Photo by Sigrid Malmgren
Irrevocably British, ambitiously punk and now a Berliner, Eddie Argos, the ironically loquacious Art Brut and Everybody Was in the French Resistance…Now! frontman readies his messianic Bruts for a two-day stint at Levee Club (Thu May 26-Fri May 27) to plug the new record Brilliant! Tragic! (Cooking Vinyl). Believing his emotional development stopped somewhere around the age of 17, he spoke to EXBERLINER under the misapprehension that it was Tiger Beat.
Over the years the term “art brut” has taken to mean an art outside the mainstream – art that is raw and unrestrained.
Yeah, I wanna be that! We are a punk rock band!
How does the name Art Brut project your creative concept?
I was reading a book about art and saw the definition of art brut: art of outsiders, criminals and mentally ill. I went to the band and shouted “We are art brut!” basically saying that we are mentally ill. But the rest of the band did not get it, so we became Art Brut.
How does one protect that raw creativity?
Accidentally. We are very bad at being organized and getting things done. We all just do what we want. I think the combination of all of us being stubborn makes us a punk band, without any intentions. We are stubborn people.
But your punk songs can be very intimate. No political issues involving The Queen or God.
Well, that is given. Of course, I am anti-monarchist and leftist, and all that. I don’t need to write songs about that – I like writing personal songs to communicate and make friends.
You write a lot of pop songs about pop songs that resemble metaphysical poems.
I try to be conversational, and write about things we talk about in a pub. I talk about DC Comics and Axl Rose, and people who like them come to our concerts. I can be their friend. I am making a big gang of friends: that is what I do.
Did Axl Rose ever reply to your open letter [see Argos’ blog]?
No, but I am sure he saw it! I am sure he is Googling himself! He’s lost his mind, hasn’t he? They were the best rock ‘n’ roll band in the world! Think of early Guns ‘n’ Roses: lads, drunk, working out, doing what they want...then he just started adding more and more people. No one wants to see that. And the braids! People thought it was Mickey Rourke! He is deviant!
You appear to love the limelight a lot more than he does.
I cannot say things that I want to say most of the time, so I say it on stage. It is kind of cathartic relation. People come to me afterwards and say “Did you read that DC Comic?” or “Who is Emily Kane?” Or something about Axl Rose. I used to be very shy on the stage. People clapped and I’d say, “Don’t be sarcastic.” Then I saw a band that was terrible, but they all looked confident. I thought that was what we should be doing: be confident! So I got more confident. Now I am a monster! I can’t stop.
The new Art Brut album finds you singing along with the usual monologuing.
[Former Pixies leader and producer of Brilliant! Tragic!] Black Francis forced me to sing! First day when we started recording he sent everybody home, except me. I gave him my lyrics and he sang them, then I sang it and so we learned from each other. He taught me how to sing. I did not know I could, but he dragged it out. It is nice knowing my voice can be a kind of instrument.
You have two more conceptual projects: the Art Brut “franchise”, where other bands take on the name “Art Brut” and Everybody Was in the French Resistance... Now, in which you respond to famous songs by others.
The “franchise” started ‘cause I thought Art Brut is a really good name for a band. I felt bad that I’d taken it. I wanted to share with other people – everyone can be Art Brut. [With the original AB referred to as AB0] It was nice to get their albums covering “My Little Brother” or other AB songs. The band We Are Scientists are AB47.
And Everybody Was in the French Resistance...Now?
EWITFRN started as fun. That song [Motown classic] “Jimmy Mack” from Martha Reeves made me angry. She sings, like: “I am going to cheat on my boyfriend when he comes home.” I am a sensitive man and that was not nice! I said to my girlfriend [EWITFRN bandmate and The Blood Arm keyboardist Dyan Valdés], “We should respond to that!” She plays the piano and said, “Either you shut up or we do it.” We did that, then we did more, it became an album and we toured. It was like cabaret. This is, like, two different persons: me with Art Brut and doing EWITFRN.
How does a monogamous relationship jibe with your Peter Pan image?
I used to sing, “People in love lie around and get fat/I don't want to end up like that. ”Now I’ve added, ”I am OK with that!” I’ve changed. I used to be so afraid of settling down – now, I am kinda happy.
Does sentimentality creep into Brilliant! Tragic!?
I was gonna call the record "Wham! Bang! Pow!", but it did not fit with the music. I think the songs are kind of brilliant. But I also sing about my funeral: that is tragic. I think the name describes the album perfectly.
You take death as an intergalactic trip.
I am going into space, yeah. It comes from my obsession with sci-fi and comics. I was at a funeral last year and they were playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. I said, “I don’t want that at my funeral. I am not going to go over the rainbow, I am going into space.” It is so weird playing it live: it’s like my funeral. Every time I hear it I am realizing I am going to die one day.
So, if you aren’t reincarnated as a planet, who would you like to be in the next life?
[DC Comics character] Booster Gold!
You incorporate in both your person and songs a sarcastic music critic/lover and an experienced musician who takes drugs, boozes and preaches about life and death; at the same time, you read comics and like milk shakes.
Yeah, that’s me. Every one of us is, isn’t it? I am not going to change now because I live with my girlfriend, or I am over 30. I read comics all the time. It makes a lot of mess.
You are also an avid reader of “serious” literature?
Oh yeah! I read everything! I will sound very pretentious now, but I love [Edwardian satirist] Saki. His short stories are quite dark and funny. I really recommend him.
You moved from L.A. to Berlin.
Dyan wanted to move to London. I was, like, “Neeeeeeeeeeeeeee.” I don’t want to live in London anymore. I always wanted to come here, so we compromised. Berlin is nicer: we always had fun here, conversation in the pubs is better, beer is better, people are nice. We live now together on Boddinstrasse, Neukölln among very 1970s furniture and very high ceilings. We became a cliché. But now I like it a lot.
Did your sarcasm ever cause you trouble in the non-ironic USA?
All the time! I was getting into fights. I sing about other bands, then I meet them and it is embarrassing. What can I do? I am joking but people are getting offended
But your split with the major label EMI was referred to as amicable.
We had to sign to say that. We tried to do things right: sign to a major label, get music done. But it fell apart – promising us 40 people, where only 3 were there for us, releasing singles without telling us. We said, “Fuck this!” We became even ruder. They were owning our songs! So we posted ironic things on the blogs, comparing them with the Titanic. They got a little upset. We said, “Give us our songs back!” Eventually, they did. Since, we have to say we split “amicably”.
That’s so quintessential British. They must have loved that in the States.
I think they like me being so very English.
Art Brut, Thu, May 26-Fri, May 27, 20:00 | Levee Club, Neue Promenade 10, Mitte, U-Bhf, Hackescher Markt, www.levee-club.com