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Guy walks into a tunnel
The perverse pleasures of Tunnel of Love, plus news and notes

So, when we get together over coffee, I ask Tunnel of Love’s Andy and Makoto whether the group’s name is a synonym for "vagina."

You might wonder why I’d do this. After all, "tunnel of love" conjures the innocence of making out in the dark on a carnival ride, and Springsteen used the phrase as a metaphor for the unknowns that come with romantic commitment. But the Boston band’s fourth release, Tunnel of Love (ECA), rumbles between sex-obsessed originals and covers of rock standards that sound as if they’d been recorded on bricks — or maybe on a busted boombox in a very small tiled bathroom while some flushing was going on and a half-dozen rabid rodents were chasing the trio up the walls.

The energy level, sonic distortion, and foam-lipped singing tumble out of the speakers like the second coming of the Tasmanian Devil, albeit one who plays drums and guitars and wears tights while he raves. It’s Makoto on drums, or rather, a single floor tom; Andy howling into a microphone like an angry serial killer who’s swallowed a rivet; and his brother Anthony chopping out dusty sawtooth waves on his Stratocaster. They collide and tumble around like three dice being shaken and tossed, and live, the lines between audience and performer are erased. Often they don’t bother setting up on stage. "I usually look for a the best place where I can find tables or boxes to climb on," says Andy.

But about the answer to that first question.

"Yeah, it could be," says Andy, who speaks so quietly when we meet near his Brookline stomping grounds that he could be somebody posing as the lunatic singer from Tunnel of Love. "Our first three albums had vaginas. The first two had pictures of a vagina, and the third one had a drawing. This one has the word."

Well, almost. The cover of Tunnel of Love is a photo of the band in show drag: skinny and shirtless, in black briefs-style shorts and black-and-white hooped leggings that look like zebra camouflage. They’re posing with their inflatable sex doll, and there’s a word balloon popping out of Andy’s head that says, "Wake up freaks! This is Tunnel of Love from Brookline, Massachusetts. We are going to blow your pussies out!!!"

I guess that takes the old J. Geils Band line — "We’re gonna blow your face out!" — up a notch. At any rate, it’s no surprise when Andy cites the band’s influences: Guitar Wolf, John Waters, G.G. Allin, cartoons. "I think we’re going for the sonic equivalent of John Waters," he whispers while Makoto, for the most part, remains silent.

So how does one make an album that’s the sonic equivalent of John Waters? "We recorded it live at a studio in Weymouth with just one microphone," Andy explains.

"Andy had to back away or get closer to the mike depending on where he wanted his vocals in the mix," Makoto offers.

I ask Andy to explain the obsession with vaginas.

"I’d rather not say."

"What do women make of your lyrics and the sex dolls?"

"They love it," he says. "They think it’s really funny when I go off the stage and molest them. But so far I haven’t gotten harassment back. Except at Ace of Clubs. Somebody pulled my tights down. If anything, we’re pulling back on the sex thing. Our first two albums were really . . . " he pauses "dirty. There’s stuff that I’d be embarrassed to sing today, and one song, about being jealous of a girl for having sex with somebody else, that I can’t even listen to anymore."

If you haven’t heard of Tunnel of Love, that’s no surprise. They started in 1998, playing mostly in the art-scene circuit built around a network of basement and loft shows between here and Brooklyn. That’s been their staple, though they’ve also played clubs all along. What’s getting them noticed now is that since 2003, they’ve injected meth into their method. After several variations on their line-up, the group settled into a trio following the return of Anthony, a charter member, on guitar. That induced Andy to hang up his six-string and just sing. Soon they all began wearing costumes, and the drum kit was stripped back to a single, thumping primal tom-tom, and Andy started leaving the stage to glibber and yelp in patrons’ faces.

These days, Tunnel of Love prefer rock clubs to art spaces. "In art shows, they’re kind of expecting anything," Andy says, "but in the rock clubs, they’re often not ready for it. We killed at Ace of Clubs in New York, which is a pretty standard rock club. We set up in the back, away from the stage, wrapped our Christmas lights over everything, and as soon as the band before us stopped playing, we started."

Blasted off is more like it, into their own strange universe where everything has the same troglodytic beat, and where except for a few key lyric phrases, chestnuts like "Paint It Black" become almost indistinguishable from numbers like their own "Oh No (Yer Time Is Gonna Cum)."

By now, you’ve figured out that Tunnel of Love ain’t for everybody. "Our favorite reviews are the bad ones," says Andy.

"Yeah," Makoto chimes in. "Those are the best."

"When people hate us, they hate us so much," Andy elaborates. "They try so hard to say how bad we are that it makes us sound awesome."

Tunnel of Love play an LP-release concert for the vinyl version of their new album on June 25 at the First Unitarian Church, 3 Church Street in Harvard Square; for information, visit www.tunneloflove666.com.

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Issue Date: June 3 - 9, 2005
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