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Aug 06, 2009

Art Brut frontman Eddie Argos is doing big things with his band. But he’s still just a fan at heart.

By Michael Tedder

Onstage during the penultimate night of a five-day stand at New York City’s Mercury Lounge, Art Brut lead singer/rant slinger Eddie Argos has already led the sold-out crowd through a series of hilarious sing-a-long anthems (very few other frontmen can get a room full of ultra-hip music aficionados screaming “I saw her naked! Twice!” in gleeful unison), dryly explained that their next number, “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” is a Ramones cover and not an Art Brut original, and spent a solid hour dancing, shouting and even engaged in some impromptu microphone-chord-assisted jump roping.

After working so hard, he’s earned some bragging rights.

In a characteristically shambling introduction (his between song banter is often longer than his songs) to his arrested development anthem, “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes,” Argos tells the crowd that earlier that day, the band went on a tour of DC Comics’ offices, and it was exactly as awesome as any four-color-loving nerd would hope (the front desk, he pointed out, is modeled after The Daily Planet.)

As it turns out, Argos’ favorite DC hero is the time-traveling Justice League member Booster Gold. But don’t feel bad if you have no idea who that is. “I think even [the DC staff] were surprised,” he says.

Lots of bands have dorky lead singers. Few bands have singers so dorky that even the people who publish DC comics are taken aback. But that’s part of what makes him great. In his lyrics, stage patter and conversation, Argos (birth name: Kevin Macklin) can’t help spazzing out about the things he loves.

As a vocalist, Argos is of the sing-talking school of delivery (see also Rollins, Henry), and his witty words are often served with heavy dose of wry.

This approach leads some listeners to assume he’s a high priest of ironic detachment, a claim Argos refutes. “I think I must have a sarcastic voice or something,” he says. “People think I’m joking or like it’s some sort of shtick, but all of my stories are true. ‘Emily Kane’ isn’t a novelty song. She was the first ever girlfriend I loved.”

Argos, who first started claiming he was in band at the age of five, and the rest of his South London posse—guitarists Jasper Future and Ian Catskilkin, bassist Frederica Feedback, and drummer Mikey Breyer—debuted in 2005 with Bang Bang Rock & Roll. Along with the sweet ode “Emily Kane”—on which Argos reveals, to the second, how long it has been since he last saw his first love (at the Mercury, Argos tells the crowd she has now heard the song and they’ve become friends)—the album contains Art Brut’s mission statement, “Formed A Band,” which featured Argos’ promise to write a song “that makes Israel and Palestine get along.”

The lyrics are hilarious, but they are also indicative of how much faith Argos has in music’s ability to change the world.

Four years since the album’s release, Argos’s fandom is as strong as ever. He even recruited one of his heroes, Pixies leader/alt rock legend Charles “Frank Black” Thompson, to man the boards for Art Brut Vs Satan, the band’s recently released third album, which was recorded live, mostly in one take, in a snowed-in studio in Salem, Mass.

Argos’ lyrics on Satan are as direct as the music. In addition to talking about his shyness around women and saluting both alcohol and chocolate milkshakes, much of Satan focuses on Argos relationship with rock music, from the rush he gets from hearing a song he loves to the disappointment he feels when a group lets him down.

He stresses himself sick with worry that “people don’t like the music I like” and wonders aloud how it is he only recently discovered punk-pop icons The Replacements.

“When I write the lyrics, I try to make them a conversation. If we sat at a pub having a drink, I’d be like, ‘ah man, have you heard The Replacements? They’re brilliant!’” he says. “I’m not really a critic, just a guy at a pub talking about music.”

And if his lyrics lead to a few more friendly faces at said pub, all the better.

“I love DC comics and The Replacements. So now when I go the shows, kids go ‘Eddie, have you read whatever,’ and we talk about comics for ages,” he says. “It was almost like an advert: ‘Lonely lead singer, looking for friends, must like DC comics and The Replacements.’ It’s like I’ve got loads of friends now. People know what I like and they come and talk to me. I signed a Booster Gold comic yesterday. How cool is that?”

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