Art Brut: Brilliant, Tragic (But Mostly Brilliant)




Despite taking its name from the French for “outsider art,” Art Brut has achieved a significant following. Never the loner, British frontman Eddie Argos finds himself at the center of an inner circle: Art Brut boasts a franchising system that numbers over one hundred Art Brut cover bands. And as a group Eddie Argos, Jasper “Jeff” Future, Freddy Feedback, Mikey Breyer, and Ian Catskilkin have racked up eight years of playing music together.

Released on May 23 and produced by the Pixies’ Frank Black, the band has compared its latest album, Brilliant! Tragic!, to a “dramedy.” Amidst a seven-city North American tour, frontman Eddie Argos took a call from Interview while en route to Boston and talked about why German techno is not his scene, among other sundries.

CHARLOTTE JAPP: Art Brut is named after Jean Dubuffet’s term for outsider art. Do you see yourself as an outsider?

EDDIE ARGOS: A little bit—definitely when I started the band. I knew what that meant and nobody else really did, so I’d be on stage every night and say, “Hello, we’re Art Brut”—basically saying that we were rejects. But I mean, I didn’t really sing, it did feel a bit like we were outsiders. It was a bit tongue-in-cheek when I first named the band that, but then we slowly turned into that—like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

JAPP: But in a sense you have been put in good company with your franchises, the Art Brut franchises.

ARGOS: There’s hundreds of them. The first one actually was in West Virginia. They’re called Art Brut Pi. They covered “Formed a Band” with the banjo. I felt guilty that we had the name “Art Brut,” so we’d like to share it with other people.  Although, I was surprised at how well that took off. [laughs] There’s a Polish Art Brut, a Russian Art Brut, a British Art Brut.

JAPP: I love that it’s called “franchises” for this punk-rock music scene.

ARGOS: [laughs] Punk-rock franchising. That’s good. But that’s what it’s actually all about. We still see Art Brut 4 now and again.

JAPP: And We Are Scientists is apparently a franchise.

ARGOS: They’re Art Brut 47. And we’re We Are Scientists Too. They don’t have that many franchises. They actually had a battle of the bands once in London where all the Art Brut franchises played, but we weren’t invited. We heard about it on the radio. Art Brut 7 won, they did a cover of “Formed a Band,” but they sung it over the music to “Modern Art,” which was pretty impressive. I couldn’t do that. I think they would have beaten us in that competition. [laughs]

JAPP: You’re playing with Reptar at your New York show.

ARGOS: This isn’t the first time. We played with them in Cleveland and in Chicago. They showed up on the tour; I thought they would be dudes in suits looking like the Talking Heads, but they’re not like that at all—they look like a bunch of hippies.

JAPP: When I saw them play, they had a Michael Jackson framed portrait on stage and a stuffed animal dolphin that was crowd-surfing.

ARGOS: I’ve not seen that yet, I look forward to it. Maybe tonight they’ll have all that stuff.

JAPP: But I feel like that’s how Art Brut and Reptar work well playing together, because you’re both so interactive with the crowd.

ARGOS: Both two shows have gone really well so far. I don’t really like dancing, and I was almost dancing.

JAPP: Almost…

ARGOS: Yeah, almost; I don’t really ever dance. But I thought about it briefly.

JAPP: Fans come to your live shows because they understand your lyrics, which must bring a deeper connection.

ARGOS: Of course—all our songs are about real people, true events. We do write about DC Comics and things like The Replacements. It’s pretty much good conversations that happen at Art Brut shows. It’s like making friends—like a Wanted ad: “Man that likes the Replacements and DC Comics wants friends to drink with at venue tonight. Who’s coming?” It’s like that.

JAPP: It makes perfect sense, then, that Art Brut has commissioned artists for the upcoming comic book.

ARGOS: Yes, it’s finished. It arrived yesterday, so we got them tonight for the first time.

JAPP: How did it come out?

ARGOS: Really well. It was all my favorite artists. I didn’t know they were all going to say yes. I would have bought it if it had nothing to do with Art Brut. It’s literally every single one of my favorite artists. It’s perfect, really.

JAPP: What brought you to Berlin?

ARGOS: Well, my girlfriend was moving over from Los Angeles, and I realized that I didn’t like living in London anymore. Conversation is good. Beer is pretty cheap. Food is delicious. I love it there. A bit of a cliché, isn’t it? “Guy in a band movies to Berlin.” I’ve moved there to take heroin and write three classic albums. [laughs]

JAPP: But it’s interesting, though, because Berlin is becoming so known for its electronic, techno scene. How do you feel about that?

ARGOS: It’s OK. There is also rave and black metal. I don’t mind. Those people are good to talk to, but it’s not really my thing. Lots of people go to Berlin to live some sort of debauched lifestyle and go to clubs and stuff. But that’s not really… I go to bed early, you know? [laughs] I like having a beer in a nice pub and going to bed early. So that’s not really for me. There’s a nice indie scene there as well, though—lots of friends in bands who live there.

JAPP: How do you see rock ‘n’ roll and indie rock music moving in the future now that you have seen this new wave of electro?

ARGOS: I’m just gonna keep ignoring it. [laughs] It’s not really for me. I just like guitar music. I’ve tried to like other things, but it’s guitar music that I like.

JAPP: Speaking of your lyrics, it seems like every time the albums get reviewed, it’s about the lyrics and whether you’re speaking them or you’re singing them; do you ever feel that the actual music and composition get neglected?

ARGOS: Yeah, a little bit. The music is so good that I can get away with singing ridiculous things about comics. That’s why music is amazing. I couldn’t get away with singing about DC Comics or ex-girlfriends the way I do if the music wasn’t good.

JAPP: What do you see as the future for Art Brut?

ARGOS: We’ve released an album every two years, which is pretty slacker, really. [laughs] From now on, I want to release two albums a year. I’m not quite sure if we’re going to achieve that this year. We’ve started writing. My plan is to release lots and lots of albums, keep touring. We’re about five songs into a new EP.

JAPP: Any ideas for the new directions in terms of style or content?

ARGOS: I wrote one about Atlanta girls, and I’ve written one about Los Angeles falling into the sea. Maybe all of the songs will have a state in the title, not sure. I always begin with a concept and then I just drift away from them. But at the moment, yeah, the songs I’ve written so far have states of America in the title.

JAPP: How would you say your latest album [Brilliant! Tragic!] is brilliant, and how is it tragic?

ARGOS: Well, it’s brilliant because it’s just brilliant. I don’t know. There was a lecture on my lyrics at a university in Berlin that said that I was a depressive dandy. I’ve never really noticed, but I thought maybe this time we acknowledge that. So yeah, it’s both brilliant and tragic.

JAPP: What’s brilliant about Eddie Argos’s life?

ARGOS: Brilliant, what’s brilliant? I get to travel around, have loads of fun and be in a band. That’s pretty brilliant. There’s that and not much that’s tragic. It’s all pretty brilliant at the moment, I would say.