INTERVIEW- Inspirational? !!! wants to rile people up
Nic Offer is certainly smarter than he sounds.
His band plays disco for the 21st century, blending it with rock in a manner vaguely reminiscent of The Rapture, but Offer shrugs off the expectation of intellectual banality that often accompanies dance music.
The band's name, for example, is easily one of the best of the decade– "!!!" can be pronounced with three repetitions of any given sound. (The dominant flavor these days is "chkchkchk," but Offer says he's still partial to three clucks of the tongue, a variant derived from the clicking vernacular of the bushmen in the 1980 comic masterpiece, The Gods Must Be Crazy.)
!!!'s breakthrough single, "Me and Giuliani Down By The Schoolyard," was goofy and not at all enlightening, but parts of "Myth Takes" really go for the jugular; "All My Heroes Are Weirdos," for example, summons the ghost of Nero for the purpose of contemporary allegory. After all, you can't shake your ass if you're brain-dead.
The Hook: What's the most embarrassing thing you learned about the Chili Peppers while touring with them?
Nic Offer: They have a Chili Copter. They can travel to gigs in a helicopter. But I'm kind of grasping at straws, because they didn't really show us their embarrassing side.
The Hook: How do you travel?
Nic Offer: We're currently on a bus, which is the first time we've ever had one in America. I don't know how we would ever go back. With the first tour, we were close friends, so we were able to fit 11 people into an eight-person van.
The Hook: Does your large lineup pose any other problems?
Nic Offer: Everything has its advantages and disadvantages. When there's eight of you, you can get lost. It does seem strange, though– you can't just pick eight people off the street and form a band, but that's really what we did.
The Hook: It is?
Nic Offer: Yeah, there wasn't much thought to it. It was just, "Well, Justin doesn't act like a bitch."
The Hook: How's that one working out?
Nic Offer: Other people have changed, but he's still pretty level.
The Hook: Is it hard to fit a message or moral into this musical format?
Nic Offer: I don't think in dance music more than anything else; dance music has a label as this hedonistic thing, but whatever. I never understood that. I see no reason why a disco groove would be any harder to express yourself over than a rage rock group or a fingerpicked melody. I think the challenge is for people to find something to say. Let's face it, this war has produced almost no relevant protest songs.
The Hook: Well, there was that dreadful "When The President Talks To God" thing. But what's your threshold for relevance?
Nic Offer: A song that affects you and changes the way you think. In the '60s, those songs affected people. Bright Eyes came to mind, but even that's not "Give Peace A Chance" or "What's Going On." Those had a huge impact on society.
The Hook: Do you aspire to that?
Nic Offer: No.
The Hook: Why not?
Nic Offer: I think it was a lot easier to be affected in the '60s, because everyone was getting drafted. It was coming right to you. Americans are totally removed from the war; it's impossible to even comprehend it. You and I have a completely different understanding. I remember seeing some documentary, and David Crosby comes up to Neil Young and tells him about Kent State. Neil walked into the woods and came back in 15 minutes with "Ohio." That affected him. I don't think kids feel that today.
The Hook: Your mission, should you choose to accept it...
Nic Offer: You're right, I'm going to get off the phone and go write one. I remember a friend of mine playing me some song he had written about the war. It seemed like a Paul Simon song now; it was totally removed from the situation and didn't have any insight.
The Hook: I don't quite understand why that's a derogatory comparison.
Nic Offer: It's not relevant. Neil Young has written a whole album about the war, and it's completely irrelevant. My friend was at the concert, and he said the lyrics were like 'Stop the war, the war is bad." Paul Simon is past the point of relevance.
The Hook: So your role might be to convince someone relevant to take this on, even if you're not going to do it yourself?
Nic Offer: Yeah. When Hitler was in power, nobody thought it was going to be the most despicable act of the 20th century. By connecting Bush to Nero, I wanted to point out that this is a serious situation. What I could do in this situation is to be more prophetic. I'm not that Zack De La Rocha guy.
The Hook: I think people wanted something big to come out of the Rage Against The Machine reunion, but I don't know that they delivered.
Nic Offer: There can be dumb entertainment and there can be smart entertainment. There's entertainment that inspires you, and there's entertainment that just inspires you to sit down on the couch. But it wasn't like the Coachella masses were going to rise up and book a flight to Iraq. It's not like Rage coming back to save the day– it's not a simple situation that a nu-metal band can sort out. It's not like the sound of a guitar chord is going to break down the walls; music is like the butterfly flapping its wings three thousand miles away and it changes the world.
!!! and Maserati are at the Satellite Ballroom May 29. $15/$12, 8pm.