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Slop-pop dude

Ľ Audio

ē Flats Fixed, "Kooler" (mp3)

Ľ On the Web

ē Studio Soto

ē Slop pop

Spencer James says heíd better dig out the copy of his bandís EP right now or heíll forget to pass it along ó the Flats Fixed guitarist/singer is feeling a little spacey. "There was this car in front of me the whole way down here, smoking weed," he says, retrieving a jewel case from a bag next to the white bike he just rode in on. "I was riding in the back draft, so sorry if ...." His sentence trails off in an invisible ellipsis.

Itís a Wednesday afternoon in Fort Point Channelís Studio Soto, a first-floor gallery on Melcher Street overlooking the lifeless A Street Diner. Studio Soto isnít usually open on weekdays, but the MassArt-educated painter/illustrator has keys to the space and opened it for a guided tour of his show, "Spencer James: New Work & Slop Pop." In one corner of the space is a red-and-orange piece that stars the Count from Sesame Street. "I like the Countís ĎHa-ha-ha,í" James explains with a grin, Sonic Youth blaring in the background. "My grandfather is from Croatia and he had that Eastern European accent." On another wall, thereís a painting of the cursive phrase "the name of your band." "Itís so important to bands," the 39-year-old says. "Now that Iím out of the potential age range to be a pop star, itís just kind of funny that the name of your band holds so much weight."

But names hold a certain importance for James, too. He christened his three-man pop-punk band after a sign in a Mission Hill tire shop: FLATS FIXED. And the term "slop pop" is integral to the identity of Jamesís work. Itís not his genre tag, per se: scrappy music writers have tossed the label around, a New York band called Poolsville released an EP by that name in 1998, and James himself has heard Melt-Banana called "slop pop." But a few years ago, when it came time to assign a moniker to Flats Fixedís self-releases, he parodied Sub Pop and called it Slop Pop Records. The adjective conveys not only Jamesís approach to music, but his messy, somewhat haphazard, color-that-casually-bleeds-outside-the-lines approach to painting. James admits, "Mistakes are actually the most important part [of my work]."

Thatís especially evident looking around the Fort Point gallery. Many of Jamesís drawings are of figures: elephants, lotus flowers, a yam shaped like a uterus. And for the most part, they look like enlarged notebook doodles. Being bored and scrawling on paper is actually what inspired a few of them. Like the Buddha series ó portraits of the back of Buddhaís head. "I was an A/V technician," says James, referring to the full-time hospitality-style job he held at the MIT Hotel he recently left after five years. "I found myself drawing the backs of peopleís heads a lot."

Although the Croatian-born Jamaica Plain resident has an art-school background and even worked at his parentsí folk-art shop during high school, he says he doesnít really know much about art. For example, he has no idea how to mix color. "I know just enough to be dangerous," he likes to say, adding that heís red-green colorblind. So when James started at MassArt, he first found himself drawn to the visual and tactile qualities of found objects, like old, rained-on plywood. "My parents totally didnít get it, though. I would give them this block of wood with a chain and theyíd be like, ĎNo value. I donít get this.í" But then he started painting on the plywood, a process that didnít allow him room for tidying up error ó and inevitably "happy mistakes" became the art.

Thatís also consistent with Jamesís handmade line of Slop Pop trucker hats and T-shirts. The hats have logos that are hand-stamped and off-kilter. James created the items because he "wanted something fast" and because heís lately been inspired by bike couriers. He worked as one during college. "Couriers are this weird unsung hero," he says. "I just think itís funny that couriers and their piercings, nose rings, and tattoos ó smelling like cigarettes ó are like an integral part of perfect hair, manicure, perfect suits, and lawyers and business. Theyíre always in trouble with the law, cabbies hate them, yet they have a right to be on the road...." They tend to get caught in the back draft, too.

Flats Fixed plays this Friday, January 6, at Studio Soto, 63 Melcher Street, Boston | www.studiosoto.com.

Issue Date: January 6 - 12, 2005
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