France Has the Bomb, but no leader

How one band found success with no frontman, a weird name, and an indefinable sound

Amid the copious stacks of records, instruments, and recording equipment strewn about bassist Jacques Wait's wooden apartment floor, the members of the band France Has the Bomb are discussing their unusual moniker, a suggestive, dadaist handle in tune with the times but a bit incongruous, given their mostly apolitical message.

"I didn't want to be in another band that was like 'the Somethings'—a band name that makes you say, 'Oh, that's a garage rock band.' I'm glad we don't have a band name where you can recognize what genre it is," says singer/guitarist Srini Radhakrishna, whose glasses and sharp attire suggest his background in economics more than his punk rock credentials.

Radhakrishna, the catalyst for the band, has been in projects like that before, most recently the Guilty Pleasures and the White Outs, both formed during a few years' stay in Chicago, where he was studying for his master's. While France Has the Bomb may not be that far outside the sonic realm of those bands, the level of sophistication in their songwriting nods toward a bewildering array of rock niches and subgenres.

Music by committee: France Has the Bomb's Takhashi, Henry, Wait, and Radhakrishna (from left)
Emily Utne
Music by committee: France Has the Bomb's Takhashi, Henry, Wait, and Radhakrishna (from left)

"I think it's dance-y, garage-y indie rock that kicks ass but is also fun," Wait offers, in a doomed effort to categorize their sound.

"There's a little Nuggets ['60s-era garage rock], but I also think there's a lot of Wire going on, and some poppier stuff like Guided by Voices," says Radhakrishna, who writes the band's songs.

With the expansive palette of four veteran musicians and bona fide record fiends, France Has the Bomb create an aural painting of the rock 'n' roll canon.

Begun as a recording project for Radhakrishna's catalog of solo demos, the band came together last spring when a friend and former bandmate of Radhakrishna's came through town and offered up a slot opening for his latest band, the Ponys. Working quickly to enlist drummer Danny Henry (Awesome Snakes, the Soviettes), guitarist Hideo Takahashi (Birthday Suits, Sweet J.A.P.), and in-demand recording engineer/bassist Wait, the band was able to gel on the fly and hit the stage for a sold-out show at the Entry before they'd even been together a full month.

What began as a onetime deal has now become a more serious venture, even if the members themselves profess few expectations. In February the group released its first record, a four-song, self-titled 7-inch on Wisconsin label Dusty Medical Records. The band has received considerable airplay on Radio K and continues to land shows opening for major touring acts, while managing to keep an active presence on the local scene.

On songs like "World of Mirrors," one of their fastest and noisiest numbers, the value of each player's unique identity is absolutely integral to the composition. Radhakrishna's guitar provides the fundamental progression, while Takahashi attacks it with jagged shrieks and a wobbling sense of consonance. Wait's bass finds its own melody and rides it like a 16-year-old on a crotch rocket, while Henry not only helps create structure with his nimble shifts on the kit but adds his trademarked nasal Morse code vocals, the perfect complement to Radhakrishna's trebly shouts.

Unbothered by egotism and control issues, each member retains autonomy over what he plays. Even if they're playing Radhakrishna's songs, it's entirely a group effort.

"Hideo is the real leader of the band. I'm just a puppet with a yellow hand up my ass," Radhakrishna jokes later in an email.

And while that clearly isn't the situation, the statement does reveal its own sort of truth: There is no leader of the band. Sure, there's a songwriter, but he's hardly directing things. There aren't many frontmen who perform on the side of the stage, rarely talk to the crowd, and usually close their eyes when singing. Despite the many projects Radhakrishna has been involved in, he has never been the songwriter for a band before, and he's certainly no ham seeking the limelight.

Real quality rock 'n' roll requires sincerity. Lucky for us there's at least one local four-piece plumbing the realm of heart-on-your-sleeve salvation. 

FRANCE HAS THE BOMB performs at an all-ages show with Askeleton, Spiritual Mansions, and To Reinvent on FRIDAY, APRIL 4, at the TRIPLE ROCK SOCIAL CLUB; 612.333.7399

 
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