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Life may not always imitate art, but it's a lot more fun when it does. Just ask Cansei de Ser Sexy (a.k.a. CSS). When the Brazil-based band wrote and recorded "Meeting Paris Hilton" in the early part of this decade, little did they know they would one day find themselves doing precisely that—prior to their set at the Coachella Festival in 2007, CSS found themselves face to face with the heiress herself. "It was surreal," says guitarist Luiza Sá. "We all met her and got to take tons of pictures with her doing her pose. We were laughing the whole time because we kind of asked for it. I guess music is more powerful than you think."
If any group can testify to the power of song, it would be CSS. Formed in its native São Paulo in 2003, CSS began as little more than an excuse for six friends to drink and party. However, following the group's first official gig, which, according to Sá, took place at a furniture store after hours, the band has enjoyed a meteoric ascent—becoming one of the few Brazilian acts to earn international acclaim. Their road has been both difficult and unlikely. "[In Brazil], people don't have money to buy records because they cost 10 to 20 percent of minimum wage, which is insane. And people don't have money to go to shows either. It's a hard situation." Reflecting on the early days, Sá says: "We were working [day jobs], rehearsing, and playing shows on the weekends, and it still wasn't enough to pay our bills. It was tiring."
Not until their appearance at the TIM Festival in 2004 did CSS finally get their big break. It was that appearance that brought them to the attention of their Brazilian record label, Trama Virtual, which in turn led to their ultimate signing with Sub Pop in 2006. CSS became the first South American band to join the Northwest indie's roster. But the band stood out in other, less superficial ways as well. Their Sub Pop debut, simply titled CSS, was an intoxicating display of whimsical dance pop—in sharp contrast to the more mannered, tasteful indie music typically associated with the label. Recorded at multi-instrumentalist and chief songwriter Adriano Cintra's house, the album was as much a product of inexperience as youthful exuberance. And the recklessness proved an asset with lead singer Lovefoxxx slurring stories of drunken hookups and guilt-free hedonism.
"I think it reflects the place we were at the time," says Sá. "We were a bunch of friends partying and it captures that moment." On the supporting tour, the band took the party to the stage, celebrating the debauched glamour of CSS with a kind of gleeful amateurishness. Thanks to those shows, CSS developed a rep as a band best experienced live.
In addition to helping CSS cultivate an international following, the shows also allowed the band to improve their musical proficiency. The increased confidence in their technical abilities would prove to be essential for their second album. Now a five-piece due to the departure of bassist Iracema Trevisan, CSS wanted to create an album to showcase their newfound instrumental prowess—an album not quite as obvious or as simple as the debut. "I understand why people love [the first album] because it's kind of like the sound of being young, but we're not so naive anymore," explains Sá of the band's need to move beyond the adolescent trappings of CSS. "[With] the first record, it was like, 'We're here, we have a few songs, let's make a record.' I don't think we can ever go back to that."
None of which is to say that the resulting album, Donkey, lacks fun, but fun no longer seems to be CSS's singular driving motivation. Rather, fun is a byproduct of exploring new creative avenues, whether it's the punk-ish rave-up of "I Fly" or the sleek electro of "Believe Achieve." Lovefoxxx's lyrical preoccupations haven't changed all that much, but her sassy sing-speak delivery has been replaced by actual singing. And both the recording-studio treatment and mixing courtesy of Mike "Spike" Stent (Madonna, Bjork) have endowed CSS with a much fuller and more muscular sound.
Sá describes the album as "less pop, more rock," which seems apt. The first new song released from the record, "Rat Is Dead (Rage)," makes good on its Smashing Pumpkins-referencing title—guitars multi-tracked to resemble a swarm. And the first proper single, "Left Behind," is equally textured, only substituting synths for guitars. Some will undoubtedly miss the simpler pleasures of CSS, but Donkey proves that fun needn't be so narrowly defined.
CSS will perform with the Go! Team and Natalie Portman's Shaved Head on WEDNESDAY, JULY 30, at FIRST AVENUE; 612.332.1775