The power of pop

The XYZ Affair: More plants, less pants
Meg Wachter

Their upper lips are notably devoid of hair, their clothing free of faux-nostalgic emblems. Yes—there's something sincere about Brooklyn rockers the XYZ Affair and the brand of fun that they put forth.

"No mustaches," says singer/guitarist/songwriter Alex Feder. "No ironic '80s wear, no Flock of Seagulls haircuts or aviator shades or Smiths posters hanging on our walls."

"Irony is fine," adds drummer Sam Rockwell. "It's just not our thing. Mustaches are another business. Unless you have a good, solid dad 'stache, don't go for it."

Likewise, rather than plunging into the referentially obscure, often-inaccessible music that has come to define much of their borough, the XYZ Affair have put together a pop album. Their 2006 debut, A Few More Published Studies, is composed of 10 catchy, entirely danceable tunes defined by heavy guitars and roaring vocal harmonies. This month they've released a three-track EP that contains more of the same.

The foursome—Feder, Rockwell, guitarist/keyboardist Russ Maschmeyer, and bassist Chris Bonner (better known as Bones) met while attending NYU, and now three of them live together in a Bushwick apartment; Bones found a better deal on rent and so recently moved out to the Park Slope neighborhood. ("To be exact," Rockwell says, "he lives in his brother's basement, along with his sister-in-law and niece.")

"We are a rock band that lives in Brooklyn, and that is the extent of our connection to the Brooklyn scene," says Feder. "There are plenty of Brooklyn bands that I like. But our main influences have nothing to do with the ol' neighborhood."

"It is impossible to completely ignore the music scene," Rockwell says, "particularly in New York where you're inundated with it every day. But I think that we're involved with Brooklyn only as much as we need to be."

A Minneapolis native, Rockwell hints that he may be more connected to his hometown scene. Early on he was tutored by local drummer JT Bates (Fat Kid Wednesdays), who Rockwell says helped cultivate his taste in music. "I was fortunate that JT was and is a talented and very active member of the local music scene," he says. "I started by listening to some of JT's bands, and then branched out into the jazz, hip-hop, and rock scenes that the Twin Cities has. That was some of the first music I really sat down and listened to, and everything since then has stemmed from those groups or influences in some way."

The members of XYZ draw upon their divergent tastes—which range from top 40 (Feder) to hip hop (Rockwell) to indie rock (Maschmeyer) to Motown (Bones)—to make their songs as approachable and widely appealing as they can possibly be.

"I consider myself first and foremost a music fan, and second a songwriter," says Feder. "So I think writing a great pop song is more of an art than churning out some self-important, experimental crap that only the cool kids are gonna like."

In fact, the band members seem to resist any modification to their "pop" label. (Pop, let's remember, is shorthand for popular; as such, any alteration to the word only diminishes its meaning, like sewing leather patches onto an Armani suit.)

"I will proudly state that we are a pop band," Feder went on. "The XYZ Affair is not a power-pop band or a pop-rock band," he says, though reviewers sometimes affix these adjectives to them. "I've never gone for the 'power pop' phrase, because I think all pop music should be powerful. I mean, 'I Have Nothing' by Whitney Houston is powerful as shit—in that early-'90s, brace-yourself-for-a-key-change-at-the-end sort of way."

More than they worry about what genre they fit into, the members of the XYZ Affair focus simply on having fun—a pursuit that transcends music and its infinite infinitesimal categories.

"I wouldn't necessarily say we warn against taking things seriously," says Feder, who, in another band he plays for, has been chastised for smiling too much onstage. "But, I mean, we're in a rock band. We're not curing terminally ill patients or educating the youth of America. I don't want it to come off as though we don't care about what we do—I put every bit of passion that I have into what we do. It takes us about two months to arrange each song. I guess my passion just happens to be happy, smile-filled passion."

"We used to try to take ourselves a little more seriously onstage," says Rockwell. "We decided that wasn't working well for us. The reason we were in the band and playing music in the first place was to have fun. Really, the goal of the music is to have fun, rocking songs that people can dance to."

THE XYZ AFFAIR will perform with Bill Mallonee and Secret Panels on SATURDAY, JULY 26, at the NOMAD WORLD PUB; 612.338.6424

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