About three years ago nearly every major label was chasing Gay Dad in London. Funny thing was, the band had yet to make any full-length recordings or even to be heard by anybody who mattered.
The first thing the band ever did was disastrous, a 1994 demo recorded with legendary producer Andrew Loog Oldham (Rolling Stones). No one responded to it, and Gay Dad, which was formed in the early 1990s, fell into disarray.
A year later Gay Dad began performing live, which wasn't any more encouraging, particularly given the band's history of ever-changing lineups.
It wasn't until the mid- to late '90s that Gay Dad showed any signs of life. That was when lead man and primary songwriter Cliff Jones began wondering what would happen if the band's music were to reflect his personal interests: Krautrock and glam.
The group cut another demo, which, unlike the first one, earned Gay Day a lot of insider buzz. The difference was easy to pinpoint: The band had finally discovered its all-important "signature sound." The resulting buzz was loud enough to land Gay Dad a deal with London Records, one of many suitors.
A year after signing in 1997, the band released its first single, "To Earth with Love," and seemingly overnight the members of Gay Dad became media cover boys and super-superstars.
Now with a full-length album, last summer's Leisure Noise, to its credit, Gay Dad is starting to live up to the hype.
It's hard to argue against the opinion that today's pop scene sucks. Music to distract yourself by, whether from Ricky Martin, the Backstreet Boys or Britney Spears, dominates radio, TV and retail. As a result, the cultural climate could not be worse for a thoughtful, insightful band such as Gay Dad.
"That is why Gay Dad are a necessity," says Jones. "There is something more to Gay Dad. It is a well thought-out band. It's just not all about the music, man. The music is most of it, but in order to be relevant, you have to say something about the times and the people you live around. That is what pop music is. It is there to reflect the culture. I don't think most music does at the moment. It is on some kind of terrible bummer ego trip at the moment, and it is awful. It is basically lies. It is lies. It is sung by people who don't mean what they are saying. They don't think much about what is going on, and they make formulaic records."
Jones was nurturing Gay Dad before the band, in name, existed. (He and Crowe have been acquaintances for nearly 20 years.) When things got tough for the band, Jones tried his hand at writing music criticism for various UK publications, including reputable ones such as NME and Mojo. A couple paychecks later and Jones was back in the studio, continuing work on what we have now, a very big and happy Gay Dad, whose lineup still is almost constantly in flux.
Jones, as a onetime music critic, is obviously well studied in classic rock. He incorporates that vibe into almost everything he writes, yet he always adds a freshness to the guitar muscle. Gay Dad's sound is upbeat, urgent and melodic, but by no means wimpy. Some might say the band has a tendency to get spacey, but actually it never travels too far from familiar ground, which is the point. As Jones puts it: "I mean, that is kind of the point of Gay Dad. It is post-embarrassment." In other words, it's okay to admit you have a few old Van Halen records in your closet. Jones has a couple of classic VH discs himself.
When Jones and Gay Dad mix psycho-pyrotechnical riffs with contemporary sensibilities, they get something like "My Son Mystic," from Leisure Noise. The tension between the track's rhythm lines and main melody is palpable. This same calculated phenomenon is also present on "Oh Jim," a solid ballad, and "Black Ghost."
The difference between Gay Dad and, say, Pulp or Blur, other wildly popular British bands, is appreciable. While Blur hides behind artistry and Pulp behind novelty, Gay Dad keeps itself and its unabashedly catchy hooks in front for all to hear. The band is not ashamed of writing solid pop songs, which, if you've ever tried to do it, is difficult. Sure, many pop tunes, even the best, are merely one or two melodies repeated over and over. Still, it's incredibly taxing to write good hooks and deliver them in such a believable way. Gay Dad does.
Another thing that separates Gay Dad from its peers, especially those from across the pond, is its name. Van Halen, no matter what you think of the band's sound, is a cool moniker. Gay Dad?
"Oh, yeah, it is a great name," says Jones. "It sounds like Pink Floyd or Sonic Youth.It is a name for the year 2000 and beyond. It is not a name for the late '90s or anything. It doesn't belong in old nostalgic values. It's kind of like a two-word manifesto. I also think that if you have a problem with the name, it says more about you than it does me, so" Jones pauses.
"In a way it is a good thing. It is polarizing people. We had too many bands that are called nothing. You might as well call yourselves Soap Powder or Kellogg's Corn Flakes. You know, Ride, Oasis, Blur, Pulp, uh, uh, uh. At least [with] a band like Rage Against the Machine, there is a purpose to it. At least it sounds like it. I think [in] English pop the names have become so generic and bland. You know, Gay Dad is not a generic band name. It is a name which really has some kind of sorta fucking social weight to it. It is about the times we live in, about who we are, what kind of people we are. Basically, I say to people, there are much more important things to think about than whether your name is gay or straight, you know? There are more important things that you, personally, have to deal with than those issues."
Now that's a mouthful.
Gay Dad opens for the Pretenders on Friday, February 4, at the Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas Avenue. For ticket information, call (713)629-3700.
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