You can swear up and down and carp and moan about rock being long dead, left to nestle in the top layer of the earth’s surface amid clods of petrified matter, dirt and crag; forever constrained, stuck in the ground, permanent.
Well, that’s rock. It just sits there. If you don’t watch your step, you’re liable to stub your toe. I mean, if you’re lucky.
Of course, there’s rock, and then there’s rock ’n’ roll. The latter being that big, unruly and disruptive fuck-shit-up beast that can still goad you to emotional extremes, to yap for joy, to fuck, to bitch slap your inner ogre of lethargy and inertia. And who would’ve thought that possible after 50 goddamned years of the stuff? And if it is possible, who is really doing it?
Insert here the Everyothers. They’re not a rock band; they’re a rock ’n’ roll band. Huge difference.
This 5-year-old New York City quartet — drummer John Melville, guitarist Joel B. Cannon, bassist Ben Toro and singer-guitarist Owen McCarthy — have just coughed up a self-titled debut record that proves you can still make rock ’n’ roll in the grand, street-scamp glam sense of the ’70’s. It’s a form that condenses neatly the Manhattan lowlife romance Lou Reed once did sorta well, pre-Berlin Bowie without the rooster mullet and needling histrionics, the Strokes with bigger songs minus the frigid detachment … etc. In other words, the Everyothers offer a modernistic turn on a crusty idea, and do it very, very well.
It’s midafternoon on a Saturday and the Everyothers’ willowy front man and songwriter has just risen. He’s in the kitchen of his Brooklyn apartment preparing coffee. A spoon is heard stirring liquid in a cup. There’s the clink of the utensil dropping into a sink, followed by, “Sorry, it’s only my second cup of coffee.”
And unlike the salty vibrato of his recorded voice, McCarthy’s timbre via phone line is low-keyed, understated. He speaks in hushed tones, his voice only rising to offer an apology for this interview’s late start. And he’s gracious as hell. “Late is OK, isn’t it?”
Yeah, late is OK. Particularly in the case of the Everyothers. Here’s a band that simply sounds late, way late, mining a musical territory that’s not been popular since Ford stumbled into the White House.
“We’ve had the time to really sort through years of music,” muses McCarthy, who was but a toddler in the Ford years. “You can only hope to make a record that is comparable to the records that you love.”
It’s still too early to tell whether kids will value the Everyothers particular strain of hullabaloo. Still, if not for the rearward-gazing, hip paradise of the Strokes, chances are the Everyothers would be languishing in New York club gig misery, playing for guest-listed friends and a few crotchety rock ’n’ roll old-timers looking for something to believe in. The Strokes almost single-handedly kicked down the international doors and made it possible for better New York City bands weaned on ’70s punk and glam — like the Everyothers and the Star Spangles — to bring their music to America’s youth.
“Sometimes the kids just need a sound and energy to relate to, something to identify with vicariously,” McCarthy says. “I know I did. Kids are kids — if the music’s there, it’s there. So far the kids at shows have been receptive.”
“When the Strokes broke there was a sense of rejuvenation,” he continues, sounding genuinely grateful to the Strokes’ success. “We’d been around for a long time — it took the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to make it happen.”
There were some lean years in New York when absolutely nobody cared about the group. McCarthy, whose day gigs include part-time construction work and the occasional DJ set, says there isn’t much else in life for him or the band. At one point the band let go of everything and just went for it, ultimately getting the deal with stalwart indie Hautlab at the beginning of this year.
“We had no choice. We had to hang in there. When we let go of our desperation — that’s when things started to click.”
The Everyothers are artfully gaudy. They lack the affectation and disconnectedness of up-to-the-moment New York City exports. And it would be lazy to dismiss the band as vacationers taking snapshots in some ’70s glitter-rock principality.
A review for The Everyothers in Hustler magazine suggested McCarthy was an unoriginal, that he sounded too much like Bowie and Iggy. Yeah, McCarthy sounds a bit like Bowie, particularly in the phrasing (which Bowie nicked from Anthony Newley and Scott Walker). And he sounds a little like Iggy too. So what? If McCarthy sounded like Nick Drake, would he be cast into the higher reaches of what’s permissible for a critic to appreciate? There’s an assumed pretentiousness when dramatic singers turn up as influences (or as ultra-hip references), and having Bowie as one can render a singer helpless in a critic’s la-la land of what’s acceptable. But McCarthy makes it his own, brings himself to the table, which is exactly what we should expect from a songwriter.
“When the record came out I was bracing myself up for a lot of trash talk,” he says. “But so far it’s been pretty good. I sat and thought about that review. If they’re gonna compare me to Bowie and Iggy, I thought that was great. Those are two of my favorites!”
It’s obvious the band members take their influences with them to bed at night, but they’re good enough to be compared to their forebears. The Tim O’Heir-produced debut boasts well-appropriated nods to others, including Badfinger, the Stones, the Beatles, Cheap Trick and the Who. And the music is heavy rock ’n’ roll; think Saturation-era Urge Overkill with bigger hooks. And never does the record sound like a pastiche of songs done in the styles of whatever records McCarthy and company were listening to that month (unlike Jet or the latest Ryan Adams); their songs are clearly identifiable.
It’s a record by a band in command of the songs and instrumentation, full of context and pop knowledge, from the flamboyant pop of “Can’t Get Around It” to the well-orchestrated minor chords of “Break That Bottle.” The album is remarkably short on filler. The drums bash and swing; rangy guitars are both crude and weirdly graceful in their melodies and harmonic walls of distortion; bass lines have spine, insistent and melodic. What’s more — and here’s something lost on nearly every new band on the planet — there’s a swanky, rock-star country-gentleman quality to the band and songs, that elegantly wasted, bordering-the-foppish élan so pervasive on old Faces and Mott the Hoople records.
As a lyricist, McCarthy can hoist a shaky cocktail glass in the general direction of Ian Hunter and cheekily mask yawns for the upstarts who’ve adopted the new rock pose. McCarthy’s no idiot simply playing dress-up. He can take the idea of the rock star as an exalted being and shoot it full of holes, as on “Surprise, Surprise”: Now I’m at the back of the bar/She’s a slut and I’m a star/Anything they need us to be. And he can be downright self-deprecating too. On “In My Shoes” he half-croons: Need to be ready/It’s already getting heady/for a two-time loser.
Hunter’s delicate portrayal of everyday sadness echoes in the melancholic, acoustic-driven album-closer, “Dead Star”: stars in the sky as a metaphor for those fallen. The song shows without irony how its author believes in what he’s doing as much as he does the music that got him to this point.
Sure there’s arena-worthy pageantry, a momentum within the songs — that’s what makes the record great. There’s a celebratory element that isn’t bogged down by fear of over-the-top performances.
“The music is a celebration of sorts,” explains McCarthy, sounding almost aghast that it even has to be explained. “I never understood people standing around at shows staring at the band. It’s not an art gallery.”
You can hear in the band’s guitars shadows of the late Bowie-Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ronson, who in fact is only a degree or two of separation from the band.
Everyothers’ drummer John Melville, a huge Bowie-Mott fan, grew up in Troy and attended Wayne State for a spell. As a teenager in the late ’80s, Melville hung with Ronson at Mom’s.
“My brother Cody and I had a band, and Mick Ronson produced our demo,” recalls Melville over the phone from his Brooklyn apartment. “So Mick came and stayed at my mom’s house in Troy for two weeks. It’s true. He stayed at my mom’s house. Cody had a knack for tracking people down, and we managed to scrounge up some money from friends who had some money.”
The brothers Cody gave the late rock star a Detroit experience far from Ziggy Stardust.
“We used to be members of the Detroit Boat Club down on Belle Isle, and I remember flying around with Mick on a Boston Whaler. It was so fucking surreal. We took him to TGI Friday’s in Troy. We went to Greektown. We went to see the Violent Femmes at the Fox, and they heard Mick Ronson was in the audience, and they wouldn’t go on stage until he came backstage and said hello.”
The four-song demo never saw light. But for Melville, the Everyothers are, in many ways, a logical extension of the Ronson experience.
The Everyothers will perform Saturday, Dec. 13, at the Blind Pig (208 S. First St., Ann Arbor). Call 734-996-8555.Brian Smith is the music editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]