MU­SIC

A group of Van­cou­ver scene vets got their pri­or­i­ties straight when chan­nelling the ’80s as Au­to­gramm.

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - By Mike Usinger

To ap­pre­ci­ate where Au­to­gramm is com­ing from on its ’80s-flavoured de­but, What R U Wait­ing 4?, one has to—quite ap­pro­pri­ately—flash back to the past.

That’s some­thing that Van­cou­ver scene vet­er­ans Jiffy Marx, C.C. Volt­age, and the Silo are happy to do when they con­vene with the Ge­or­gia Straight at Strath­cona’s Lup­polo Brew­ing Com­pany on a rainy fall af­ter­noon.

The mu­si­cal roots of the three-piece run deep, both in Van­cou­ver and be­yond. Singer-gui­tarist Marx most re­cently fronted the thrashy Jiffy Marker and the sprawl­ing coun­try unit Hard Drugs, the lat­ter of which co­a­lesced while he was liv­ing in Brook­lyn. Bassist Volt­age has killed downtime by liv­ing in Ber­lin with skate-rock ag­i­ta­tors Dys­nea Boys, pre­ceded by a stint in Lon­don, Eng­land, where he played with pub-rawk­ers the Loy­al­ties. Drum­mer the Silo spent a good chunk of his adult life be­hind the kit with the mighty Black Moun­tain (now based in Los An­ge­les), his al­ter­nate projects in­clud­ing Van­cou­ver’s ever-en­chant­ing Light­ning Dust.

The laun­dry list of lo­cal bands that the mem­bers of Au­to­gramm have been in­volved in ranges from the fa­bled (the Spit­fires, Jerk With a Bomb, Black Rice, Black Ha­los, Blood Merid­ian, Ra­dio Ber­lin) to the ob­scure (mid-’90s hard­core foot­notes Peb­ble and Thumb­screw).

“You need a fam­ily tree to keep track of it all, and I ac­tu­ally have one,” Marx says with a laugh.

The Silo adds: “It gets pretty out of hand once you hit your 40s.”

Au­to­gramm came to­gether with cer­tain goals, the big­gest one per­haps be­ing hav­ing fun; no one is ex­pect­ing What R U Wait­ing 4? to lead to a down pay­ment on a house on the West Side.

“The of­fi­cial m.o. of the band was to not be a full-time tour­ing band,” Marx says. “It was more about go­ing on hol­i­days, and play­ing shows while we were there.”

Laugh­ing, Volt­age con­tin­ues: “Prefer­ably in sunny, warm places.”

The seeds for the project were planted in Ber­lin, where Marx vis­ited Volt­age and talked about form­ing a band. The Silo was con­vinced to join pool­side in Mex­ico. When Au­to­gramm be­gan re­hears­ing, it was ca­sual at first.

Still, there were old habits to be bro­ken, and new tricks to be learned.

“Part of the chal­lenge for this band for me was that I don’t re­ally play fast,” the Silo says. “I had to work hard to do that. I was used to play­ing slow all the time, and that was a re­ally or­ganic thing for me. To get a ner­vous-en­ergy sound for Au­to­gramm, I had to re­think things.”

Volt­age adds: “And I had to re­ally con­sciously think about bass lines. Most of what I’ve done in the past has been pretty straight­for­ward. Now I re­ally have to lock in with Josh [the Silo], and think more about ‘What would a band from the ’80s do with the bass?’ ”

Songs left over from pre­vi­ous bands were brought in and then re­tooled for Au­to­gramm. Bind­ing the three mu­si­cians to­gether was a sin­cere in­ter­est in pay­ing trib­ute to a fa­bled late’70s/early-’80s pe­riod in mu­sic that they love. The era-spe­cific spec­tres of lip­stick-smeared new wave, grey-hued post­punk, and freak-flag synthpop hang joy­fully over What R U Wait­ing 4?.

Some­times the band’s af­fec­tion for the gi­ants of the time seems ob­vi­ous; con­sider the Candyo–flavoured synth bon­bons in “Sea of Re­gret” or the post–joy Di­vi­sion per­cus­sion in “Bum­mer Party”. There are ref­er­ences aimed at ded­i­cated trainspot­ters—if you like the creep-tas­tic sound­track work of John Car­pen­ter, you’re go­ing to thrill to “Wan­der­ing Eyes”. And there’s strong ev­i­dence that the vinyl col­lec­tions of Au­to­gramm in­clude ev­ery­thing from au­then­tic Ber­lin krautrock (“The Modern World”) to Akron-brand new wave (“I Wanna Be Whipped”) to Bri­tish power pop (“Peter Pan”).

The mem­bers of Au­to­gramm never aban­doned the acts they loved as kids, even dur­ing their punk-rock years, when a lot of ev­ery­thing that’s not fast, loud, and snotty was thrown over­board.

“I al­ways had that stuff on the back burner,” Volt­age says. “I was into Men at Work and all sorts of ran­dom mu­sic like that. I never gave up on the stuff that I re­ally liked, a lot of it be­ing from the early ’80s.”

Marx jumps in: “No hard­core band was ever go­ing to make me for­get the Cure. Ever.”

Along with the group that keeps Robert Smith in lip­stick, Tube­way Army, the Go-go’s, the Nerves, and the Va­pors are among the many acts cited by Au­to­gramm as in­spi­ra­tions. But what’s telling is how the ad­mi­ra­tion for said acts doesn’t stop at the in­stantly rec­og­niz­able hits. Con­sider the Va­pors, a group that 99.9 per­cent of peo­ple on Earth know as a one-hit won­der, with the 1980 sin­gle “Turn­ing Ja­panese”.

“‘Turn­ing Ja­panese’, which has been cov­ered by at least three re­ally good bands that I can think of, is sort of a ter­ri­ble song when com­pared to all the other songs on that first al­bum by the Va­pors,” Marx ar­gues. “That’s their most fa­mous song by far, and the only rea­son that any­one knows who they are. But that al­bum is an amaz­ing power-pop new-wave al­bum that no­body re­ally knows about. I mean, no one ex­cept for lots of peo­ple like us. To me, that’s more what form­ing Au­to­gramm was about: let’s not do the car­toony, ‘Turn­ing Ja­panese’ side of new wave, but in­stead let’s pay trib­ute to the rest of that al­bum.”

“It’s im­por­tant for it not to be su­per retro,” the Silo elab­o­rates. “You can’t re­ally force that an­gle. It was more like, ‘We’re into this stuff, but we’re just go­ing to roll with how ev­ery­thing comes to­gether in the jam space.’ It was all very nat­u­ral, and I think that’s why it doesn’t come across as a trib­ute act.”

So while the men of Au­to­gramm are deeply en­am­oured with a by­gone era, they’re equally in love with be­ing in a band with friends. They’ve also been at it long enough to know that the mu­sic busi­ness is hell when ap­proached as a ca­reer.

“To me, this is like a punk-rock band, where we’re not out to be rich and fa­mous,” Marx says. “There was never any in­ten­tion that it would be more than a week­end-war­rior kind of thing.”

Volt­age con­curs: “When we started, we were like, ‘What are our goals?’ The an­swer was sim­ple. Cal­i­for­nia. And then Spain. And we’ve al­ready done one of them.”

Mu­sic-scene vet­er­ans Jiffy Marx, C.C. Volt­age, and the Silo of Van­cou­ver power-pop band Au­to­gramm have a taste for vin­tage 1980s new wave tunes that goes far be­yond the in­stantly rec­og­niz­able hits.

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