"The City Of what?" is the obvious question here. But City Of are anything but obvious. Olivia Mendez, Rob Hunt, and Ben Torrance have only played a handful of shows -- less than 10 -- but you'll wake up the morning after seeing them with the less obvious question on your lips: "Did that really happen, or did I just dream it?" The City Of appeal is, to cop a line from Ride, like a vapor trail in a deep blue sky. Wistful, smooth, with soft, bleeding edges set against an idyllic backdrop; something intricate that appears simple; something so pure, you wonder, "why hasn't it always been this way?" City Of met in Eugene, OR, where Ben and Robbie played together, and Olivia, who was in another band, heard them at a little basement punk show. A few years later, Ben and Robbie had moved back to Seattle and Olivia decided to move here, so she called them up and said, "I want to play music with you guys." And so they did.
What's more important: lyrics or music?
Ben: Both. Bad lyrics can kill good music, and I've fallen in love with some pretty musically shaky punk bands with really honest, heartfelt lyrics. I think lyrics, when present, can't be separated from the music as a whole. I listen to a fair amount of instrumental stuff, though.
Robbie: Music, because I pay more attention to the vocal lines than the words.
Olivia: I can't really say what's more important, only that I seem to pay attention to the music far sooner than the lyrics. I notice a lot of bands will have the great hook, the killer lead driving you here, and then there's this singing that comes in that's halfway there; they're not doing it like they mean it. And so the first thing I notice is what's actually, fully present during the song, whether it's the music or the lyrics, and lately it's been the music.
And while writing?
Olivia: While writing... I know the music usually happens first, at least in our case. And in my head it's simultaneous. Hopefully. But it's hard sometimes 'cause you're trying to listen to a lot of things at one time. You've gotta listen for them.
Tell me about the best show you've ever played.
Ben: We played a lot of fun shows last October when we went down to San Francisco and back. My favorite was probably the last one on that trip, in a basement in Portland -- the Empty House. We played a short set because it was getting late, but everyone was really nice and had a good time. Good community feeling.
Olivia: I've got a good one. The Portland show was good as well, but we played a show at Jules Maes here in town and there was this crazy band that played before us. And they got in a fistfight with the sound man, and who do I see run up but the two knights in shining armor, Ben and Rob, run up and try and break up this fist fight. It was awesome. I mean, it was terrible, but it was... there was shit flying everywhere, it was pretty cool -- and I think we were going to pose a fake band fight after that. You know what's unfortunate, though: This sound guy was totally cool and I felt for him because these guys on stage were just, like, thrashing this gear. Basically, the lead singer threw down the mic stand and the microphone. But anyway, we had a really good time.
What's the dumbest thing you've ever done while drunk?
Olivia: Somehow hurting myself while remaining totally still.... Just falling for no discernible reason.
Robbie: I was peeing off of the side of a steep ledge and was compelled to jump off of it for some reason. I rolled down the hill and my friends had to come help me back up.
Ben: Some friends and I agreed to leave a really seedy bar in Boston with a couple of strangers to go to a skinhead party on the other side of town.... I was so drunk that I was laughing out loud about our bad judgment as it was happening. Fortunately one of the guys I was with started talking shit to someone in this other guy's van, which started to escalate towards a fight just as we were leaving, so we got out and took a taxi back to my friend's house instead.
What song will you have played at your funeral?
Robbie: "Foggy Notion" by the Velvet Underground.
Ben: Something by Will Oldham... too many songs to pick just one.
What's the worst album you've ever loved?
Olivia: Sex Style by Kool Keith.
Ben: Hands down, Mötley Crüe -- Shout at the Devil. In fifth grade I couldn't get enough of it.
Robbie: Gorilla Biscuits -- Start Today.
What's the most naive ideal you held in your teens?
Robbie: The idea that at some point you become an "adult."
Ben: I'd say some unrealistic idea of love that's probably still intact.
What's your favorite piece of music equipment?
Olivia: My stereo.
Robbie: Otari MX5050 8-track.
Ben: My '70s Ludwig snare.
What's the best thing you could imagine happening to your band in the next year, month, week?
Robbie: Getting our CD out, going on tour, taking a break....
Ben: Finding someone who would put out anything we record, despite how well it sells. We'll fill that role ourselves if necessary, though.
Olivia: Time off.
What's the difference between a good musician and a great musician? Are great musicians born or made?
Ben: That's tough. I think that people in general are inherently creative, and work and dedication can help bring out that potential. Some people do seem to just be wired better for different things, though. Good musicians have command of their instruments, maybe a good sense of arrangement... timing, but I think great artists combine those types of skills with an ability to express their thoughts and emotions in a raw and honest way that people can identify with. I'm not sure if that ability is inherited or cultivated, though. Greatness is pretty subjective anyway.
Olivia: Hard to judge. I think the bridge between quirky charm and the psychosis of musical genius is crooked... shaky at best. Inborn talent obviously plays its role, but maybe the harder you listen, the shorter the trip becomes. In my opinion, there is very little that isn't practicable. You can be deliberate. And I feel that even the idea of vision is practicable. You just have to pay attention.
What song most reminds you of summer and why?
Ben: "Punk Rock Girl" by the Dead Milkmen always takes me back to the summer of '89 and the girl I had a crush on....
Robbie: Circus Lupus, "Unrequited." I listened to that album a lot in the summer of '92, driving around the country alone in my car.
Olivia: "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" reminds me of summer, by Neil Young. It's the "la la la" part -- just driving alone with the sun shining in the car. Or "Range Life" -- basically anything off [Pavement's] Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. It's the lap steel that gets me.