Dandy in the underworld

The Turn-Ons love music, and they love to look good playing it.


Sit and Spin, 441-9484, $7 9 p.m. Fri., May 18

THEY SAY THE ESKIMOS have about a zillion words for snow. Likewise, music fans have a zillion words to describe the sounds of the songs they love. But, while seated in the wonderfully appointed living room of Turn-Ons producer/multi-instrumentalist Erik Blood and guitarist Corey Gutch, I heard a description that was actually quite elegant.

“It’s what a lot of music is—this love poem to what you like,” says Blood, with a shy honesty and a quick, humble grin.

The Turn-Ons write love poems to the art of rock and roll. They write sonnets to psychedelia, odes to blues-ripped rock, elegies to love affairs, and epics to icons like the New York Dolls, the Stooges, the Stones, and Bowie. In their live shows, frontman extraordinaire Travis DeVries takes those love poems and twists them into alluring, platform boot-stomping performance art. Slowcore Pictures’ Mark Cuadrado completes the cabaret with his artfully constructed video movies—which are projected behind a row of backup singers, natch.

“It’s funny, really, how many of the songs are about rock. But it makes perfect sense to me,” comments bass player Sharon Oshima. And it should make perfect sense to anyone who feels music as deeply as the Turn-Ons do.

Songs like “Playin’ Out,” on the self-titled, self-released debut album, extol the virtues of living solely for rock and roll. DeVries sings softly, “I played the rocker and roller, yeah/playin’ every night out with the band/oh yeah, oh yeah/broke a string every gig and kept on,” next to Gutch’s reverby guitars and subtle acoustic strumming. When the song segues into “Rock and Roll Jive” and begins to bounce along like a badass alley kat in a top hat, you are absolutely compelled to shake what your momma gave you.

“There are songs that just hit you, and those are the ones that mean the most to me. It has to be sincere,” says DeVries, who has just returned to the Jet City from a jet-setting excursion through Spain. “Yesterday on the plane I was listening to this song that totally makes me want to cry. It’s so amazing. It has to be that way.”

He adds, “It’s easy for me to be sincere about writing songs about music because I do feel that way about music.”

TOGETHER AS A BAND—in one way or another—for the past four years, the Turn-Ons are at once tremendously low-key and absolutely fabulous. In this city of baby giants, that isn’t necessarily an easy thing to pull off. But they pull it off because the band’s duality is completely authentic. They’re natural style-mavens, total rocker and rollers. They’ve each got approximately one foot in the future and one foot in the best part of the past. They’re completely real. And DeVries’ emerging iconography is wholly organic: It’s almost as if, through some strange slip of the time/space continuum, Iggy and Ziggy were unknowingly imitating him all those years ago. He’s beautiful, ebullient, addictive, and completely in love with the inherent power of rock and roll.

“Everyone surrounds him and gets off on him. It’s great,” says Gutch of DeVries.

“Before I was in this band, I wasn’t at all interested in dressing a certain way to get on stage—I sort of didn’t understand where Travis was coming from,” says drummer Will Hallauer. “But that puts you in a certain frame of mind—and when people see the band that has a certain look, they feed off of that. There’s a show happening.”

“All my favorite singers and performers were really flamboyant,” DeVries confides. “Even today, a lot of the British stuff is really flamboyant; they can really be out there. I mean, there are people that really affect me just standing there singing quietly, also. I guess I just like playing both of those roles. I like music that’s bitchy. I like it when it’s sassy. You watch the New York Dolls and it’s like, ‘Oh my god, it would’ve been so much fun to be them!'”

But if anyone’s suspicious about the slippery slope of nostalgia—and the co-opting of its charms—it’s Oshima.

“I am a little wary of it,” she admits. Of succumbing to the standard set in 1972 she says, “That would be just too easy. We might as well just be a T. Rex cover band,” she says.

But if the Turn-Ons are on a slope, they sure aren’t slipping down it. They’re climbing—steadily. A new record is in the works, and the Turn-Ons are looking to bring this rock and roll show on the road. They nearly gush when speaking of the Strokes and New York City. But really, the sky’s the only limit.

From under the light of an ultrachic, retro-future lamp, videographer Cuadrado confidently predicts, “Oh, these guys would be big in Japan.”