Maybe one shouldn't expect deep introspection from the leader of a group whose name consists of three exclamation marks. Anyone who's seen Nic Offer onstage at a !!! show can attest to the man's hyperkinetic performance ethos, which is speckled with wisecracks and funny ad-libs (he was on fire—almost literally—at 2007's scorching Coachella festival). You can also detect a jester's streak from !!!'s song titles (e.g., "Bend Over Beethoven," "Shit Scheisse Merde," "Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass").
The main impression that Offer gives is that of a hedonist born to whip large aggregations of humans into carefree rhythmic movement—by any means necessary, including the donning of brief gym shorts (Hank Rollins has nothing on this guy). One doesn't expect profound pontifications about the state of the world from the author of "Pardon My Freedom" and "KooKooKa Fuk-U," even if they appear to be sincere lyrical daggers aimed at the last Bush administration and the KKK, respectively. More relevant to the !!! experience is the line "You can learn a lot from taking your pants off" from "When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Karazzee." Offer's more the gregarious alpha male with an XXX-rated mind than a pundit, and that persona fits his band's mission statement to become a sonic perpetual-motion machine. In other words, the Fela-Kuti-on-ZE-Records club epic "Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story)" may be the best song ever with a New York City politician in its title, but it's not exactly Paul Krugman meets Paul Simon.
So I can't really be too mad about Offer's blasé responses to my questions. The fact that he and his band—guitarist Mario Andreoni, horn player/keyboardist Daniel Gorman, saxophonist/percussionist Allan Wilson, drummer Paul Quattrone, vocalist Shannon Funchess, and bassist Rafael Cohen—are about to drop the hot-groove-rich Strange Weather, Isn't It? (out August 24 on Warp) somewhat excuses his quarter-assed answers.
Strange Weather is especially impressive in light of the tragic 2009 death of drummer Jerry Fuchs and the loss of key players like John Pugh, Justin Vandervolgen, and Tyler Pope, who left to focus on Free Blood, TBD, and LCD Soundsystem, respectively. As for the qualities Offer was seeking in their replacements, he says that "we were looking for someone who likes to sit on the bus and make jokes. And, boy, did we find [them]; you gotta hear these guys' jokes."
What's not so funny is how a scrappy gang of dance punks who formed 14 years ago in Sacramento, California, ended up on the revered London label Warp, toured the world, played large festivals, and concurrently maintained an excellent sister group, Out Hud (now defunct). Four albums into their career, !!! have become one of America's most inspirational purveyors of quality live party music, optimally fusing rock aggression with mutant-disco catalytic propulsion.
"We just wanted to make music our friends wanted to dance to," Offer humbly states regarding !!!'s primary motivations. "Each thing kinda made sense as it happened. I guess it's not necessarily surprising," he observes about his band's current lofty status, "but I don't take it for granted that we're still able to do this and it's still a blast for us."
For Strange Weather, !!! enlisted former DFA house engineer Eric Broucek to produce; they cut some of the album in Berlin (!!! also booked studio time in their home cities Sacramento and New York). One wonders if Berlin, Earth's club capital, proved to be revelatory for !!! and whether they made any amazing musical discoveries while ensconced there.
"Berlin lived up to our expectations in that we had no idea what we would find there musically, and that's exactly what we wanted," Offer says. "I had several revelations on the dance floors there but usually forgot what they were by the next morning."
Oy. Whatever the case, these new tracks represent !!!'s most explicitly dance-oriented, bass-heavy material to date, with Funchess asserting herself as a silky vocal presence. The punk part of the band's dance-punk equation has waned, replaced by girthful, disco-fied funk—a generous booty-moving bounty for club DJs. Credit Broucek for much of that. "Eric's nifty on the synths; he can really dial up some freaky shit," Offer notes. "In general, though, he brought a lot of the sonic expertise we lack without Justin being in the band anymore."
Clearly, it's become of utmost importance for !!! to make crowds dance. Tangible benefits for both listeners and band members are guaranteed.
"The gratification of our own egos is plenty benefit to us," Offer claims. "It is important for the crowds to dance because it makes us play better. Playing to people who don't dance is... well, it doesn't happen often, but, boy, when it does. It's like an unresponsive sex partner, it really honestly is. I think we've all been there at some point, and it's a drag, isn't it?"