Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Brad Kopplin
The complexities of the mish mash-uppity world that spans out before all of our open eyes these days - where nothing is sacred and almost everything is watered down to the point of complete dilution, ice cubes and the bottom swig -- could cause you to lose days, naw, months of your life trying to decipher, but the tedious task of figuring out all of the dregs and what they make in their minds/workshops to send out for noshing couldn't stop itself from starting right back over. It's that fast-churning, that regeneration of more that creates a walking sidewalk or billboard of the more of less. The more of anything that blooms from the garbage and from the good pollen alike, the more cringing it will bring because you just can't win them all. It's easy to fall victim for the least common denominator when it's such a predominant, prevalent species.
So closely related is the wheat and the chaff these days that we just digest it all and talk ourselves into believing that what we just had was whole grain. It makes you think of Kid Rock and then you understand it all. You think of his growth as a trashed out person of a Joe Dirt upbringing that has gone on to transfer it into a lap of luxury existence. He's met up his different worlds - the one of fame and fortune and swimming in a sea of manufactured beauty and plastic tits (one not to be confused with the other) as well as the redneck, mulleted crusader of Ted Nugent's friend queue - and given them the same backyard fence. They touch each other and smear up each other's windows and mirrors, these two pieces of separate life, one seemingly for the well off and the other for the poor saps who've got to sweat it out from month-to-month and hand-to-mouth.
Kid Rock barely came first in this bigger equation and now OFFICE, the Chicago band with its nifty pocket protector/new wave/calculator-like clanging hearts, refrains from divorcing the gutter-bound church from the state of glamorous apostrophes and inclusion signs. They've stepped in to remark upon love and all of that beeswax in the context of understanding it to be a somewhat unflattering and painful process, fraught with crossed wires and the comingling of different worlds and different vowel sounds. Scott Masson, the bald-headed lead singer of the band just getting around to releasing a proper, proper full-length (A Night At The Ritz) after five years of working together, once banged his head against the wall to create meaningful art.
Meaningful, perhaps and sometimes only to himself, but meaningful in some sense anyway. He showcased the ways in which certain things bled into other unrelated matters, interested more in the oddly-mannered sort of hypocrisy of everything considered "now" and some things formerly considered "now." He's painted World Wrestling Federation grapplers and posted them on the walls of his college's weight room, blaring boy band music as the football team worked on its dead-lift capabilities, just to watch what happened. Only two of those paintings have survived a drunken night not long ago and it makes you wonder, "Which ones? I sure hope he didn't kill Tugboat or Earthquake." He's filled a gallery with Xerox paper and hung cell phones from the ceiling, ringing randomly. It's a weird way of art not only exposing ugliness, but giving it a good name. A Night At The Ritz is a record that gallops oddly enough like The Ponys records do, charging into shadows and seediness (sort of), but keeping the air light at the same time.
There's a party in there somewhere for OFFICE. There's a party in the details or at least a sense that a party could be written into the details no matter how they should fall. The swirling concoction of missing certain bodies - one of the bare necessities for all of us - and not knowing whose to miss, along with another confused thought of just going on missing them all and never sorting it out is when it gets interesting. It's when the swirling mixture starts gradually becoming one solid color. The can never happen, never again.
*The Daytrotter interview:*
*How was the drive out west after your stop with us?*
Scott Masson: The drive out west was brutal after such a nice stop in Rock City. I don't think the band was prepared for such a long drive at that time, with no shows until Portland. We did, however, have a chance to see some beautiful parts of the country on our trip. I think we all came to the conclusion that our country is f-ed up, culturally. A splendid, screwed up place.
*How many of you still work in offices?*
SM: Our manager works in an office, 'cuz he runs a newspaper here in Chicago called UR. We'd like to think of our rehearsal space / recording studio as our office. The old masters of pop music (Carol King, etc) used to write songs in office buildings, and it would be a room with a piano and a window. Sometimes, the stage can be our office too. It's a running joke for us. If we're working, we're at our office. Period. It's a mental state we need to be in, and a great job to have.
*Which personas from the TV show do you each fit? Is there a lot of Office confusion out there in the world?*
SM: I don't watch television, so I don't really know. Yes, people do bring up The Office program a lot, and I never know what to say, because I started this project before the show existed. The British version is better though. I do know that. British humor is always better. There isn't a lot of confusion between the two Offices, because people know we're a freaky little pop band, and we don't use "the" in our name like the TV show does. Plus, we use all capital letters in the branding of our name. If we weren't any good, then I'd say we're fucked because of our ridiculous band name. I think we're a decent band though, so it sort of works.
*Do you all hit up the town pretty hard?*
SM: We hit up every town pretty hard. It's not because we're trying to live up to some rock and roll myth either. I don't think any of us ever wanted to be in a band full of squares. If you're talking about Chicago, New York, Detroit, or LA?.....then yes! We always hit those towns pretty hard. We're eccentrics, of course! Those cities are freaky too. Sometimes, it's really stressful being in a mix-gendered band, so you just need to blow your mind out every once in awhile, and start fresh the next day. At least, I do. We don't even need to be drunk or on drugs to hit a place hard though. Put five messed up, creative individuals in a van together, give them some freedom away from their comfort zones, and watch them explode.....or implode....depending on your perspective. Just walking down the street, we get the funniest looks from....everyone we meet. Hey, hey! It's funny. Normality? Routine? Order? What do those terms mean? I love the unpredictable qualities of our band members when they arrive in a different city. The real freak in each member comes out, because they are away from their mommy and daddy, lovers, manager, label, friends, distractions, etc. I used to battle it, try and maintain some upper hand as the band leader, but during this latest tour, I realized that I seriously don't give a shit what people do outside the music. As long as their playing is quality, and their attitude is semi-decent, we're cool. Most importantly, I just want the band to leave me alone too, and not get on my back about my own strange behavior offstage. Being in a musical relationship, or any loving relationship for that matter, will make one hit the town hard. Actually, living in America right now will drive any artist or soulful person to the bar.
*Who was the last famous person you ran into -- when you were here, you had some nice stories?*
SM: Yikes! I don't know. Our drummer, Erica, is pretty famous. Jessica is pretty famous too. Tom and I are more like infamous. Our friend, Justin Petertil, who has been playing bass with us lately, is totally famous. He's actually a freak of nature. The tabloids love him!
*Did Dave Navarro ever pay you back for the shit you did to his ride?*
SM: Dave Navarro can probably afford another black Hummer. I mean, anybody who's drivin' around in one of those things, and also putting botox face plugs into his cheeks, needs a little love tap every once in awhile. I'm over it.
*Scott, what's your art background? If I recall a long time ago when we talked, you mentioned a really sweet art showcase you did, but I can't remember the specifics? Can you remind me?*
SM: One night in college, after dinner, I filled up the weight room at my school's gymnasium with a bunch of bright, colorful WWF wrestler paintings that I had been painting for 10 weeks straight. Then, I played boy band music on repeat during the unveiling (Backstreet Boys.....it was 2000!). This all went down while members of the football team were still in the room working out, lifting weights, grunting, and looking very puzzled in the process. I invited everyone I could find outside to come in and check it out before I took the paintings down. The little random audience was checking out the paintings as if they were walking through a proper gallery, and I thought it was really wonderful that the football players were in the middle of the display, going about their business, almost being a part of a "performance". My professors never found out about this, and besides, I knew I would have had to go through a bit of bureaucracy in order to do this. Only a few people picked up on how homo-erotic the whole spectacle was, but I thought it was pretty obvious.
The most macho sport, when frozen at a glance, with a splash of color, may look like the queerest thing in the whole world. My art wasn't rocket science, and I never wanted it to be. I avoid intellectualism of any kind, even though I've studied the rhetoric quite a bit. Provocative art can also entertain people, and I always loved using humor as a way to spark some sort of dialogue. After that painting series, I did a bunch of portrait paintings of people talking on their cell phones. I also did some sound instillations in London, basically filling up a room with boring white boxes, each containing portable CD players inside, and having them all play pop music simultaneously in an awful mash-up of nauseous sound. Imagine RZA, Bob Dylan, Blur, Mozart, and Chet Baker all playing together at the same volume, in one room.....like some historical jam session. I was attempting to create the opposite of something that was "nice to look at" around this time.
The more minimal I could get my art to look like, the better I felt it was. Each white box had the year the composition was written on it, so it was kind of a time-capsule display. I filled galleries up with Xerox paper around this time in my life as well, and had cell phones dangling from the ceiling, ringing intermittently while people walked through the Xerox-covered space. White and black were my main colors for awhile, or super loud colors found in magazines. Those were the first "office sculptures," which eventually led to the decision to make an office pop band back in America, complete with dancing secretaries, suits, power suits, ties, etc. I kind of stopped doing art after school, because my ideas were too grandiose for me to afford, and I really hate doing little pictures on a piece of paper by hand, never living up to my own expectations of what art should be. I also don't want to be a graphic designer, which unfortunately, is what art is turning into for a lot of people. I did some crude little American Idol paper paintings here in Chicago, but I didn't have the money to do 'em big and crude like they needed to be, so I gave most of them away as gifts in the last year or so. Doodling, to me, is like a different kind of art that I probably shouldn't do. I sort of feel like I need to say something on a big scale, being super critical and loud in the process, or at least cause some kind of funny reaction within the gallery crowd. If I can't achieve this, then I won't do it at all.
Pop music is a perfect medium for something subversive. I would need a lot of space and money to do the art that is in my head, and those are things I don't necessarily have. One of the reasons I don't do sports actually is because I can't own the situation either. Sports are so boring to me, because they remind me that I'm not a professional athlete. Plus, it brings back oh-so fond memories of kids beating me up at school constantly. The same mental hang-ups can be applied to art and music. If I can't do something the way it's happening in my head, I don't even want to put myself in a situation where I'm let down. It's just a defense mechanism. Why depress yourself, if you can just avoid the failure you've experienced so often in the past? In the case of my visual art, I was always let down because I couldn't afford the ideas, so everything turned out smaller and rawer, and all of my vociferous art influences seemed untouchable as a result. With music, I can at least flirt with an ideal situation in a more believable and affordable environment with the band.
The recording studio is much more controlled, and I can keep pushing everybody to a point where the songs start to work well from a production standpoint.....like the records I grew up with. I pretty much stopped doing art within the last few years, because I didn't want to put half-ass art into the world. In fact, most of the art pieces I've made in my life are in somebody else's hands by now, or I destroyed them in fits of rage (only 2 of the original 10 WWF wrestlers are still in existence, inside my closet. The rest were destroyed one night last year. I was drunk, and actually wrestled them to smithereens. I woke up to wood chips and canvas shreds all over my basement. How's that for finishing the work?). Nowadays, I focus on trying to be a great musician, and I dive into this area head-first. That idea sounded cooler to me than being a "good" musician, who does "ok" visual art on the side, putting out passable stuff on all fronts.
Life is not about hobbies for me, I guess. Everybody is chosen to do something in some field, so you should try and be great at it, and not let anything cloud your concentration. If anything, you should be the absolute best you can possibly be. Art was getting in my way, and preventing me from really tackling songwriting. People even in our band think I'm a little insane, but I don't mind. I just don't understand the desire to be just "good" at a ton of different things, and lose my focus in the shuffle. I want to be "great" at one thing, and spend all of my time working on it. It's a gamble, but so is life. Other people are maybe better off living a more well-rounded life. There's still so much work to do before I achieve this life-long goal with music, however, but at least I can see results as I go. When I'm deaf and burned out, I will probably return to visual art, I'd say. I'd love to be a painter when I get older. That's a more graceful field for aging in. Rocking out in your 40s is totally lame, and I hope I will be doing more mature things at that age -- writing a symphony, working in the studio, and painting deranged portraits of people. Now....that's the kind of mid-life I think I want. We'll see. Right now, I'm expecting floods and chaos. Hopefully, that answers your question about art, and why I don't do it anymore.