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All popped up
Apollo Sunshine, Din, and the Loud Family
BY BRETT MILANO

It’s barely lunch time the day after their appearance at the FNX Christmas show at the Paradise, and as usual, the members of Apollo Sunshine are bursting with manic energy. Another of their rock dreams just came true this morning: they’ve been signed by the German label City Slang, which means they’ll now have European distribution (their album Katonah is already out Stateside on spinArt) and enough funds to go to LA and make a video. "It’s out of nowhere," says drummer Jeremy Black. "They’re telling us, ‘You guys want to go to Europe now? Great!’ It’s really like a fairy tale."

It’s been that kind of year for the young trio, who were virtually unknown at this time last year and now have local-headliner status and the start of a national cult following. The turning point was a trio of go-for-broke sets that they did at the Rumble last spring: instead of just playing the kind of tuneful pop that comes naturally, they seasoned their music with proudly noisy jams and wild theatrics. Although they lost to the Dresden Dolls, their set at the final — with strobe lights, balloons, puppets, and a general sense of Sgt. Pepper meeting the Banana Splits — proved especially memorable. The band members have been living in their van for most of the year; at the moment, none of them has an apartment in Boston.

Although they helped establish Apollo Sunshine, those Rumble shows have proved something of a mixed blessing. "We started getting reviews with words like, ‘Crazy, zany kooks,’ " notes bassist/singer Jesse Gallagher. "The point of the Rumble shows was, ‘Well, we’re underdogs already. So many people here have never heard of us, so let’s make this as ridiculous as possible.’ We don’t do that kind of thing at every show; when we’re on tour, we keep things pretty stripped down." Another side effect of the Rumble theatrics was the start of many Flaming Lips comparisons. "I don’t think we sound anything like them," guitarist Sam Cohen points out. "But if you’re going to compare us to somebody — hey, the Flaming Lips? Creative band with credibility that hasn’t sold out? Cool!" Getting more serious, Gallagher adds, "We’re a new band, so it’s only natural that we get compared to people. But it’s still strange. To us, our music is our whole life. But to most people, we’re just this band that sounds like this other band."

Still, Apollo Sunshine have absorbed an impressive amount of pop history for a band whose members are all in their early 20s. And they’ll gladly own up to being hardcore music geeks. All three had parents with big record collections and all three went to Berklee; all but Gallagher stuck around to graduate. "When I was six, my dad just said, ‘Here’s my record collection.’ I got so addicted to playing albums like [the Beatles’] Revolver, so I could listen on the left channel and just hear the horn parts. I remember how scary ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ used to sound."

"We get pretty self-conscious about it sometimes — ‘Okay, no ’60s shit today,’ " Cohen admits. "But it seemed like a real renaissance of music, when people were pushing the boundaries and it wasn’t just to make money." Adds Black, "What’s great is that people come up to us at shows and ask us what music they should check out. I usually send them to the Beach Boys."

But the members say they’ve never heard two of the latter-day bands they’re often compared with, Jellyfish and XTC. And they were let down when they bought a Guided by Voices album after being compared with GbV. "Didn’t sound at all like us," says Cooper. "I was thinking, ‘Hey, wait a minute — this guy hasn’t been through everything we’ve been through in the last 10 years.’ "

But like all the above-named bands starting with the Beatles, Apollo Sunshine have a love of studio experimentation. For Katonah, they went so far as to build the studio, a converted barn on Gallagher’s parents’ property in New Hampshire. "We spent a month laying shingles and breathing in sawdust," Gallagher recalls. "But then we could lie back in the middle of the woods, with nobody to contact us, and smoke a lot of weed." Once inside, they proceeded to forget everything they’d learned at Berklee about modern production and commercial verse/chorus songwriting.

That explains why the album is so dense with overdubs and multi-part songs. "We decided to do a concept album, though there really isn’t any concept except childhood flashback dreams," says Black. Adds Cooper, "We had all grown up into music and wanted to make an album for so many years. So we had to get everything in somewhere — back when I played rockabilly, I had this lick I always wanted to play, so where on this album can I put it?"

All three members contributed to the lyrics, though Cohen wrote the line (from "The Egg") that’s been quoted most often: "Feel as though I’d like to fuck my way into the womb." He explains, "Sometimes you just think those things. I showed it to my girlfriend and said, ‘I love this, but can I really put it into a song?’ She said, ‘Now that you’ve shown it to me, you have to." Gallagher adds, "That song passed the main test — my mom heard it and she didn’t mind."

DIN. There was a time when Carlene Barous had no desire to step on stage. Her older sister Terri was the keyboardist in the popular local band Tribe, and she figured that one rocker in the family was enough. "Then Tribe disbanded and I thought, ‘Oh no — I don’t get to live vicariously anymore! Now I have to find something to do with my rock thing.’ "

She’s since become a member of the Paula Kelley Orchestra, where her keyboards and back-up vocals are a feature of the lush arrangements. But she’s also played for the past few years in the punk-pop band Din, who released their seven-song disc The High End this month on their own label. Anyone who loves the blend of tough guitars and æthereal melody should be attracted right away. With Barous and guitarist Glenn Steadman splitting the songwriting and ex-Neighborhoods leader David Minehan handling the production, it’s loud and emotive with gorgeous hooks. Although she’s a life-long Bostonian, Barous’s vocals have a touch of vintage California pop about them, and the romantic exuberance makes the opening "I’ll Find a Way" a grabber.

"That’s the first song I ever wrote," she notes over the phone from Paris, where she’s on a business trip for the biotech company she works for. Although Din have a previous full-length disc, she didn’t write or sing lead on it; this time she gets four of the seven songs. "When I joined the band, I just wanted to play bass and be the background person — I auditioned and they accepted me, even though my playing was worse than shite. Writing songs probably came out of frustration — I sat down at the piano and came up with some chords that sounded lovely to me, and I had to find a way to bring that to the band." On one of her other tunes, she did let slip a lyric reference — "Thank you, Mr. Grieves" — that reveals her love for the Pixies. "Yeah, Glenn heard that and said, ‘You’re in trouble, you just plagiarized the Pixies.’ Which I probably did, but it was subconscious. I was probably saying something like, ‘Be grateful for your despair.’ "

The occasional Tribe resemblance is also hard to miss, not least because there are two Tribe sibs in the band (guitarist Bart LoPiccolo’s brother Greg was also a Tribe member). "If there was any influence on me, it came from adoring the fact that Terri got as far as she did. I started playing classical piano when I was seven, but I was never a frustrated rock musician or anything like that. It only started coming out when I hit that Britney Spears age — not a girl and not a woman."

THE LOUD FAMILY. Whether they realize it or not, a good number of local pop bands owe a spiritual debt to the Bay Area band the Loud Family, which carried the banner of cult-herodom through most of the ’90s. When it came to stretching the emotional and structural possibilities of classic-model pop, the Louds picked up the ball around the time XTC dropped it. Underdog bands like this aren’t usually honored with a full-length live DVD, but thanks to the efforts of a few West Coast fans (including director Danny Plotnick, whose wife, Allison Faith Levy, was the keyboardist), Loud Family: Live 2000 was released this month (it’s available from www.125records.com). The disc was shot on the band’s final tour, by which time the Loud Family had been together almost a decade, following leader Scott Miller’s ’80s tenure fronting Game Theory.

It’s not the slickest concert DVD you’ll ever see. Although the performances are well shot, they were done under less than optimal small-club conditions (apparently nothing from the gig at T.T. the Bear’s Place proved usable); and the band interviews show them to be a goofier bunch than one might expect. And though their five studio albums were lush and layered, the Loud Family’s shows took on more of a Mission of Burma–like volume and intensity, particularly on this tour. Frustrated by years on the margins, Miller tended to close each show by playing a wrenching solo and then ceremoniously laying his guitar on the stage floor, a moment captured here on "Sister Sleep." Still, the disc tends to accent the camaraderie of the band members, the overall niceness of the fans, and the more exuberant moments of the live shows. You wouldn’t guess that a song called "Dee-Pression" could be so uplifting, or that a Moody Blues cover would be such a good idea. Update: Miller is now halfway through making an acoustic album with long-time admirer Aimee Mann for which they’ve done each other’s songs and written one together.


Issue Date: December 19 - 25, 2003
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