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System Overload

Justin Moyer, Edie Sedgwick and Supersystem's Justin Destroyer are all the same person -- sort of

"Sally Field," a song from the Edie Sedgwick disc Her Love Is Real... But She Is Not, pays tribute to the you-like-me actress's Oscar-winning performance as a union activist in the 1979 film Norma Rae. Yet Field's depiction of a woman suffering from multiple-personality disorder in the 1976 telepic Sybil would have been a more appropriate touchstone. After all, the original Sedgwick was an Andy Warhol scenester and unintentional Paris Hilton role model who died of a drug overdose in 1971, while her current incarnation comes to life when Washington, D.C.-based musician Justin Moyer puts on eye shadow, lipstick, a sparkly blouse and a brunette wig (Edie the First was blond).

In addition, Moyer fronts an idiosyncratic band dubbed Supersystem in the guise of Justin Destroyer, who looks a lot more like the man playing him than Sedgwick does -- for one thing, he eschews cosmetics -- but differs in other substantial ways.

"Justin Destroyer is the guy who jumps around on stage, jumps into crowds and has this musical life that's kind of crazy and kind of cool, too," Moyer says. "And Justin Moyer is the guy who's like, 'What happened?' I mean, I was supposed to go to law school."

El Guapo no más: Supersystem is (from left) 
Justin Moyer, Josh Blair, Rafael Cohen and Pete 
Cafarella.
El Guapo no más: Supersystem is (from left) Justin Moyer, Josh Blair, Rafael Cohen and Pete Cafarella.

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Instead, Moyer has devoted himself to an array of creative ventures, including John Cazale Is Dead -- Long Live John Cazale, a novel he's written about the romance between drama queen Meryl Streep and the late actor best remembered as weakling brother Fredo Corleone in the Godfather movies. "I've had a really hard time getting a publisher," Moyer concedes. "I think part of the problem is that the book is really bad."

He's been luckier with music. In mid-April, shortly after Her Love Is Real was issued by De-Soto Records, a D.C. indie, Chicago's Touch and Go released Always Never Again, the official Supersystem debut -- although the latter's lineage, like everything involved with Moyer, is quite complicated. Supersystem is essentially El Guapo -- a band named for the villain of the cinematic masterpiece Three Amigos -- which bassist/ drummer/vocalist Moyer co-founded with guitarist Rafael Cohen in 1996. The next year, the duo put out an EP called The Burden of History on the Resin imprint, and followed up with a full-length, The Phenomenon of Renewal, the year after that. Circa 2000, Cohen and Moyer, joined by keyboardist Pete Cafarella, made a live recording titled The Geography of Dissolution for another smallish label, Mud Memory, before leaping to Dischord, an ultradisciplined, high-integrity operation whose signature acts remain hardcore heroes Minor Threat and Fugazi.

From a musical standpoint, El Guapo had little in common with these groups at the time of its Dischord pact. "We were kind of an emo band in the early days," Moyer says, "but then we became more of a free-rock band" with a taste for avant-garde jazz, experimental structures, electronic fiddling and the occasional accordion solo. They switched things around so often that "we probably alienated our entire fan base," Moyer admits.

This approach began to moderate with the first Dischord offering, 2002's Super/System, which wasn't quite as eclectic as the recordings preceding it, and 2003's Fake French, an album that pushed danceability to the forefront. This unabashedly pop gesture departed even more dramatically from the classic Dischord sound -- so much so that when Moyer and his mates received an entreaty from Touch and Go, a firm that doesn't equate marketing with selling out, they decided to accept it.

"I had, and continue to have, the utmost respect for Dischord," Moyer emphasizes. "I was raised on that music, and the people are great. But you know, we were never sure if we really fit in to the extent we thought we could, and I think everyone who's a musician maybe wants a little more attention and wants their record to sell more. So when someone says, 'Do you want to work with an in-house publicist who's going to send out your records to magazines and try and get people to write about you and create a buzz about you?' that's fine with me."

Unfortunately, a new problem cropped up around the time the record-company shift was finalized. A Latin-rock collective in Chicago was using the El Guapo handle, and its members had gone to the trouble of trademarking it. Moyer's El Guapo would have to die. When new drummer Josh Blair joined the band, El Guapo was reborn as Supersystem.

Most who've heard the newly rechristened band's Always Never Again agree that the material is the project's most accessible to date. "My aunt came to a show a few months ago, and she, for the first time, liked it -- and my mother likes our music for the first time, too," Moyer reports. "It's nice that instead of saying, 'For this song, we're going to use Anthony Braxton's fusion of improvisation and composition, and we need to have our sheet music out,' we can relax and play around with pop songs. It's a little more casual."

Stylistically, "Everybody Sings," "Six Cities" and plenty of other tracks sport abundant hooks and invitingly superficial grooves that give off a jittery, electroclash vibe. Still, Moyer is reticent to embrace that classification. "Someone told me, 'Oh, no, electroclash isn't good. It isn't cool anymore. This record came two years too late.' Well, whatever. I could give a fuck, pardon my French. We made the music when we made it. You can't sit and puzzle through all these supertrendy buzzwords and spend all your time on the Web searching for reviews of your latest single. It's not helpful. And even though this record has been portrayed as a sort of dance-a-thon, it's definitely not. 'Click-Click' is a song that sounds like stuff I contributed to our last album, and 'Devour Delight' is this kind of world-beat song that could have been on one of our first records."

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