SO I'M A carpetbagger. Or at least that's what Faux Jean--the lead singer from the local band of the same name--says. At their Table of Contents show a few weeks ago, I told him that I'd moved to Minneapolis from upstate New York, and since he had already been swirling quite a bit of vodka down his gullet, the old Reconstruction slur just slipped out. The next day he apologized, admitting that he had been "channeling a bit of potato," and adding, "I yammered more than I ought to have." But I didn't mind. Perhaps because carpetbagger sounds like a hybrid of two slang terms for sex acts (figure it out for yourself), the word has always seemed suspiciously dirty to me. I like it.
Faux Jean also sounds suspiciously dirty to me. Every time I hear the title of their upcoming release Kiss Life on the Lips (New Fidelity), I blush. Sure, the harmonic, psychedelic pop on their single "Flight of the Bumblebee" sounds innocent enough, especially since it is powdered with sweet, sitarlike guitars and distortion that mimic the fuzzy, buzzing creatures of its title. But the bees in their lyrics turn out to be sex-crazed maniacs seduced by a heartless nympho queen who screws them quickly and leaves them to die.
Whatever it is that makes Faux Jean seem so illicit, they've sheathed it beneath some wholesome beach-party-like tunes. They have more Sixties bassline grooves than you can waggle-dance to, and more vocal bravado than the B-52's' Kate Pierson at a karaoke bar. The source of Faux Jean's stylishness is manifold. First, they've got great gimmicks, like the pronunciation of their name. (I wanted to keep my fake French accent on and call them "Foe Zhahn," but it's really "Foe Gene," as in Gene Simmons.) Then, there's the gimmick of why it's pronounced like that (supposedly because they're a bunch of fake-denim aficionados). In this vein, they've tried to reinforce their nouveau-French title with glam-rock names: Faux Jean (lead singer/guitarist), Faux Wayne (bassist), Jean Angel (vocals/percussion), Jean D'ax (keyboardist), and Grinder (drummer). And in hopes of raising their hipster ante even more, they sport identical black suits, identical white ties, and thick mops of overgrown hair.
Sounds like Ladytron, you say? Faux Jean assures me that he doesn't listen to those disco-synth fashionistas. In fact, he has not purchased more than 20 CDs in the past ten years, although the Sixties British band the Move has got to be one of the CDs represented in Faux Jean's small music collection. Faux Jean shares the Move's off-kilter performances (struck by either excessive swaying or excessive imbibing, Faux Wayne got sick in the middle of their last appearance), Mod outfits (see above), and scandalous publicity stunts (like calling me a carpetbagger).
And publicity stunts are exactly what Faux Jean hopes to keep using in order to become masters of musical commerce. The band is in the process of creating an "idea co-op" called the New Fidelity, which Faux Jean describes as "a centralized model of distribution where artists are shareholders with a jingle-house mentality [that] acknowledges that the goal of the artist is to explore his/her muse and live from that exploration." Whew. Or, in other words, they just want to put their songs in commercial jingles and use the proceeds to release their stuff, ya dig? In an age when Nick Drake can be single-handedly resurrected and redistributed because of a popular Volkswagen commercial, perhaps it's not a bad idea. But in the meantime, while they wait for advertising agencies to make bids and throw dollar bills their way, Faux Jean is celebrating the first quarter they just earned on MP3.com. Let's hope they don't spend it all on haircuts.
Behind their ideological goals for the New Fidelity, singer Faux Jean admits, is a simple desire to "write music that four-year-olds can turn their parents on to and give them something good to work out to." Well, if that's all, then mission accomplished. Faux Jean says that Jean Angel recently played Kiss Life on the Lips for a bunch of preschoolers, who in turn bounced around to the music like a flock of crazed Muppets. Considering the effect that the tambourines and guitars-played-backward sound has on kids, one can only imagine the grisly sight of their parents being propelled by Faux Jean's songs into the same rump-shaking action on their treadmills.
Even if Faux Jean doesn't end up winning the Minnesota Music Academy's prize for "Best New Band of 2000," for which they were nominated, they've at least won my own personal consolation prize for Best Exercise Album of the Year. If a swarm of horny bees won't get you sweatin' to the oldies, nothing will.