Ask the Exploding Hearts how they met, and they'll tell you about a certain Beaverton alternative high school. A place, in their words, for "retards, pregnant chicks and fuck-ups."
It was an educational environment tailor-made for punk-rock reprobates who just wanted to skate, make bad music and cling to hope of graduating. Surprisingly, most of them did. Not that it really mattered. Because nothing was going to stop Terry Six, Matt Lock, Kid Killer and Adam Baby from playing in a whole fleet of really crappy bands. And boy, did they.
Finally, Adam Baby managed to harness and redirect his high-school bros' more aggro inclinations, tap their intimate knowledge of vast personal record collections and put them all on the path of massive guitar hooks, melodic choruses and themes of love--well, maybe not love.
And the white-denim sensation known as the Exploding Hearts was born.
With two years of playing about town behind them, the barely twentysomethings have made good on the promise of a handful of quality singles and compilation tracks. Their full-length debut, Guitar Romantic, is one stunningly well-written and powerfully executed piece of work. It only takes a glance at the record's garish graphic design and a quick listen to the angst-ridden teenybopper power of opening track "Modern Kicks" to KNOW. The Exploding Hearts are blowing up with pink-and-yellow bubblegum pop.
Guitar Romantic draws heavily upon the Clash's fury, the Jam's beat and the Ramones' penchant for glue-sniffing daydreams in three buzz-saw chords. It also tempers this abrasive waster surrealism with the comparatively sophisticated songwriting sensibilities of troubadours Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe. Songs like "Making Teenage Faces," "You're Black and Blue" and "Razor Blades and Sleeping Aids" are deadly in their ability to lodge themselves in the mind's ear for days. Nasal-toned choruses swell with chest-cracking intensity, while moments of Motown and sock-hop balladeering add rare mainstream edges to an unquestionably underground emotional eruption.
"We're not some crappy retro-pop band," explains Adam Baby. "We take a lot of influences and try to boil them down the best we can."
Those good efforts have not gone unnoticed. The hoary punk digest Maximum Rocknroll is putting them on the cover of its next issue. A well-known local filmmaker has volunteered to shoot a video. A certain Seattle label with "pull" is said to take an interest. The Hearts regard all this attention with their trademarked, snot-inflected enthusiasm.
What's so striking about Guitar Romantic is that as up-tempo and passionate as the music can be, it is never saccharine in its sugar-coated appeal. Or, to put another way, the Exploding Hearts may only play love songs, but they'll never say, "I love you."
"What I like about pop is the romance and the heartbreak," explains Adam, who represents about 60 percent of the Hearts' songwriting force. "How are you going to believe some wussy-ass dude who is like, 'I'll let any girl walk all over me'? We'll always be raw and punk, but with, like, all these different layers of pop."
The other 40 percent of the band's songwriting duties are handled by a now-silent partner, Louie "King Louie" Bankston, who made a recent two-year stir locally with his King Louie One Man Band before returning to his native South.
Bankston enthusiastically injected himself into the Hearts' lineup as their onetime keyboard player (they've never sought a replacement) just as the band was really starting to produce. Though he does not play on Guitar Romantic, a series of beer-sucking songwriting sessions with Adam ensured Bankston partial credit on most of the record, a collaborative experience Bankston likens to a "John and Paul" affair. Both Bankston and the band plan on working together in the future.
"Torrid and scandalous" is how Bankston describes the lyrical content of Guitar Romantic. He also offers an insightful tour of the pop-punk province the Exploding Hearts call home. "Bubblegum is, like, the feeling everyone has when they're 13 or 14, just before they cut their own strings and go nuts. You're ready to explore, get high and fuck, but you're still innocent."
A recent stint in Memphis has left Bankston with the impression that a lot of musicians down there just want to get famous. "Brah," he says, "If I wanted to be famous, I would've stayed in the Exploding Hearts."
9 pm Friday, March 28, at Dante's (1 SW 3rd Ave., 226- 6630) with the Miss U's and the BlackNotes. Cover. 21+.
4 pm Saturday, March 29, at Ozone Records UK (2 NW 10th Ave., 227- 1981). All ages.
10 pm Saturday, March 29, at the Blackbird (3728 NE Sandy Blvd., 292- 9949) with the Rotten Apples, Deadly Weapons and the Husbands. Cover. 21+.