Liberty, Equality, Idiocy
Charles de Gaulle
Tennessee Is Not Kentucky
"You may be sure that the Americans will commit all the stupidities they can think of, plus some that are beyond imagination."
—Charles De Gaulle
Committed to proving their namesake right, Minneapolis punk-rock foursome Charles De Gaulle have engaged in booze-fueled onstage incidents that would make Joe Namath blush—and Paul Westerberg beam. Yet with their debut release, Tennessee Is Not Kentucky, these young blacklisters have made a serious musical statement, balancing the control of maturity with the mayhem of anarchy.
When I meet the band at the C.C. Club, CDG lead singer Doug Busson is wearing a large, white, rectangular bandage over his sun-poisoned right cheek—he looks like a tougher, less-creepy version of Gary Wilson. At various points in our conversation over a pitcher of Pabst Blue Ribbon, he vehemently pleas with me to quote him saying, "I'd like to have sex with Tori Amos."
Bassist Taylor Harris, a tall, imposing figure with an innocent smile and thick, black-framed glasses, blames Busson's erraticism on the band's group dynamic. "We're all pretty smart people in general, but we're really dumb when we get together," explains the former Radio K DJ. "We operate as a reverse think tank; we create stupidity," he concedes.
Although they're more playfully nefarious than dangerously violent, the band's self-professed stupidity has run them headfirst into conflict during live performances. The band was forced to flee Stub & Herb's after their unruly behavior caused a near-riotous scene at the more-sports-pub-than-rock-club venue on the U of M campus.
"Doug ended up taking off his pants and throwing nachos around. I threw a bowl of guacamole," admits Harris.
"I drank some guy's beer, we did a cover of [Danzig song] 'Mother'—really butchered the shit out of it. We got asked to turn it down, but we were like, 'We're never gonna play here again, let's just turn it up, fuck it!'" deadpans Busson.
The band's gotten a swift boot in the pants from a number of clubs: In an incident at a Wisconsin YMCA, they actually got the cops called on them for drinking in the parking lot and smoking unlawfully close to the building—"something stupid," as Busson puts it. Apparently, the higher-ups reached their breaking point when Busson took the stage and advised his young audience, "Do drugs, and don't use condoms!"
"We make a lot of dumb decisions," Harris allows.
Yet on Tennessee Is Not Kentucky, Charles De Gaulle capture something more than idiocy and reckless rambunctiousness; they raise a complicated and compelling heavy art-rock racket that romps and thumps like a Jesus Lizard stomping on Tokyo.
Recorded by Josh Tibbetts (Last Legs, Neglected Receptors) at the now-defunct underground venue known as the New Granada (and, previously, as the 720 Space), Tennessee Is Not Kentucky features Busson's screams and bawls steamrolled by epic guitar, nasty bass fuzz, and booming flurries of furious start/stop drums.
Adam Bubolz's guitar work soars with ringing effects-manipulation and the glistening speed-strumming of instrumental post-rockers (like Explosions in the Sky). Yet his riffs grind with feedback and raw punk-rock aggression, a trait well-captured in the heinous squeals near the end of "Teeth Puller," one of the album's fastest and wildest tracks.
The group's two remaining founders—Harris and drummer Dan Ganin (the original lineup also included Gay Beast guitarist Isaac Rotto)—lock together to form a monstrous rhythm section. While Harris carves melodic noise from distortion and feedback, churning propulsive sludge-rock grooves from his bass cab stack, Ganin's nimble-twitch pounding steers the ship with kick-drum flutters and hairpin turns spat out at thrashy grindcore breakneck.
Behind all that power, Busson's vocals are buried so deep in the mix that the majority of the lyrics are rendered abstruse. But this hardly quiets his voice; Busson understands that what you sound like matters more than what you say. Regardless of whether you understand what the words are, the expressive content of his screaming, shouting, and unmitigated writhing sounds like a punch to the floor and a spit on the face.
On songs like "Nausea," "You Can Keep Your Laws," and "Teeth Puller," paranoia, angst, and loathing puncture the murk like shears through a tweeter. Although you'd have to jack your stereo to ear-splitting decibels to try to make out all of the lyrics, intermittent lines like, "Don't feel like a person, but I look like one," and, "Every moment you get something worse," pop up at decipherable levels, providing fleeting moments of clarity.
As a consequence of his fuck-it-all brand of existentialism, Busson will be moving back to his hometown in Kentucky soon after the album's release. Although he's lived in Minneapolis for two years now, Busson's never landed employment, and instead survives by trading records and living off his savings. The goal, he claims, is to move home, where he's got a job lined up, so he can save up enough cash to move back to the Twin Cities. But with Busson's unpredictable personality, who knows what'll end up happening? I guess that's the beauty of the whole thing. If your actions don't seem rational, then how can they be predictable? Stupidity is liberating. With Tennessee Is Not Kentucky, Charles De Gaulle have recorded an argument for that aphorism's complete and utter validity.
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