With a nod to the past, Go Metric USA revives pop music's promise.
By Micheal Powell
OCTOBER 26, 1998: Pop.
Many a purist considers it to be the dirtiest three-lettered four letter word ever conceived - especially to those who sought solace in the various underground musical genres of the '80s and early '90s. Verily it was not always so. To the counterculture of another era it was associated with youth, rebellion, individuality, dropping out and The Kinks, but to the new counterculture it also had several connotations and all of them were bad: the establishment, conformity, selling out and the mainstream.
Then in November '91 Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" dethroned Michael Jackson, the self-proclaimed "King of Pop," from the No. 1 Billboard slot and the paradigms began shifting so fast it was difficult to keep up: record companies and retailers realized they could make a buck by marketing individuality as a commodity, the underground went above ground, the counterculture became over-the-counterculture and the word "pop" lost all its remaining relevance muddled in the confusion of the day. When the dust finally cleared, post-grunge cookie-cutter acts like Days of the New certainly had little in common musically with the likes of the Spice Girls although there's no denying they were certainly both popular.
Now there's a new game in town. Not encumbered by a particular city or scene, the new underground has warrens that run from Portland, Ore., to London to Halifax to Oslo to Los Angeles to San Francisco. Groups like The Dandy Warhols, Teenage Fanclub, Sloan, The Wannadies, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Hi-Fives have picked up the mantle of pop-music-past and embraced its doctrine of simplicity and accessibility, invigorating it with a new erudite idealism and a dangerous rock 'n' roll swagger.
Enter Go Metric USA.
The Dallas-based and Metroplex-residing band has been together scarcely a year, yet has had a perpetual buzz surrounding it ever since its inception, and with good reason. Formed almost as a fluke when bassist/vocalist Lindsay Romig - who has played with Wally Pleasant, Centro-matic and Vena Cava, among others - and vocalist/guitarist Mitch Greer, of Denton's O.E.D., sat in for a single show with The Brian Jonestown Massacre after the group's leader and resident idiot savant Anton Newcombe drove off his cohorts in one of his characteristic stupors/rages. Romig and Greer began writing songs together and enlisted the help of drummer T.J. Prendergast, who was then doing time in My Friend the Atom. The trio found an affinity in the medium of '60s pop's simplicity.
"I don't think any of us thought that way when we were doing it," Greer says. "It just happened to be the kind of music that we made. ...It was my reaction to punk. I thought punk was a stupid scene that was politics based on fashion while mod was the politics of fashion."
Prendergast, however, counters, "We started a pop band to be somewhat experimental in the scene that we were in. We wanted to play music that everyone [in the band] liked but no one had come up with the idea of playing before."
Regardless of the intent, the group's ranks - and its sound - swelled with addition of guitarist Michael Cullen, keyboardist George Jenson and tambourine player Mark Crowder, and they christened themselves with what is probably the worst band moniker since Electric Blue Peggy Sue and the Revolutiononions from Mars - She Only Thinks in Manchester. Somehow, with no live experience as a coalesced unit, they booked a small West Coast tour and entered the studio with BJM's Newcombe and recorded the single "Hitler Runs a Rock Band" - a dubious tribute to the song's producer. Last spring the group was surprised to hear the music to that track as a part of BJM's "Going to Hell" on its latest cd Strung Out in Heaven. After verbal sparring that ended the two groups' relationship, Go Metric USA decided to move on.
"It was a very scary situation," says Greer in regards to the group's time in Newcombe's studio. "...It was like The Fall of the House of Usher. I felt for the man strongly."
Greer laughs, "We really appreciate their music and we hope the new [BJM] album is better."
So last summer Go Metric USA crossed the threshold of Dave Willingham's Two Ohm Hop studio in Argyle and recorded its 10-song debut, the self-explanatory Three Chords by Two Verses, which is scheduled for release next week. The result is a pure pop gem of whipsmart jangledelia that gives equal props to mid-'60s mod, '70s Big Star and early '80s Athens, Ga.
"It is a sort of '60s sound," Romig says. "What we are doing is taking things back to the basics and it just so happens that back in the '60s that was the style."
It is near impossible not to revel in the album's hook-laden familiarity and overall catchiness. But a cursory flaying of the outermost layers discovers a songcraft that is both intelligent, deliberate and cathartic. Numbers such as "I Met Robyn Hitchcock and Nobody Cares But Me" are either as obvious as the chorus implies or are as subtle an observation about popular culture as Greer suggests.
"We enjoy toying with pop culture," Greer says. "We're having an exposition with this band. It is a completely necessary thing for us to experience and discuss and come to realizations through the music."
In spite of Go Metric's subterfuge, it's the hooks that snag listeners, and the number of fans is growing (as was evident at the group's late-night show at The Loop in Dallas last Saturday), but no one in the band is expecting Go Metric to change the face of all things musical.
"We're not banking on the success of this band," Greer says. "We're not waiting [now in his best Peter Lorre voice] for Go Metric to take over ze world."
But if it did, ze world would be a much cooler place. Give a nod to the mod.
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