of Oxford Comma, but I like names to have a meaning of what the band is all about and what we're trying to pursue in our ideals of music," Chamberlain says. "There is a literary controversy about whether or not the Oxford comma needs to exist, and there are similar controversial aspects in music. It's relating the Oxford comma to musical terms and saying, 'What is the real important thing here in what we're trying to say?'"
The Oxford Coma has been gauging receptiveness to its musical standpoint on a Midwest summer tour, which culminates with a hometown show that they say is guaranteed to include diversity from the "misfit bands" on the bill, including fellow locals Sons of Providence.
Plus, "We're very, very handsome," Williams says. "If I feel like taking my pants off, I'll take my pants off."
The Oxford Coma is scheduled to perform Friday, July 18, at Last Exit Live.
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