This Audra record can get under your skin. Live, too, the band -- with all this shadowy skulking, processed guitars, and dolled up to the hilt -- draws a reaction.
"People may throw shit at you and call you a fag," continues Bart, laughing. "But you know how that goes. And those people are just jealous because they can't get up there and look good. Maybe they secretly want to wear makeup and carry a purse."
And by rock 'n' roll standards, as an irritant or not, Audra's glammy dirge makes for a worthy photo op.
But the record is good. It's provocative, and music must provoke something, whether it be to heave a brick through a city hall window, get wood, cry, run for the hills -- whatever. Something must happen.
And like anything that uses drama as a device, there's affectation floating through. Bret's voice recalls Peter Murphy and Bowie in a big, big way. As does the songwriting. But it's no more pretentious than what could be found in any other genre of pop. I mean, where would AC/DC be without its three-chord vainglory? Eminem without his whiny shtick? Garth Brooks minus the goofy hat and boots? (Wait. I guess he'd be quasi-goth pouter Chris Gaines.)
"We're pretentious in that we are confident," says Bret. "I think a lot of bands are so obsessed with that physical appearance that the music is just shit. You run into that with multitudes of bands. If I get accused, if other people are saying that we are just about look and stuff, that pisses me off. I mean, what would you call the Velvet Underground? I mean, really, we're a rock 'n' roll band. But I prefer the term 'dark wave' over 'gothic.' When I use the term 'gothic,' I'd say we are gothic beatniks."
Goth was a darker offshoot of punk, springing forth from the dreary postpunk of groups like Joy Division and Bauhaus. The tentacle has since morphed into a kind of mall culture. One that saw 15-year-old boys and girls dress in black and adopt despondency as a character trait after seeing The Crow or The Craft. Goth was one of numerous peripheral genres that filled the dark between new wave and grunge.
At an Audra show, the focus is alluring elan, and you can feel at home wearing anything arousing, anything libidinous and affected.
But the boys of Audra are not your average sun-eschewing waifs, either. Should they find themselves cornered by a gaggle of homophobic rednecks behind some Circle K, the Helms, it seems, can take care of themselves. Both have studied and taught karate extensively. Bart claims he won a world karate championship in 1989.
"It's really nothing I talk about too much," says Bart.
Goth kids are getting into Audra's record. The Batcave, the preeminent NYC goth spot, spins its songs with regularity. According to a Projekt records spokesman, Audra's "In Hollywood Tonight" has been packing the dance floor.
That song was written about the late Christian Death front man Rozz Williams, who offed himself in 1998.
"I wrote a poem for Rozz after he died," Bret says of "In Hollywood Tonight." "I told Bart and he sat down and wrote a guitar part. I started singing and the song was done in five minutes. Every song we've written has been done instantaneously. I think that's just the most organic way to write. Rozz was a definite, huge influence. You feel like you know someone. You know what I mean?"
Later this month, Audra will have an L.A.-area release party at a death-rock club in Long Beach called Release the Bats. After that will come in-store appearances around Southern Cal and a gig at the popular strip/goth club Repent in Anaheim, plus a September West Coast tour. They'll be flown to Atlanta for a three-day goth fest that will feature cast members from Sleepy Hollow and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
In the end, the Helms are pleased to have a deal on the elite goth label Projekt, to be able to tour and do the things that other bands do. Happy to be doing something that shows forward momentum.
"Projekt was the label I always wanted to get signed to," says Bret. "I mean, besides Warner Bros."
In a sad, ironic twist, the Helms' grandfather -- a man the brothers were very close to -- died the same day Audra received its contract in the mail.