|The Gay Blades
Zachary Dinerstein - October 14, 2008
Gay Blade = 1. (obsolete) a dashing swordsman 2. (dated)
a dashing youth 3. (slang) a gay person, or person displaying homosexual qualities.
It’s a cool, breezy night outside of the Lower East Side’s indie-rock
haven Mercury Lounge and Clark Westfield is fashionably late. After 20 minutes,
he arrives strolling down the sidewalk, fitted in rocks’ regulation blue
jeans, a black v-neck t-shirt and, like any rock star in training, equipped
with a free invitation plus one to tonight’s secret Tokyo Police Club
show. The past 20 minutes are easily forgiven as he offers to donate the extra
ticket to his journalist companion for the evening, suggesting a low-key bar
up the street for an interview.
Clark Westfield, the guitarist and lead singer of the trash pop duo The Gay
Blades is the living embodiment of his band’s name. He’s not gay
(both members have mentioned girlfriends) but... he is, in the older 1950s definition
of the word -- a dashing, energetic youth. A live wire. A quick-talking, wildly-gesturing,
Puppy Mills on the other hand, with a thick beard and uber-relaxed demeanor
to match, is the perfect ying to Westfield’s hyper-exuberant yang. Their
two-piece rock outfit, composed only of a guitar, drums and shared vocal duties,
blow through live sets with stampeding force. Westfield, in a barrage of distortion,
whips, kicks and pinwheels across stage like he’s strapped to an unseen
mechanical bull. Shows often stop mid-song, finding Westfield rushing into the
crowd (“Clap you fuckers! Clap your fucking hands!”) while Mills,
all high knees and slamming fists, grooves hard behind his kit.
Perhaps this live spectacle is the reason The Gay Blades have found themselves
on the up–and-up in New York’s indie community. Their merits have
been praised in magazines across the city, including this one. Distributed on
Triple Crown Records, their latest release Ghosts is a scuz-filled twist on
the broken-hearted front man’s playbook. Tunes fly by in a whirlwind of
charging drums and guitar, nearly pulling Westfield’s scorned yelp behind
them. And just when you think their sound is pegged as a danceable metal-duo
with a healthy respect for Queen, they throw in a delicate broken serenade that,
with Westfield’s plaintive voice, wouldn’t sound out of place on
an old Bright Eye’s album.
With such diversity in their catalogue, ranging from hip shakers to rainy-day
diary excerpts, sometimes crunched together in the same three-minute jaunt,
does the band’s range have the ability to confuse listeners trying to
get a firm grip on their genre? It’s clear Westfield’s thought about
this before. “Yes. It does. It’s been said that our biggest strength
is our biggest weakness. I don’t listen to one kind of music though, so
why should we be expected to write one kind of music?”
Does the band ever get labeled as emo? “You know, we’ve gotten it
one time, where a magazine said ‘they play something they probably don’t
like to call emo,’ which was close,” he says. “But no, we
never fancied ourselves an emo band or felt ideologically aligned with them
musically. Like, I bring up Elvis Costello and these kids have never heard of
him. So, for me it’s… No? Yes? I’d be hard pressed to find
a band that we’d fit perfectly with.”
There’s truth to that statement. Upon a first listen, The Gay Blades don’t
fall easily into any category. Dance rock? Death metal? Melodramatic pop? To
save journalists the time spent head scratching, the band decided to create
a term to fit their sound -- Trash Pop – a fitting description, tying
together their rowdy lo-fi live shows with their pop song writing roots.
“We made up [the term] because that was the only thing… we weren’t
really super indie, we’re not The National, and we’re not punk by
any stretch. We’re too gay for punk! It's real trashy but it's also pop,
so trash pop.”
* * *
Westfield, tall with a leisurely amount of facial scruff beneath
prominent glasses, looks like Jason Lee doing an impression of Elvis Costello.
His machine-gun-like outbursts are all Lee (“The T-Rex is the BEST dinosaur.
Come ON!) while his accessory choices pay homage to nerd-rock’s patron
saint. With a hand resting momentarily next to his Bud Light, Westfield weaves
the yarn of how he met his brother-in-arms, Puppy Mills.
“When I was a kid I traveled around a lot with my family and being in
one place broke my heart to a thousand different pieces. I took up with this…
it was like a circus side show flea market. Something to do for the summers.
Some job to put me on the road. My job was, I was trying to engage people, keep
them entertained, keep pretty much everyone on the premises buying and spending,
and Puppy Mills used to take tickets for all the little circus sideshows.”
“The carnival was great training for touring,” says Mils, short
cropped black hair with an bundle of cartilage piercings. “A different
city everyday, packing up and unloading equipment...”
“And you can be a different person everyday in each city,” adds
Westfield, with a hint of rascality.
“My Dad was a Baptist revivalist,” he continues. “So we would
go around and he would do revivalists, and obviously it’s not something
that stayed with me -- not the religious aspect or spiritual aspect of it --
but certainly the idea of engaging people.”
The ability to engage is something The Gay Blades have in spades. Westfield
pounding his sweat-soaked chest to punctuate his lyrics mid song. Raising a
pick three feet in the air before careening to the inevitable wrenching metal
riff. Breaking the artist/audience barrier to enwrap fans in the performance.
Unpredictable, funny, uplifting, unifying and occasionally transcendent, there
exists equal helpings of both the carnival and the church in a Gay Blades show.
* * *
Most bands, when asked to name a catalyst that jump-started
their rise to notoriety, give vague answers pertaining to a publicist or the
luck of the dice, but Westfield has a straight answer. Two actually.
“There are two things,” he states, leaning forward, eyes wide. “One,
Puppy Mills had a dream that he sold his soul to the devil. We don’t know,
it could have happened. I’m just saying.”
“The other thing is, we work really fucking hard. When there’s a
night that we really don’t want to go out, we’re out at a show,
meeting people. There’s nights that we don’t want to rehearse and
write songs, but we do it. So we just do that thing, and we try to instill in
other people a sense of validity. That’s the most difficult thing right?
Everybody’s got a band in New York City. There’re four people in
this bar right now. There are probably three bands in this bar. So, if you can
do something a little different, and if people think you’re a valid purveyor
of fucking music and it feels good enough…”
He pauses for a moment, his head propped on one hand, eyeing the tape recorder
on the table, contemplating what he’s just said. Then, in an eruption
of that familiar energy from underneath the stage lights, he blurts, “I’m
pretty sure it was Puppy Mills selling his soul to the devil. It has to be!”
“We made up [the name] because that was the only thing… we weren’t really super indie, we’re not The National, and we’re not punk by any stretch. We’re too gay for punk! It's real trashy but it's also pop, so trash pop.”
The Gay Blades
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