EX--IDOLS ON MAIN STREET A PUNK BAND MAKES IT IN SPITE OF ITSELF
By Ted Simons
Published: January 5, 1995
Consider the words of Gary Finneran. Start with one of the better songs on the debut CD by Finneran's band, Ex-Idols. "I'm insane," Finneran screams. "And I might not hear you say/`Please don't kill me/Please don't kill me anymore.'"
The song is titled "I Love You."
Here's Finneran again, this time on "Social Kill," the CD's equally sensitive title cut: "I'm just a bum with no money to spend/And I know I said I love you/But I fucked your friend."
He's a real treasure, that Gary Finneran.
"They're just lyrics," Finneran says with a laugh from his manager's office in L.A. "I try to be creative when I write a song. But I try to keep the lyrics kind of simple, too."
Mission accomplished. Indeed, Finneran repeatedly achieves both goals, in varying degrees, on Social Kill's 14-song fun house of killer chords and miserable mindsets.
Finneran seems like a nice enough sort on the phone. There's nary a hint of the budding psychotic who sneer-sings "Please don't kill me/So I can kill you" on the aforementioned "Go Away." Instead, Finneran comes off as an upbeat kind of guy. He's not the easiest conversationalist on the block, but he talks with enthusiasm when the subject suits him right. For instance, Finneran gets especially chipper in recounting Ex-Idols' recent evolution from being just another L.A. band to just another L.A. band with a recording deal.
"We've gone through it all, like everyone else," Finneran says of Ex-Idols' survival skills in and around Hollywood. "We've all done odd jobs, things like telemarketing, working at one-hour-photo places, selling latex gloves. You work at a job for six months and then quit and collect unemployment, and all the time, you're working on your band every night, practicing, taping rehearsals and trying to get a demo out."
That mix of work ethic and patience eventually paid off, with the help of simple good fortune.
"It was total chance," Finneran says of the band's deal last year with Sony/Relativity Records. "We had this demo, it was really good, it cost a lot of money--we were all working at the time--and we sent it to 30 record companies. This one guy [at Relativity] happened to like one little part of one of the songs. He flew out and met us, liked us and that's all it was."
Thus the recent release of Social Kill, a bruiser of a disc. Finneran's vocals, along with the considerable crunch of guitarist Duke Decter, make it sound like the band survived a trip to the nether regions of metal by way of old-timey punk. Decter comes through as the band's most valuable weapon; he's got a noticeable knack for cranking power chords straight from Steve Jones' glory days with the Pistols and the Professionals.
Decter joined Ex-Idols after the band's original guitarist was dismissed because of "creative conflict." It was, according to Finneran, a case of "one guy pulling when everybody else is pushing."
With the addition of Decter, Ex-Idols' otherwise-generic punk sound put on some weight. "Duke is a real straight, simple player," Finneran says, adding that "he's not one of these guys trying to play straight and simple. You can tell with those guys. Duke's for real."
Finneran's for real, too. Sort of.
"I'm a poser," he says, laughing. "I wasn't into punk ten years ago when there really was a punk scene. I'm like a lot of people who kind of got into it four years ago or three years ago."
The latest new wave of old-wave punk is big fashion these days, something Finneran's well aware of.
"When you're in a band now and you're playing punk, it really is kind of ridiculous," he says. "You have Green Day and you have Offspring and any one of a thousand other punk bands coming out every second. But that wasn't us."
Indeed, Finneran doesn't apologize for the more metal-oriented efforts on his r‚sum‚. When told his vocals occasionally ooze a hint of David Lee Roth schmaltz, Finneran proudly mentions that one of his previous bands specialized in Van Halen cover songs. As for Ex-Idols' other bloodlines, Decter comes from a firmer punk background. He played in a number of Florida acts, including the moderately successful Disorderly Conduct and F. Originally from Florida, as well, is bassist Sean DeMott, though for years, he's been anchored in Hollywood with Finneran. The same goes for drummer Lance Porter, an Arizona native, born and raised in Page.
Finneran and his rhythm section tried to kick-start several Hollywood-based bands over the years. Apart from Ex-Idols, they all died well short of the promised land.
"It can get grueling, trying to make it," Finneran says. "I give a thumbs up to anyone in a band who's out there still trying."
Not that Finneran makes the payoff sound like eternal bliss.
"It really doesn't mean anything to be signed," he says. "It just means you get to record for lots of money. You get to put your music down on record and make it sound really big."
With one big-sounding CD in the can, Finneran says the next Ex-Idols disc will likely include quirkier hooks and pop smarts, the kind of twists that make a song like the catchy "Go Away" stand out from the roar. Written by Decter ("Go Away" is the only Social Kill cut not penned by Finneran), it includes relatively intricate structures, as well as a sense of dynamics that moves beyond "loud" and "louder."
But even brainy song schematics can't totally offset the simpleminded cynicism bracing most Ex-Idols lyrics. Social Kill's misogynistic ramblings and self-centered spew make for little to identify with. Even Finneran's attempts at sensitivity seem shanked. Suicide-oriented songs like "Requiem," "I Die Tomorrow" and "Kind of a Sid and Nancy Song" sound distant and cold.
It can be especially tough to stomach all this when it's being written, sung and celebrated by a guy who so eagerly paints himself as a poser.
"Well, actually, I really do have anger," Finneran contends. "I'm an angry person. Who wouldn't be? Everybody should be angry at something--angry in a way that you're just trying to move on. You need to be pissed off and militant so you can go on with your life."
Finneran pauses long enough to change whatever direction it was he was heading in.
"We're just four guys having the time of our lives right now," he says with a near-audible shrug. "I'm not saying every minute of life is great. It's not. It's still the same; it still sucks. But when we're playing, that's when everything is best."
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