“It’s going great so far, aside from the air conditioning in our van breaking,” Strange Boys bassist Philip Sambol told me in a recent interview. “But Gentlemen Jesse bought us a BB gun, so everything is okay,” he added, giving a shout out to the much-buzzed-about GJ, who, along with Natural Child, will open The Strange Boys’ upcoming show at the Brass Rail on Monday, September 27.
This is often how it goes, I quickly found, when talking to the aloof Philip, whose similar looking brother, Ryan, is the singer/guitarist for the Boys. Rounding out the Austin, Texas “garage rock revival” band are guitarist Greg Enlow, drummer Mikey La Franchi, backing vocalist Tim Presley and saxophonist Jenna Thornhill-DeWitt. Wait a minute, did I just type the words” garage rock revival?” Yikes!
But really, that kinda is the best way to describe this UK sensation, even if their 2010 sophomore record, Be Brave, sounds as much – musically speaking – like Brian Jones-era Rolling Stones as it does The Hives or Ty Segall or whoever. These stoner-types wail and moan and bounce around on stage in the spirit of Iggy, certainly, but they also twang about and sing big, easy hooks. They’re cool looking pseudo-retro dudes who play somewhat straight indie rock (whatever that means). Great, timeless songs and cool, timeless haircuts. That simple.
While communicating with the Boys’ publicist I was made aware of the group’s still-recent success in the UK market, learning that they’re no more than a Spike Jonze-directed video and two celebrity girlfriends away from an industry buzz similar to what The Strokes saw in the early 2000s. Their 2009 debut, The Strange Boys and Girls Club, a big hit in foreign lands, the Boys went on to see even more love with the release of Be BraveI, a record that – to these ears at least – feels more focused than their debut.
When I asked Philip about the differences between making a “breakout debut” sort of record (Boys and Girls Club) and the dreaded “follow-up” sophomore record (Be Brave) he simply said “whaaaaaaat,” and nothing more – no interest at all in discussing the band’s young success in the UK. Nothing. When I later asked the same question using tricky verbiage, he quickly said “we are equally unsuccessful on both sides of the pond,” next bringing up his band’s two previous trips to Fort Wayne.
“[R.] Mike Horan brought us to the Brass Rail on Thanksgiving of 2008,” he laughed. “We ate frozen pizzas at the bar and watched football and a drunk old guy insult everyone. That’s all it took to bring us back.”
A man of few words, yet he does seem to sincerely remember Horan, the Rail and Fort Wayne. So yes, he’s down.
After considering bringing up The Strange Boys’ connection to one of my person heroes, indie rock legend Calvin Johnson (Beat Happening, The Halo Benders, K Records, etc.), and a number of other standard how-you-got-here questions I sat quietly, wondering where to go next. Having read plenty of Strange Boys interviews over the last year or so, I knew that, at times, they had much to say. I also knew that, in the spirit of their indie rock forefathers, they often took time to tease interviewers who ask obvious questions.
I could’ve asked more about Be Brave, a record full of short and lovable garage pop sung by a voice like no other, or I could’ve asked about the always interesting Austin, Texas music scene. I could’ve asked about the life of a band on the road together or about Philip’s documented issues with night terrors. Or I could’ve even asked about influences and future plans or bands like Deerhunter, Spoon, Darker My Love, Julian Casablancas, Roky Erikson or the Black Lips, all of whom they’ve toured with. But no. None of that. Wouldn’t have worked, I could feel it.
In one of the Boys’ more candid interviews, Ryan, who started the band with former drummer Matt Hammer in the eighth grade, joked about how he could tour in a better car if he kicked out everyone but La Franchi, his current drummer. He also talked about how his baby face looks (f’real, Google search the guy) aren’t as much of a problem now that he’s actually 21, going on to add that “most 14 year olds are more interesting than the adults I meet.”
Before cutting out Philip did give me two bits of semi-relevant into. First, sax player Jenna Thornhill-DeWitt recently dyed her hair blonde and got married to some guy named DeWitt. Second, the band really likes both Gentlemen Jesse and Natural Child, Philip describing them as “a band from Atlanta who use lots of harmonies and catchy guitar” and “a Nashville band who play dirty rock n’ roll,” respectively. Third, the quiet bassist told me that the band is already working on a solid batch of new songs with plans to record a third studio record in December.
Oh man, somebody call Q Magazine and Uncut, stat!
But really, if there is such a thing as a big name “adopted son” sort of band for Fort Wayne, it’s either Clem Snide or The Strange Boys. I saw ‘em open for both Spoon and Deerhunter a few months ago and quickly came to the realization that the young men put on every bit as good of a show as those big name headliners. Still young in age and always developing their already great sound, look for The Boys to do very well over the next couple of years. For now, they’re ours. The result? Likely one of the best rock n’ roll shows Fort Wayne audiences will see all year.
What did Philip Sambol have to say about that prediction you ask? Nada. And there’s nothing wrong with that.