The Spent Poets’ Revolution
In the crazy world of pop music, where what was once considered alternative--Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, et al--is now mainstream, how can a band make a revolutionary statement?
In the case of the San Francisco band the Spent Poets, it’s by adhering to what was once considered mainstream pop values.
“It’s definitely a reactionary statement,” said Poets singer Adam Gates of the melodic, literary styles displayed on the band’s recent debut album, “The Spent Poets.” Comparisons most often are made to XTC and the Beatles, which hardly seem like subversive influences these days.
But Gates, 26, insists that by proudly using those reference points and tenaciously defining themselves as a “pop” band, the Spent Poets are freer to experiment and explore than most bands that present a more specifically rebellious facade. The group is on the road with two other bands that are also outside the current trends for much the same reasons: Live and Wire Train. The triple-header tour comes to the Roxy on Monday.
“The San Francisco scene is right now mired in its worst depression in years--it’s just one big thrash-funk thing going on,” Gates said. “If you’re a thrash-funk band you have to study your Sly Stone records and pull out the Pearl Jam album. It’s very constricted. But you can get away with a lot if you’re in pop music. It’s very ambiguous.”
What that means for the Spent Poets is that instead of singing about Angst and frustration, the band can drop such names as Virginia Woolf and Walt Whitman in its songs, or range between Faith No More-like power and Nino Rota-like circus sounds.
The style, not surprisingly, is a product of much more time spent with home recording equipment than playing in sweaty clubs. It started with just Gates and guitarist Matthew Winegar, who produced art-rock-funk trio Primus’ first two albums--the Poets’ closest link to any Bay Area scene.
“It was me and Matt in our bedrooms sort of playing and recording for a year,” Gates said. “We were doing it more for ourselves and didn’t think anyone else would be into it.”
But Winegar gave the tapes to his friend Matt Wallace, Faith No More’s producer, who passed them on to Geffen Records executive Mio Vukovic, who signed what by then had formally become a band, with the addition of old friends keyboardist John Berg, bassist Derek Greenberg and drummer Michael Urbano.
Gates knows that the Spent Poets’ relatively sophisticated approach is open to criticism as being snooty and irrelevant. “Any time you mention (poet) Sylvia Plath in a song you jump into the school of pretentious death-rock,” he said.
But the very fact that those leanings make his band different today, he noted, is already working to its advantage.
“We were just in Seattle, the home of grunge-rock, and strangely enough we’re doing well there,” he said. “People seem tired of the grunge thing. But, to me, if you can write good songs, no matter how you dress them cosmetically, you’re going to survive. That’s the success of Nirvana--they write really good songs.”
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