Weekly Wire
The Boston Phoenix Laugh Tracks

Quintaine Americana get cheery.

By Jon Garelick

MARCH 9, 1998:  Quintaine Americana knew they were in deep shit as soon as they made radio contact with the little town in Virginia they were going to play that night. It was all over the radio, it seemed, four times an hour. "JAWBOX! FREE! THURSDAY NIGHT! JAWBOX! HOW MUCH ARE YOU GOING TO PAY? NOTHING!" It had been a long road trip from Boston, the band woozy from the hours in the van. "NOTHING! NOTHING IS WHAT THIS SHOW IS GOING TO COST YOU!" It was nonstop.

Quintaine weren't playing with Jawbox at the free record-store show. Quintaine were playing in the basement of a sushi bar across town. The headliners at the Quintaine gig? Some godawful Archers of Loaf wanna-be outfit -- don't-bother-tuning-your-guitar-with-the-rest-of-the-band typical indie-rockers. Rob the singer couldn't get past it: "This is going to suck. This is horrible. This is the worst night of my life." The clubowner tried to encourage them. "I'm only gonna charge a buck tonight," he said. "Kinda sweeten the deal." Marc the bass player was not encouraged. "Yeah. Everybody's gonna want to come see a bunch of nobodies from Boston for a buck."

The band consoled themselves with the 30-ounce Kirins the clubowner sold them for a buck apiece. The basement was like any other punk club in that it was a basement. But it wasn't like any other punk club in that it was all cement. There was nothing to absorb the shock of Quintaine's overdriven amps. Despite the volume, they were met with vast indifference. At one point, someone came up front, lay down across some chairs, and fell asleep. Between songs, someone was yelling, "Go home! Devil band! Go home!"

The evening deteriorated from there. After Quintaine's set, Marc, not wanting to leave town without making an impression, crashed the stage and introduced the Archers of Loaf wanna-bes as "Dicks 'R' Us," after which a member of the other band accused Quintaine of being from New Jersey, which was basically another way of saying they were a metal band. This was followed up quickly with "Faggot!" and then with Marc demonstrating just how much a faggot he was by grabbing the guy around the waist and humping him. There were more 30-ounce Kirins, and there was quite a bit of vomiting out of the van window on the way home. "We can play really drunk now," says Jason the drummer, philosophically.

It seems not everyone can get with the good cheer Quintaine Americana are trying to spread across the land for which they're named. This is understandable. After all, the jauntiest number on Needles (CherryDisc), the band's first album, was called "Retarded Whore," and the lyrics painted a scenario that you could pretty much imagine without hearing the tune. Suffice to say that the title, whatever its figurative implications, worked just fine as a literal description.

On their new album, Decade of the Brain (CherryDisc), the "emphasis track," if you will, is a ditty called ". . . And They Were Drinkin'," a character study whose protagonist enjoys certain autoerotic pleasures while plunked in front of the TV. "Whatever turns him on," the refrain goes, offhandedly, then adds, for good measure, "motherfucker." As you might imagine, the emphasis track has been emphasized only on the occasional college-radio show, though commercial radio did express interest to the band's label, CherryDisc. Marc Schleicher is philosophical: "If it's just a bestiality song, they'll play that on the radio. If you have swears, they'll play that on the radio. But if you put the two together, it just doesn't work."

Neither does the music itself suggest rollicking good times. Medium-to-slow mosh tempos. Rhythms that lurch through a sludge of extra-loud guitar and bass. You might notice that the anchoring bass riff of "Jean's Greens" forms a word in your mouth. And then you realize what the word is: "motherfucker." Those same four syllables, spat out as a bass riff, accent on three. Lyrics in general erupt from this sonic stew like disgorged chunks -- associative, seemingly random images, all vaguely depressed and depressing, a uniformly bleak world view. ". . . And They Were Drinkin' " is one of the more cohesive texts on Decade of the Brain. The other rambling, dyspeptic musings make the cheery ennui of Green Day read like Wordsworth.

On stage, singer/guitarist Rob Dixon delivers the stuff with the slightest involuntary sneer in the right-hand corner of his mouth. The sneer might seem familiar -- it's Elvis's sneer. But Elvis's warbling bass baritone has been replaced by a sing-speech snarl. On the page, the words are flat assertions: "Another blown summer. I'm glad it's over. We'll never win. We'll just waste and waste and waste." But when he sings them, Dixon is convinced, and they resonate on the fading decay of a dissonant guitar chord. Words are syllables that sound good, and when he sings, "This ain't no Saturday night. This ain't no campfire," it's his way of saying, "This ain't no disco/This ain't no foolin' around."

Which is another reason Quintaine don't quite fit in, even with the bands they play out with -- Honkeyball, Scissorfight, Tree, Eight Ball Shifter. These groups have a hardcore appeal, and their fans might seem a natural for Quintaine's heavy beats and über-volume assault. But the gigs never quite work out. Marc looks out at the crowd, sees the kids' faces, and knows what they're thinking: "Those guys just bum me out, man. They're like the Cure mixed with some hardcore band. They're not emocore 'cause they drink. They drink a lot. But they still bum me out. I don't get it."

Much has been made of the origins of Rob Dixon and Jason King in the one-mile-square, one-prison town of Drew, Mississippi (population circa 2000). The band themselves have their hometown's name emblazoned on their T-shirts (Marc is from Alabama but more recently spent some formative years in Lowell -- he understands Drew). The stories Rob and Jason tell from that town are endless good ones -- tales of flagging cropdusters piloted by drunken crazies into the cotton fields, of the pathetic marching band from the private (read: white) school getting slaughtered in competitions by the public (read: black) schools. "There was a white side and a black side of town, separated by one street," recalls Rob. "On the white side, lights were out by eight o'clock. But on the black side they had this whole thing going on. There were bars and a whole nightlife."

What Rob and Jason have carried with them from Drew is a sense of being misfits. Their musical education came from MTV, where they first saw Ozzy Osbourne, then learned that Ozzy used to be in a band called Black Sabbath. They got into the metal 'zines, Ratt, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest. When metal began to degrade into cheese like Poison, they grew disenchanted. Jason's stepbrother had spent some time in Jacksonville, and he returned with Bauhaus, the Smiths, the Birthday Party. Rob and Jason went directly from metal to goth-inflected new wave, skipping punk entirely. When Quintaine put together a song at a jam now, Rob often mumbles syllables at first, just to go with the rhythm. When he takes the songs home to flesh them out, the quotidian characters and events of Drew merge with life in Boston, rattle around with some introspective nausea, and emerge as a kind of indie-goth-metal nightmare.

You might wonder what's entertaining about all this. At the Middle East/WFNX birthday bash last year, the downstairs room began to empty out pretty fast after Buffalo Tom's set, leaving Quintaine with a typically confused audience of stragglers. Playing to vast open spaces, the band rattled through their set -- unison marching rhythms, stop-time sneering vocalise, all very loud. Listening, I had to laugh. Not with derision, but with joy. It may be a bit perverse to use a word like "purity" when talking about Quintaine Americana, but here was a purity of a conviction -- and a precision of execution -- that you had to admire. No distortion on the guitar, just volume. (Rob insists that his discovery of the perfect, eerie, dissonant guitar chords comes not from a Sonic Youth fixation but because "I can't play very well.") Bass and drums that lock onto a groove and can angle hairpin turns or stop on a dime. The laughter that bubbles up inside you when you hear this stuff is an epiphany, an apprehension of perfection. Sorta like when Seka used to speed-lurch into those double-pedal kick-drum passages.

"What bothers me about modern indie rock is that they get to just that point where it's about to rock -- and then they stop," says Rob. "They just refuse. They get to that point and they refuse to rock." Quintaine, meanwhile, continue to be defined by what they're not. Their shifting dynamics and rhythms make them useless to the functional needs of slamdancing hardcore crowds (at hardcore shows they tend to be the cool-down band) and to the traditionalist tendencies of punk audiences. They're too depressing (and not hooky enough) for metalheads. And their unsubtle macho doesn't go over well with indie-rockers. So their own crowd -- which is considerable -- draws from the fringes of all those scenes. People attracted by something that's familiar in many ways but doesn't quite sound like anything else, something that sounds only like itself. "I think that's the advantage of our careers," says Jason. "It's that we don't know how to play, but we happen to play well together."


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