The Lashes w/Elefant
Sat Aug 7, Neumo's, 5:30 pm, $1.07, all ages.

When it comes to generating buzz, the Lashes are pros. More people have heard of the Seattle sextet than have actually heard them. Because of that, the band has plenty of critics in this city who condemn their antics--they once paid homeless people to picket a Sub Pop party, waving "Sign the Lashes!" placards--overlooking how hard the Lashes work. With the release of The Stupid Stupid, their debut EP (on Lookout!), though, that diligence is paying off.

Listen to The Stupid Stupid, produced by John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, Harvey Danger, Unwound), and it's obvious the Lashes don't fit their album title. "Ex-mas (Young in Love)," with its chiming guitar intro and infectious da-doo-doots ranks alongside anything by the power-pop bands Ben adores, from adolescent favorites (Superdrag, Weezer) to the wave of '80s groups before them (the Shoes, the Only Ones). "We don't play indie rock," says lead singer Ben Clark, better known as Ben Lashes. (The members eschew their real-life surnames in favor of their band moniker, ala the Ramones... or the Partridges.) "We play songs for teenage girls to listen to in their bedroom."

Ben formed the pop punk band in 2000. Everyone in the current lineup--rounded out by keyboard player Jacob, bassist Nate, guitarists Eric and Scotty, and drummer Mike--moved here specifically to break into music. Jacob hails from Omaha, Eric grew up in Alaska, and Ben spent his childhood in Spokane, poring over the 1996 Northwest music scene documentary Hype!.

"I watched that movie, and saw how Sub Pop promoted themselves all the time," Ben recalls. "They were nothing, and made themselves out to be the biggest deal in the world. Eventually, people bought it. And I thought, 'That's brilliant. I want to do that!'"

The Lashes have rankled many colleagues by eschewing false modesty. "Every band in Seattle wants to be the milestone indie rock band," posits Jacob. "The one that nobody bought any records by when they came out, but after they've broken up, everyone scrounges to get one of their 300 colored-vinyl 7-inches."

Countless Seattle acts, from Hendrix to Pretty Girls, have broken out nationwide. So why does our scene discourage publicity-seeking? "A lot of people who were around when this city blew up are still opposed to people outside finding out about Seattle music," opines Ben. "That's cool. There are lots of bands here, hidden treasures, that I like. But I want to be on the cover of Rolling Stone." He is ecstatic that Hot Topic stocks the Lashes CD, and that their "Death by Mixtape" single is on regular rotation on the End.

The band is delighted with its label, too. "I've always wanted to be on Lookout!," admits Ben. Wanna talk calculated? Last year, the Lashes declined a lucrative Crocodile slot to play a Wednesday at Graceland with the Pattern. Their lead singer, Christopher Appelgren, is president of Lookout!. Coincidence? Hardly. Appelgren liked what he heard. The next time the Lashes played for Lookout!, it was in Los Angeles, on 48 hours' notice, using a substitute drummer and bassist; the latter learned his parts in the van.

The boys argue their reputation as self-promotion machines is over-inflated, borne primarily from the fact that they socialize actively, and "roll like a gang." Eric cites a less successful, long-running local act that routinely palms off handbills at any gig, be it hiphop or hardcore. "In the year and a half since I've been in this band," counters Jacob, "we've never done our own fliers, we've never aggressively sought press...."

Wait a minute. Is this the same band who released a single called "It's Your Party," written about former Stranger music columnist Kathleen Wilson? Yup. And they have no regrets? None whatsoever.

"It's a good song," insists Ben. The boys are not oblivious to allegations that they penned the slashing, hook-laden ditty to curry favor with the critic. "The truth is, she had already written about us: She hated our guts," he adds. (Wilson later recanted, becoming a vocal supporter.)

Ben insists, "I would rather have people love or hate me than be neutral." He picked up that attitude from his father, Doug Clark, an opinioned Spokane newspaper columnist. Clark senior was on the receiving end of ample ill will, courtesy of everyone from police officers to neo-Nazis. Growing up, Ben recalls someone once putting a curse on the whole Clark clan while they were waiting in line at the grocery store.

Adore them or loathe them, the Lashes aren't going anywhere... except on the road, including dates with the Donnas, starting next week. "We love Seattle, but I don't want this to be our biggest city," says Ben. "We want to go other places, meet other people. I still have this crazy idea that pop music can change kids' lives. So many people get down on that, because they say it's all been done before. But there are pop bands I saw when I was a teenager, and they weren't doing anything new, but they did it well, and it changed my life."

Don't believe him? Ask Weezer guitarist Brian Bell, who showed up at one of the Lashes' L.A. shows. The boys were in the bathroom, and when Bell stepped back from a urinal, Ben squealed "like a little girl." He cornered his idol, and began babbling about how they'd met before, at a show, when Ben was 16.

"Well, you grew up," sputtered Bell, who then dashed out.

Ben collected himself, then found Bell, and offered him a copy of the Lashes CD and an apology. "I just wanted to say thanks," Ben explains. "When I was seeing Weezer play small venues in 1996, to imagine that years later I would be playing a show, and see someone like that there, and have them treat me as a peer... well, that's weird. I mean, we haven't sold five million records. But soon...."