Article / review / interview in The Spinyard newsletter:
CO2 Poised for Internet Action
CO2 is a fairly new band out of Champaign, Illinois (home to the Poster Children, Hum, and other bands that have been getting out into the world), and they've just released their first album. It came out in December and we got our hands on a promo copy in January. The album's entitled "21st Century S.O.S." (shameless exploitation of the millennium). File under power-pop/alterna-rock, but it's an interesting departure from the recent spate of post-grunge and emocore clones shooting for airplay within a tired whiny-boy "I'm so sensitive" genre. CO2 rocks, and does so with some new sounds. The tracks move through varying levels of intensity, with heavily layered production midway (track 6 "A Higher Road" is maybe a little out of place -- it's a little too nice and smells like AOR), and back to some pure and simple jams to round out the set. We like the hard-hitting "Paper, Scissors, Stone", and the open, clear sounds of "Falling Sky" and the bleak dirge of "Fade to Black". The album pivots around an intrumental track, something of a techno/electronica piece called "The Better Angles of Our Nature". That's not a typo, it's "Angles", a bit of a joke on a phrase used by Nixon in some speech before we were born [he was quoting a speech by Lincoln during the Civil War]. We hear soundbites of Clinton trying to explain his ass away along with other presidents in trouble. It's an interesting montage, but probably plays better with the art crowd. But hey, a little of the unexpected here is a good thing and we applaud the band's willingness to experiment.
Champaign is no stranger to high-tech computer shit (remember Hal in 2001? -- if you use the web, you can thank the developers of Mosaic which came out of the U of I), and CO2 has got the internet thing covered. Their website (http://www.co2band.com) has the usual bio and pics, but also all their song lyrics and most importantly, actual tracks for downloading. Two of them are in MP3 format. Maybe you've heard of that, since the record industry is desperate to find someone to sue over it and shut it down! MP3 is an audio format for distributing music over the web to your computer, a CD-ROM, or a dedicated player like the Rio. It sounds as good as what you hear on a CD, and a lot of it is free. Eventually all music will be available this way. In the meantime you can also buy CO2's CD straight off their site.
All the songs are written by CO2's frontman/producer/singer/guitarist Andre Kuzniarek. Remember him from Crayon Rubbings? We didn't think so, but he's been in and out of the independent music scene for quite a while, and some folks I know have good things to say about those past projects. His lyrics here are not the kind of introspective storytelling found in other Champaign product like Menthol or Sarge, but nor are they mindless word candy tacked on at the last minute. There are some worthwhile ideas, no stupid cliches, and a refreshing departure from songs about getting laid or not getting laid, or the facets of the singer's belly-button. In fact, we decided to get in touch with Andre to get a little more insight into the material, and the band's general philosophy. What follows is from an email exchange (over a few days in January) which edited together makes a complete interview:
PJ: Most of the songs on the album are pretty short, but also deceptively simple. They're not all perfectly clear. In the first song for instance, the "guy" seems kind of creepy, is that the right take?
AK: Yeah, it's from his point of view, so maybe that confuses people. I've had some A&R types say "doesn't the relationship move a little fast"? Duh, he's a stalker!
PJ: Right, I thought I got that. The next one, "Waiting for a Sign" is pretty straightforward. I like the reference to the Heaven's Gate Hale-Bopp cult. In fact this album is pretty much in a "know your current events" sort of mode isn't it? Like the third track, "Eve of '89", clearly a reference to something important that year, and the lyrics sound like they refer to political struggle. I'm guessing the fall of the Berlin Wall.
AK: Well, sort of. It was actually inspired by events in Romania at Christmas, 1989. The fall of the Berlin Wall created a chain reaction throughout communist Europe. Romania suffered under one of the most dreadful, petty regimes sponsored by the U.S.S.R. It was run by a murderous goon named Ceausescu, his wife, and their oppressive secret police, the Securitate. They were overthrown by a genuine popular uprising on Christmas Eve. Ceausescu and his wife were tried and executed by firing squad for their crimes against their people (against humanity really). It was a beautiful thing. The same should happen to Pinochet and other such motherfuckers. Anyway, the title here references Christmas Eve and the end or "evening" of the year itself. And yes, I wrote the song 10 years ago.
PJ: Ok, cool, it's a heavy theme without hitting us over the head with it. But what the heck is "Paper, Scissors, Stone" about? You sound pissed, and make some killer attacks on what sound like the upper class...
AK: Yeah, it's an anthem for class warfare essentially. Another reference to the Eighties, when junk bond traders were ripping off investors, savings and loans were ripping off the government, major corporations were getting government bailouts while welfare recipients were getting reamed, major industries were (and still are) leaving US workers behind for cheaper labor in destitute countries, and cocaine was (and perhaps still is) the favored currency of the CIA (as well as the favored party drug of the rich). All this under the hypocritcal "for the regular-guy" posturing of Reaganomics. So this song is essentially a big "go to hell" to the top 2-3% of the major wealth holders in this country.
PJ: It's like Nine Inch Nails and White Zombie having a beer with Ted Nugent at Billy Bragg's house. Your press kit claims this song as the best example of "the CO2 sound". Is that because you feel the strongest about it's content?
AK: Well, more because it's the closest to the kind of sound I'm shooting for. I just can't always get away with it. My voice is more of a regular guy voice and not some kind of Chris Cornell powerhouse, so I can't always write music as cranked up as I would like.
PJ: But that makes for an original approach. This stuff borders on metal without the poser bullshit or the cheesy Robert Plant imitations. "Fade to Black" fits in that mode as well, and also seems to have an iron-curtain theme.
AK: Yeah, it's my second favorite track. It's mostly about the social disintegration going on in Russia, but also references the personal experience of someone I know.
PJ: You're really into the Eastern European thing.
AK: My last name is of slavic origin. My great grandfather was Polish. Guess it's in my blood.
PJ: You mention personal experience of a friend. I see there is a dedication on the record to a friend of yours.
AK: I haven't written anything specifically about him on this album. I've written something since completing these tracks that will appear on our next project.
PJ: Ok, moving on, track 5 backs away from the intensity level of "Paper, Scissors, Stone" to more of a Smithereens-ish power-pop sound. "Recipe for Disaster" seems to be the closest you get to the usual rock'n'roll theme of sex and more sex.
AK: Or not getting it actually. This song's dedicated to all the average people out there who have to work hard at catching the attention of the opposite sex. If you're a guy with a jutting jaw or large neck or biceps and over 6 feet tall, you don't have to do anything except figure out how to remember all the phone numbers. If you're a woman with the ideal hip-to-waist ratio or great hair and symmetrical features, same thing. Actually, it's always easier for women, they control the action. If you're female and want to get laid, all you have to do is make that known and there will be a guy to take you up on it. Can't say it works the other way.
PJ: You're talking about some of those studies being done about sexual attraction. Do you buy into that?
AK: Well, I was married once, and have been in a number of relationships, so I believe some of it. The anthropological basis for relationships pooping out after 3-4 years is intriguing.
PJ: That leads to the song I criticize in my review for being too AOR, "A Higher Road".
AK: I admit it's kind of schmaltzy, maybe even trite. But the feelings expressed are genuine. I've been there, it means something to me, even if it sounds overly familiar. I also think Jay came up with some kickass bass licks so there was no way this song was getting cut from the record. And there was plenty of stuff that we cut.
PJ: The credits are a little confusing. You're saying Jay wrote the bass part, but it seems like that might not be true on other songs?
AK: It's about 50/50. I wrote some of the bass parts. I played all the parts on the first song ("All You'll Ever Need"), including programming the drum machine. But not because I'm a glory hog, I would have rather had the guys play the parts and hopefully improve on them. There just wasn't time. That song came along late, just as we were wrapping everything up. And since we ended up cutting stuff that just didn't fit into the overall sound, I had to pull together some of the stuff that was brand new at the time.
PJ: Ok, I guess the other songs like this are marked on the CD notes. That includes "The Better Angles of Our Nature". What's that all about?
AK: Well, it's obvious when listening to it. But if you're asking "why", it's probably because I have more fun putting together experimental studio tracks than just recording songs that have been worked out live. Most of the songs on the record were written for the band as a three-piece. They're fun to play, but recording them gets boring, since everthing's already worked out. You're just shooting for a perfect take, and that gets tedious after a while. Composing stuff on the fly while recording is a blast. You're always surprised by the next pass through it and it's fresher than everything else. I also like this track the most because I'm not singing on it. I get tired of hearing my voice.
PJ: Would you ever consider a lead singer other than yourself (not that I think you need it)?
AK: Oh hell yes. If the right person comes along, great, I'll do it. I just don't want to be stuck with some egomaniacal gonad squeezer who needs to fight over every place he wants to be heard. I suppose a "she" would be ok too, but I wouldn't want to get lumped into the current chick-rock thing. I do think there are plenty cool female performers, but there's also this genre of cute girlie acts that I want to avoid.
PJ: Name some names...
AK: I consider The Pretenders a major influence. I think Kate Bush (at least on "The Dreaming" and "Hounds of Love") is awesome. Sarah McLachlan's "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy" album was really beautiful -- I'm extremely jealous of it, Alanis Morrisette's latest is pretty cool, and k.d.lang is a god. It's kind of interesting though that almost all of these folks have a guy that collaborates in a big way, especially in production. Hell, I was doing the same thing in Crayon Rubbings. Laurel Garber was the singer/songwriter, and I really respect a lot of the stuff she wrote too.
PJ: Ok, so who else do we note as an influence?
AK: Well, if everything I listen to is an influence, then there's too much to list. But I was weaned on Hendrix, Ten Years After, Rory Galagher, Zeppelin and the Doors. In the 80's I was into Gabriel, The Pretenders, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, David Bowie, Midnight Oil, Sisters of Mercy, and the Smiths. In the 90's I've been into Ministry, Godflesh, Skinny Puppy, a lot of the grunge stuff, but also Los Lobos, Peter Himmelman, and trance stuff like Loop Guru.
PJ: Well, I guess I hear some of that, but there's clearly no one sound you're mimicking, which is a good thing.
AK: I've never spent much time learning covers or doing other people's sound. I learn by pushing myself. Sometimes that means I come up with stuff I've heard someone else do before. Hopefully I know well enough to move on and get back to my own thing.
PJ: Seems like you've done that for the most part. Thanks for your time and good luck with the project.
(c)1999 Peter Janoiwic / The Spinyard