Obscure by Default 

Slumped on a worn beige couch in a Macomb County basement, surrounded by shelves of rare '60s 45s (the most eye-catching being a John's Children picture sleeve featuring a pre-T. Rex Marc Bolan), the members of Outrageous Cherry are laughing about their watermark five-year anniversary. The fact that the band hasn't dissolved amid frontman Matt Smith's assorted musical concoctions (the Volebeats, the Witches and an ongoing stint with ex-Crime & the City Solution frontman Simon Bonney) is surprising. The fact that the group is still a priority in his life is a minor miracle.

Since its inception, Outrageous Cherry has been called a '90s Velvet Underground circa VU's self-titled album of 1968. Think of the Velvet's "White Light/White Heat" played through a flanger by the Banana Splits and that'll give some idea of the group's lunatic pop.

"This band doesn't think of time as a linear concept," explains Smith, decked out in a blue and yellow "Bus Driver" sweatshirt. "The Velvet Underground influence wasn't deliberate. Simply put, we're attracted to the same aesthetic in music. We listen to music from a time when there was more actual interaction in playing. If you listen to an old Rolling Stones or Fleetwood Mac record, there was a sensitivity in the playing which doesn't exist anymore. That used to be the norm back then. Now it's the exception to the rule."

Taking its name from a shade of hair dye, the band has a history that's an illustrious minor fable in itself. While bassist Chad Gilchrist has experienced little negativity moonlighting for Cameron Crowe's favorite band, Livonia's His Name Is Alive, the rest of Outrageous Cherry had experiences in the '80s which hampered their views of the music industry. Smith played in a slew of nondescript Roxy Music/Television-inspired bands before forming the short-lived It's Raining which he refers to as "a band of its time." Drummer Deb Agolli was the resident skin pounder in the late wayward trio Viv Akauldren. The most prominent claim to fame that Canned Heat-devotee guitarist Larry Ray can make is a brief stint with late folk rocker Ted Lucas, of the obscure '60s psychedelic outfit the Misty Wizards.

"At a pretty young age, we all got into the business end of music," says Agolli, whom Smith describes as one of Detroit's few intuitive drummers. "By operating your own label, making your own T-shirts, pressing up your own records, burnout is inevitable. It was just a matter of time before any of us got back into doing music."

According to Smith, the original idea behind Outrageous Cherry was to form a group that played music with a modern-day Cilla Black-Dusty Springfield stand-in. Unbeknownst to Smith, he was about to become that stand-in.

Like many first albums, 1994's self-titled debut was a mixed affair which found the Cherry trying to carve a niche in a year when grunge was still king. And despite the appearance that 1996's covers album Stereo Action Rent Party was a throwaway, it was closer to the band's heart and record collections than one might think.

"When we're working together, I never think for a second that we want it to sound like some obscure '60s song," says Smith. "Sure, we throw around reference points of other records and that's part of this group's foundation. But ultimately we want to make records that have all the elements which made the records that we like enjoyable."

Which brings us to the double release of this year's cheery Nothing's Gonna Cheer You Up long player and the experimental, echo-drenched X-Rays in the Cloudmine EP. Save for the inclusion of their song "Ace 100" in an upcoming film by director Tim Hunter (River's Edge) and a pending collaboration with ex-Velvets bassist Doug Yule, Outrageous Cherry's one-two punch of 1997 has seemingly fallen on deaf ears. Indeed, Ray views the group's roadblocks as not unlike the public's disdain of the late '60s Velvets.

"There's little connection between what's going on here musically and what mainstream culture is interested in," says Ray. "There's a lot of good music in Detroit, but given the area's lack of financial resources since Motown departed, that's to be expected."

"The only thing that's changed in Detroit is that music is done on an underground level, but with a global scale in mind," Smiths concludes. "Bands like the Demolition Doll Rods, Windy & Carl and Destroy All Monsters are more well known throughout the rest of the world than in Detroit." Considering Outrageous Cherry's place in the thick of the Detroit music scene, this doesn't surprise the band at all. Colin McDonald writes about music and film for the Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com

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