I think our bands are very different but also very complementary, says Doris Le Mat, singer/guitarist for the galvanic French rock band Dickybird. My hope is that both bands are equally appreciated, but I know a lot depends on the taste of the audience.
Le Mat is referring to the upcoming show Dickybird will be playing with Chicago indie pop band Aquavit at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, November 9, at Kryptonite in Rockford.
Le Mat and her bandmates, bassist Stef Touboulic and drummer Jean-Francois Thieulen (who is also Le Mats husband) have traveled from their home in the port city of Le Havre to the states to record their fifth CD with legendary Chicago producer/engineer Steve Albini (Nirvana, P.J. Harvey, Cheap Trick). But the journey overseas also affords Le Mat and Thieulen the opportunity to visit family, since Le Mat is also the first cousin of Aquavit bassist Bob Vodicks wife Patty.
As a result, the two bands have struck up a very close friendship: Aquavit lead singer Fran Giagkou will be providing backup vocals on the Albini-produced CD, while Aquavit has written a song, Francois is Beautiful Baby (According To Me) in honor of the birth of Le Mat and Thieulens first child last spring (yes, little Francois has accompanied the band to the states).
Still, the bands definitely have their differences. The searing, intense blast of Dickybird on songs like Whos There and You Lied stands in sharp contrast to Aquavits poppy bounce. And, while Dickybird has spent the better part of a decade touring the continent of Europe with the likes of Fugazi, Girls Against Boys and the bands good friends, Les Thugs, Aquavit has been together just over a year, albeit a very busy year in which the band has recorded its first CD (the six-song EP titled Pop Songs For The New Depression) and has written enough material for two more.
Aquavit began when Vodick and Rockfords own Michael Whyte (Vodicks bandmate in the late, lamented power trio Pine Cone) began toying with the idea of putting together a new group.
When Mike and I decided to start a new band, says Vodick, we wanted to create something that was fun, not just to watch, but to play in… like a good 60s pop band without the nostalgia factor.
According to Whyte, fun meant going against the grain of current trends. I was getting so sick of what so-called alternative music had become, I was really tired of every band being led by a pierced, chin-whiskered crybaby mooing off-key about some unspecified torment. Rock & Roll started as fun party music. That idea had been lost.
Whyte, whom the bands bio jokingly identifies as the benevolent malcontent of Aquavit, decided the best way to tone down the male angst factor was to include women in the band. Vodick and Whyte began running Singer Wanted ads in many Chicago publications.
Vodick says, We auditioned a lot of very good female singers, but Fran was the only one without a trace of coffeehouse in her.
Adds Whyte, We had an idea of the type of female vocalists we liked, from Ronnie Spector to Dusty Springfield to Poly Styrene from X-Ray Spex, and Franny fit like a glove!
Giagkou (who grew up in Greece, the Netherlands and Chicago) proved to be no ones mere girl singer. Frans extremely open minded, but also very candid about what she thinks, says Vodick.
Whyte puts it more bluntly: She has a mouth like a dock worker. She even makes me blush. But we couldnt have found a better collaborator. Shes a very compassionate person and a great singer.
Aquavit was rounded out about a year ago by drummer Kelly McCarthy, a rangy, blonde-haired mother of three who bears more than a passing resemblance to country star Faith Hill.
Bob found me sitting in with another band, explains the energetic McCarthy, and they gave me a chance. Or should I say, I gave them a chance,she adds with a sly laugh.
The band makes for an odd mix, like a funky version of a Peanuts comic strip come to life. The band writes collaboratively, and the music draws on any number of influences. Francois slams like early pop-punkers The Buzzcocks, while the Byrds-meets-Booker T. & The MGs jangle and thump of A Drink at Kensico belies its biting lyrical attack on Objectivism. 9 Oclocks poignant portrait of a life working in retail hell benefits from a lilting samba-like chorus worthy of Astrud Gilberto. Perhaps the bands most powerful song is Terra Firma Talk Show, which, on the one hand, sounds like a surf band playing in a Midwest cornfield, augmented by a peppy Tex-Mex organ, and on the other hand details a nightmare post-Election 2000, post-9/11 world in which all human connections are breaking down, replaced by reality TV and an early grave.
If our music has one overriding theme, offers Whyte, its the struggle to retain ones dignity and humanity while its being assaulted on all sides. Whether its Barney Clark, the first guy to get the Jarvik artificial heart, or a girl working a low-wage job at the mall and being treated like a potential criminal by her employer, or the garbageman who gets berated by the same snobby customer every week, the characters in our songs keep fighting that good fight.
He adds, Of course, its a lot better when your audience is laughing and dancing the frug while theyre pondering such things!
The show at Kryptonite is the CD release party for Pop Songs For The New Depression. This is also Dickybirds only live performance in the U.S. Admission is $5 at the door.