The Pink Spiders don’t want to be the biggest band in the world, despite what you may have heard. Sure, the press has said as much. Maybe even the Pink Spiders have said as much in past interviews. But the truth is, at least according to frontman Matt Friction, they’re perfectly OK not being the biggest band in the world.
“I try to use the word ‘greatest’ instead,” he says, casting false modesty to the wind. “It’s hard to measure how big a band is. A lot of great bands aren’t big, a lot of big bands aren’t great.”
This sort of attitude has often been misconstrued as arrogance, but the power-pop rising stars — who just came off a tour opening for Sugarcult and, as Friction sits through this interrogation, are holed up in Jacksonville, Florida a few hours away from a plane ride that will land them in Scotland for another series of dates — just don’t see it that way. Even if they do rub a lot of their peers the wrong way.
“You walk a fine line between arrogance and confidence, and I think that’s kind of what we do,” Friction explains. He is utterly unenthusiastic, the complete antithesis of the bright-pink, super-energized Spiders personas splashed across the cover of their major-label debut, Teenage Graffiti. “If you’re secure, having a good time, and making no apologies for anything, people are going to think you’re an asshole. It’s impossible to please everyone, so we just don’t try.”
That “having a good time” includes being notoriously hard drinkers, which Dia Frampton of Meg & Dia, who toured with Sugarcult and the Spiders, recently confirmed; she actually went so far as to say that Friction and his bandmates Joe Decious (bass) and Bob Ferrari (drums) were drunk every night. Friction doesn’t deny it: “Yeah, that’s definitely very accurate.” He has no qualms about the lifestyle the Spiders are living. “Oh man, you have to to survive,” he insists, certain the reality of tour would be too much to bear otherwise.
These days, the Spiders are lucky enough to have a working van and a budget that keeps them sharing hotel rooms and beds. Not so long ago — not more than a year, in fact — they would crash in a New York subway during freezing temperatures if they had to and were donating blood plasma to keep their tour going. That was before signing with Geffen, and before Ric Ocasek, legendary leader of the Cars, agreed to produce Teenage Graffiti.
Hot on the heels of Hot Pink (CI Records), this sophomore effort boasts arena-grade power-pop that could also be labeled pop-punk. It’s slick, it’s a bit over-produced, it kind of feels like Ashlee Simpson switched genders and started obsessing over getting laid, but somehow it works. It’s fun, it’s easy to sing along with, and it demands nothing from you without coming across as empty (though it is), vapid (arguably, it’s that, too), or disposable (you wish it was, but by the third or fourth listen, the dirty feeling will go away, trust us).
And for the Spiders, it’s about Step #242 toward world domination.
“What influences us musically and what makes us want to be a band is a different ear in music,” Friction says. “There was a time when bands were trying to top each others’ records, always trying to outdo each other — like the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles. You got Pet Sounds, followed up by Sgt. Pepper. They were trying to be the greatest rock ’n’ roll band on the planet.”
It seems completely obvious to Friction that the lack of a comparable sense of competition is what’s wrong with music today. Being ambitious has become uncool. Only a handful of bands reject this mindset, and he cites the Killers and My Chemical Romance as examples. “They’re trying to get bigger, more spectacle, epic,” he points out.
One might assume then, given the ambition that is propelling the Pink Spiders to the top — well, maybe not the top yet (but somewhere in the suburbs around Topland) — that they entered the studio feeling a bit of pressure to live up to their own self-announced hype, but Friction snorts away the suggestion. “We’re not the kind of guys who think about the repercussions of our actions or consequences of any kind,” he offers, a smirk in his voice. “We were just excited to make a real record that wasn’t in a garage.”
The over-the-top, self-manufactured mythology of the Pink Spiders — three guys with comical stage names, closets full of bright-pink rock uniforms, and enough moxie to support 10 bands — has taken its toll, though. “I think when you get started `in this business`, it’s like Clark Kent and Superman,” Friction says. “You’re kind of your own person and then there’s this stage person. You tour all the time. When you’re not touring, you’re making a record. We don’t have any time off, so your alternate guise becomes kind of who you are,” he concludes.
Friction doesn’t sound tortured when he says any of this. Rather, he sounds resigned to a fate of his own choosing. After all, being the greatest band in the world should come with a price. l
Pink Spiders’ scheduled performance at White Rabbit on Wednesday, January 31 has been canceled, because the band recently joined Fall Out Boy’s UK tour. The January 31 White Rabbit show will now consist of Love Arcade, Action Reaction, and Kill Hannah.