Photo by Steve MayedaEugene Edwards is calculated.
You can tell when he's onstage. He's a dynamic, lively performer and a living encyclopedia of every imaginable classic rock stage move: The "goddamn-this-guitar-solo-is-painful-to-play" facial expression. The "how-fast-can-I-jerk-my-head-toward-the-microphone-without-adding-a-new-set-of-tonsils" neck thrust. The glorious "1-2-3-4" Springsteen-like way he catapults his band into his songs.
Eugene Edwards doesn't talk shit.
About anyone. Just try to bait him. Even about the terribly redundant, unoriginal blues band that followed his all-too-brief set at a Culver City bar a couple of weeks ago. "They're good at what they do," Edwards proclaimed. Yeah, Eugene, but isn't what they do incredibly mediocre crap? "There's a place for it."
But Eugene Edwards likes to talk.
Whether it's his arsenal of some of the worst one-liners this side of the Catskills, or his opinions on everything from authentic Mexican food (he grew up in Yuma, Arizona) to comments by certain Commie columnists who make fun of his hair and clothes, Edwards spews about 165 words out of his mouth every breath. The good news—along with the fact his brain is apparently getting enough oxygen—is most of what he says is either highly intelligent or highly entertaining.
Eugene Edwards is also—very probably, very likely, very obviously, even—the best unsigned pop singer/songwriter in Southern California, as well as being a killer guitarist and front man.
He and his group, the Eugene Edwards Band, play flat-out fun pop music with a deceptively sharp bite. The songs are catchy, the melodies positively toe-tappy, the lyrics abrasively engrossing and the performances as captivating as watching rabbits fuck. Because that's kind of what Edwards does onstage. He fucks the audience. Every hip shake, every smile, every time he suddenly attacks the microphone with gleeful abandon, he's engaging in the kind of onstage coitus that made white parents blanch at the sight of Little Richard, teenage thighs quiver when near a Beatle, and still makes people spend money on Tom Jones and Bruce Springsteen shows.
In his songs, in his performances—hell, even in his outlook on life—Edwards is relentlessly upbeat, even when he's got his own private hatchet to hone and is singing about jealous rages, shattered romances and broken hearts. In his best songs, he demonstrates a facility to veer into Elvis Costello territory and not look foolish. You get the sense this is one writer who implicitly realizes the dichotomy of the kiss: lurking behind this most sensual and intimate of exchanges is a nest of molars and incisors that could easily rip that intrusive mass of moist cells into bloody shreds.
Edwards doesn't want to date himself, but he's probably in his mid- to late-20s; he's an unabashed throwback to a time before irony, before tragically hip, before everyone was so goddamn disaffected onstage. A time when writing pop songs didn't mean you were sucking at the corporate-America trough and churning out pap for the Backstreet Boys as much as it meant you were a really talented songwriter who didn't mind his lyrics being heard or his melodies being catchy or his songs being short.
"Pop is a dangerous word to use," says Edwards, who's lived in Los Angeles since 1996 after playing guitar in a Top 40 country band that toured the country for five years. ("Man, were we happy when Dwight Yoakam would release a record.")
"When they say pop now, I'd like to think they're referring to the Beatles' first two records," he says. "The melody is there, the voices are clear, there's some brevity to the songs. But it goes both ways. To call us a pop band could also link us with Blink-182, so it's all open to interpretation."
Edwards isn't embarrassed to admit he's diverse and edgy while wholly accessible. He's more Nick Lowe than Nick Cave. More Tom Petty than Tom Waits. More Elvis Costello than, well, than just about anybody on the radio these days, even Elvis himself.
"We're not an ironic band, and we're not a gimmick band," he says. "We're a song-oriented band. I've always been interested in making music that people want to hear. I'm not an avant-garde guy. I'm grateful for those who do that type of music because guys like me usually pool things from them and make it adaptable. But when I sit down to write a song, even if there's a relatively abrasive lyric, the chord sequence will probably be easy to digest, and there's something that people will want to come back to. The song is the art, not me."
So, yes, the Eugene Edwards Band is a pop band. "But we don't really resemble a lot of the pop bands in the pop scene," he says. "The International Pop Overthrow and that scene have been very good to us, but they say we're the rootsiest of the pop bands. But then when I used to play my stuff with Russell Scott's rockabilly band, people used to say, 'Jesus, you sound just like Squeeze.'"
Though formed less than a year and a half ago, the band is tighter than a nun and more fun, with sweet harmonies and stellar musicianship courtesy of drummer Mike "Soupy" Sessa, bassist Ted Kamp and guitarist/bassist/keyboardist/"Cousin Oliver" Robbie Rist.
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This month, Edwards releases his first self-produced CD. He hopes it's the last. He wants to be signed, and he thinks it's going to happen. "I won't and can't be discouraged," Edwards says. "Because it's a good band and the material is really good, so I can't see it falling on its face unless I stop doing it."
Check out his website, eugeneedwards.com, because he's always playing his ass off somewhere, including two OC gigs this month. And with every gig, he promises he'll "treat the performance like it's the most important thing on the planet at the moment. That's the only way I can do this job properly. On the other hand, for the art/product to be good, I've got to keep in mind that it's only rock & roll."
And Eugene Edwards, obviously, exuberantly and completely sincerely, likes it.
THE EUGENE EDWARDS BAND PERFORMS WITH THE HORSEPAINTERS AT 2J'S COCKTAIL LOUNGE, 121 W. HOUSTON ST., FULLERTON, (714) 871-9665. SUN., 9 P.M. CALL FOR COVER. 21+.