Paranoid Social Club: Axis II

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Paranoid, Social, and otherwise

In their secret location, on the outskirts of Portland, among blue-collar types and rotting cars, the Paranoid Social Club conspire. Though their plans hint at world domination, for the time being they’re happy with small bits of mischief making: cold-calling studio execs and management possibilities; setting up elaborate treasure hunts whereby fans can find their first recorded effort, Axis: II the Demo buried in the ground fronting the police station, behind the counter at the Treasure Chest, or behind the bar at Platinum Plus; debating whether to play a show at UMaine/Orono for $80.

“Everybody who wants to play the show raise your hand,” says Dave Gutter, ringleader. No hands go up.

There’s an interesting dynamic at work here: The three members of this rock band (prone to industrial wash and illbient snippets) want desperately to succeed with their music — but they just don’t give a fuck.

They do a promotional gig on a local radio station prior to a show to help turnout, then drunkenly storm the station’s studios later in the week. They write their multi-tracked songs to include a DJ’s live performance, but they’ve performed with at least three different guys, one of whom is now in jail. They’re on time for the interview, but when I get back to the office there’s a message I missed asking me to bring beer.

Their history as Rustic Overtones — which would have morphed into Paranoid Social Club eventually — makes Gutter, bassist Jon Roods, and drummer Marc Boisvert aware of the cold music-biz realities and the responsibilities that come with them. But that experience has also left them profoundly jaded, insular, and a little bit crazy.

Hence the theme song.

“At the Paranoid Social Club / If you didn’t make the cut, make the grade, maybe if you’re just afraid/ At the Paranoid Social Club / Open up and discuss the pain, get it off your chest, I know sometimes you feel like there’s nothing left, but you’re not alone.” Gutter’s voice is soothing, comforting, inviting, understanding, and, well, creepy. The music is a sort of post-lounge, with a bossa-nova swing tied to a Bloodhound Gang (think 3-2-1 Contact) bass line.

It’s a far cry from the Monkees’ happy-go-lucky clubhouse tune: “We’re just tryin’ to be friendly / Come and watch us sing and play / We’re the young generation / And we’ve got something to say.”

PSC are the young generation, too. Except this one is asking you to “save me from the guns and the bombs / Or the ones I thought were friends to me now we just don’t get along.” Or try the chorus from “Save Me”: “Save me from the Policeman, from Mother Nature, from the government / Can you save me from what I have become? / Can you understand?”

Disaffected by the establishment (read: the major labels that have used them up like juice boxes), PSC turn inward. With a recording set-up provided (somewhat ironically) by ArtistDirect to Poverty (whom Gutter deserves some credit for discovering) and thus to PSC, Gutter, Roods, and Boisvert put in long days — “15, 20 hours a day,” says Boisvert, and I can’t tell if he’s kidding — crafting songs on the now-ubiquitous Pro-Tools, then figuring out how to play them live.

This leads to introspective songs like “Soul Demolition,” containing the obvious Rustic reference, “We built a house then we all moved out / We burned it down.” Locked up with each other, they seem to be exploring just where it is they’ve found themselves.

“It’s like when Jon and I had just got out of high school,” says Gutter, “and we were calling up clubs every time we needed a gig. Then we’d get one and our dads would come along and take us in their mini-vans.”

Maybe that explains the youthful exuberance tied with detached irony behind “Wasted,” which is quickly becoming the drinking game of choice amongst the college crowd. As is a Paranoid Social Club writing theme, it opens simply enough with the chorus: “We all got wasted, all fucked up and wasted.” (If you’re wondering about the game, try taking a sip every time they sing the word “wasted,” and you’ll understand the challenge.) Meanwhile, DJ Shade cuts in snippets of Beastie Boys (“It’s time to buy ale”) and Eminem (“Man, you’re wasted”). It’s not too hard to envision scantily clad spring breakers with their hands in the air.

What starts out as a party anthem, however, quickly devolves into self parody. “We all got wasted on 99 bottles of booze,” sings Gutter in his best Adam Sandler impersonation, “I only danced with your friend cuz I thought she was you / We got wasted / Cuz there was nothing to do / I must of had five drinks but I thought it was two.” As will become his trademark with PSC, Gutter’s clipped delivery is an excellent mix of hip-hop precision and rock growl on most of the disc, but here his nasal whine is mocking and cajoling. It’s fun, but it’s also quite depressing.

As is much of the rest of their demo. “Headphones,” led by Roods’s sinister bass, details most of the kids you see strolling down the street, staring at their feet, cut off literally and metaphorically from the world at-large. “Evolution” references heroýs gone, like Kurt Cobain, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and John Lennon. “I always thought that when I grew up, I’d be just like you,” Gutter wails, “Just like rock ’n’ roll / Just like evolution,” as Boisvert desperately keeps time by the bell of the ride cymbal.

Like the best kind of first date, the pretty face of PSC’s layered sounds belie a deep and tortured soul worth working to discover. “You kind of have to be bitter and jaded after what we’ve done for the past 10 years,” admits Gutter. “But if we were really jaded, we wouldn’t be playing anymore. We’ve got something good going here and we’re appreciative.”

Maybe that’s why they only sell these demo discs at shows: The fans who care about the music, “who have some kind of attachment to the band,” can get their PSC fix. (“And we tell people with no money to just go download it off the Web site,” says Roods.) Or maybe it’s because they’re savvy enough to know that sound-scanning a couple hundred discs at local music stores can actually work against them in their quest for a “deal.”

It’s hard to tell with these guys. They’re paranoid.