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Chloe Lum has bronchitis, and the medication is making her spacey during a phone interview. She gets it fairly often, thanks to a weak immune system due to a childhood bout with meningitis. Not surprisingly, this complicates the task of regularly screaming her lungs out in the noise-punk band AIDS Wolf.
“It kind of sucks,” she admits, “but I’m usually able to run on adrenalin through the set, and then just sleep the rest of the day.”
It’s tough to imagine AIDS Wolf without Lum’s strangled cries and impressionistic wailing. Despite the whiplashing rhythms, flinty dissonance and dynamic seizures evoked by drummer Yannick Desranleau and guitarists Myles Broscoe and André Guérette, the Montreal quartet have their most immediate gateway in Lum, even if you can’t make out a lick of lyrics. Her voice is just one more weird instrument.
“Initially, I just make approximations of words, and then later transcribe it into a narrative,” she explains. “It’s more important how it fits rhythmically and how it plays against the guitars than anything else. Once I actually write the lyrics and sing [them], the words often get cut up [or lengthened]. Maybe a three-syllable word will be stretched until it sounds like it’s got 12.”
None of this is by accident. “One thing I find lame about rock music as a format is that the vocals are privileged above everything else,” she says. “It was always a willful thing [for us] to have the lyrics not necessarily front-and-center, to have the singing mixed at the same level as the other instruments. So it has more to do with how I’m saying things than what I’m saying.”
That pretty much sums up AIDS Wolf, who can sound like anything from a grotesque stretch of Silly Putty to a choir of raging bees. The band formed from the ashes of a few obscure Montreal acts as a sort of hobby while the players pursued their more promising art careers. As with their previous bands, the members released homemade cassettes and CD-Rs with little hope of exposure. But AIDS Wolf took off, getting rabid attention online and soon inking deals with two respected labels, the veteran Skin Graft and the upstart Lovepump United. Surprising fanfare greeted 2006’s The Lovvers LP and last year’s Cities of Glass, which stack up nicely against Captain Beefheart, Deerhoof and obscure “no wave” acts.
Some of that attention might have to do with the band’s name, which actually predated its music. Just as Lum and Yannick were explaining to some friends why their former band was folding, they spotted graffiti reading “AIDS Wolf,” and their friends took it as a sign.
“They kind of dared us into it,” Lum recalls, “and we were like, ‘Why not?’ We didn’t expect to do anything beyond Montreal, so we didn’t expect it to really matter.”
To the uninitiated, Cities of Glass may seem like a rushing stab at haphazard chaos, but its two-minute bursts are longer than usual for the group. “We actually breached the three-minute mark, which for AIDS Wolf is quite a feat,” Lum jokes. The album was produced in a proper studio by the Flying Luttenbachers’ Weasel Walter, who has worked with the Coachwhips, Arab On Radar and Glenn Branca.
Walter didn’t mince words, pushing the band to be its best, enduring around 80 different mixes of the album before everyone was satisfied. “We finally have a record that sounds exactly like how we sound live,” Lum says. That’s important to a band who focus all their discipline on the live show. “We’re pretty obsessed with rehearsing,” she admits.
Which may surprise anyone who thinks noise bands just haphazardly toss off what they do. “When you’re playing music that relies on abstraction as a compositional element,” Lum says, “it’s especially imperative to rehearse. When you have everyone in the band playing in a different time, if you’re not tight, it’s going to be a complete train wreck. We’ll spend months working on a piece before we play it in front of anybody.”
And that goes for her singing, too. “When I’m performing, I’m not who I normally am,” she says. “It’s pretty visceral.”
Visceral enough to bring on her bronchitis?
“No,” Lum answers. “It’s more the way I live. Constantly being on tour is probably not what I should be doing. But what I should be doing would make me extremely unhappy, so I’d rather be sick and doing stuff than well and sitting at home.”
AIDS Wolf perform with the Valley Arena, UV Lights and the Littlest Viking at Alex’s Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-8292; www.alexsbar.com. Thurs., March 26. Call for time. $5.