Rhymes With Duck
A 'Fuck' By Any Other Name Would Sound The Same.
By Brendan Doherty
OCTOBER 5, 1998: IT HAD TO come sooner or later. With thousands upon thousands of band names, and the fact that music is inextricably linked to all sorts of pelvic actions, it was only a matter of time before someone went ahead and named their band Fuck. But it's not like this bi-coastal band--some members in Oakland, Calif., and another in New York--wasn't the first that tried.
"You name your band something like this, and a funny thing happens," says Timmy Prudhomme, guitarist and resident New Yorker---a skinny Alice Cooper look-alike in never-removed mid-period Lou Reed shades and stringy black hair. "People come out of the woodwork to tell you all kinds of stories about the word, the history of words and such. KISS wanted to name their band that, and someone came up to us after a show asking if we got it from some long-buried KISS fan lore. We thought someone would have used it, but nobody ever has. People think we're grindcore, actually. It just goes to show you shouldn't judge a book by its cover."
While the name leads to plenty of jokes and innuendo, it has posed some interesting problems for the quartet. The name is uncopyrightable. You can't tell most people what band you're going to see. Wincing rock reporters working for straight-laced daily newspapers can't review their records no matter how much they may like them. There have been difficulties with flyers and promotion. They've changed their name to Fork for a few shows.
Bassist Ted Ellison's mother and grandmother still don't know the name of his band, five years and four records later. One club, Bimbo's in San Francisco, wanted to book the band but refused because of the name, despite club advertising on matchbooks displaying a naked woman. The band played the show when the club owner got the point across on flyers with lots of asterisks, ampersands and exclamation marks. Drummer Kyle Statham's dad avoided the topic of his son's band name. Later, he bought merchandise from Statham and gave the T-shirts to people he wanted to embarrass.
The word, used everywhere, still has the power to stop traffic.
"It was pretty simple, the name choice, really," says Prudhomme. "It's more direct. People always remember it, that's for sure. But when it comes to the business of signing with a label, we can tell that they're probably after the music, and not the name.
The band's aesthetic evolved over four releases. The new Conduct (Matador), and 1997's Pardon My French solidly display the band's collective songwriting craft. With clear lines drawn, Fuck's musical lineage is drawn from the Velvet Underground, Thinking Fellers Union, and Slint. The opening cut on Conduct, "The Thing," is a two-minute blast of hopped-up Velvet Underground. "Monkey Doll" is a groovy dance doo-wop tribute to a stuffed animal that went on tour with the band. Languid, sloping numbers and abstract acoustic vistas rub shoulders with foot-stomping barn burners. The band's name has little to say about their sound--an orchestrated and surreal version of shambling pop.
Performances used to be filled with themed raffle handouts. Numbered tickets stamped with antique coitus woodcuts were handed out to the audience. While the band set up their instruments, a friend read descriptions, and handed out prizes. Example from a show at San Francisco's Bottom of the Hill a few years ago: "Gizelle orally stimulates Pierre against the towel rack, Number 48." That lucky winner took home a genuine U.S. Postal Service coloring book. Others won a dozen bottle rockets, an autographed baseball, and a T-shirt.
"I think that contrivance is a useful tool," says Prudhomme. "To go along with all of the mindless drivel that exists in music today, I actually try to write something that sounds like drivel as a means to say something."
The prime example is "Blind Beauty," a Giant Sand-sounding country song. A soft Western take sends up useless chit-chat and the meaninglessness of most country songs.
"I wanted to make it the most standard country song of all," says Prudhomme. "I wanted, in a way, to appeal to people who like country because it's country. In most of those songs, people talk like they know what they're talking about, and they try and discuss the insights gleaned from their real life. But there's a real lack of insight in most lives, generally."
It should come as no surprise that Prudhomme is tossing around the idea of writing the definitive non-fiction book about the most synthetic of musical movements--bubble-gum pop.
"It's the most contrived genre of all," says Prudhomme. "They had a lot of fake bands: 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Archies, Ohio Express, and so on. There were 10 or so bands, but it was the same five or six people in all of the projects."
Much of the band's irony lies in a situationist tangle of take and double-take. It may be a result of the band's unique living situation. Three-fourths of the band make their home on the West Coast, with Prudhomme in New York. (Prudhomme followed his girlfriend out to the Big Apple shortly after the band recorded their debut in 1994.) Shards of songs are combined into a larger piece later. The remarkably cohesive final product bears testament to the four's parallel vision.
"We'd be doing music the same way if we lived in the same town," says Prudhomme. "I actually think it helps us. We're all influenced by different things. When we get together, it's actually fresh and interesting. If I was the listener, this is what I think would be the most appealing. It's nice that people come up after the shows and are amazed that three of us sing, but it all sounds like one voice. We all write and three of us sing. Thank God, because I get tired of hearing my own voice, and my songs over and over again."
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