Formed around 1996 from members of the similarly minded Outhud along with friends from other bands, !!! (usually pronounced as “chk chk chk”) came onto most people’s radar not with their first self-titled album, but with 2003’s “Me and Giuliani Down By the Schoolyard,” the lead single from their sophomore effort, Louden Up Now. Like their late-70s and early-80s punk-funk forefathers, the one-time eight-member band fused rock with danceable grooves and helped remind indie rockers everywhere that it’s okay to dance. From those first releases to Strange Weather, Isn’t It?, their most recent album due out August 24 (the band also released Myth Takes in 2007), the now six-piece group has consistently succeeded in both putting butts on the dancefloor and translating that energy to tape. Taking a moment off from the band’s busy touring schedule, !!! lead singer Nic Offer took the time to answer some questions via email.
Being that !!!’s members are from all over the country, how did the band form?
Nic Offer: There once was a time when we all lived in Sacramento. We made the decision as Outhud to move to New York and figured everything would somehow work out for !!!—and somehow it has.
Are the band members still spread across the country? How does the writing and recording process work?
NO: People tend to have this fantasy of us as the model for an internet supergroup, practicing via email and such. But we rarely trade files over the net. Mostly we have to pick a time and place to be together and jam out.
The official pronunciation of !!! is “any three repeated sounds,” but the world has basically settled on “chk chk chk.” If you could rename the band, what would you change it to?
NO: I would keep it as the original name, which was the just the three clicks of the tongue, a la the bush tribe.
What have been the biggest changes since 2003 and how have they affected the band?
NO: I guess I’d have to say turning into a worldwide festival touring machine has been the biggest change. When we first started touring the world, it seemed like the craziest thing that ever happened to a bunch of kids from Sacramento. Now it seems totally normal. That’s not to say that we’re tired of it either—we still enjoy it immensely—it’s just normal that’s all.
What have been some of the best tours or shows and what have been some of the worst?
NO: We’ve been playing shows for almost 14 years now and there have been shows that were literally like nightmares and others... well, let’s just say if I had the ability to stop time in my ultimate moment of contentment, like in that Ray Bradbury story, “The Hell Bound Train,” I would’ve. The nightmares I’d rather never think about again and the time-stopping ones are too numerous to mention. Shit, I would’ve stopped time two weekends ago when we played Seattle at the Capital Hill Block Party.
What are some touring essentials?
NO: You’d be surprised how much reading you can get done just at soundchecks alone if you bring a good book. I also am lost in my hotel room without these.
How would you describe Strange Weather, Isn’t It? in comparison to past records?
NO: Deeper, darker, denser, doper.
Were there any big departures in approaches to recording or songwriting?
NO: It seems like every record is a new way of working for us. Since we don’t live together we always need to work any way we can, like “get in where you fit in,” “whatever’s clever”—all that kind of jazz. Whoever is in the same town and can work together does so. This album in particular started more as a series of demos or loops that Mario (Andreoni) and I put together. We jammed on many of these in Berlin for two months and honed them on the stage and in the studio. Also working with new producer Eric Broucek was a bit like having a new member with opinions both good and bad. Some of the conflicts with him led to some of the most exciting parts on the album.
Strange Weather, Isn’t It? seems to be divided into three distinct styles. There’s the more electronic dance side, there’s the classic !!! live-band grooves and then the ’80s R&B and hip-hop excursions. At any point did it seem too varied to be on one record and did you consider releasing the songs as a series of EPs or cutting things that didn’t fit?
NO: I’ve always been a fan of albums like the White Album or Stankonia, where each song seems completely different from the last. We’ve always tried to make each album like that, and with so many different tastes within the band, it’s usually just the easiest way to placate all the differing opinions.
Being that so many of the songs are constructed around hooks and chants, “Even Judas Gave Jesus a Kiss” stands out because it’s the most traditional song in terms of lyrics and delivery. Because the song seems to be about a specific relationship gone awry, were there second thoughts about including it or maybe obscuring things by making it more fractured?
NO: Honestly, you’re kind of cracking me up. You’ve got some pretty big ideas about how this band should be run. I like these, though, ’cause they weren’t necessarily how we thought about doing things. We’ve got a manager now, but if he ever quits, I’m going to call you. In the case of “Judas,” the lyrics just came so quickly that I felt I couldn’t deny them. Usually the best songs are the ones that you blink and the lyrics are there on the page. They appear out of nowhere and come so easily because they’re how you truly feel.
Were there any standout moments from the recording sessions?
NO: The whole time we were together working in Berlin was just a blast. We were set up in the basement of a club and could play anytime we wanted. It was pretty exciting when we did the strings on “The Most Certain Sure.” Me and Eric (the producer) high-fived like total dorks after the string section left because they sounded so awesome and were in and out of there in like an hour.
Overall, what do you hope people will take away from the new record?
NO: Ever since I was a kid, albums have always been very important to me. I just hope they can love this album the way I’ve loved certain albums. There should be a lot contained within to discover. We honestly worked really hard on it.