Almost Famous

On the road with Faux Jean, rock star daydreams surrender to real-life drudgery

Being in the best band in the city is so much more miserable than it seems. But when Faux Jean invite me along on an early April road trip to Duluth, I'm thinking that we'll make our own little Hammer of the Gods together. I see myself in the middle seat, right between Gene Wire and Jean Angel, smoking cigarettes and spilling whiskey on our suit lapels. When I meet the band before departure, I even get props for helping to load their gear into their shiny new 15-passenger Dodge Ram. I mean, I am in the van, man.

Turns out, driving with Faux Jean is pretty much like going on a road trip with any of my buddies: talking about the Dixie Chicks' freedom of speech over cheap potato chips, aimlessly thumbing through Bill Wyman's Rolling with the Stones. Except there's a lot more gear in the back, and the band's famous suits (which, upon close inspection, are sweat-stained $20 numbers from Sheplers.com) are draped over hangers by the window. When bassist Faux Wayne leans into the front seat and drawls, "Hey, can we stop for a Whopper Jr. or something? I've only got a buck," my rock 'n' roll fantasy starts to unravel. And after driving through a blizzard that lasts from Hinckley to Duluth's NorShor Theater, it comes completely undone.

When we get to the NorShor and unload the gear in the drifting snow, the band are incognito in their street clothes, bleary-eyed from the blizzard, worn out from the thought of two weeks of unpaid vacation from their day jobs, clutching their remaining free drink tickets. I know, I know: This is what bands on the road do. "Amps are heavy" doesn't qualify as gonzo journalism. But after the blizzard, I still have the feeling that my MTV fantasies about Faux Jean need reassessment.

Most of us are pretty familiar with their story: The group who wore campy ties before anyone heard of the Hives came out of a scrum to win City Pages' Picked to Click poll of the best new local bands in 2001. They've spent the last two years re-releasing their debut album and playing some of the most coveted live slots in town. But they're still waiting for their big we-can-quit-waiting-tables break, and in the meantime, they're wearing themselves out on the road to gear up for the release of their new album.

Dead Lover (Susstones) is a fully fleshed-out expansion of the driving guitar rock, weird falsettos, and swelling keyboards of their debut album, Kiss Life on the Lips. Whereas Kiss Life was written as Faux Jean's quasi-solo project after the demise of his old band, Spring Collection, Dead Lover is the product of a tightly knit group. As Faux himself puts it while sipping a free cocktail, "The new album was written with the knowledge that I have a lead guitarist and somebody to sing the parts that I can't sing."

Sure enough, right from the first track, each member has his own 15 seconds of fame. "I'll Waste Away" opens with vocalist Jean Angel in full go-go wail over a souped-up bass line reminiscent of the Beatles' "Birthday." "Drunk and Stoned" finds Gene Wire's nasty, blues-drenched guitar riff propelling the biggest rock song on the album. The second half of the album is a little lighter, with D'Ax's keyboards shimmering, touching on elements of folk and psychedelia. "Pisces" shows some punk rock muscle, but it's followed by "File It Away," a melodramatic, brush-percussion ballad. Dead Lover is filled with ferocious rock tunes, over-the-top ballads, and keyboard-driven song suites that are all galvanized by one thing. "They're all big," says Wire. "The power ballads are big power ballads. The rock songs are big rock songs. They all have that hugeness to 'em."

This is a hungry band, and you can hear it onDead Lover. They're hungry for success and for love...and for sex. "Waste Away" is a gigantic cry of devotion to a lover who might not be worth devoting yourself to. Even though Faux Jean shouts, "I'll wait for you/I'll waste away/Waiting for love to conquer you," he quickly follows the line by murmuring, "In the ether/on her knees/I'll believe it when I see it." "Drunk and Stoned" is a throw-your-hands-up-at-a-crazy-girlfriend narrative. "Sugar is Sweet" is the most obvious of several references to cunnilingus, but the most direct expression of hunger and desire is "The Ballad of Kim and Thurston," which uses indie rock's first couple to explore how fear of failure plays into the process of creation.

It's an issue that Faux Jean know well. The group's success over the past two years has ultimately pushed them to be a more ambitious band for their growing audience--even if the attention they're getting is both positive and negative. (Jean Angel tells me to check out suit-bashing web sites like MusicScene.org.) Rocking 30 lonely souls at the NorShor tonight, the lead Faux recalls the challenge of finding, and holding, an audience. "The week before the City Pages cover, we played the Dinkytowner to 40 people," he remembers. "It wasn't like we were packing people in. We had really good shows, but we weren't playing big venues. [After the poll,] suddenly everybody knew who we were, and nobody had heard our music. People judged from the image, not the music."

Two years after their first album, they're dragging the music all over the country. They sound like they know who they are. Now they're ready for everybody else to figure it out.

 
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