Music News

Tough Love

Matt McAuley, the guitar-playing half of A.R.E. Weapons, says the unusual band name came to him in a dream.

"In the dream, [singer] Brain [F. McPeck] was a futuristic Blade Runner detective, and he had like a Philip Marlowe office and the name on the door was A.R.E. Weapons," says McAuley. "The next day we had to play a show and we just called it that. It can stand for whatever you want it to mean. Attitude Raw Energy -- we encourage people to make shit up, but we didn't have anything in mind."

Speaking outside a club in Atlanta, McAuley is realistic and optimistic about the band's ongoing American tour, its first, excitedly recounting stories or relaying information in which "fucking" is the modifier of choice. "This time around we don't fucking have any expectations about our audience," explains the guitarist. "We just roll through and try to play every fucking show like we're at Madison Square Garden, whether there's one person there or more than one."

A.R.E. Weapons enjoyed its earliest success in the club scene of New York. McPeck and McAuley are the core members of the group, while band manager Paul Sevigny plays keyboards onstage and Palm Pilot offstage. The band solidified its buzz with a pair of huge-selling home-recorded singles, but its popularity outside of Manhattan is relatively untested. The duo just released its self-titled debut on Rough Trade, and the album continues the sound displayed on the singles. The music is electro-punk; some cuts are fist-pumping anthems about city life shouted over a wash of keyboards, others are street narratives augmented by samples, loose beats and power chords. Tough and a little silly, the band is seriously having a good time.

"It's a hard thing sometimes for people to get their heads around, but we're not fucking joking," he says. "We are deadly fucking serious, but only in the context of life. Life is both serious and completely fucking hilarious at the same time. We mean it, every word, every beat." And some of the words they mean are goofy as hell. Take, for example, the shout-out-loud chorus from lead-off slacker anthem "Don't Be Scared": "Dude that's cool/Dude that's cool/It's fucking awesome/Life was meant to be awesome."

Fans of the seminal but largely forgotten electronic-shock duo Suicide, A.R.E. Weapons are known for in-your-face live showmanship and over-the-top theatrics -- '80s sequences, The Pod-era Ween, a little Licensed to Ill, Andrew W.K.'s unironic party vibe thrown in for good measure.

In line with the punk ethos, the boys in the band aren't afraid of a little physical contact. McAuley recounts a recent gig in Knoxville, Tennessee.

"We expected one person to be there and we rolled through and the joint was fucking packed and people were spazzing out dancing," he says. "A chick threw her fucking bra onstage. That had never happened before, so we just freaked out and had a great time. . . . I got punched, but, you know, that's cool, I just got punched in the stomach."

In this regard, the band is its own worst enemy. "We get onstage and have what we consider a good time," continues McAuley. "Which is just putting your back into it, laughing, swearing, and accidentally punching people. We beat the fuck out of each other onstage completely by accident all the time. Both Brain and I fucking have received broken bones in the last year from playing, and not from anybody else, from smashing into each other."

This live, er, enthusiasm got the pair noticed by New York promoter and DJ Larry Tee. Tee is the guy who unleashed RuPaul's "Supermodel" to an unsuspecting world a decade ago and coined the term "electroclash," a loose genre that launched the careers of Fisherspooner, Peaches, and Chicks on Speed, among others. Electroclash encompasses minimalist dance music, old-school '80s sounds, retro electronica and primitive vocal treatments like the vocoder.

While A.R.E. don't exactly fit that nebulous grouping, they did benefit from Tee's help and the connections they made in the electroclash world, which include many downtown fashionistas. When asked if A.R.E. Weapons are some downtown in-joke, a put-on to amuse those who are in the know, McAuley takes pains to explain, yet again, that they are the real deal. "Yeah. There's humor in there, because there's humor in life, but it's not like a wink wink, we know something you don't' humor. There's no punch line at all," he says.

In-joke or not, the band has definitely benefited from the young and the famous. Many of their early shows were at parties thrown by fashion industry types, though McAuley shrugs off this connection. "The fashion thing started with sexy girls that were into fashion. You're hanging out with them and you're friends with their friends," he says. "We like all those people, but it never had anything to do with fashion for us. Those people would have parties and pay us to play, so we'd play. I like those people, they're all sweethearts, they're trying to be weird and have a good time."

In fact, Sevigny is the brother of indie actress and model Chloë Sevigny, who also helped in a way; she was dating Jarvis Cocker of Pulp and took Cocker to a show. The droll Pulp man liked what he saw and took A.R.E.'s demo to Rough Trade Records.

Apparently, Rough Trade honcho Geoff Travis first balked at the album for being too punk, but things have since smoothed out enough for the Weapons to hit the road. Wondering what one could expect live from a band with one 36-minute album to its credit, McAuley explains that they play a mix of old stuff that was never released, material from the album, new tunes and some covers. And what are the covers these electro-punks enjoy playing? "We had a cover of [50 Cent's] In Da Club' but we decided that was kind of cornball. It sounded good, but the tour is kinda punk kids. In the past we've done Nervous Breakdown' by Black Flag, Summer in the City' by Lovin' Spoonful, we've done Born in the USA' . . . all good songs."

Punk, electronic music, scum fashion, broken bones and the Boss? Hmm . . . Does A.R.E. have a motto, or a code of ethics to make all these disparate elements jell? "We're trying to incite people to have a good life," says McAuley. "We try to lead by example; I mean, occasionally there's a little punchy-punch, and that's okay, but we're more into when you come out to the show to have a nice break from your regular life."

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Jonathan Bond