Aquavit and Dickybird: Two bands, two continents, one big family!

“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 Mat’s 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 Vodick’s 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 Thieulen’s 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 “Who’s There” and “You Lied” stands in sharp contrast to Aquavit’s 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 band’s 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 Rockford’s own Michael Whyte (Vodick’s 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 band’s 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 one’s mere “girl singer.” “Fran’s 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 couldn’t have found a better collaborator. She’s 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 O’clock’s” poignant portrait of a life working in retail hell benefits from a lilting samba-like chorus worthy of Astrud Gilberto. Perhaps the band’s 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, “it’s the struggle to retain one’s dignity and humanity while it’s being assaulted on all sides. Whether it’s 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, it’s a lot better when your audience is laughing and dancing the frug while they’re pondering such things!”

The show at Kryptonite is the CD release party for Pop Songs For The New Depression. This is also Dickybird’s only live performance in the U.S. Admission is $5 at the door.

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