Eddie Argos is pretty much the last person you'd look to for sincerity. But the mastermind behind England's most archly melodic power-punk band insists we've got him all wrong.
"No one ever believes me, but I am being sincere," says the Art Brut frontman with what may well be sincerity. "I must have a sarcastic voice or something."
Which would also explain why Argos is routinely compared to such career cynics as LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, the Fall's Mark E. Smith, and his pals "Jim Bob" and "Fruitbat" of Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine.
"It's funny because we get compared to the Fall a lot, but it's not like it's a conscious thing. I think we're more sort of like [Jonathan Richman's] Modern Lovers — but a very bad impersonation of the Modern Lovers."
Argos has a point. Songs like "DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake," from the recent Art Brut vs Satan album, find him tapping into a vein of innocence that rivals the Modern Lovers' "Girlfriend" (but stops short, thankfully, of Richman's "I'm a Little Dinosaur").
And then there's Art Brut's beloved "Emily Kane," in which the singer pines for the girlfriend he had when he was 15.
"People in America seem to understand that more than in Britain," says Argos, who also fronts a glam-rock side project back home in London called Glam Chops. "Over here, someone hears 'Emily Kane' and thinks, 'Oh that girl's made up,' or 'That's a funny song.' But in America, people hear the song and they sort of go, 'Ah, you must have really loved that girl.' I think you have more of a history of true stories with songwriters like Jad Fair and Jeffrey Lewis."
In fact, says Argos, the long-lost Emily Kane actually got back in touch with him after hearing the song. So everything's good now?
"Well yeah, I mean, we're friends. But you know, I've got a girlfriend and she's got a boyfriend, so it would be a bit weird, wouldn't it, to finally go out with your 15-year-old girlfriend again 10 years later? But yeah, I'm glad that we're friends. And yeah, that's the power of rock and roll. That song brought her back to me. It can do that sort of thing, you see."
Of course, this comes from an artist who once sang, "We're gonna be the band that writes the song / That makes Israel and Palestine get along."
"I know," says Argos. "That was harder than I thought it was gonna be."
Satan is real
Art Brut vs Satan finds the band choosing its battles more carefully. In "Demon's Out," for instance, there's the fickle nature of stardom ("The record buying public / We hate them / This is Art Brut vs. Satan / Don't worry, we can take 'em!"), while "Mysterious Bruises" does Bobby Fuller one better ("I fought the floor / And the floor won").
Beyond lending the album a lean, tightly focused sound, Argos says producer Frank Black also managed to bolster the band's confidence.
"We were just two days in and he's like, 'So, we've done four songs already!' And I went, 'When did we do that?' I thought we were just practicing, but he'd been recording it. So some of the songs were recorded and put on the album without me even realizing that we'd done them."
Still, the Pixies frontman's art-damaged side does seep through, especially when the album-closing "Mysterious Bruises" threatens to hit the eight-minute mark.
"We wrote some of the songs while we were in the studio," explains Argos, "and Frank really liked that riff. He said, 'Play it longer! Play it longer!' It was 12 minutes at one point, and I was thinking, 'Jesus, I've gotta write lyrics for this.'
"I'm a punk — I like songs to be fast and three minutes long — but they convinced me. I love that song now."
Been making mistakes
But even more dear to our Eddie's heart, and true to his life, is the album's first single.
"Bring me tea! Bring me coffee!" he wails in "Alcoholics Unanimous," an infectious track in which he essays the joy of hangovers:
I've been up all night
(he's been up all night)
I've been making mistakes
(lots of mistakes)
I'm hiding it well
(not very well)
But I don't feel great
The song, he says, was originally written about the band's drummer, Mikey Breyer. "But then I finished it and I thought: One second, this is as much about me as it is about him. I'm always hung over."
Argos can also claim some expertise in the ancient art of hangover remedies: "I think Dr Pepper works, but that might just be because I really like Dr Pepper. As for breakfast, I think eggs and bacon and sausages and coffee. Some people might say exercise, but I don't really get into that kind of thing."