It’s amazing to think that !!! are still going and not just still going but producing some of their most consistently strong musical output of their long career. They create music which is nearly physically impossible not to dance to, and it was with great pleasure that we got the chance to catch up with their enigmatic frontman Nic Offer. They’ve just released their seventh album Shake The Shudder, fourteen years since their genre-defining hit “Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story)“ and while dance-punk may have come and gone, they’re still going strong.
“When we started there was no-one like us and then all of a sudden there was a bunch of bands like us and when that happened we thought, ‘We were doing this before everyone, so we’ll probably be doing this after everyone too’, which has become true. It was exciting just to be some kids from Sacramento and to suddenly be playing in Australia was fucking nuts. It was insane. Now we’re jaded and used to it but we tried to maintain some sort of excitement about it but nothing compares to those early times. They were definitely exciting. It’s funny to watch too, now you see those new trends and you know what’ll last and what’ll stay. You know that in every trend there’s going to be an artist or two who pushes things further and sticks around and then a lot of those bands are going to fall by the wayside. You kinda realise that it’s all part of this natural wheel of pop music that rolls on.”
Shake The Shudder hits the ground running with opening track and lead single “The One 2″, with those familiar grooves that give !!! such a distinct sound but continue to find ways to take it in unexpected directions.
“”The One 2″ seems like a really difficult song, but every step of the way was really simple. We had the song all done and a friend of ours said, ‘There’s not enough synths’ so we took this other song that we had and literally put it on top of it, so it’s literally two songs smashed in one. It’s a really concept song, but on another level it’s just so simple.”
Getting as far as album number seven brings its own challenges finding ways of creating music that’s still exciting. It’s something that !!! are conscious of and go to great lengths to put themselves out of the comfort zone.
“When I think of songwriting I think of how New Order created “Blue Monday”. They had all these drum machines and sequencers and they didn’t know how they worked. They were fucking with them and it fucked up and then they were like, ‘Woah, there’s the song!’. It’s always good to remain in some sort of state of innocence or naivety. Always not really sure what you’re doing and then you find things which are exciting.”
With such strong dance elements to their music, there’s the added pressure of how quickly particular dance influenced styles and ideas can become stale. Though !!! aren’t bandwagoning on flavours of the month, they’re very aware of their environment and drawing on outside influences to flavour what they do.
“One person I think is really good, particularly these last couple of years and we referenced constantly on this record is Moodyman. He’s always pushing forward. Classic house rooted in classic funk and disco too. That’s where we started from. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do. His last record was really good for us. It has a really natural sound, and we’re a band.”
Not all bands come out the other side after having gone through the process of massive hype and expectations, but though the lineup may have changed since the early days, they seem more focused and consistent now than they’ve ever been. Things are a lot different now from back when they were working on the follow-up to Louden Up Now which drew attention worldwide.
“We partied a lot more then. Myth Takes was a difficult time. The band was splintering at that point. Myth Takes is a really great record, and I think we all really focused on it, but it was barely just held together. It was really held together by the producers because the band wasn’t communicating that well at that moment. It was where everyone was starting to splinter and have really good ideas, but it was hard to work together.”
“The producers were really good at making everybody’s ideas come out. I think that’s normal, I think it’d be a little bit weird if I partied as hard now as I did back then. You do have to shelve that a bit and mature a bit. I definitely always try to stay connected to the idea of being immersed in new experiences like we were then. In those young crazy times you’re more open because you don’t know not to be. I think you begin to become more guarded and have to struggle to stay open over time”.
The new album has an abundance of guest vocal spots, complementing the punk swagger that frontman Nic Offer brings to what they do. The roster of guests on the latest album wasn’t something that was some sort of convoluted decision but rather a natural progression which fit into the ethos of the band.
“Whoever stops by the house ends up on the record. We have a singer that we always go with in the US and a singer that we always go with in the UK and Europe, and in some cases they become parts of the new songs and they start even writing with us. Back when we were making Myth Takes, there were seven or eight guys in the band, and now there are just a few of us it felt really good to bring other ideas into the band. We still like that chaos of ideas. I really felt like that was one of the exciting things too back then when John started singing. Once he started singing back on those records we were like, ‘We should have more singers!’. I like the idea of it not just being me all the time. I like different voices. I like the fact that it becomes part of our sound. As a kid when I listened to Fleetwood Mac, it always just sounded like Fleetwood Mac, it didn’t just sound like three separate singers to me. The three of them made that whole sound. Our whole sound is male and female, pitched up voices, pitched down voices, black and white… It’s all different voices together. I like that that’s our sound and not just my voice.”
Since one of the greatest aspects of !!! is their live show where these songs come into their own, they take the transition from studio to the stage seriously, keen to make sure that their material translates.
“With this album we had a residency at a bar here in New York and we set up every night and played a set of only new songs every single night and went into the studio the next week and recorded everything. Every song on the record but two songs are basically live songs. That’s a really important thing for us, to be sure.”
With so much already achieved by the band, you have to wonder what drives them to keep going and producing music that still remains so vital.
“I want to make a record as good as Abbey Road. You’re trying to give back to music what music has given to you. Until we make something as good as Abbey Road, I probably won’t be happy. You’ve got to shoot for something, right?”