Music News

Happy Endings

Slouching back into a booth at Casey Moore's, Billy Goodman passes up a cheeseburger to nurse a Corona instead, quietly joking that he could use about three. The lanky Necronauts front man, with his dark-framed glasses and head of thick spiral curls, talks about needing to relax, yet he's so mellow that even when he chomps on chewing gum and eyes a pack of Pall Malls on the table, it comes across as introspective.

On the subject of horror movies, though, he perks up. The Grudge scared the hell out of him, and he can't wait to see Saw.

And when talk shifts to a recent accident that almost turned into a real-life horror story for him and his bandmates, Goodman excitedly rattles off details.

"It was weird," he says, telling how the Necronauts were headed down I-10 on the way to a show in Tucson, and for once his brother Dale Goodman, the band's drummer, was driving the van. "I let him drive because I wanted to enjoy the scenery and chill out a little bit. I was laying down, and then I heard a sound like a gun went off."

There was debris on the road from an earlier dust storm, including a metal fan blade. The car ahead of the Necronauts kicked up the blade, which sliced through the windshield, hit Dale in the chest, scratched his face, and then ricocheted into the side of the van, making a deep gash.

Goodman stirs up the drama with animated hand gestures. "Dale swerved the van, but he kept the motherfucker on the road. I don't know how he did it, because your body's moving at 80 miles an hour, and the blade was moving at whatever speed. At first, I didn't want to look at him, because I'm thinking that the blade's sticking in his chest, and this is my little brother, right?"

The happy ending is that Dale somehow came away intact, with only a few cuts and bruises.

Turns out, this isn't the only good story Goodman can tell. Not only is there one behind the Necronauts' new self-titled CD, but there are tales about the four-year-old Mesa band's first two albums as well, 2002's Melodic Array of Change and last year's Aire Fresco. All three were released on Goodman's own label, High School Football Records.

First of all, the Necronauts have never officially gone into the studio, Goodman says. "We did Melodic Array of Change for free at the Conservatory [of Recording Arts in Tempe], because one student just happened to be at a bar, saw us play, and he needed a band for his final project. So we went in and did our session with him, and every one of his friends that were there were like, 'Dude, we want that band for our session.' So then, bam, we had a full-length record right there."

Aire Fresco was just as D.I.Y., recorded live and on the cheap at Modified Arts with the support of Leslie Barton, who frequently books the Necronauts there. And this latest disc, The Necronauts, was recorded in guitarist Carlito DeMasio's grandma's bedroom by Cory Spotts, who produced January Taxi's recent EP.

"You gotta understand, we did our first two demos with literally just one mike hanging from the ceiling, where we'd have to move our amps around in the room to get them softer and louder," Goodman says. "When I heard Cory's stuff, what he's done, it was exactly what I wanted -- big production that sounded like they paid thousands and thousands of dollars. He's going to be the next Bob Hoag -- end of story. He's that talented."

The result is an eight-song EP that feels as rich as an album. Andrew Pangus' clever bass grooves and Dale Goodman's versatile drum flourishes steer the tracks through funky alt-rock territory, while Goodman's guitar veers from moody, almost atmospheric melodicism to fuzzed-out punk-rock crunch. (DeMasio joined the band after the CD was recorded, in large part because some of the new songs couldn't be played live without a second guitarist.) Goodman stretches his vocals beyond the standard indie rock croon with bursts of a commanding, top-of-the-lungs yell that sounds like Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock doing a Frank Black impersonation.

Funny thing is, when the Necronauts got their first batch of 1,021 freshly pressed CDs a few weeks ago, they couldn't have been more shocked at the production: While the packaging was the glossy, bright yellow pop art created for the band by local artist Luster Kaboom, the music was pure Elton John. Literally. A CD factory snafu led to discs burned with the wrong songs. Funnier still, a shipment of the first Elton John album went out with the Necronauts' music on it. Band manager Maria Vassett had to return the official order of 1,000 defective discs, but the Necronauts got to keep the extra 21 copies as a bizarre kind of collectors' item. There's no word yet on whether the Elton John shipment was recovered.

Goodman says listeners are getting what they pay for with this new CD -- that is, the one with the actual Necronauts songs. With its cohesive flow and strong hooks, it's a better representation of the band than any earlier release.

"It's the first one that I've ever felt so good about -- satisfied with the production, satisfied with the way it came out," he says. "And it's the first time that when people buy it at shows, I'm just like, 'Fuck yeah. Sweet. Awesome.'"

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Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig