The Fly Boys of Summer
"In 1966, one of the great albums in rock 'n' roll history was made: Pet Sounds, by the Beach Boys. Even today it holds up. I listen to it and moan, sit on my bed encircled in a knee-high pile of paper and write poetry."
So who's that waxin' wimpy over the American Sgt. Pepper? None other than Henry Winkler, revealing Arthur Fonzarelli's funny-as-a-crutch marshmallow center -- at the height of Fonziemania! Prior to Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys spent a career making like the Fonz, bragging that they rode the biggest waves, the fastest cars and the fastest girls, not to mention jazzing about attending the bossest school. With that groundwork laid, it's no wonder the group's fans were shocked when the only wave to catch on Pet Sounds was all that sweet innocence hightailing it out the front door. Caroline -- noooo!!!!!
Maybe allowing the other Beach Boys to dress like Samurai warriors on Pet Sounds' rear sleeve was the group's last macho concession, since Brian Wilson was practically committing hari-kari on the record inside, revealing all his innermost hopes and fears without the slightest regard for losing face and bringing shame to papa-san Murry. Since its release, this has been the album that young men lowered their inborn defenses for and wept unashamedly to.
"I didn't even know stuff like that existed," says Adam Paskowitz, lead singer for Hollywood's The Flys. Two years ago, The Flys landed on alt-rock radio and bit listeners with a pair of infectious hits, "Got You Where I Want You" (featured prominently in the movie Disturbing Behavior) and "She's So Huge." Between then and now, Paskowitz heard Pet Sounds for the first time and was deeply affected. But he didn't turn into a bucket of mush like sad Fonz and write drippy "nobody loves Arthur" poetry that few would ever hear. Instead, Paskowitz sampled what he loved and channeled it into the group's surprisingly accomplished and sensitively titled Outta My Way. Hang onto your ego indeed.
You've gotta love the irony at work here. In the last decade, countless indie geek bands have painstakingly emulated Brian Wilson circa '66 on portastudios, seeking his benediction like teacher's pets. And then along comes The Flys, a bunch of real-life surfers and motor bike-riding thrill-seekers, zooming to the head of the class like exam cheats by sampling Pet Sounds in a metal hip-hop, post-grunge hybrid album that would probably send these other Beach Boy elitists fleeing in terror.
And while most of those efforts fell on Brian's one deaf ear, The Flys got the blessing of the man himself. And why not? "No Sad Story," Outta My Way's first single, is the perfect summer song, as in-your-face as "I Get Around" was in 1964 and as autobiographically true to Paskowitz as Pet Sounds was to Wilson, that is if you're willing to make the leap from "where did your long hair go" to "damn I seen some fine ass girls."
The little deuce coup of actually getting to sample two Pet Sounds songs is not lost on a grateful Paskowitz. "This information is so dear to his heart and such a gesture was so amazing to us. That was his favorite record and probably his favorite time and Brian's been ripped off so many times from the record business. You know it's a long shot when you're talking about getting vocal samples from Pet Sounds."
What probably helped move that Beach permit along is that none of The Flys songs are derivative of preexisting Wilson melodies -- no Puff Daddy-like redux of "God Only Knows" here. The title track isn't dependent on the brief 16-second low-fi snatch of "Here Today" plopped incongruously in the middle of it, but Paskowitz insists he actually wrote the song around that snippet and felt compelled to include it. More likely, he wrote "Losing It" around that "Here Today" chord progression and tossed it into "Outta My Way" to throw people off the trail.
Yep, The Flys are clever Muscidae, all right. Most people could've gone through their whole lives not knowing that the background vocals on "No Sad Story" were snippets of "Caroline No" carefully spliced up and reassembled without any intervening consonants.
"I'm pretty good with Pro Tools and stuff. I'm pretty smart about it," Paskowitz proudly admits. Despite the reference in "Fire in the Pit" about "vocalizing like the Beach Boys," the group decided against duplicating the sampled vocals themselves. "I thought, 'We're pretty good harmonizers, we'll harmonize with that.' And it just laid there like a dead egg. There's something about the way those guys just sang like, god head, that was so cool. It's just impossible to try to compete with."
The obvious Beach Boy tip-of-the-hat on "No Sad Story" comes at the end when the "Unreleased Backgrounds" of "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)" -- found on 1990's Pet Sounds reissue disc -- are left to close the number out alone. "The one at the end, the 'Unreleased Backgrounds' was harder to get (permission for)," says Paskowitz, incredulously, "because Brian didn't want unreleased vocals on there."
But those vocals ultimately were released.
"I know that!" Paskowitz exclaims. "But for him, it's like, y'know . . . he works in strange ways. He thought it was an individual thing for his record and at the last minute he thought we'd used it in such a brilliant way that he said okay." When asked if they ever approached Brian about laying down live vocals, Paskowitz intones grimly, "Brian is very much in his own world and we were very fortunate enough just to have him let us use the samples."
Wilson's mythical world of sand and surf collides quite frequently with Paskowitz's reality, yet The Flys have never fully exploited that fact in their press or their songs until now. Besides the Beach Boy sampled songs (none of which mention sand or sea), the album contains "My Day," a kind of "Suavacito" at the beach number which also features an extended aloha Hawaii finale. Previously Paskowitz and the boys have posed for CD covers wearing heavy coats and hats, but this time around, the short sleeves and surfboards are out of the closet. (The group plans to market its own Flygear surf and skateboards through its official Web site shortly.)
Not only do three of the four Flys surf, Paskowitz used to compete professionally and his family is something of a surf dynasty in Orange County, where his dad still runs a surf summer camp. "My Dad's a doctor who gave it all up to marry my mom, who's a crazy Mexican lady, and raise nine kids in a camper. My dad is like 80. He's still a doctor, has a license and surfs every day. He's got one sign that says 'Dr. Paskowitz, M.D.' and the other side says 'Doc Paskowitz, Ding Repair.'"
The younger Paskowitz also has a jones for super-charged autos that would make Big Daddy Roth proud and has even lined up corporate sponsors like Ford Motors, which donated a cute little car, the Ford Focus, which the group dutifully pose around like the Beach Boys, rock's original car salesmen. Does this mean the Flys might also go in for later Beach Boy preoccupations like transcendental meditation and vegetarianism?
"I'm not a humongous fan of the later years, you know the whole John Stamos thing," he laughs. "When Mike Love got into the whole hippie-Zen-grow-your-beard-cowboy-hat weird deal. I wasn't that into that either. I was into the Beach Boys when Brian was freaking people out with his sound. Smile. Dumb Angel. Totally. Brian Wilson off his rocker ruling the roost."
That's another thing you should know about Paskowitz -- having clocked in many hours listening to and chopping up Pet Sounds doesn't necessarily qualify as sensitivity training. Paskowitz loves the put-on as much as the put down and has an unshakable deadpan delivery, even over the phone. Witness these other sarcastic pearls:
"I'm working up a cover version of 'Bye Bye Bye' by 'N Sync. It's called 'Adios Adios Adios' -- it's for an all-gay Web site -- I'mgay.com!"
"You should see the dance moves we have for this tour. All choreographed by that little pig that used to be with the Lakers, Paula Abdul." (The ex-Mrs. John Stamos to you!)
All this whimsy simply pales compared to the way Paskowitz endlessly ribs his beleaguered Trauma Records publicist Michael Taub as if he were Mel Cooley to his Buddy Sorrell. Taub is sitting in on this conference interview, which pretty much degenerates into a roast of Taub. On the subject of the song "Outta My Way," which harangues cops, losers, poseurs, granola eaters and people who don't eat meat in a frenetic in three and a half minutes, the singer insists that "people take themselves so seriously. You just have to call them out on stuff like that. The 'don't eat meat' people and all that. I asked my dad, he's a big-time health guy, about eating meat. He says there are tribes in Africa that only eat meat Like the Michael Taub tribe. Holy Toledo! Look at that gut! We should do a liposuction benefit for Michael Taub."
As they say in their CD, "Welcome to the Family." Here's a quick peek at the Flys family album so far. Once upon a time, a couple of the guys in the Flys were in a prog-metal band modeled after Queen called Mozart. Rechristened The Flys, the band then had the brilliant idea of calling its first independently released album 25¢, only to see shop clerks promptly deposit it in their bargain bins.
"It's so funny. We sold 50,000 copies of it. You could find it for 99 cents, you could find it for 25 cents. But now it's hard to find any and people are actually paying 25 bucks for it."
The single caught the ear of Masters of Reality's Chris Goss, who brought the band to the attention of Trauma Records and recorded The Flys second album Holiday Man at his Palm Spring digs, Monkey Studios. Surrounded by a community of old people throughout the making of the record was a sensation they would repeat when they found themselves playing for mature and incontinent audiences on the Rolling Stones' Voodoo Lounge tour.
"You don't want to play too many shows with the Rolling Stones. Their crowd is so different. It's an older crowd," he says. "Rich lawyers and stuff. I mean, who can afford $2,000 a ticket? I can't say enough about the Stones and their crew -- they're topnotch. I hung out talking to Mick Jagger while Keith Richards was onstage playing 'Start Me Up.'"
The Flys also played to the younger, more demonstrative crowds at A Day in the Garden (a.k.a. Woodstock '98). Swiss pan to The Flys appearance on MTV's sex-advice program Loveline where some kid called up and talked about jerking off and the band practiced looking disgusted, a look that would come in handy when The Flys opened for Third Eye Blind and learned a valuable lesson in how to be obnoxious.
"And in a way I respect that about them," says Paskowitz. "That Stephen [Jenkins, Third Eye Blind lead singer] guy is truly a rock star. He dates an actress and he's so rad and I respect that about him. We knew them back before they had that record out and they were totally different then. It takes a lot of energy and it's badass to be a dick. He's like the male Madonna. If I could be the way he is, I would. I ain't got that kind of play. Like Courtney Love; you can make so many enemies, it's insane. And if you can ride that wave, more power to you."
Now it's 2000 and "Got You Where I Want You" is still being played in heavy rotation on alternative stations like it's still a new single. Has Paskowitz noticed the trend of modern-rock stations emulating their boring classic rock competitors -- the one band, one song forever formula?
"I could care less," he says. "Our deal was that we were just going to write songs that we liked and our friends like. Our buddies at this company called Black Fly sunglasses. We hang out there and play them the songs, and if they like them that's cool. That's what we're going for. That's it. And whether radio changes, I mean radio, try to figure that out. And MTV is just one game show after another. How do you figure that all out? We're getting ready to make a video now. Videos are like weird commercials. I like MTV2 because they play the wackiest, weirdest, bogus hair metal bands and music."
Even if radio were to shun them as last year's lepers, even if MTV were never to air their weird video commercials (no doubt featuring Outta My Way's cover boy, Sumo wrestler Randy "Babybono" Rowan, brother to Akebono, the first born American Sumo wrestling champ), the band has enough sponsors, disciples and determination to do whatever it wants for a long time. And if that includes chasing down a ukulele player in Maui or sampling the Sunrays next, so be it.
In closing, I tell Paskowitz that I hear another kind of Pet sound on the new album when I suggest the melody of "Helluva Time" sounds strikingly similar to Petula Clark's Target anthem "Sign of the Times." Paskowitz helpfully suggests, "That's an odd reference and you need to seek outside help."
Coming from a guy who starts off the thank-yous to his album by commending Jim J. Bullock for "his hysterical comedy and unreal courage," I'll take that as a yes.
The Flys are scheduled to perform on Sunday, April 30, on the Virgin Megastage at Fifth Street and Maple at the New Times Music Showcase in Tempe. Showtime is 10:30 p.m.
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