Music News

Gray Matters

The babies were wearing scuba gear, and levitating above all the houses in the neighborhood.

And when Christopher Pomerenke woke up, he wrote a song about the surreal scene from his subconscious, called "Throw Your Babies." The tune serves as the leadoff track for I Know What It's Like to Want to Dance (Accretions), the latest sonic offering from intellectual oddballs Less Pain Forever.

"I drink so much that my dreams are just gone now," says Pomerenke, who serves as one-half of Less Pain Forever (his bandmate, James Karnes, lives in Pennsylvania). "But back in the day, when I was sober, I was a 'rent boy' — I used to have sex with men just to pay the rent and stuff. And I used to have crazy dreams, and I had this dream that all these moms were throwing their babies up, and one of them got stuck behind the moon."

"Throw Your Babies" is filled with poppy dance beats, quirky synthesizers, and cadence-be-damned vocals, but Pomerenke points out that there's a depth to what seems inane.

"Basically, all the moms were kind of releasing their child for possible greatness. It's the idea of single moms and their struggles, and [how] they all have hopes that their children will be miracle babies," he says. "We like to write songs that deal with surreal things, but are anchored in something kind of normal and kinda boring."

To hear Pomerenke use the words "normal" and "boring" in even an indirect reference to Less Pain Forever is ironic, because the band's story is as gutter-fabulous as that of any early '80s L.A. metal band, and their music is as indefinable as a hypothetical jam session between Frank Zappa, Ween, and Beck on better drugs.

The roots of LPF started in 1991 at the Arizona Biltmore, where Pomerenke and Karnes were both busboys.

The two went to a house party one night and jammed together, and that was it. They started playing around town as Lush Budget Presents the Les Payne Product, a moniker inspired both by the former mayor of Nothing, Arizona (named Les Payne), and the idea that what they were doing was "a combination of art and commerce."

After forming Lush Budget Presents the Les Payne Product, Pomerenke and Karnes rented a condemned house across the street from the Rhythm Room on Indian School Road.

"It didn't have windows, cooling, or heating," Pomerenke says. "It didn't have a water heater. We had to use buckets from the sink to pour water in the toilet; that's the only way it would work. We lived there for, like, five years. Less Pain got born and raised there in that weird little ghetto."

Sometime in the late '90s, Pomerenke and Karnes decided they were going to quit making music, get an RV, and just travel. But they re-formed in 2001 as a tribute band — to itself.

"We felt like we'd reached the pinnacle of genius, and maybe we should take it to the next level, which would be quitting," Pomerenke says. "So we quit, but then we thought, 'Not enough people have heard of us yet, so we can't quit. So let's be a tribute band to ourselves,' so basically we can preach our own word without sounding arrogant."

After re-forming as Less Pain Forever — named after both something everyone would like to have and their former Les Payne incarnation — the duo shared the stage with acts like Modest Mouse, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Deerhoof, Frank Black, and Ween, and toured Europe in 2000 and 2002.

But Pomerenke and Karnes had pretty much hung up their party hats again by the time local producer and filmmaker Ryan Page (Moog, Frontier Life) approached them with an offer they couldn't refuse. Page said he could get the band into Echo Canyon, Sonic Youth's Manhattan studios, if they'd record an album with Sonic Youth's engineer, Aaron Mullen. LPF said yes, and rushed off to record I Know What It's Like to Want to Dance in four days.

"Sonic Youth's studio is this really awesome loft that's right near where the trade centers were at on Murray Street, and we used all of their [Sonic Youth's] equipment," Pomerenke says. "It was a real honor. Super awesome."

The album itself is "super awesome" as well, deceptively swollen with sounds that could resemble the output of an army. But Pomerenke and Karnes play all of the instruments themselves — even live, when Karnes sings and plays a double guitar/bass contraption and Pomerenke sings and plays a homemade drums/keyboard hybrid. The sounds range from the whimsical, digitized country punk swagger of "Illuminati Stormhorse" to the fuzzy, funky pop boogie of "Absolut & Redbulls" to the lolling, melancholy indie rock ballad "Seems Like a Good Kid," which describes a "weirdo" kid in a torn tee shirt that reads "Kill 'Em All" and asks the question, "What if all the fuckers finally fucked off and left you alone?"

Pomerenke adores that line, but he didn't write the song. Karnes did; it's about one of his neighbors. "His neighbor is maybe in his 40s, and he lives with his parents. Right away, I think that's great. I love that," Pomerenke says.

"So he lives with his folks, and they have a shed in the back. When he's not at work or asleep, the parents make him stay in the shed, because he's loco. He just goes back there and screams obscenities and yells at himself and guzzles beer. And if you can listen to his dialogue with himself, it's all about football and high school stories. He's just obsessed with high school, and he's in his 40s. He can't snap out of whatever shit he went through as a high schooler. So James wrote the song from that guy's perspective."

Another one of Karnes' cool missives comes in the psychedelic-sounding "Close Encounters," when he proclaims, "All I had was a Grand Canyon state of mind."

Pomerenke muses on the metaphor. "The Grand Canyon can happen to you. It's an amazing amount of erosion over an amazing amount of time, and that can happen to you, too, if you're not careful," he says.

"And James wrote all those lyrics at a time when we were kind of saying goodbye to Arizona, when we were gonna get an RV and just travel or whatever."

After their CD release party on New Year's Eve, Less Pain Forever will be kind of saying goodbye to Arizona again, as they are set to embark on a tour of Japan.

"I think it'll go well," Pomerenke says, "because I've heard a lot that Japanese people like this kitschy pop music that has this air of disposability, like, 'Oh, you can just wad it up and throw it away — isn't it adorable?'"

Maybe it'll be easier for the genre-hopping duo to get on bills with more bands that fit LPF's eclectic jive there, too?

Pomerenke laughs. "We're never gonna fit with anybody, but we'll spread our thing anyway."

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea