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Extra Classic

Mon, April 18, 2011

Doors: 8:30 pm / Show: 9:00 pm


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"Everyone's got a Berlin record in them and I guess we just wanted to see what ours would sound like," !!!'s lead singer Nic Offer says, with tongue partially in cheek, of the group’s fourth album, Strange Weather, Isn't It? Following in the footsteps of artists like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Depeche Mode, who have flocked to Berlin in order to mainline the city's legendary dark energy, !!! traveled to the German capital to produce a record that is simultaneously brooding and somehow their poppiest, most immediate record yet.

On the one hand, Strange Weather, Isn't It? is !!!'s most texturally rich record to date and is filled with deep, galvanizing grooves in the tradition of 2003's "Me and Giuliani Down By the Schoolyard (A True Story)" and their mega anthem "Heart of Hearts." On the other, there’s a dark undercurrent running through the record that acts as a counterpoint to the glittering surfaces. In other words, although only 25% of the record was recorded in Berlin (the other 75% split between New York and Sacramento, California), Strange Weather, Isn't It? is the perfect Berlin album.

"We always go to a different environment on the 1% chance that it might influence the record because even that much would be worth it," says Offer. In this case, the minimal techno the band heard every night when they went out dancing helped focus the songs, distilling the music to the funkiest, catchiest hooks. It was something they learned from a previous Berlin hit-maker, Brian Eno. "Everyone wants Eno to produce their record, but these days he only has time for Coldplay and Paul Simon, so you have to listen to his adages," Offer says. "One of his ideas is that every idea obscures another. So there was more focus on what was really working."

!!!'s previous album, 2007's Myth Takes, was recorded in a rented house in Nashville far away from the honky tonks and Music Row, with the isolation instilling an almost mystical sense of discipline in the band. But there's something undoubtedly special about Berlin’s atmosphere, particularly now that it has become the clubbing capital of the world. In fact, the band set up camp in the basement of a club where they could jam all day and all night, except during soundcheck upstairs.

"There's something happening in the clubs there that isn't happening in New York and is totally exciting," Offer continues. "We were trying to soak that up. It's still something that I hope could happen over here. In some ways I guess it never will. But if we could just even begin to try to catch up to what’s going on there over here it would be a musical revolution. So this was our stab at starting the musical revolution," Offer adds, laughing.

Apparently, the revolution has choruses, like in the standout track, "The Most Certain Sure," and the massive closing song, "The Hammer." But that doesn’t mean the record doesn’t have a certain edge. "There's definitely a darkness to this record," Offer says. "The record just comes out how it will; it's a reflection of where we were and what we were going through."

Offer isn’t just referring to jet lag and club hangovers. !!! lost members John Pugh and Justin Vandervolgen before writing the album and Tyler Pope during it's recording. The band now consists of Offer, guitarist Mario Andreoni, horn player/keyboardist Daniel Gorman, and saxophonist/percussionist Allan Wilson, with drummer Paul Quattrone and vocalist Shannon Funchess helping to round out the live lineup. "The title is like what you would say when half the people in the room walk out and there’s that lull in the conversation and you try to figure out what to say," says Offer. "It's also acceptance of change, not a condemnation of anything."

The group has also had to deal with the shocking death of former drummer Jerry Fuchs, who fell down an elevator shaft in November 2009. "I don't mind talking about it with anyone," Offer says. "But I don't want to talk about it in interviews because so much of what you say just turns into this mechanical thing that you spit out, and I don't want my memories of him to turn into a sound bite that I can't feel anymore."

Strange Weather, Isn't It? was co-produced by the band with Eric Broucek, who used to be the house engineer for DFA Records. "We used everything we could – MacGyvered it together with a popsicle stick and a rubber band to make it work – and Eric was definitely instrumental in making that happen," says Offer.

The result is an album that is leaner and more detailed than any of !!!'s previous albums. "In the early days we’d put something deep in the mix, so that kids on acid could hear it the 20th time they listened to it," says Offer. "Now we've learned how to make records better. It's like the deep techno you hear in Berlin; it's molded down to its most basic essence, almost like a sculpture that you keep working on to make it both denser and clearer at the same time." Offer pauses for a moment to consider what he’s saying. "Don't get me wrong, though, you should still check the record out on acid. Trust me."

-Peter Shapiro (2010)
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