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Photo by Travis M. KellerOC's resident post-punks Your Enemies Friends are currently on tour with Seattle hotshots Pretty Girls Make Graves. It's a cheapo crammed-in-a-van, spend-the-night-on-friends'-floors U.S. tour, so it makes sense that you'd meet them here in Manhattan in some tiny sleeping-bag-and-guitar-cord-strewn hovel, the kind of place where the doorknob gets in bed with you. The first suggestion that this will not be the case comes when bassist Dana James gives you the street address.
"Apartment number?" you ask.
"There's no number—I think it's a house," she replies.
There are no houses in Manhattan.
Fastforward a few hours later, and you're standing in the expansive foyer of a huge four-story mansion—tranquil Japanese rock garden in front of you, garage and luxury sedan behind you. It's the home of Benihana founder Rocky Aoki—Aoki's son Steve runs the Dim Mak record label and is a friend of the band.
One by one, Your Enemies Friends amble downstairs. James shows up first, wearing a strategically ripped Pretty Girls Make Graves T-shirt, followed by keyboardist Aska Matsumyia, drummer Luis-Carlos Contreras and second guitarist Allen Watke. Guitarist/vocalist Ronnie Washburn is outside, parking the van. Finally he stumbles in, dyed-black hair in his eyes and dripping-wet from the rain.
Matsumyia excitedly shows him the T-shirt she bought for him today: "Perfect Strangers . . . Make the Best Lovers." Watke only saw the part of the shirt that said "Perfect Strangers," though, and thought it was referring to the '80s TV show. Silly Watke! Laughter ensues.
But don't let this amiable scene fool you. Your Enemies Friends are wound tighter than a coiled spring and ready to snap. Asked how she met husband Nathan Johnson—who plays in Pretty Girls Make Graves—a startled Matsumyia shoots a nervous look at Washburn and then stammers uncomfortably for a while before saying, finally, that she just met him "from playing" and that it's "too personal."
Later, the band jokes about how this is the Hypochondriac Tour and not a day goes by without someone thinking they're going to die of some new disease. But when you push for details, they clam up.
"Oh, I don't want to say," Washburn smiles, affable but firm.
Even more aggravating: you ask what they've been listening to on this tour, and they take the opportunity to push some band that's on a friend's label. Sitting with them is like coming off speed—paranoid, uneven, disorienting. Your Enemies Friends make you grind your teeth. But there's a reason the band is so prickly.
"I'm trying my hardest to talk around it," says Washburn. He's referring to the end of his previous band, the Pressure, which also featured Your Enemies Friends' James and drummer Jason Thornberry. That beloved OC rock trio broke up in 1999 when Thornberry was tragically beaten into a coma after getting into a fight with a thug in Long Beach. (Thornberry is now out of the coma, fortunately, and his recovery is going well.)
At the time, Thornberry's injury ripped like gunfire through the band's hometown of Costa Mesa, leaving fights and misunderstandings in its wake. To this day, there is ill will between Thornberry's family and Washburn and James, some of it regarding financial matters (before the injury, the three were living together in a studio apartment and making payments on a tour van), and Washburn says he hasn't spoken to Thornberry in years. He says he doesn't think about it all that much anymore. He's not entirely convincing.
"Imagine everything just fucking falling to shit and really turning around on you, things that you thought were safe becoming your enemies," he says. "It was terrible, terrible. It was the worst . . . THING . . . EVER."
The name of the band is taken from a saying that Washburn used at the time to remind himself not to trust people.
"Your enemies are your enemies' friends," he says. "Say you have two enemies, and if that's the only thing they have in common—that they don't like you—they're going to become friends and work against you. Or even if you have just one enemy, whoever their friends are will probably work against you, too, so you have to be careful of that."
All six songs on Your Enemies Friends' relentlessly crushing The Wiretap EP (out on Buddyhead Records, a division of the hilariously bitchy Buddyhead.com website) were written about this period of Washburn's life. The lyrics are angry, visceral and oblique (but still with references in place to "plastic tubes that sterilize" and "lifelines" and things feeling "scientific"). Perhaps most telling (if you care to analyze it) is the refrain from "Repose," which claims that "the blame is on us now."
But it's less the lyrics that communicate something than the feeling of the music: urgent, intense and paranoid, with twitchy, fuzzed-out keyboard lines exploding all over the place; raw, seething vocals; fragmented guitars alternately huge and ferocious and small, sharp and angular; and a powerfully driving rhythm section.
And this is Washburn's theory about songs.
"It's like they're already written," he says. "When I start writing a song, there's a right way for the song to be, and it's almost like doing a puzzle. I'm just trying to get it right—to figure out the notes and the right words and the right melody and drums or whatever. And when you get it, it's like the puzzle is done. That's how it goes."Your Enemies Friends performs with Pretty Girls Make Graves and Bullet Train to Vegas at Chain Reaction, 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 635-6067; www.allages.com. Sat., 7:30 p.m. $8. All ages.