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The Charms and Muck & the Mires

The Charms and Muck & the Mires are two of the better-natured bands in town, but there’s one sure way to get them both riled. Just drop the name of some band who’re currently hot on the Billboard charts or on commercial radio.

Both bands have turned to the ’60s for inspiration and fun, not necessarily in that order. And the ’60s sound has proved the charm for both, earning them local-headliner status and a following that their leaders’ previous bands — Flexie and the Nines, respectively — never captured. Each group celebrates the release of its sophomore disc this weekend: the Charms with their EP So Pretty (Primary Voltage) at T.T.’s on Friday and Muck & the Mires with Beginner’s Muck (Amp) at the Abbey on Saturday.

Summing up the Charms world view isn’t hard. "It’s all about playin’, fuckin’, and drinkin’," notes guitarist Joe Wizda over beers at the Abbey. Indeed, the Charms’ first album (last year’s Charmed, I’m Sure) celebrated all three of those pastimes over a giddy, Farfisa-driven bubblegum/garage sound. On the follow-up disc, the subject matter hasn’t changed much: the love songs may be a shade darker, but there’s still the sense that a good time will win out. What has changed a bit is their sound, the result of their working at New Alliance Studios with producers Andrew Schneider and Nick Zampierello, both loud-rock specialists whose résumés include heavies like Cracktorch (who’ll share the T.T.’s bill with the Charms) and Slughog and very little pop. They haven’t taken the fun out of the Charms’ sound, but they have amped it up quite a bit. Wizda’s guitar and Jason Meeker’s drums both take on a mile-high sound; even Kat Kina’s trademark Farfisa organ sounds sleek and modern. Frontwoman Ellie Vee also favors a deeper register these days, sounding less like a sex kitten than like a full-grown tiger.

The Charms’ musical roots stretch a bit farther than the ’60s. Vee is a Brenda Lee fan (she has a side project singing covers as Brenda Vee), Kina was classically trained, and Wizda’s a card-carrying member of the Kiss Army. Still, it’s not hard to tell where their musical hearts lie — not when Kina (a Russian émigrée who’s taken keyboard lessons from the Lyres’ Jeff Conolly) sneaks the "96 Tears" lick into one tune. Or when the opening "Believe" — the one Charms song that has nothing to do with love or sex — charges out like a close cousin to "Mony Mony" and Vee sings the praises of garage rock’s favorite chord progression: "That 1-4-5, that’s something money just can’t buy." As she explains, "That’s just us saying that rockabilly and ’60s rock and roll will always be in the underground, and you can’t stop it." Explaining the change of sound, they point out that the first disc was a demo, one recorded in part before they’d begun playing out. "This disc sounds tougher, but I think that’s how we sound live," Wizda notes. "The producers have that modern sound, but it’s not like they tried to change us."

As for the "playin’, fuckin’, and drinkin’," Vee admits she’s nervous about what her mom will make of So Pretty’s cover art, which shows a pair of panties pulled down around fishnetted legs. "But you had to do that," Wizda reminds her, "because you wrote this song [the title track] about feeling dirty after a one-night stand, then going back and doing it again." Although Vee swears the song is about someone else, she notes that she can be more brazen on stage than she might be in real life. "It’s a part of myself that I get to live vicariously through. It does mean we see more weirdos at gigs. . . ." "But I like the weirdos, because I’m one of ’em," Wizda concludes.

And in truth, the past year for the Charms has been more about hard work than about screwing around. The debut album took off quickly, getting a good review in the Village Voice the week it was released; they’ve since played regularly up and down the East Coast, totaling about 100 gigs in 2003. They already have a higher profile than Vee and Wizda had after five years with their previous band, the more streamlined pop group Flexie — and they’ve met a few of their heroes, getting to shmooze backstage with Cheap Trick and Gene Simmons. But they’ve also seen their share of inglorious gigs and sudden personnel changes (both drummer Meeker and bassist Pete Stone have left since the album was finished). And they’re currently in the gray area between being a struggling band and a more established one. "You start out being happy just to play, then you start hoping somebody gives you money," Wizda notes. But Vee has higher aspirations: "I want this band to make a lot of money, because I really want to own a ’54 Corvette."

MUCK & THE MIRES singer/guitarist Evan Shore has always been fueled by his love for the British Invasion, as anyone can attest who knew his previous bands — the Voodoo Dolls (for whom he wrote the shoulda-been-classic "This Town Makes Me Feel So Lonely") and the Nines. Yet he’s always tempered his ’60s leanings with a touch of modern punk sound. It was only when he came out of the ’60s closet for good that the band caught on.

Muck didn’t even start out as a real band: while he was demo-ing some new songs for the Nines, Shore decided to have some retro fun and make the tapes sound as ’60s as possible, using clean guitar sounds and wide stereo separation and playing all the instruments himself. He licensed the result to the Canadian label Amp, gave the fake band members some joky ’60s-type names (Joey Muccarino on guitar, Jessie Best on drums, Brian and Frankie Mire on bass and guitar), and packaged All Mucked Up as a Nuggets-style reissue. When two years ago a few local gigs were booked to support the album, he called in the rest of the Nines; they went with the ’60s concept by wearing matching suits and shades and added a few period covers (the two they play most often — the Knickerbockers’ "Lies" and the Honeycombs’ "Have I the Right" — are buried treasures from 1965).

Sure enough, the fake band proved more popular than the real one, and before long the Nines morphed into Muck & the Mires full-time. Along with the more palpable ’60s influences, the only real difference is the attitude. "We had gotten pretty burned out on the Nines," Shore admits over beers with Mires bassist Chris Miller and me at the Abbey. "I think the main thing the Nines lacked was an image; we didn’t have anything that made us different from everybody else. People just thought of us as the Voodoo Dolls without the lead singer, which is basically what we were. With Muck & the Mires, it started as a total joke — ‘Let’s have the silliest name we can think of, let’s wear matching suits.’ And I think that made a lot of difference. We get people telling us, ‘You guys look like you’re really having fun,’ and that’s because we are." Thus the real band members — drummer Linda Khoury, bassist Miller, and singer/guitarist Brian Martin — have stepped into the Mires pseudonyms. And most local fans who’ve picked up the debut CD probably haven’t figured out that Shore plays everything on it. "They have figured out that we sound better live, though," he laughs.

As the first CD to feature the real band, Beginner’s Muck benefits from the obvious chemistry and the mostly live production. (The entire thing, they note, was made in 21 hours: seven for the tracks, seven for the overdubs, and seven for the mix.) Khoury is a power drummer in the Keith Moon mold, and Martin trades off spirited lead vocals with Shore. "I’m Down with That" is the obvious hit, sporting one of those titles that just cried out to be used in a pop song. But what with the concise solos, catchy verses, and catchier choruses, virtually everything on the album is a hook.

Still, the CD-release show at the Abbey this Saturday presents the band with a problem: they’re booked to play an hour set, but all their songs clock in at two minutes or less. So if they play all 24 of the numbers on their two albums and throw in every cover tune they know and a few brand new songs, they should just about manage it. They’re also hoping for a top-secret guest appearance from a Boston rock legend from the ’60s; they’ve learned a few Barbarians covers and reserved a space at the drum kit in case Victor Moulton turns up.

On Beginner’s Muck, they blast through 12 songs (plus a bonus track) in 23 minutes — a feat of brevity that even Shore’s two heroes, the Beatles and the Ramones, never pulled off. "We could’ve made ’em longer, but that would just be filler," he says. "What could we do — add a longer intro, or a longer guitar solo? The point is keeping the energy up from start to finish, and to me songwriting is an art — I didn’t just want to have a good chorus, I want the verse and the bridge to be good too. I think it was [Beatles producer] George Martin who said that you can sell a song in the first seven seconds, and I think that makes sense."

Bringing up the Beatles begs the question of whether the Mires are a retro band, but to them the sound never went out of date "Let’s face it," Miller (who’s dressed incongruously in an SSD T-shirt) notes, "everybody listened to the Beatles and the Stones when they grew up. Everyone knows this kind of music, and nobody ever loses it." "The first album was the attempt to be retro; now it’s a real band," Shore concludes. "But a real band that obviously grew up listening to the Beatles."

The Charms play T.T. the Bear’s Place, 10 Brookline Street in Central Square, this Friday, January 23; call (617) 492-BEAR. Muck & the Mires play the Abbey Lounge, 3 Beacon Street in Somerville, this Saturday, January 24; call (617) 441-9631.


Issue Date: January 23 - 29, 2004
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