During a month when plenty of cars are plastered with McCain and Obama stickers, "Fuck Strange Young Things" is one of the more creative campaigns in local rock music, along the lines of the old "Primus Sucks" crusade in the Bay Area in the late '80s.
"It's instructions," insists Strange Young Things guitarist Patrick Kelly, pulling sips of a Budweiser in the band's Tempe rehearsal space. "Fuck Strange Young Things."
"What's funny is I put that on my front window (at home) and the landlord complained about it a few times," says drummer Richard Polmans, who grew up surfing in Durban, South Africa, before discovering his idol, Led Zeppelin's John Bonham, and turning to drums. "He said, 'It's offensive. You need to take it off,' and when I came back one day, it just said 'Strange Young Things' — the 'fuck' part was ripped off."
"We had a lot of people who would say it," says bassist Adam Gross of the slogan's somewhat negative origins, "so we said we might as well just put it out there."
"It's our pants," says singer/songwriter Corey Gloden. "They're just jealous of our skinny pants."
The attitude inherent in the "Fuck Strange Young Things" slogan ("We're cocky," admits Kelly) fully illustrates the band's attempts to inject a sorely needed Stones-esque swagger back into the Tempe rock scene, where more and more flop-haired shoegazers and sensitive emo boys permeate Valley clubs with their psychiatry-couch rock. Though still in their 20s, the members of Strange Young Things count among their influences bands that had been around for a decade or two before they were even born. A quick peek at the extensive vinyl collection in Kelly's house turns up LPs by Aerosmith, The Who, Prince, and even '70s R&B diva Roberta Flack.
"There's always gonna be a niche for [emo], there's always gonna be moody teenagers," says Kelly. "There's a place for that, and [those bands] are trying to relate their moodiness, but I wouldn't go see the shoegazer thing so much."
"I like to go see a show when I see a show," adds Gross. "I mean, if [shoegazing] fits the music and it's something you can feel, then great. But a lot of those bands, I just don't feel that music from. A show is separate from the music — everybody says they want to see Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones because they want to see a show.
"I think, at the end of the day, if you're feeling your music, you're gonna start moving."
"I'd rather go see something exciting," says Kelly, "than something that makes me feel like shit."
A Strange Young Things show is a gloriously ragged mix of hard-rock riffs, catchy power-chord pop, and cocksure strutting à la early-'70s bands such as The Faces and New York Dolls (minus the makeup and fuck-me pumps). Gloden's bluesy, vein-popping wail, Kelly's fluid Strat lines, and the shock-haired Gross' bass grooving in tight lockstep with Polmans' steady beats create an impossible-not-to-move sonic landscape.
"It's kind of become a trend in rock 'n' roll; it's become kind of a fad to step back [onstage]," says Gloden. "But there's always gonna be dirty bastards who go onstage and tear shit up."
"We like to jump around and play up the image, being wild and with the clothes," says Gross. "But at the end of the day, if we're going to put our music on a record, it better sound good."
After tearing shit up on Valley stages since 2005, SYT have finally released their debut disc, Look What They've Done to Our Champagne Music, which proves that the band can carry over their stage energy and tear up shit in the studio, too. Recorded with Tempe producer Jamie Woolford in his Room Sound studio, the disc was two years in the making, during which time Kelly, formerly of Tempe combo Bluejay, replaced original guitarist Dwight Ziegler.
Kicking off with the "Brown Sugar"-like "Only Hearts Are Wild," the disc is a tour de force of classic-rock pastiche, with tunes such as the country-ish "Left Breast Pocket" sounding like an outtake from Rod Stewart's Every Picture Tells a Story, "Get Your Fire for Free" buoyed by a bluesy, hard-rock riff that would make Mott the Hoople jealous, and acoustic-driven numbers like "Jonesing for a Good Time" and "No Limits, No Laws," reflecting Led Zeppelin's dabbling in English folk.
"For our first record, I'm really happy with it," Gloden says. "But slowly, for the last couple of years, I've been throwing together these other songs, and now we're bringing them to the band while we're promoting (Look What They've Done to Our Champagne Music). I can't wait to record them."
While the band has some local shows lined up, there is one extra-ambitious gig on the ledger. According to the band's MySpace page, they're scheduled to play September 23, 2010, in outer space.
"We're going to release a 78 rpm record with a party in outer space," Gloden laughs. "It all came about when Richard thought this guy in another band was talking down to me. So Richie says, 'Oh, you didn't hear? We're playing outer space.'"
So a date in 2010 was decided upon for a show in outer space. "It might get pushed back, admittedly," says Gross, "to 2012. We've been talking with the people about it on the International Space Station, and we may have to push it back."
The band is looking for a ride to the gig on a Space Shuttle mission but would settle for getting a lift from Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. If they do, they'll be sure to slap a "Fuck Strange Young Things" sticker on the cosmic tour van.