Aaron Matthews had a good weekend.
Eddie Argos has been stammering out honest tales of embarrassment, alcoholism, love and rock n roll with Art Brut since 2005. The band’s latest album Brilliant! Tragic! was produced by former Pixies bellower Frank Black and finds Eddie, actually singing instead of speak-singing for a change. I spoke with Eddie about his sense of humor, Art Brut franchises and the process of working with Frank Black. —Matthews
What led to your new signing style on this record?
Black Francis decided that I would sing this time. It was funny, our manager phoned me up before I went over, said “I think he’s going to make you sing”. I was like, “Well, he can try!” [laughs] I was panicking because I couldn’t sing. So it was kinda nice when we got there and [Frank] helped. I was kinda surprised when I heard my voice back, I didn’t think it was me. I thought someone was playing a trick on me. I’m glad it came out the way it did, it’s not a shtick. I think the voice on those songs was the voice those songs needed.
How has your process has changed since the last three records?
It was all the gaps between the two records this time. It’s always been that with Art Brut, I write the words and they write the music. I can’t play any instruments or anything, so we write separately and come together at the end. I didn’t think it was different at the time, but now I think this album is a bit more personal. Maybe I hide some things a bit more normally. I got a friend called Solo who writes using this thing called Backwards Causality. Normally when you write a song, you think what it’s going to be about and you make it all rhyme. He just starts writing songs and see what it’s all about in the end. I tried doing that a bit this time. Like the song “Sealand”. I thought it was about the place while I was writing it. Then I realized it was about moving in with my girlfriend. And I realized, that’s what I needed to write. It’s a metaphor for…that sounds really pretentious! [laughs] I’m sorry. It was a fun new way of writing for me.
Tell me about recording with Frank Black.
We brought him in last time as well. The last time we were a bit intimidated because he’s Black Francis, y’know? I think he was careful not to step on any toes last time. Now we’re sort of mates, this time it’s really like he’s in the band. He’d sit down, play together with us. He taught me to sing. Like, “Eddie, sing this lyric: ‘Everybody wants to be sexy sometimes’[repeats the line in his speaking voice] “No Eddie, sing it!” [half sings ‘everybody wants to be sexy sometimes’]. He’d be like, “No” [laughs] and he’d sing it and I’d sing it back. He taught me how to sing all the songs by singing them back to me. We should’ve recorded all of those songs, had a bonus disc of Black Francis singing Art Brut [laughs]. I think we’re both quite obsessive people. We’d go home at night and text each other, “We should try this tomorrow”. I’d wake up in the morning and my phone would beep, and I’d think, “Who the hell is that?” “Oh, it’s Black Francis. That’s cool.” I think Frank’s fingerprints on more on this record than [Art Brut Vs. Satan].
You mentioned hearing Frank singing your songs, what happened to all the Art Brut franchises that were formed when you first started?
I think they keep on the down low now. It wasn’t just in London, people came from all over really. I met Art Brut #89 last night, not seen in ages. These bands are all still about, it’s nice. We don’t really talk about [the franchises] anymore, so we assume there’s not any new ones. A new franchise did start last night, can’t remember what number…of course everybody tried to be Art Brut #69 because it’s a rude joke [laughs]. But you can’t be Art Brut #69, I’ve met them, they’re from Reading. So everyone had to choose a different number. At one point there was a Polish [franchise], a Russian one. It got a bit out of hand, there was one in Tel Aviv. The first ever franchise was this guy in West Virginia and he was Art Brut 3 π ,that was his number. We had just started the band and we got sent a video of this man in West Virginia covering “Formed A Band” bluegrass style. How does he know that song? Our album wasn’t even out in North America! One of the franchises wrote a song called “The NME Is My Enemy”, and everyone thinks I wrote that [laughs]. I didn’t write that song, Art Brut #100 wrote that song. But he does my voice so well that people ask me about it in interviews sometimes.
It’s like how Weird Al gets credited for every parody song on the internet.
Maybe that’s what it is. It’s funny, the best one was called Art Brut #7, they’re a glam band called the Space Peacocks. Some radio station in New York was doing an interview about franchises, a business radio station, and they interviewed Art Brut #7, the Space Peacocks. Then they went to the BBC and recorded an interview. I think that’s hilarious! [laughs] They haven’t got any business sense, they haven’t got any gigs. That’s when the franchises got out of hand.
What’s the significance of humor in your music?
It’s not like I’m trying to be funny. I was little confused when people found things funny. People thought “Emily Kane” was hilarious and I was like, “I really did miss that girl!” [laughs]. I like the lyrics to be conversational, like you’d do in a pub over a pint of beer. I think in that kind of scenario you do make jokes, even about an important thing. I’m not trying to write funny songs, I’m trying to write conversational songs. Because no songs really are funny. I think any joke makes fun of things or people. The thing about the franchises is that people start to feel like they know you. I like playing a show and having people ask me about D.C. comics, or the Replacements or my brother [after the Brut song “My Little Brother”]. I’ve made loads of friends, it’s kinda cool. It’s like a relationship.
You’ve got a series of songs about weekends, the most recent is “Lost Weekend”. People have an ongoing dialogue with what’s happening with you.
Yeah, I think we got enough “Weekend” songs to make a record. I did this other thing too where I used to nick other people’s song titles and make them Art Brut titles. I didn’t know I was doing it, but there’s this new song “Lost Weekend”, there was already a song called “Lost Weekend” as well. So I did both of my tricks at once.
So at gigs you tell people you’re going to play “Pump Up The Volume” and they’re a little thrown off?
[laughs] I like that game! That’s good, I might get some of their PRS, their ASCAP, you know, if I done the names of their songs. I’d like one day to say we’re playing “Pump Up The Volume” and bust out the actual [M/A/R/R/S] song. Or “I Will Survive”, play the real song instead of our version.