Sex, Sex, Sex in the City!
An interview with Scott Blonde
“Oakland is for Lovemakers,” a popular band t-shirt slogan, is a boastful, yet truthful claim. For the past couple of years, the other city by the bay has been home to one of the biggest musical phenomena on the western seaboard — a sexy yet light-hearted group whose attention-getting debut album, Times of Romance, serves as a platform for a stage show you have to see to believe.
After being kicked out of a band for allegedly working on songs that would become that aforementioned first disc, Stanford-educated Lisa Light (vocals, violin, bass) and Vermont transplant Scott Blonde (vocals, guitar) recruited vintage synth enthusiast/neighbor Jason Proctor, forming The Lovemakers in 2002.
Their formula of sweaty, ’80s-echoing dance music cranked out with sweatier live performances quickly caught on in the Bay Area’s always-smokin’ house party/nightclub scene a few years ago, and the band eventually signed to Interscope Records’ Cherrytree label. Coinciding with the band’s sudden success, however, was Blonde and Light’s breakup: a kiss of death for any group. But, in true Sonny & Cher fashion, the pair gamely ventured forward. While they delicately redefined their personal lives, the singers’ onstage chemistry — which makes Berlin’s erotic antics look tame in comparison — somehow remained red-hot.
Almost a year after Times of Romance‘s release, the group is perhaps hotter than ever, thanks to a grassroots, cult following that grows exponentially, month after month. The album, heavily laced with love-and-loss lyrics, hasn’t quite reached its zenith yet. And then there’s the single/video, “Shake That Ass”…
With a grinding synthetic bassline and an audacious hook that you can’t shake out of your noggin, “Shake That Ass” is a veritable instant classic. Imagine Andrea True Connection’s “More, More, More” hooking up with Soft Cell’s “Sex Dwarf” in the ladies’ room for a quickie, and you’ll begin to get the idea.
In a surprise-filled interview on the eve of a West Coast tour (with drummer Josh Kilbourne and new keyboardist Brandon Arnovick), Mr. Blonde revealed that appearances can indeed be deceiving, that there’s more to life than being a sex symbol, and making out with one’s lovely ex-girlfriend onstage does have a down side.
The record definitely brings back memories of B Movie, Altered Images, Animotion…but I’ve read that you’re hesitant about being tagged a “retro” band.
But how can you avoid it, with this CD?
I really don’t understand how this all happened, exactly. I can see it, I guess…I did grow up in the ’80s, that was the most influential time for me. I guess it’s the style, and of course, the keyboards. If you heard the demos of some of these songs, we recorded them with just guitar, drums and bass. They just sounded like pop songs. But once production started, and the keyboards were added in — the keyboards give it that ’80s vibe. But we didn’t do it on purpose, like, “We’re going to sound like this band or that band.” For example, I’ve never heard of those groups that you just mentioned.
Do you realize how hard this is for me to believe?
I guess… on a couple of songs, I might have thought, “What would Prince do in this situation?'” But that’s about it. I never listened to that kind of music. We also get compared to New Order and Human League — I never listened to that stuff. When I was a kid, you probably could have found Van Halen or Steve Miller in my stereo [laughs]. I honestly don’t know where the New Wave thing comes from, it just kind of happened.
[Still laughing] The funny thing is that when we talk to white people about the record, they say it’s an ’80s album, but our black fans say it sounds like the Neptunes — which is right on! When we were coming up with beats, we were listening to Neptunes-produced hip-hop. We were thinking, “This would be cool to do, but in a pop/rock element.” But when you put keyboards and vocals over them, it sounds like 1984.
When I first heard “Shake That Ass,” I thought of Scissor Sisters. But this approach of yours seem to be more than a gimmick.
You’re right. Around the time the band first started up in Oakland, there was this huge Indie-rock, Elliott Smith-kind of scene going on, everything was about depressing lyrics and self-loathing. We’d had enough, we didn’t want to hear this stuff anymore — we were going to write fun dance songs, and we’re going to dress up again. No more flannels, or whatever you wore that day up on stage. We were thinking of Michael Jackson, Prince… I remember being in awe of those guys when I was a kid. In a way, I guess it was a gimmicky thing to do, but to us it wasn’t — it was more of a backlash against what we were tired of, we just wanted to do something different.
The chorus of “Shake That Ass,” it’s one of the most memorable lines in recent music history…what is the song’s origin?
When we first started to demo songs, we were working with Jeff Salzman, who produced the Killers’ record. This A&R guy from Warner who wanted to get things rolling with us, he set us up with these songwriters who used to be in the Black Eyed Peas. They came to a show of ours, and asked if we wanted to write some songs with them. I figured, we might as well. We got along really well. One day when we were down in L.A., we went to their studio… and we just got really drunk. [laughs] We had the music for “Shake That Ass,” but we couldn’t figure out how to sing over it. I finally said, “Just roll the tape, I’m going to go in there and do it.” I had never sang falsetto before in my life. Lisa and I were laughing the whole time, writing down the lyrics. It just came out so…
Bold, very bold. Old-school bold.
Yeah. And it says something about this band, the band is our alter-egos at work. If you hung out with me for a day, you’d find that I’m kinda shy. But on stage, we pull this stuff out of us that exists somewhere, things we wouldn’t normally say.
“Sex” has been missing from the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll equation for a while, hasn’t it?
Yeah, that’s what we thought. We wanted to make it a bit mysterious, a little dangerous, fun… and it’s worked for us. Of course, people here in the Bay Area think that our lives are way more interesting than they really are [laughs].
The outrageousness of your stage show, how long did it take for you to develop it… is this something that, ah, you worked up to?
No, we had it from the start, pretty much. Actually, our stage shows are pretty hilarious — we are literally having a blast up there. Music is fun, we should have a good time doing it.
I’ve read rumors that your shows have prompted spontaneous orgies…
No, but the crazier it gets, the more we like it. We recently played this house party at Stanford, it was incredible. We used to play house parties all the time, but it just got too big. Anyway, it was like 400 kids packed into the common room of this dorm. We were surrounded by kids, it was crazy. They ran out of cups, so they filled up a huge spaghetti pot with beer and put it in front of me. Anytime I wasn’t singing, I would just get down on my knees and put my face in this trough [laughs].
You realize that — unless you’re a junkie, a vegetarian or an exercise freak — that’s there’s gonna come a day when you’re going to have to put on a shirt.
[Laughing] Oh, I know. I think all of us are thinking about that!
But you know, we’re changing, evolving as time goes on. We’ve demo’ed a lot of songs for the next record, and they’re definitely darker, lyrically more serious, more “rock.” There’s hints of the last record — we can’t get away from that — but there’s a lot of material that’s a departure from that sound. We’re moving away from the computer, the sequencing, quite a bit.
Times of Romance still has legs, ten months later.
It seems like more than ever, now. I could be totally wrong, and maybe it’s some sort of sick dream of mine, but it seems like we’re holding onto this sort of integrity with fans. The record is still catching on. I think if it was something that was being pushed down people’s throats, they would hate it. But the fact that people are discovering it on their own, that’s working to our advantage.
I see that you have a new keyboardist. What happened to the old one?
Jason went on to start some internet business or something.
He didn’t want to be in a rock band anymore?
No, I guess not. Not that it really matters, but he’s older than us, and I guess he needed something more stable, money-wise. We still get along fine, I just saw him last night.
That’s a rock cliche — like the drummer who quits to go back to work at the hardware store, just before the band hits the big time.
Oh, I know… we’ve already had a few laughs over it.
So you and Lisa are proving that lovers can indeed remain friends?
Yeah, it seems impossible, looking back on it… but it’s working, we’re like brother and sister now.
Hmmm…more like kissing cousins, maybe?
[Chuckling] Technically, I guess that’s closer to the truth. But we’ve both worked so hard on [the band], it seemed stupid not to (record the album).
You’ve described that period as “excruciating.”
Oh, yeah, it was a total nightmare. [Our breakup] was happening just as we were starting to record the CD, so we were stuck in the studio together for three months, 12 hours a day, six days a week.
Given the image, these alter egos that you’ve created for yourselves, one has to imagine what your current or future partners would think of this arrangement. A bit of jealousy?
Oh, man, you have no idea, it’s awful. Lisa has had boyfriends that are now out to destroy me, and I’ve had girlfriends who have insisted that unless Lisa and I are onstage, we shouldn’t be hanging out together — which is impossible. The whole thing is kind of a meter on who’s crazy and who’s not.
Kind of like bringing a date over to your pad and introducing her to the dog or cat — part of the package.
That’s literally how it works. I have to explain to someone exactly how things are. But it doesn’t affect Lisa and I’s relationship. We’re together four or five hours a day, working on music.
What do your parents make of your success?
They think it’s great. I don’t think they expected anything to happen — me moving to California, being in all these bands, and hitting a sort of nerve with this one. My dad’s a big hunter, and raises beagles… I didn’t grow up in any sort of musical realm at all.
And now, “My son, the Bay Area sex symbol.”
Exactly. “Have you turned gay yet?” [laughs]. I come from Bennington, Vermont, which is a small town; the crowning moment came when the local paper ran a photo of me with some Playmates — we played a Special Olympics benefit at the Playboy Mansion — on the front page. My big goal is to somehow acquire enough money to someday move back to Vermont, buy a house there, be closer to my family.
What a classic rock ‘n’ roll story that would be.
I guess so… I mean, I love Oakland, but I’m not a big-city guy. I would much rather live in a small town.
Did the Playboy Mansion live up to your expectations?
It was terrible. I mean, it was awesome, a sort of mythical land. It’s cool to be able to say I was there, but other than that, it was the worst party you’ve ever been to.
There were like 800 dudes that paid $600 to get in, and they’re all dead set on sleeping with a Playmate. The amount of testosterone floating around was more than someone could deal with. And there were like 20 girls. It was not cool.
Like throwing a handful of guppies into a piranha tank.
Did you get to meet Hefner?
No, but when we came back the next day to pick up our gear, it was like a normal day at the mansion. There were a bunch of girls hanging out by the pool, and I saw Hef playing cards or some game with his three girlfriends. Now, that was pretty cool.
The Lovemakers: www.thelovemakers.com