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XBXRX: Enjoying Where They’re Going

 

Written By: Susan Frances
Noize rock and radical punk have always had a way with creating a guitar effect that sounds like a fleet of chainsaws and rhythms that stampede like a volley of bullets. Bands like Lighting Bolt, Melt Banana, and The Locust carved out a niche for themselves in punk, and girl bands like Babes In Toyland and Hole stepped into the fire with the Riot Grrrl movement. The members of XBXRX were like their pupils through punk’s rise and exploratory period during the late ‘90s. Initiated by two brothers, Steve (guitarist) and Chris “Vice Cooler” Touchton (lead singer), XBXRX became a destination for the brothers who grew up in Mobile, Alabama and moved to San Francisco where they felt at home in the Bay Area’s indie-rock fraternity. It is where they met their drummer Chris “Weasel” Walter.

Steve clarifies, “There was no active XBXRX when most of us got to California. It was only after a bunch of us got there that it felt like a good thing to reform XBXRX. Being in California gave us a new start under new circumstances and with new energy. We had a lot of friends out here who were very encouraging and supportive. Their enthusiasm definitely carried over and gave us the motivation to get out of Mobile. Alabama which didn't have much to offer besides a pretty dead end, reclusive life. Moving here has made things so much easier to do. We initially all lived in a warehouse in Fruitvale called Club Hot. I would wake up in the morning to Jenny of Erase Errata practicing her ukulele and singing, and Weasel mixing his new record. I would walk into the kitchen and our roommate Jarrett would be painting. People would constantly be over recording or making something. This echoes throughout the whole Bay Area. Its really hard to be idle when you're surrounded by so many amazing things. With all of this taken into consideration, it would be hard to say that moving here didn't improve the band on every scale - personal and musical.”

XBXRX’s latest release Wars on Polyvinyl Records is the follow up to the band’s third studio album Sixth In Sixes from 2005. Comparing the two albums, Steve tells, “Musically, Wars is influenced by consciously wanting to expand many aspects of our writing. We felt like we had explored a lot of fast and dense stuff on Sixth In Sixes and we wanted to try writing intense music coming from a different perspective, using more space, different tempos and rhythms, etc. Another significant change from Sixth In Sixes is that there's almost no screaming! Vice is one of the best screamers of all time, but he decided he wanted to try something else and see how it goes. We were mainly inspired by ideas that we all had or took from others. We decided to do one song where Weasel wrote a midi drum part, emailed it, and then told us to write parts separate and bring it into practice the next day. Weasel did the count off without us ever hearing what everyone else did and we just started playing. That song became ‘Sons Of Horn.’ We got guitar effects and started writing strictly on those. There aren't any keyboards on the album. It was a very creative and exciting time.”

Tracks like “Freezing Water” and “Here To Ruin The Party” from Wars displays the band’s level of raw energy. “The energy comes from inside us!” Steve highlights, “We're a bunch of weird people and we've all got a large amount of emotional turmoil trapped in us that we diffuse and express with our music. We try and turn these feelings into something positive - a gift to our fans. We aren't too into equipment. We like the cheapest, loudest, sturdiest stuff. Basically we use Crate amps, Squier guitars and cheap used drums! The sound primarily comes from how we attack the instruments and the combination of tones we create. A lot of the sound of the record comes from working with George Patterson, who mixed it. He envisioned us having a sound that would be different than the way most people mix records these days and we're happy with it. It's very crisp and biting.”

“The album was tracked in two days,” he recalls, “one for the instruments and another for vocals. We always do things as live as possible and most of the songs you hear are either first or second takes. We prefer to be over rehearsed in the studio so there's no time wasting messing around trying to scramble to finish. We want our music to be focused and well-thought out, so we are prepared when we record. We just brought in our gear, mic'ed it up, did the takes, did the vocals and that was that. There really aren't any overdubs on the album - a doubled guitar track here and there and that's about it. We are finishing a record of improvised music called Sound and that one is a little more manipulated. We mixed it at home and constructed it in a less ‘natural’ manner. We don't care about doing things in some dogmatic way. We just want everything we do to be good and we do whatever we feel will get the best results.”

Steve shares about the songwriting process, “’We write songs in every possible way you could imagine. Some songs are brought in totally completed, while others start democratically with a germ of an idea or an abstract concept that someone wants to express. generally the words are written last by Vice though. Most of the time our songwriting has less to do with trying to write in any style and more to do with wanting to achieve a certain effect, like ‘let's write a song with all wrong notes!’ or ‘let's do something that starts and stops a lot’ or ‘let's do something where the bass plays really high and the drums don't have a traditional backbeat,’ etc., etc. if we build a song from the ground up we usually just hack away at it until everybody likes what it is. XBXRX’s songwriting is concerned with everybody's criteria meeting in the middle. As far as the band really pushing it's improvisational side, look for our record Sound to be out this summer on Important Records.”

He expresses about the band, “We work with each other because we like each other's aesthetics! I suppose there probably are some unspoken givens about what we do. We definitely want to keep things intense all the time. For example, basically each individual works in whatever manner they wish and we just pool all of our ideas until we feel we have enough for a full album. We work in weird ‘seasons’ where we might not write for a while and then we get a bug and practice every single day.”

XBXRX’s lyrical themes are reflective of life as Vice chimes in, “When I'm writing vocals I take three things into consideration: relation, quality and hook. I want people to be able to sing along or remember part of what they just heard but I also want it to be words that I believe I would be able to relate to if I was the listener. Most of the time I want them buried in just enough obscurity that it takes a moment to figure it out or if i want to make it more general. I also don't want them to sound stupid. I guess if there was a theme it would be ‘life.’”

Playing the songs in a live setting opens them up to audience participation which means that the band relinquishes some of that control they have in the studio, but in exchange they have a chance to prod the crowd on as Steve deduces, “The main difference is that we have more control over the mix of a recording than the live mix at a show where there is an in-house sound engineer. It's hard to really tell what the audience thinks unless you are an actual audience member. The more the audience gives back to us, the further we are driven. When the audience really reacts, the whole show turns into an absolute explosion of energy and it's great. If people just stand there, that's fine too. We don't count on any particular reaction from the audience. They are there to experience us any way they like. We hope that we can energize them in some way. If people want or need what we are doing that's so great. If not, that's fine. We'll just go somewhere else next time.”

As much as XBXRX’s music is an internal expression, Steve also notes that they are affected by the bands whom they tour with, which broadens XBXRX’s scope and perspectives. “Every time you see a band play, there is some sort of idea for you to take home. Even if it's ‘wow, that part was REALLY BAD…’ You make a mental note! We just toured with Melt Banana and it was really amazing seeing them do the same set night after night, noticing how Yuka cues Sutley with her hand or how Agata know's his pedals so well. He could make it sound like a Squarepusher remix! Even how the drums were dead on, or how Rika would have to stretch her hand all the way down to hit the lowest note - she's small! You would be a complete idiot to go on tour and not get ideas.”

He points out, “The road has its ups and downs, but things have gone pretty well for us in the last few years. It's intense. We put on a very athletic show, so it's easy for us to get exhausted after long stretches. Basically we do as much as we can and try to go to places where we're wanted, skipping the places where interest is sparse. Most of the time we meet great people and stay in places that aren't gross! We definitely have some stories about having to lay in piles of dog poop and stuff like that, but we try to avoid being in situations that will stress us out. Sometimes finding vegan food is a little tricky. Someone once asked if we had any off days and were shocked at how excited I was that we did not. That is because the most fun I have on tour is performing the set. Another big thing is that we love where we live so it is hard to leave it behind for long periods of time.”

Relocating to San Francisco/Oakland, California has made all the difference for the brothers in XBXRX who started playing music at a young age and are mainly self-taught as songwriters and musicians. “We were all very young kids when we all decided to be musicians. I think we were all self-taught and very self-motivated. we learned from the music we love, by listening and imitating, though, we developed our own personalities.”

The band‘s name also came to the brothers at a young age. “We had the forethought to choose a name we knew no other band in the world would already be using. We also wanted to avoid having one that seemed ‘cool’ or ‘funny’ at age 13 but might not years down the road. We were successful in that regard. The only thing we might change if we could go back is the use of the X's due to the silly interpretation people come up with based round the X's.”

What has kept the brothers in XBXRX motivated to continue even after undergoing a number of lineup changes, has been adapting to the changes and looking forward to doing more as Steve cites, “Moving forward in itself is very rewarding and motivating.”

Aside from their music, another factor which plays a large part in XBXRX world is their relationship with photography. “There is a link between music and photography,” Steve observes. “They're both part of art and expression. Being in front of the camera is just like another performance. It's a chance to impart our vision. We want to make photos that are interesting to us, or in the case of our new photos, a spoof of what people think band photos ‘should be.’ Through a photograph and music you choose how you are represented publicly. As a photographer, I love cameras and think that there are definitely those who are good and those who aren't, but really its a matter of taste.”

“Video is a format we are starting to explore more formally.” he discloses. “It's another medium and we're interested in it. Hopefully, they will give people who haven't seen us live, an idea of what to expect at our shows. The only thing that makes me nervous about making music videos as that it puts a definitive image to a song, taking away from the song's mystique or the personal interpretation people might have otherwise. It’s almost like people aren't as willing to come up with their own image for a song if we hand them one, know what I mean?”

Steve reflects, “I think that our generation learned from MTV in a lot of ways. MTV gives people false images of what being a musician is. everyone thinks that all you do is just make a band, be wonderful, and that you become rich and famous! WRONG! The ‘rich and famous’ game is a lottery that any fool can win at random. Most people don't however, so to continue to be a musician and survive is a big challenge. With the members of XBXRX, we mostly do it because it's all most of us have ever wanted to do. Some of us never envisioned even being alive past 21! When we started, our only goal was getting a 7" out. We were constantly dreaming like ‘One day!!!’ Now we have what, a dozen 7"s out? It's kind of insane. We are really fortunate people. We have toured with our favorite bands, put out records on good labels, and have seen the world strictly by playing songs we wrote. It's kind of trippy…playing music has saved my life. It's offered moments of transcendence that we very much needed.”

As for the Internet, he summarizes, “It saves money on long distance phone calls.”

Steve elucidates about the music business, “Rejection, criticism and frustrations are inevitable. It's your choice how to take it. You should know the reasons why you are doing music. If you are resolute in them and always know your motivation, you'll be fine. If you just want to have fun, just do it to have fun and don't do it when it's not. Don't expect to just have a career playing music. It's a really hard road and if you travel down it be prepared either to compromise greatly or to struggle for a long time.”

XBXRX may not be as well known as The Goo Goo Dolls, but in many ways their struggles are done. They have made a home for themselves in San Francisco and there is no other place that they would rather be. Their environment allows them to continue to move forward as they look ahead to an album coming up later this summer entitled Sounds and discovering new mediums that allow them to exert their creative energy. The cliche “If you love what you do, the money will come” pertains to XBXRX. They are certainly being given more work to do, but it is work that they love.

 

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