If you do it for fun then what does it mean?
Boys like me will never hold up
Boys like me you never know of
But the words that we sing will never go away
— From “A Boy Like Me”
The Offbeats are my kind of band.
“As a band, we have always felt that if we’re going to make an album, the whole thing has got to be thought out, not just the songs,” singer/guitarist Bryan Foster told the Current recently. “I don’t like the idea of MP3s. It’s the way of the world now, but I don’t like it. I like getting albums with artwork and liner notes and all that. We want someone to buy this record and get the best music that we can offer and a unique and thoughtful packaging design.”
For the two-years-in-the-making Lights Out in the City, the Offbeats’ first full-fledged album since 2008’s Standards, the band didn’t just release an album of mostly great songs — they also took the trouble of painstakingly designing the cover art in newspaper format, writing “stories” that represent each of the songs, and freezing their butts on a cold night at Blue Star just to take some photos to go with it.
“To me, it feels like all of these songs could have taken place on the same night, Foster said. “I guess the album artwork also lends itself to that feel.”
The actual recording (produced by Foster) was pretty fast, but it took two years to survive the departure of original drummer Mike Griffin, who left right after the recording of Standards. Instead of looking for a new drummer, the band opted for the hard way out: changing instruments.
“We didn’t even try `to look for a new drummer`,” Foster said. “`Griffin` left and our first instinct was to regroup. Both Sean and Colin `Foster’s brothers` had experience playing drums, so we decided to go as a four-piece. We knew the songs and it was easier to regroup and start playing shows right away than to look for a new drummer.”
The “new” Offbeats kept Bryan Foster on guitar and vocals, but bassist Colin switched to drums, guitarist Eric Romasanta moved to bass, and Sean stuck to guitar after playing guitar, keyboards, and some bass.
“Once we were ready to record it was pretty fast,” said Foster, “but what took a long time was to gel after switching things around.”
Boy, did it gel.
Besides the many musical merits of a hooks-filled album (see review on page 64), the lyrics are smart and show the Offbeats as vulnerable “boys” in a world falling apart, guys who, despite it all, have the balls to take life seriously and give it all they’ve got. They denounce those who “wear collared shirts and kneel in church to window-dress the lies” (“Cops N’ Robbers”); announce that “you can write us off/ But you cannot buy us all” (“Pennies”); who “dug up Davy Crockett’s dust and bones” and “used his ashes to fill the cascarones” (“Battle of Flowers,” a lethal farce about a present-day reconquest of the city); and predict that “one day we will pay for everything we pray for” (“Boystown”).
But the album is far from a downer. Despite its title and black-and-white cover, there’s light everywhere you don’t see it — it enters through your ears as a feast of killer melodies, nagging riffs, unexpected detours, and stadium choruses (some songs even have more than one chorus). And yes, they do sound like the Strokes at times.
“We get a lot of that,” he sighs. “We’re all fans of the Strokes. We like them a lot, a lot, but we never aimed to sound like them. There are bands that I like more, like the Clash, and I think these songs and this album were more influenced by albums like `the Clash’s` London Calling, `the Rolling Stones’` Exile On Main Street, `Bruce Springsteen’s` Born to Run, and `Patti Smith’s` Horses. `The comparison` is nice, but on the same token I don’t want us to sound like we really try to go for that kind of sound, because we don’t.”
In any case, the two albums the Offbeats managed to put out so far are solid enough to assure them a legitimate place in San Antonio’s rock history. As they said in “A Boy Like Me,” the backbone of the record:
“So please remember us on long/ After we’re gone/ The songs will preserve us.”
It’s too early for that, but don’t worry, boys: We’ll keep the songs.
The Offbeats CD release party w. Viet Ruse and the Moriartys
No cover (new album $5)
9pm Fri, April 1
The Pedicab Bar & Grill, 415 E Cevallos