Pop the clutch 

Good heavens, have the Suicide Machines gone and "grown up" on us? The ferocious Detroit punk band built its following by following the self-starter, DIY-rock blueprint to a T. They let the music do the talking, touring incessantly from the get-go (the band formed, after all, eight years ago as Jack Kevorkian & the Suicide Machines), building a grassroots following and sticking to their instinctive guns in the way Detroit bands seem to have etched in their DNA from day one. Now, the four Detroit lads are set to release their third, self-titled full-length recording this Tuesday (on their supportive, large label, Hollywood Records). But one listen to it may surprise the mosh pit kids who laced up to the band’s fiery Destruction by Definition and, particularly, its most recent, hardcore workout, Battle Hymns.

Suicide Machines plays like a mix tape of its creators’ musical leanings – there’s hardcore, ska-punk, a rap-rock number and straight pop-punk. It’s the latter, pop-inflected joints that might catch longtime fans a bit off guard. These tracks bring a wider musical and songwriterly polish to the SMs’ rough edges, finding 20-piece string sections (!) accenting the guitars and drums, and a melodic – gasp! – ballad or two in the mix (not to mention the fantastic punky cover of "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden," a song much of the SMs’ audience is probably too young to truly remember in all its FM-cheese glory).

But, according to songwriter-guitarist-vocalist Dan Lukacinsky, that’s just where he and vocalist Jason Navarro, bassist Royce Nunley and drummer Ryan Vandeberghe are at right now. They didn’t consciously set out to make a more radio-friendly (and this album certainly is) pop record.

"We pretty much just started writing songs like that and that’s just how they came out," he says of the process. "If you listen to our records, even Battle Hymns, there’s pop elements all over the place."

It also helps this record’s diversity that the other band member stepped up with more songs for this effort.

"Especially on this record, J and Royce started writing a lot more songs. And that’s really good because it takes some of the weight off my shoulders," says Lukacinsky.

Lukacinsky expects fans, new and longtime, to be shocked by this record.

"It’s a lot different. If we went from Destruction by Definition to this record, that wouldn’t have been as big a shock. But since we went from Battle Hymns to this record ... We really don’t want to do the same thing time and time again. You’ve got to shock the people, youknowhatImean?"

That shock might translate into more radio spins, though. In fact, the first single, "Sometimes I Don’t Mind," is already getting good airplay on 89X.

"Because of the style of the music, a lot of radio stations aren’t going to play your music. You look at Battle Hymns and that was hardcore, balls-out thrash, and I don’t have to tell you that that wasn’t a very commercial record," says Lukacinsky.

"One of the good things about the fact that this record has more pop on it is that we’re going to get a chance to expand our audience. A lot of people say, ‘I don’t want those type of people coming to see the band that I like.’ But you know what? As I’ve grown up I’ve realized that music is for everyone. Suicide Machines doesn’t care who comes to see the shows, as long as they’re going to be cool and have a good time. It doesn’t matter what age you are or what you look like," he concludes.

But, again, it’s the grassroots support from constant touring and playing to the kids who come out time and time again to Suicide Machines shows (particularly in Detroit, where the band draws up to 2,000 fans every time it plays) that allows Lukacinsky to keep the faith.

"I can say the same about the Bosstones," says Lukacinsky. "They were a band that toured around for a long time and a lot of people knew about them and then they finally had a big record. That always works a lot better, because people know who you are. You see a lot of bands nowadays that are just radio bands and that’s how they get made. And then, when it’s over, it’s over. Bands like that, when nobody knows who they are even though their song’s getting played on the radio – that’s just weird."

So, have the Suicide Machines grown up? Well, yes and no. Of course, everyone gets older and wiser, but that doesn’t mean they get any less rowdy. And don’t expect any Metallica-esque musical gimmickry from the SMs, such as partnering with the DSO.

"Nnnnnooo. I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon," says Lukacinsky. "At heart we’re still a punk-rock band and people come down to the shows, and they know we’re gonna get crazy and have fun." Chris Handyside is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com. Handyside writes about music for the Metro

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