The Clone Defects
w/the Intelligence, the Hospitals
Sat June 28, Comet, 10 pm, $5.
The Clone Defects are here to reassure all that Detroit, despite the music- biz hype, is still America's numero uno urban wasteland, a town out of time, seemingly out of this world. After a couple of years knocking around the place in bands with names like Tonsil Boxers and the Anxieties, the current Clones slammed into singer Tim Vulgar in 1998. At that point, Vulgar had perfected the obnoxious-drunk-punk-of-the-scene persona. Ripping clothes and farts for effect, he and his pissed-pants posse brought comic relief to a scene that can get bogged down in harsh five-month-long winter hibernations filled with dusty record-collector ruminating. It's a town with a monolithically important musical and political history, but whose present day is dicey at best. The Clone Defects took to the urine- and food-stamp-festooned Tiger Town aura like goofs swiping half-empty cups of beer off the stairwell at an after-hours party. Eventually they puked out a messy mix of their hometown's well-known pre-punk forebears--splashes of new wave quirk, some glam swagger, and shards of art-damaged '70s rust belt brethren like Cleveland's Pere Ubu and Electric Eels. It's the scene's most original sound, albeit a skronk that won't be sharing the stage with the Strokes or Loretta Lynn anytime soon. Their live show can be a power-chord-clashing rocket ride, or the slip-on-your- own-spit-bottle fling fest that's gotten them banned from a few local haunts.
So what the hell is such nimrodery doing in a recent Mitsubishi commercial? "Well, we were a little nervous about it at first," says Vulgar. "But shit, we got enough money that we could get some new equipment." And this STD-seeker now has a Screen Actors Guild card. "Yeah, the part of the song they use is like an intro, and I only go 'woo woo' a little. But they said if I joined the union they'd have to pay me royalties on the commercial because my voice is on there." There's a roundabout way of joining the proud, fading union tradition of his home turf. "I've been working at this temp job where we go to these nasty old factories and clean them up, get them ready for auction. Right now I'm working in a real shithole, I don't even want to describe it," he says.
The Defects' music blasts off from this post-industrial petrified forest like a clanky toy rocket in some '50s B flick--rickety and tin silver, exploding firecracker exhaust, kicking up debris, floating through occasional spacy patches. Vulgar's lyrics mostly bemoan evil exes whose manipulations seem programmed by some alien overlord. And zigzagging amongst expected dead-town gripes are spaceships, lab animal disasters, and other oddities. The way he rants on them with the nihilistic vigor usually reserved for more earthbound annoyances adds yet another warp factor to this band.
Says the Motown Major Tom, "I love anything alien and weird. I like sci-fi, but the realistic stuff, not the cheesy stuff. I'm just into science in general. And hopefully our songs will get other people interested in science." Well, I wouldn't suggest listening to their latest, Shapes of Venus (In the Red), as preparation for the GRE. But should you be misinformed that the bloodletting basics of punk rock have been leeched, listen intently. Retaining the mayhem of their 2001 debut, Blood on Jupiter (Tom Perkins), Venus sails further into the outer limits with some instrumental passages, doo-woppy background vocals, a near minute-long barrage of smashed glass, and an Otis Redding ballad that feels like the sturdy fishing wire connecting their B-movie rocket to the Detroit R&B launch pad.
While displaying an anything goes studio philosophy that allows for oodles of found sounds on their records, the band can be more serious in general. Take, for example, the lapse of two years between releases. "Well, we've had like 13 different practice spaces," Vulgar explains of the lost time. "All our equipment got ripped off from one of them. There was [also] a lack of communication in the band. Plus we got abducted by aliens. That'll kill some time." The aliens, from planet Pabst, erased all memories of that encounter.
The Defects are now in the midst of a three-week West Coast tour before heading off to Europe. Next year, In the Red will reissue their hard-to-find debut CD and early singles. So are the Clone Defects finally marching onto the Detroit hype ship? Are these documentarians of NAFTA squalor getting all NASA professional? Vulgar sets his laser to "bridge burn." "The hype here is annoying," he says. "I've been seeing all these hyped bands for five or six years, so I'm kinda tired of them. When [bigtime booking agent] Dave Kaplan was in town schmoozing, I told him he's a cocky fat turd."