Alter Egos

Often portrayed as dark, driven bacchanals, the boys of Pleasure Forever really just wanna have some fun.

"The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self-awareness," lamented Bull Durham romantic Annie Savoy. That partially explains why Pleasure Forever's lascivious, heady, paranormal piano opuses are relegated to the VERA Project, while Good Charlotte get to play punk-rock dress up in enormo-domesbut that's a big "no shit, Sherlock," and we're not done talking "no shit, Sarandon."

In the spirit of "putting the troops in even greater danger," à la everyone's favorite gol-durned Academy Award- winnin' peacenik hussy, I conclude an hour-long chat with the dapper gents of Pleasure Forever by broaching the indie-centric, self-explanatory www. bandsagainstbush.org, anxious to pick the trio's brains on geopolitics. Singer/ keyboardist Andy Rothbard is up to the task:

"Well, I'm definitely not against some bush."

And off we go. The name is Pleasure Forever, and the implication is, um, implicit: If it feels good, do it. At least, that's what Rothbard often sings about in an upper-register wail over a toppled chessboard of minor keys and burlesque drum volleys. It's like Cobra Commander helming Chicago.

Their second full-length, Alter (Sub Pop), is awash with mysticism, sweat, spooge, and boot-stomping, saloon-storming gusto. The self-awareness? Strictly interview fodder. Pleasure Forever know their press, their audience, their raison d'être, and especially their persona. Onstage, they're all rock, no talk, punctuating songs with long, ecstatic, trippy transitions that always inflate the drama.

"It's just trying to fill space with music rather than language," Rothbard explains. "I'm not really a good monologuist. There's people like stand-up comedians, whose art form is keeping things going with words. I feel like the words that comprise the lyrics are enough."

Comedic stage banter "is something that could fit in well with that so-called cabaret aspect that people tend to highlight about our music," drummer Dave Clifford suggests, " . . . which I don't necessarily see all the time."

"I think there's this conception about our band that we're these dark, brooding people who allow no light to escape," Rothbard laughs. "We're just a bunch of goofballs, really. We love the funny stuff."

"I spent a whole day at the beach on Friday," guitarist Josh Hughes discloses. "Doesn't get much brighter than that.

"I've always thought of our band as, rather than dark or anything, just kind of . . . realistic."

WHILE PLEASURE Forever's eponymous debut was healthily informed by the infinite nightlife of San Francisco (the band relocated to Portland in late 2001), Alter is a puzzle box of pre-established ideas, chords, and themes, some five years old, some five minutes.

"I don't necessarily look at Alter as a 'Portland record,'" Rothbard says. "Although I do think it's a bit more monochromatic . . . um, not that people in Portland would appreciate their city being called monochromatic, but I think there is more of a stripped-down, sort of gray feeling to it. I don't feel like it's as opulent a record. There's a bit more of a black-and-white, silent-film type of feel."

Clifford goes into simile overdrive: "The album is kind of entropic . . . it was like a vehicle in motion. We kept going with all the stuff that we had previously, then came back, hit the brakes, went into the studio, and let everything come shuffling forward, crashing into the windshield."

"Through the windshield," Rothbard revises, laughing. "Right out of the car."

"It's almost like to have a concept record, you just have to say, 'This is a concept record,' and people go, 'Oh, OK.'" Hughes laughs. "You think of something like Dark Side of the Moon, where they've laid out this structure ahead of time and are fit- ting pieces into it, whereas we come up with a whole bunch of songs and see how they fit together."

There aren't any Depression-era theme shows planned, but Pleasure Forever continue to seamlessly bend and blend genres and eras. At any given gig, you might find Hughes convulsing through Angus theatrics in prom ruffles ("It's kind of ridiculous, but whatever, I enjoy it"), Clifford standing up to administer the throbbing bridge to "Magus Opus," and Rothbard's eyes rolled right back to hell and/or heaven. No pretenses. No "look."

"We don't want to go up onstage and just dick around and sound completely shitty," sighs Clifford. "There's conscious effort put into giving a good musical performance, not necessarily giving a good aerobic performance. We try to play, in a sense, like old jazz and blues players would."

"What we have to do to pull off the songs, there's just no way we can be rolling around on the floor," Rothbard concedes. "Maybe that's why it does seem sort of somber or focused. I've seen people who play keyboard freak out and jump around and stuff, but they're not really playing anything."

"Well, Jerry Lee Lewis . . . ," offers Clifford, playing devil's advocate.

"I'm not that good," Rothbard demurs.

Maybe not, but as founder of bandsallaboutbush.org, he may have a most enviable set of prerequisites: great balls of fire.

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