Dunedin deal …
… but the Looky Loos are from Davis, not New Zealand
Considering it’s just a couple of big rocks in the South Pacific, New Zealand has had quite an influence on a whole bunch of musicians. A clutch of bands such as the Chills, the Clean, the Cakekitchen and the Tall Dwarves—on labels such as Flying Nun and Xpressway—have inspired many a kid, armed with a portable four-track and some imagination, to make his or her own music. These bands all made rough-hewed gems of pop that didn’t glisten in the sun like precious stones. Instead, the music appeared more like an opal—something that you looked deeply into, transfixed by the depth of the colors and patterns.
And there, onstage, are the Looky Loos. Probably the area’s finest proponents of the Kiwi sound, the Looky Loos are playing another slow, sad song. Eric Janssen’s conversational voice is as comfortable as an old friend’s, but on closer listen, you might do a second take at the mild-mannered Janssen as he sings: “He rested assured in confidence / He had the moxie and the money, he had it all so right / His smile fell when he heard her voice / She stood behind the door and whispered, ‘I can’t see you, I crush your head’ “
It’s a solid set, with songs that rip like presents on Christmas morning, like the Feelies without the caffeine. The songs could have come from any decade, from the mid-’60s onward. Bassist Dave Thompson plays simple, economical lines that accentuate and propel just as Paul Takushi’s drums do. It’s pop stripped down to minor, brooding chords, a frame to hang Janssen’s acerbic and wry worldviews on. Songs will simmer for verses at a time before the band kicks up to a rolling boil and heightens the tension of the room. Not angry young men. Perhaps a bit disturbed, though.
The Looky Loos are on the outside of a town that is itself on the periphery. Made up of friends from some of Davis’ former crème de le crème—the Curbfeelers, Chance the Gardener and the still-active Acme Rocket Quartet (for whom Thompson also plays bass)—the group provided an opportunity for these three musicians to cut loose.
“It’s like the other bands that we were in were fairly serious—recording, waiting to get on college radio,” Takushi explains. “With that sort of … pressure, there’s stuff you can’t do with those groups. There were songs that Eric had that didn’t fit the Curbfeelers, and Chance [the Gardener] was pushing this major-label stuff, and Dave’s group is all instrumental. And we all just wanted to do something that was fun.”
Tracing the band’s roots back further finds them listening attentively to the University of Davis’ radio station, the mighty KDVS. The Looky Loos’ members were influenced by the wide spectrum of music the station broadcasts, even to this day. They all cite a few essential bands—Joy Division, Mission of Burma, Wire—as inspiration to pick up instruments. Takushi cut his teeth in the late ’70s, playing disco three sets a night in Hawaii; the other two were in punk bands. They’ve all done this for a while, and now that they’re a little bit older and have professional jobs, the idea of “making it” has lost its appeal. Thompson’s a recent dad, Janssen’s a honeymooner, and Takushi’s day gig at the UC Davis bookstore keeps them playing to a small but devoted cadre of fans in Sacramento and Davis.
“The desire to go to San Francisco to play with a metal band doesn’t have the same allure it used to," Janssen observes. “The best thing we can do to further our career as musicians would be to practice more." Everyone cracks up. There’s a soft-spoken, affable nature to these guys. All college graduates, they are literate as all get out and are as passionate about politics and movies as they are about the music they love. They’re the polar opposites of Limp Bizkit. And they like it that way.