by Peter Lindblad
Have you ever heard a song and said to yourself, “That’s B.S. I don’t agree with that at all.” That’s usually where things end. Your interior monologue moves on to other subjects, like what’s for dinner and whether that pretty girl at work in the next cubicle fancies you.
Eddie Argos and Dyan Valdes needed more closure. Together, the boyfriend and girlfriend decided to join forces and provide an answer to tracks, both classic and new, that bothered them enough to want to pen a response. So, Art Brut’s Argos and The Blood Arm’s Valdes created Everyone Was In The French Resistance … Now! Their latest album is titled “Fixin’ The Charts, Vol. 1,” and it takes on such unassailable treasures as Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Martha and The Vandellas’ “Jimmy Mack,” The Crystals’ “He’s A Rebel,” and Gerry & The Pacemakers’ “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” as well as Kanye West’s “Gold Digger,” recast as “Coal Digger,” and Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend.”
Argos has some choice words for Lavigne. As for the rest, they have great respect for and do love those original songs. Recorded at the actual Joshua Tree location with producer/engineer Dave Newton, the former Mighty Lemon Drops guitarist/songwriter, “Fixin’ The Charts” is a stylishly fun blast of arty pop punk in the Art Brut tradition, only with Valdes providing most of the musical accompaniment. And if you’re a fan of those originals mentioned above, the album is an indispensable companion piece. Argos explains how the project came about.
I love this concept. It seems like one those ideas that will come up at a pub over one too many beers. Is that how it came about?
Eddie Argos: Kind of. Dyan (Valdes), who’s in the band, my girlfriend, we were driving back from my parents’ house and “Jimmy Mack” came on the radio, and I was like going, “Oh, man. I love that song.” And she was like, “Oh, I hate the meaning behind that song. She’s so mean to him. Poor boy. He’s away, and he comes back …” and she’s getting I’d say unnecessarily angry about it. And I’m like, well, [write] a few words about it, and that’s how the first one came about. So, we did that first one, and out of that, it was like, “Oh yeah, this is fun. We should do more.”
Who was involved in the project?
Argos: Just me and Dyan, and Dave Newton, who produced it, and a drummer came and did a few of the tracks. That’s it really. I mean, Dyan did just about everything.
Which ones were her responses and which ones were yours?
Argos: We kind of agreed on them all together. Things like “Scarborough Fair,” she was like always saying, we should do ‘Scarborough Fair’ like Bob Dylan used to do, like his song called “Changes.” You have to do this and this. It’s all good. And she said, I’m your girlfriend. You can tell me to rewrite things, you know (laughs). I won’t get offended. So it was kind of fun.
A lot of this was done tongue-in-cheek, but was there a song that you responded to that really got you riled up?
Argos: Oh yeah, that Avril Lavigne song. Most of the songs we replied to we really liked, apart from the Avril Lavigne song. That song really makes my blood boil. That song is like … she’s writing about berating them, you know, like, “Oh, you’re a single mother.” It’s terrible. And in “Girlfriend,” she’s talking about stealing other people’s boyfriends. Just awful, you know. It’s a whole genre of music now. Taylor Swift has a song like that, too, like girls stealing boys from each other. I think it’s terrible. So we put another side to it for Avril Lavigne like, “I’m the boyfriend, I don’t really want you. So leave me alone.” It’s good.
How long did it take write these out? Did it go quickly?
Argos: Reasonably. We wanted the songs to stand alone, as well, you know. It wouldn’t just be responses. That was kind of hard, like we’d leave them and then go back and make sure, but eh … you know. But I love writing. I was spending a lot of time on them, but I was doing it constantly.
Did you write a lot on the piano?
Argos: Yeah, well, I’m not a piano player. I can’t play an instrument. I’m not a musician. So we did spend a lot of time on it, and Dyan wrote all of them, apart I think from the “The Scarborough Affaire,” which I think she played guitar [on]. She kind of worked out a piano thing but worked it out on guitar. But everything else was on the piano.
Was there a song in particular you felt was a sacred cow that you shouldn’t attack?
Argos: Bob Dylan, a little bit. I mean, everybody loves Bob Dylan. I mean, I love his song, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” But I mean, not everybody can be Bob Dylan, do you know what I mean? Yeah, it’s all right for Bob Dylan to be like, “I’m all right, OK.” But that’s because he’s Bob Dylan. He’s amazing. So that was kind of hard writing a song … oh he’s not Bob Dylan, it’s a sad song about breaking up. And one I was worried about was The Archies’ song. “(Waldo P. Emerson Jones)” It’s one of my forever favorite songs. But I don’t think it’s a very well-known song. So I was a bit worried about that one.
Why was that?
Argos: Well, just because … I mean because of who wrote about it, because I think it should stand alone. But, like, Dave, who produced the album and is a massive Archies fan, had never heard the song. ‘Well, it’s a famous song. (sings) Emerson Jones,” and he was like, “Nope, never heard of it before.” I’ll have to dig out my old albums and play it for people. “See, I’ve not made it up. It’s a real Archies song.”
If you think of one that’s maybe, I don’t know, obvious I guess, it has to be “Billie’s Genes,” which answer’s Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”
Argos: (laughs) Well, we wrote that before he died, before Michael Jackson died. But, yeah, I hope his fans don’t take offense. It’s about the character, not about Michael Jackson. But what was weird about that song was after we’d written the song, Dave, who produced it, said, “Hey, there’s this other song that was out at the time called ‘Superstar’ that was already a response to ‘Billie Jean.'” So, there was “Billie Jean,” the original, and “Superstar,” which is the response from the woman’s point of view in the ’80s. Then, there’s our response to “Billie Jean.” Now you’ve got the whole family (laughs). You’ve got the Michael Jackson song, the first one, and then our one. Everybody involved in the situation now has a song (laughs), which I kind of like. So that’s pretty good.
What about the Gerry and The Pacemakers’ song (“You’ll Never Walk Alone”)? Was that one that when you’d listen to it you’d always thought …
Argos: It’s kind of maudlin, isn’t it? (laughs)
Yeah, it’s like he doesn’t need to feel this way.
Argos: Well, that one’s okay. I mean, when I’m depressed, and I want to be alone, you are alone and that makes it even worse. So I’d rather have a song that’s like, “Hey, don’t worry (laughs). It’s OK to be alone.” I love walking a bit by myself anyway. So I thought it’d be nice to write a song about that. I don’t necessarily need … it’s OK to walk alone really.
I’m thinking specifically of “My Way” when I ask this, but are you afraid of getting any backlash from any real fans of these songs who may not take it in quite the spirit they should?
Argos: (laughs) I don’t know. Avril Lavigne fans, maybe. And Michael Jackson fans. But not really. We were not really that offensive. I mean, “My Way” is just a different point of view, our song. It sounds weird, an old man singing that, like he did it his way. It sounds a bit selfish to me. I always think in life there’s always compromise. I don’t think you should be offended by that. It’s just a different point of view.
I wouldn’t think so, either, but people almost take that as their mantra.
Argos: (laughs) Really angry Frank Sinatra fans are going to come to get us.
Have you thought about extrapolating this out and maybe doing this again?
Argos: Oh yeah, that’s why we called it Vol. 1 (laughs).
Oh yeah, of course.
Argos: There are so many songs out there. We’ve already started this Donovan song, which I love, called “Atlantis,” which is a song about how the world was formed by magicians and stuff. I thought we could write like a very scientific song (laughs) about how the world began and disagree with Donovan. We’ve started doing that. I mean, I love that Donovan song, but yeah, I disagree with him about how the world was made (laughs). So, yeah, I’d like to write one … and we’ve sort of started playing around with things, so it’s good.
I know this is out there, but have you ever thought this could be a group of songs that you could bring together on stage.
Argos: Yeah, we’re touring it and rehearsing and all that. I think it’s going to go quite well I think. When we wrote the songs, we thought, we did really try to make sure they would stand alone by themselves, which is fine. Today is my first day doing interviews and two people so far didn’t know they were response songs (laughs).
Argos: They’d say, “What?” “No, they’re response songs to songs out already.” So that was funny. That was kind of nice. So, I think it’s going to work. I was kind of … we’ve been rehearsing, Dyan and Dave with the band. They’ve been rehearsing without me for … and they sound awesome. So we’ve got a drum machine and guitars and Dave’s got like projections and stuff. It should be good.
But do you kind of plan on acting out like scenes in a play?
Argos: (laughs) Oh, I don’t know. That would be fun, wouldn’t it? I haven’t really thought about that yet. But I think there’s going to be a lot more talking between the songs. Not like lecturing, but just like … I can see that happening. I’m not sure. I’m actually a bit nervous about it (laughs). I haven’t rehearsed yet. But I’m sure it’ll be fine. Dyan and Dave have said they’re ready to go now, so I need to get everything in order.
Last question: What’s happening with Art Brut these days?
Argos: Well, we just finished touring. I arrived in Los Angeles yesterday. So I’ve been pretty busy. So, this is the end of a big American tour. We just did an Italian tour, and then a Germany tour. I’m done. I’m very tired (laughs). We played the last gig for a while I think, ‘til the summer perhaps. We started writing the new album. It’s going all right, actually. It’s going pretty good. Wheels keep on turning.