Exclamation, repeat twice
Although !!! may become New York’s next big thing, the stylishly visceral punk-funk band started right here
Four years ago, you could have seen !!! on any given weeknight at the Loft, a small two-story building hidden behind Time Tested Books and frequently used by local punks for various meetings and events, including a Monday night concert showcase. Almost from the beginning, !!!—then pronounced “clap clap clap” or “pow pow pow” by fans—attracted an oversized crowd that frequently spilled down the stairs and into the alley below, where chain smokers and beer drinkers would mill around and talk over !!!’s esoteric funk rock.
Today, however, you’ll usually see !!! in the pages of Rolling Stone, which recently marveled how “their artsy funk jams have inspired even the most stoic New York crowds to shake their asses.” Singer Nic Offer, guitarist Tyler Pope, bassist Justin VanDerVolgen, percussionist Raison Racine, drummer John Pugh, and trumpeter/percussionist Dan Gorman all moved to New York at the end of 2000, leaving guitarist Mario Andreoni and saxophonist Allan Wilson in Sacramento.
“It’s a new thing, trying to be a bi-coastal band. I don’t think we’ve mastered it yet, but we’re trying to do it,” says Nic Offer, during a phone interview conducted at the Utrecht art supply store where he works. Despite the attention, most of the band has day jobs except for Pope, who’s still earning royalties from his session work on Cake’s Prolonging the Magic.
Nevertheless, !!!, which has since decided “chik chik chik” is the correct pronunciation of its name, is earning plenty of fans in the media capital of the world for their post-punk/funk sound and animated live performances, highlighted by Offer’s uninhibited gesticulations and Pope’s expert fretwork. It’s toured with indie-rock darlings Modest Mouse on several dates, and recently signed with Touch and Go Records for an album to be released in 2003. “Every time we talk to a label, we always try to get as many free CDs as we can,” says Offer. “When [Touch and Go] took us down to their basement, honestly, we got the most best stuff, better stuff than we got from anybody.”
In the process, !!! has been lumped in with other rising stars like the Strokes, the Moldy Peaches and the Candy Butchers as part of New York’s rock renaissance. “Moving to New York has been a really inspiring thing, but Sacramento is the town where we were born,” says Offer. Because the music scene here is smaller than in cities like New York or San Francisco, he says, there’s less points of reference for creating a sound as distinctive as !!!, which incorporates everything from Fela Kuti and Can’s rhythmic elasticity to the glacial, ska-inspired guitars of the Police. “I don’t think we could have done the same band coming from San Francisco,” he says.
Formed in 1996, !!! emerged from the ashes of the Popesmashers and the Yahmos. “We were all good friends,” says Offer, products of the then-thriving music, arts and politics scene revolving around the Loft.
“I think it was widely known around Sacramento that we had weird record collections,” Offer claims. “We were listening to major-label stuff like Sonic Youth and Björk, then got into soul, disco and funk because, if you go to Records on K Street or Esoteric Records, that’s what you find in the dollar bins. Our tastes were very much formed by the dollar bins in Sacramento’s record stores.”
Like Parliament/Funkadelic, Offer, Pope and VanDerVolgen (along with drummer Phyllis Forbes and cellist/keyboardist Molly Schnick) share another, similar-sounding band in Outhud, which Offer characterizes as “more strange than danceable, but both, whereas !!! is more danceable than strange, but both.” Offer says Outhud is going into the studio this summer to continue working on its debut, scheduled for release later this year.
In the meantime, !!!’s self-titled debut, which it released in 2000 on Gold Standard Laboratories, should give you a hint of where the band is headed next. “I’ve heard some criticism that the album isn’t as good as our live shows,” concedes Offer. “Two years on, you begin to see the flaws over time. I’m totally positive we can make a better record, and we’re going to.”