ASK THOMAS WRIGHT about the state of pop music and you'll get an earful. "Mainstream rock is a joke right now because record companies are trying to sell it as some kind of rebellious rock and roll music, and it's not—it's total pop formula," asserts the cherub-faced drummer for Seattle's eXBESTFRIeNDS. We are in the band's Capitol Hill practice space, savoring a 12-pack of room-temperature Rainier and examining the perplexingly pathetic state of pop music. Fidgeting behind his drum kit, Wright wags his beer can with conviction. "Pop music is exactly the same way it was 10 years ago, right before Nirvana broke," he says, "and it's going to happen again. Mainstream rock is just shit, and someone's gonna figure it out."
Graceland, Thursday, February 22
Wright may have been just 11 years old when Nevermind was released, but he and his bandmates—guitarist and lead vocalist Ryan Davidson, guitarist Ben Kersten, and bassist James Glunt—have an idea about where insubordinate, melodic punk rock should be headed.
After working as an assistant sound engineer at the Crocodile and running the boards on tour for local troublemakers Zeke, Wright found himself frustrated with being so close to music yet not actually making any of his own. Following a mini-tour with the short-lived, instrument-swapping collective Not the Pilot, he began talking with Davidson (formerly a bass player with Love as Laughter) and Kersten (who was programming samples and occasionally playing keyboards with Automaton) about starting a new band. Both Davidson and Wright were taken with Kersten's open-minded approach to arrangements, and the three shared an affinity for electronic music's experimental aesthetics and hip-hop's inherent sort of truth telling.
"Ben and I talked about starting another band, and he brought me a tape of electronic music that he and some friends did together. I was totally blown away by it," recalls Davidson. "I could tell by the way it was put together that he knew what he was doing."
James Glunt was soon enlisted as bassist, and the four-piece began rehearsing. Initial practices were a bit aimless, primarily because they had so many inclinations about which direction to pursue.
"We didn't know if we should just be full-on Satan metal or really pretty stuff 'cause we like all these kinds of music," says Davidson. "So we just started playing and ended up with a little bit of all of it in there."
AN EXBESTFRIENDS live show is an odd synthesis of youthfully defiant punk attitude and precocious pop textures. The low end of their sound forms around a brassy drone that hints at a Melvins influence, but things often veer toward run-to-the-hills Brit metal. The boys also seem to appreciate late '80s DC and SoCal punk flavors like Fugazi and Drive Like Jehu—particularly in Wright's odd time signatures and the kinetic call and response between Davidson and Kersten's guitars. Although the eXBESTFRIeNDS might give the impression they're about to pogo off the stage, waving black flags and pointing their guitars at some mythical heavy metal heaven, that's only part of the package. The vulnerability in Davidson's vocals and Kersten's willingness to quiet down give the band its no-core trump card. Despite the fact that some observers have tagged them as a neo-grunge outfit (due in part to Davidson's uncanny physical similarity to Kurt Cobain), most folks are going to have a difficult time pigeonholing this band.
For now, most folks are also going to have a hard time finding this band, as they have yet to record their debut. They do have a less-than-representative, drunkenly recorded digital demo, but don't count on hearing it on the radio anytime soon. "We kinda get out of hand when we're in the studio by ourselves—there's no one there to say 'don't use that accordion,'" laughs Wright. "There's tons of (producers) we want to work with, but we're poor and you gotta pay."
In the meantime, the eXBESTFRIeNDS are working toward paying for more studio time by themselves—and on their own terms. Explains Wright, "It would be great if someone came along and liked what we're doing, but I don't think any of us feel like waiting around for that to happen."