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Mindless Self Indulgence

Albany’s a logical, reasonable stop for most up-and-coming New York City bands, an easy three-hour schlep up Henry Hudson’s river, a city all a-brim with bored college students, and with a swell truck stop just off the Thruway where you can shower before fleeing home to Gotham. So why are Mindless Self Indulgence just now making their first club stop here (on Saturday night at Valentine’s), four years into their collective career as techno-audio-anarcho-terrorists, with two records under their belts, and a national buzz surrounding most of their movements?

Because they’ve been too busy playing arenas in other cities. “People are always wanting us to play headlining shows in their cities,” explains MSI singer-songwriter-programmer James Euringer (Little Jimmy Urine to fans). “But then we keep getting these huge offers to go open for all sorts of people in all sorts of other places, so then the other people get pissed off and complain about why we never come to their hometowns to play clubs. So you can’t win, really, no matter what you do.”

Euringer’s not just spouting hyperbole when he describes the magnitude of those national opening offers. To date, MSI have toured with (among others) Rammstein, Korn, the Insane Clown Posse, Staind, Soulfly, Lords of Acid, Orgy and Cypress Hill—in almost every case at the specific request of the bands headlining the bills. Including, most recently, Serj Tankian of System of a Down, with whom MSI are touring when I wake Euringer up by phone for this interview at the crack of mid-afternoon in Detroit Rock City. (“More like Detroit Abandoned City, actually,” he notes between yawns.)

Claiming little more than boredom as an inspiration, Euringer formed Mindless Self Indulgence in 1998, recruiting guitarist Steve, Righ?, bassist Vanessa Y-T and drummer Kitty to flesh out the cheesy-Atari-computer-driven sounds he heard in his head. “We were too poor to afford Coleco or any of the more expensive video games when we were little,” Euringer explains, “so we were just stuck with the shitty old Ataris that nobody else wanted.”

After Vanessa left the band last year (allegedly to become an astronaut), MSI posted a call for auditions on their Web site for a replacement bassist. “We did that just so we could see who would be stupid enough to reply, so that we could bring them in and laugh at them,” notes Euringer. “But that got boring, too, after a while, so we got serious and found Lyn-Z, although we hear rumors that she was in another band before us, so she’s still on probation until we confirm or deny that out, and until all her papers clear. Once that’s done, though, she’ll be able to pack heat with all the rest of us.”

MSI’s cover of the Method Man classic “Bring the Pain” and their self-released debut EP Tight (now out of print, and trading for big cash through the Internet) spawned a bidding war for their services among half-a-dozen major record labels, with Elektra emerging as the winning bidder on MSI’s skittery rhythms, warbling vocals, onstage histrionics and controversial-bordering-on-evil lyrical concerns.

Elektra issued the 30-song Frankenstein Girls Will Seem Strangely Sexy (featuring a cover by Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewitt, who, it could be argued, then took a good number of MSI moves on to his next project, the chart-busting, critic-pleasing Gorillaz) in 2000, at which point Euringer and company immediately moved to dissolve their partnership with the label, just because they could. The group is now entertaining offers from boutique labels helmed by the likes of Korn, Slipknot and Marilyn Manson—although they don’t discount the possibility that they may release their next album on their own, with the loot that they extracted from Elektra.

At the helm for these negotiations is onetime QE2 fixture and Albany underground mainstay James Galus, who has coproduced and promoted Mindless Self Indulgence from (close to) their beginnings. And Galus isn’t the only Albany connection for the band: Former Northern Lights booking agent Michele Toch is road managing the group for the System of a Down tour, and the traveling roadshow accompanying MSI to Valentine’s includes the O (featuring native Albanian and Wikkid Crew member Greg Poole) and Chaos Twin (with onetime Stigmata and Clay People member Dan Walsh on bass and former 81 Tranz Am drummer Todd Clemmer behind the kit).

“Managing a brilliant underdog like MSI is a fuckin’ privilege,” Galus enthuses. “There is a reason why Marilyn Manson, Jonathan Davis and Slipknot all want to sign MSI to their labels, and that’s because Mindless Self Indulgence is the future of electronic punk. Some people won’t understand what they do for years and others never will get it. But the people who can open their minds not just to what’s cool today, but to that which doesn’t even give a shit about being cool in the first place will get it right away. It’s the freedom to be inventive without worrying about whether you’re part of the cookie-cutter macho crap that’s spoon-fed to kids these days. I was fortunate as hell to meet these guys when I did, and to eventually become their manager.”

So how does Euringer himself explain his band’s allure, or describe the sounds they make? “If I knew of any words to describe all this, then I wouldn’t be in a band in the first place,” he says. “I’d just sit there and be, like, ‘Whoa, that’s wrong.’ So if you’ve got to have a word to describe what we do, then I guess ‘wrong’ is probably as good a word as you’re gonna be able to come up with.”

Mindless Self Indulgence, Chaos Twin and the O will play the upstairs stage at Valentine’s (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany) on Saturday (March 9). Tickets are $1.03—since the event is sponsored by the Edge (WQBK/WQBJ, 103.5/103.9)—and the show starts at 9 PM. Call the club, 432-6572, for further information.

—J. Eric Smith

David Grossman

Advance press material touts Israeli novelist David Grossman (who will speak at the University at Albany on Tuesday as part of the New York State Writers Institute’s lecture series) as “a cogent observer of the Arab/Israeli conflict and an eloquent voice for his generation.”

With that information as background, one might begin his latest novel, Be My Knife, expecting scenes of carnage and terror among the rubble of a smoldering Tel Aviv disco; or a depiction, perhaps, of the more formalized and stately violence of the negotiation table, where ancient blood-felt animosities percolate beneath tailored pinstripes and dry-cleaned fatigues and are expressed aloud in the deceptively bloodless jargon of realpolitik. But the titular knife is not an instrument of state, nor are the battles described ever graced with the imprimatur of a splashy cable news-network dingbat. In a locale famed for its tragic physicality, its deadly clashes of flesh and blood, Grossman has framed an intense and deeply felt story that is also—almost paradoxically—quaint in its construction: Be My Knife is an epistolary novel in which its two main characters, its correspondents, never actually meet.

Yair W. is a married, 33-year-old dealer of rare books who sees an unknown, slightly older woman, Miriam, at a class reunion (she is now a teacher at the school Yair once attended). He knows nothing of her, yet he rents a post office box for her, and sends a letter asking her only to receive his letters: “That is—to let me tell you about myself in writing every now and again. . . . There’s no point to this if I have to explain it, so you don’t have to bother responding, because then I was wrong about you, clearly. But if you are the woman I saw hugging herself, with a slightly crooked smile, I think you’ll understand.”

She does, or at least she does enough to respond. The book then chronicles Yair’s writings, his impetuous divulgences, his confidences and confessions. He writes forthrightly of his life, he says, because, “I want to be able to say to myself, ‘I bled truth with her,’ and yes, that’s what I want. Be a knife for me, and I, I swear, will be a knife for you.”

Neil Gordon, in The New York Times Book Review, writes that in this novel, Grossman “has brought all his strengths to bear. There’s no device in Be My Knife that’s not entirely necessary. It is a fully realized work of fiction, and it unfolds as a flood of the most deeply felt emotions.”

David Grossman will speak in the Performing Arts Center at the University of Albany (1400 Washington Ave., Albany) at 8 PM on Tuesday (March 12). The presentation is free. For more information, call 442-5620.

—John Rodat

 

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