Songs for the Deaf
If you saw the Deaf with zero preconceptions and a couple of beers in you, you'd swear they hated each other. Watching them one recent snowy February night at south Minneapolis's country-cum-indie rock joint, the Hexagon bar, it looked like the band was ready to take it outside once their set ended. Guitarist David Safar alternated between staring blankly into space while maniacally rocking back and forth and glaring at bassist Stephanie Budge, who stoically plugged away like she was wishing she were somewhere else. When they weren't avoiding each other's gaze, they spat terse slogans at each other like, "Up against the wall/Get 'er done!" and "This is an air raid!" Drummer Jack Kalyuzhny looked like a kid who ignores Mommy's and Daddy's fighting, then tragically continues the cycle of abuse on his kit.
So it's a surprise to interview the trio at the Turf Club a few weeks later and learn they're all goofballs. At times, Budge is nearly paralyzed by fits of laughter, clashing with her onstage do not screw with me persona. "A lot of people tell us that we're a very serious band when they come see us," Kalyuzhny says. "It strikes me as very surprising because none of us are that serious. Maybe onstage we left kind of a wrong persona because we do play a certain type of music associated with the "angry drunk" kind of stuff. But we're very far from it."
"I want to kill everybody," adds Safar. "Aside from that, I'm pretty laid back."
Drunk, angry, or otherwise, fans of the Deaf tend to read all kinds of influences into the band's brief, blistering songs. Comparisons to Flipper and High on Fire have been tossed at them. (I'd add Clutch, early Naked Raygun and Kyuss, and a little X-Ray Spex.) The grumbled, shouted bits of lyrics are also open to interpretation. When I tell the band I admire the phrase "fuck the majesty" on "Shim-Sham" (available on the band's MySpace page, www.myspace/thedeaf), I'm greeted by laughing mock declarations that the Deaf are indeed anti-royalists. Turns out, it's "fuck the measures" (like that makes more sense). Still, Safar says people figure out the right words somehow: "There's Jeremy [Ward from STNNG] at the last show we played, he's standing right in front of me and he's singing along. And I'm like, "How the hell do you know what I'm saying?"
Because the band's music is hard to pigeonhole, they've ended up on plenty of bills with no rhyme or reason to them. They might show up on a lineup as the token hard-rock band. Or a heavy band among other heavy bands. Or, in a weird, local rock "Who's on First?" comedy routine, some booker might confuse the Deaf with Anglophilic, melody-loving Fargo expatriates the Deaths. (This actually happened at the Entry recently.)
But what's drawn their loyal, if seemingly random, following, is the band's ability to jam so much groove into those two-to-three-minute songs. Safar jokes that the Deaf are about "taking the hooky parts of those bands like High on Fire and then just condensing them." But it might be even simpler than that. The trio of eggheads (Kalyuzhny studies mechanical engineering, Budge is tackling law school, and Safar is taking philosophy and communications classes while waiting for admission into grad school) is smart enough to know that what's left out is as important as what's left in: Rhythm is more important than fancy solos and a good gut feeling trumps overcomplicated melodies. "David can play Led Zeppelin and shit. I can play more complicated bass lines," says Budge. "But for this band we know it doesn't have to be like that."
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