Music Interviews

Interview: !!! (Chk Chk Chk)

On a wild card imagine seven unassuming punks riding the freak ticket into the White House. The first thing they would do, apart from installing bunks in the Lincoln bedroom, is paint it black.

Of course the current tenant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would need to be usurped. As pollsters, political junkies and a stunned world try to make sense of the 2004 US Presidential Election, musicOMH tries to make sense of the 14 legged phenomenon !!! – with a little help from frontman Nic Offer…

The Oval Office’s previous occupier put his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas on the map. During the early years of the Clinton presidency, Little Rock in ’94 was a major stop for every punk rock John Doe who train hopped his way down south. For in Little Rock there also lived a big man called John Pugh. Pugh was something of a renaissance man who, aside from publishing fanzines, would have a floor and a Fugazi record waiting for the next road tripper to show up at his door. Nic Offer and Dan Gorman would always stop by at the Pugh’s whenever they hit the road.

When Offer’s exploits in a hardcore punk band and the Popesmashers dithered in 1996 he invited Pugh to Sacramento. Along with career musician Gorman, an unlikely triumvirate had formed and it wasn’t long before they roped in their friends from Black Liquorice creating the fourteen legged dance band !!! So how did seven punk rockers end up as a dance outfit?

“We were playing punk and punk was really fun to play, but we would never go home and listen to a punk record. It just seemed logical. We just like it to be wild and weird and sound like it’s from another world and make you dance harder than anything else. It’s always been about the quest for the funkiest, weirdest track that we could find – whatever style of music it falls into.”

“We just like it to be wild and weird and sound like it’s from another world”
– !!! frontman Nic Offer tries to explain his band’s music.

Offer is still pinching himself as we talk at the beer table outside Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms venue. Eighteen months ago he was supporting The Ox’s down the road. Today the singer is warmed not only by his cup of tea, but a record deal and a major European tour under his chic green parka. “Why are 400 people here to see us in this town we’ve never been to?!” he exclaims wildly in his surfer drawl.

Breaking through last year has had its benefits: A modest record budget, more beer, more air miles. Even the aid of a guitar tech is a newfound luxury. Then there are the girls, though as Offer concedes, “you still have to be a smooth guy.”

“Drugs are cheaper over here in certain parts too. I’m 31 so I’m not about to get stupid. I definitely realise where I’m at and I have to take advantage and live it up. I’m going to be looking back on this someday and it’ll be past.”

“You still have to be a smooth guy.”
– Chatting up ladies the !!! way…

When !!! arrived in New York for inspiration from the birthplace of disco, they were shocked to discover the then mayor Rudy Guiliani had excavated a prohibition era cabaret law for his Quality of Life campaign. The 1926 Cabaret Act is now being dissolved but at the time was policed strictly and banned dancing in the city unless a license was bought. According to the Legalize Dancing campaign, there were 12,000 cabaret licenses in 1960. In 2001 there were 296. Gorman was even forced to ask people not to dance in a bar he worked out before it was eventually shutdown by Guiliani’s Nightclub Enforcement Task Force. The incident eventually inspired !!!’s nine minute monster of a floor filler Me And Guiliani, which proved to be the band’s breakthrough.

Guiliani has also been one of Republican party’s major public exponents of support for George W Bush. As the climax of the US Presidential election looms, Offer spoke frankly about his America.

“I don’t know what I think about Kerry,” he drawls for a moment. “It’s not a matter of that. I feel – living in New York especially – New York is the battleground. George Bush has made an enemy of the world. I don’t think he can negotiate with anyone because everyone hates him so much. I don’t know what Kerry’s plan is, but he’ll be able to be a little bit more diplomatic.”

With the spotlight fixated on Florida, I ask Offer why America is once again so undecided about its next four years. He pauses and shakes his head without breaking eye contact. “It’s complex. One of the things is Kerry’s just not that good. Bush is so natural. He’s really comfortable, he’s really charismatic. Kerry’s just really stiff and awkward. And that’s big to people.

“We’re a television society. Half the Americans were for the war. America’s so isolated from the rest of the world. America doesn’t think that the rest of the world really exists. When you watch BBC news you see world news. You don’t see world news in America. You see American news. People just don’t have any sense. When they do see footage of bombings in Iraq they don’t even register that’s somebody’s neighbourhood. They don’t even register that’s someone’s actual house that’s f**king bombed.”

“George Bush has made an enemy of the world…everyone hates him so much”
– Nic Offer’s analysis of the United States’ image problem

“Johnny Depp got in trouble for saying America’s ‘dumb like a puppy’, but it’s really true. Americans are just really ignorant, they don’t know because they’re so far away from it.

“If our message is anything, it’s to live free. People are just too uptight. Me and Guiliani – I think that’s our message really – living life for the moment. You can get all things and achieve true happiness through that. I’m just glad to be a part of music history and toss my two cents in the pot.”

With the final night of the whirlwind across Europe almost over I ask Offer what his plans are. “I’ll be home where I should be,” he says firmly. “I’ll be at the voting booth.” And with that he picks up his mug and heads for the venue’s entrance just in time for the sound check.

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