Well, okay, here we go," says Crumb's Robby Cronholm, pausing and taking a breath before jumping into a particularly painful story. Cronholm is lanky, almost gangly, with an impossibly cherubic face. He has the kind of appearance that chisels itself into your memory. Because we're on the phone, I don't know exactly what he's doing at this moment, but I'd bet he's slouching and fidgeting, as if he's uneasy with the upward thrust of his body, as if, like so many front men of indie-sounding guitar bands, he'd prefer to take up less space. A big production has been made lately about how San Francisco-based Crumb's new album, . . . seconds . . . minutes . . . hours . . ., is lyrically and sonically a big departure from the band's past work, and how Cronholm, a mere 22, has done some growing up and is less somber and pensive and melancholy and more Ready to Rawk!(tm) and less prone to spend an entire album writing and whining about a Girl Problem, as he did on 1996's stunning Romance Is a Slow Dance. And so, this particular Girl Problem-which apparently isn't such a big problem anymore but which has cast such a huge shadow over Cronholm and Crumb-is forever hinted at but never really explained. But I'm goin' in. "Well, her name is-was-is Chloe Sevigny. She was in Kids and The Last Days of Disco and Palmetto and Gummo and The Last Days of Disco," he begins, haltingly, stumbling over which tense to use and yes, repeating himself. I'm beginning to think that maybe he hasn't found as much resolution as he'd like you to think. "I met her at Pitzer [College in Claremont]. She was visiting a senior friend of hers, and I was a freshman, and, you know, I turned a corner and fell in love, and it was the largest singular moment of my semiadult life, and it ruined me in positive ways and negative ways. We spent two days together." Two days?! "Yeah, two days, and then we were committed for three or four months while she went back to Connecticut, and then she moved out here [San Francisco] with me, and we lived here for a short period of time." Was she an actress then? "No, see, this is the thing," he says with a laugh. It's a weird little laugh. It's not bitter, but it's not exactly un-bitter, either. "She got a call to do some little movie called Kids, and I went back to Claremont, not to go to school but to play with Crumb. . . . Our relationship sort of fell apart after that." What happened? Why did it disintegrate? "Well, correspondence and myself are archrivals of old," he says. I can't help but smile. This is the colorful melodrama the Crumb camp is trying so hard to shed. He goes on to explain that distance, depression, and his letting their relationship slip away finished them off as a couple. "My heart starts skipping beats rapidly when I get on this subject, but that's the story," he says, and I apologize for putting him through this. He shrugs it off. "It's all good. It's all good," he says, even though it's painfully obvious that there's one thing this isn't: good. "I've never met anyone who I feel as strongly about, but I believe that I can now, at least." On "Tonight," the opening track on the new album, Cronholm sings: "I know that you ain't coming back/I thought that I might help you pack/I know this now." On "Record Company," he sings "No more woe-is-me/Still a little tired and a little bit lonely." The lyrics aren't exactly cheery, but they show evolution. "[This album] doesn't dwell as much. It's more about trying to resolve things or accept them," he says. "Sort of gathering up your losses or your gains and then just moving on with it because that's what I did personally." Spurring him on was guitarist Mark Weinberg, a friend of his since kindergarten who during writing sessions instructed him to snap out of his funk and write "a rock & roll record that you can put on when you cruise out for a Friday night." "He definitely helped lift me out of my hole," says Cronholm. Another change this time around was choice of producer. Instead of indie guy Tim O'Heir (Sebadoh, Superdrag), Crumb went with the metal team of producer Beau Hill (Warrant, Ratt, Bad Brains), engineer Ken Lomos (AC/DC, Poison) and mixer Randy Staub (Metallica, Veruca Salt, U2). Perhaps this is why most of their recent press and publicity claims this new album is a big, shiny, happy metal album, which it most certainly isn't. Yes, it has a bit of a big production sound, and yes, it's clear there was a bigger studio budget, but no, it doesn't sound like LA Guns. "I think that's more of a press angle than anything else, but it does have a huge pop sheen. It's like we took our indie rock and put that huge pop sheen on it," says Cronholm. "It also gives us a platform to shout out our love for the metal we grew up on, which I'm not supposed to admit, actually, according to our publicist." Cronholm and Weinberg have never hid their love of metal. They began really playing music together as sophomores in high school, but in grade school, they were in fictional bands. "Vicious was our big glam band," Cronholm remembers. "We didn't know how to play any instruments, but we had tons of logos, and Mark wrote a song called 'Sleazy Little City.'"The way they've positioned themselves at the unlikely crossroads of metal and lo-fi indie rock is intriguing. A glance at the roster of guests on the album is enough to boggle the mind: Warrant's Jani Lane ("We walked into the studio," Cronholm recalls, "and we heard this voice, and we instantly knew who the owner of the voice was, and we were like, "OH, MY GOD!"); That Dog's Petra and Rachel Haden; Knapsack's Blair Sheehan; Jimmy Eat World's Jim Adkins; and drum star Josh Freese. It's too much. Overproduced vs. underproduced. Big rock vs. tiny rock. Big Statement vs. no statement. Let My Hair Speak for Itself vs. let the music speak for itself. Big Bloated Badass Rock Numbers vs. little modest songs I wrote in my bedroom about thoughts in my head. All this colliding in one studio, and all for Crumb. What does it all mean? What now? "If we're talking about the future, it's best to call Mark Weinberg," Cronholm jokes. But he's made the point before that he gets caught up in the moment to the exclusion of the big picture. "I've come to like the notion that the only valuable measurements of time are seconds, minutes and hours just because you can have a great day, but the great moments-the things that change your life, the things that truly affect you-happen in small increments in time." Crumb and Far play at Koo's Art Cafe, 1505 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 648-0937 . Thurs., Oct. 8, 8 p.m. $5. All ages.
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