Fran Fried – “The Mooney Suzuki: Lotsa Sweat” (2003)

August 29, 2010 at 6:03 pm (Fran Fried, Music, Reviews & Articles)

An April 10, 2003 New Haven Register article on high-octane rockers The Mooney Suzuki. 
Note: I had to make a correction to the story. Fried says that the band was named after German rock band Can’s members “Donald Mooney and Holger Czukay.” Mooney’s first name is actually Malcolm, and Suzuki is for singer Damo Suzuki…

This time, for real.

The Mooneys’ second album — Electric Sweat, originally released a year ago on the indie label Gammon Records — was picked up and re-released last month on Columbia. And now, with big-label muscle behind them, they’re finally playing Toad’s tonight and back out touring, pushing the disc.

More than six years after frontman Sammy James Jr. began the band while studying at Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts, the real work begins.
The band will have some new songs to play, plus tunes from a previous album and EP. But the emphasis will be on Electric Sweat, which includes the title song, “In a Young Man’s Mind,” “Natural Fact” and “A Little Bit of Love.” Despite pushing the same 10 songs for the past year, James doesn’t mind.

“It’s a different world these days,” he said two weeks ago while traveling to Indianapolis. “When we were on tour with The Hives (the Swedish rockers who broke out in America last year), their album Veni Vidi Vicious was released in 2000 and recorded in 1999. They’ve been running on the same 40 minutes of music for four years.

“You’ve gotta tour, and we accept that. We’ve done nothing the easy way. If it means having to tour another two years … You know, it’s a good record, good material.”

That leads to a lesson all acts should heed: “If you want to be a professional musician, you better (bleep)in’ like that song enough to want to play it every day for the rest of your life.”

The Mooney Suzuki, which played a students-only show three weeks ago at the University of New Haven (and performed three times at New Haven’s Tune Inn in the late ’90s), was formed in 1996 by James, 26, a Tenafly, N.J., native who prepped at the Gunnery in Washington, Conn. Named in a fit of silliness after two members of the avant-garde German group Can, Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki, the band’s first exposure came through the New York/New Jersey garage-rock scene. But bigger things began to happen after the arrival of Electric Sweat.

For one, the group, as known for their high-rev stage shows as their music — black turtlenecks, black jeans, pointy boots, heads whipping, legs snapping together in time to a jackhammer rhythm — released a disc that featured Graham Tyler’s loud, wiry guitar, which was often reminiscent of the late-’60s sounds of The MC5 and The Stooges. For another, the album was produced in Detroit by Jim Diamond, who also worked with one of last year’s (and this year’s, too) big buzz bands: Michigan’s White Stripes.

Let’s just say if the Mooneys had a quarter for every Detroit comparison/reference by every critic/deejay/fan, they could retire right now.

“Of course, we love The Stooges, The MC5, Mitch Ryder,” James said last fall during our original interview. “But we do not try to sound like The MC5. Everybody began to say we were ripping off The MC5, and of course, when we knew we were recording with Jim Diamond, we thought (of the critics), ‘They’re gonna have a field day with that. Let’s write some songs (in that vein) as kind of a (screw) you.’ But aside from one or two riffs, I don’t think the record sounds like The MC5 at all.”

James could see the comparisons, though: “The reason people compare us is because our approach is similar: white kids trying to do a take on soul or rhythm & blues. What we lack in the soul department, we make up for with energy.”

And it was an energy that — in that new reality of breaking big in the music business — advertising agencies could feel as well. When Nike was looking for an energetic New York band for a commercial last year featuring Yankee slugger Jason Giambi hitting homers off city landmarks (a spot filmed by Jake Scott, son of director Ridley Scott), they asked The Mooney Suzuki to record an electric version of Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In.”

James said the Mooneys were paid “minimally” for the commercial because it wasn’t their song. Were it their song, they would have reaped a small fortune in publishing and royalties. Still, he said, “We thought of what it would have cost us to buy all that ad time,” and small bands don’t exactly have seven figures to throw around.

Besides, he said, in a sentiment he reiterated last month, “I’d say 99 percent of the reaction (to the commercial) has been positive. It’s done great things. People have come up to us and said, ‘Hey, I saw the commercial. I bought the record — I love it.’”

It also brought interest from major recording labels — though in the end, the band went with Columbia, which first expressed interest when Electric Sweat was initially released.

Anyway, one of James’ ways of thinking has changed since then.
Last fall, he boasted that the band turned down an offer from Coors Light to use “In a Young Man’s Mind” for seven times the amount they were paid for the Nike spot. Guess which song is now being used to plug which beer? The only difference is now the band will be featured in the commercial, not just the tune.

“I don’t drink Coors. I don’t support Coors,” James said. “I’m not into bands selling stuff. But the benefits outweigh the detriments.

“What’s the detriment? Some people thought we sold out when we made a record. I don’t think people care about that today.”

Fran Fried

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