Tears of a Clown

Pop jester Vicious Vicious shows his sensitive side

We've got a real rock clown in our midst. By day, he may look like an earnest Minneapolis working stiff, but by night, he's dancing and strutting around onstage, shooting finger guns at his audience with reckless abandon. When he picks up his guitar, this wriggly monkeyshiner is known as Vicious Vicious. But keep this tip under your hats, citizens: Vicious Vicious lives in the same body as his modest (if smirky) counterpart, Erik Appelwick.

Sitting on a stool at the Loring Pasta Bar in the middle of the afternoon, Appelwick won't talk too seriously about the making of his debut solo album, Blood and Clover(self-released). Indeed, he won't talk too seriously about anything at all. Take his approach to getting acquainted with strangers: Rather than inquiring about, say, their political stance, education, or personal philosophy, this cat would rather observe life's dopey details. He'll ask if you've ever seen a UFO, or what movie stars you'd like to bed in your shallowest dreams. And he is happy to indulge in such whimsical subjects--especially when they carry over into his music.

"The original concept was like, I'm gonna take contemporary beats, like hip-hop beats, and put roller-skating music to it," Appelwick says of Blood and Clover's beginnings. Drum machines, a little acoustic percussion, Hammond organs, and energetic guitars make the backdrop for both Erik's sunshiny fancies and lamentations. "Shake That Ass on the Dancefloor," a whisper-sexy, snickering hip-hop lampoon, suggests Beck's nudge-nudge-wink-winking, and "Sinister Summer" minces about like Donovan's "Mellow Yellow" without the stoner grin. The music is wry and inventive, but the use of canned drums seems to be a small point of conflict for our hero. "I kind of felt like I'm sacrificing too much cred by using these fake beats," he says. "But I've convinced myself that I'm doing something that's unique."

He can be ironic, but can he do the hotdog dance better than Beck? Vicious Vicious
Courtesy of Erik Appelwick
He can be ironic, but can he do the hotdog dance better than Beck? Vicious Vicious

Appelwick's slack, gritty-sounding production creates a light, playful sound, recalling Syd Barrett sans psychedelia. His purposefully unpolished performances add frankness to his songs. "There's the occasional missed note and there's a lot of really loose things in there," he explains about the recording. "It's really human, which is a characteristic that I'm a really big fan of."

Human emotions, as well as workaday events and kitchen-sink scenes, create the humor of Blood and Clover and underline the more sincere expressions of emotion. "Gate 14-A," for example, describes how walking past a TV stand in Gold Toe socks generates static electricity when you're rushing to the phone to breathe a heartfelt sigh in the direction of a distant lover. "Oh, I Would Do Anything for My Girl" incorporates a bit of self-depreciating wit: "Everybody wants to steal my girl/I spend my Sunday afternoons washing her clothes/ I would follow her everywhere she goes... just like everyone else does." So, the guy has feelings, but can we lend our sympathy to a person who's so whipped? Nope, and he won't ask you to. Anyone listening to the good, honest mope of "Blue Tuesday" can hear Appelwick's Charlie Chaplin-esque pathos: He might be pouting for real, but he's still a jester.

Appelwick flies completely solo on Blood and Clover: He wrote, produced, and performed the music largely by himself and was thus able to stretch genre limitations of his other musical projects. (Since moving to Minneapolis from South Dakota a few years ago, he has played guitar and bass in such acts as Kid Dakota, Camaro, and Alva Star.) "My next record could very well be a country-pop record," he says, half-jokingly. "There's a lot of music coming out of me right now, and I want to be able to play it."

Apparently, those songs have been waiting to come out of him since he was five years old. When he heard Kiss at that age, he says, "That's when I knew I was supposed to rock 'n' roll. Only, onstage now, they don't have a bed for me to jump up and down on."

 
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