So the hooks in your little pop songs—is this how we keep score? Because Piranhas got hooks: they put them right between your teeth, get you that metal taste with blood, get you that adrenalin flush in your gut. And because over here at Music No One In Orange County Would Ever Listen To HQ, we keep score by how many untoward emotional reactions your band can provoke, and so far, Piranhas are winning: they are worse than drugs and sleep deprivation; they supplant drugs and sleep deprivation. We could fall asleep to grindcore and propose, rose in hand, to Sunn0))), but Piranhas are vicious. So many hooks you'd never want to touch them.
They're the only Detroit band no one talks about, except to tell the story about the time singer Jamie taped a dead rat to his chest and rolled around on the floor, which is about as shocking—but still as technically intricate and classically respectable—as ballet. But that's not even true, says bassist Brian, who is an unimpeachably pleasant guy for being in a band that rolls around with rats.
"Dead rat?" says Brian. "That's a huge rumor. The rat was aggravating Jamie. It jumped out of the rafters. That was self-defense. Rumor was that Jamie had cheese in his pockets."
Does he get attacked by a lot of animals?
"Yeah," says Brian. "It must be some kind of animal essence."
And do you ever get attacked by anything?
"Stray beer bottles in New York."
Those $8 beers?
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"Yeah," says Brian. "What a waste."
Then we talk about songwriting, something the Piranhas are melting into components. They dropped verse-chorus-verse by their first break-up (after a scary EP on Tom Perkins and some singles) but still had some concessions to tradition left on last year's full-length, Erotic Grit Movies (In the Red; best label right now!), but they shook that off, too, and now they're the free jazz band the Electric Eels—or the last chunk of the Stooges, little kids—were trying to be (new EP recorded only on full-moon nights, out on In the Red). Pop songs turn on melody; Piranhas turn on dynamic. It's like instruments, drunk and arguing. Keyboards (played by Ami) keep breaking into the room to smash wine glasses and screech about fidelity. Guitar and bass (Ian and Brian) are shouting into each others' necks. The kick drum (introducing Ryan) keeps going: ". . . but . . . but . . . but . . ." Jamie's vocals are offstage narration, examples not deciphered at press time. He pulls napkins and receipts out of his pockets during practice and unfolds them into lyrics, says Brian. Kind of a throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks shtick. "That's the way the . . ." he's saying, but you know: the way the music works, too—got it.
But not quite. Piranhas songs are nothing but hooks, all tangled together, scraping the points off one another, but that's intention, not temper tantrum: so agitated, as the song goes. Too bad all the jazz-head advanced musicologists are gonna wet their loafers and flee when Jamie barfs a centipede out his nose because Piranhas leave all that punk junk as tepid and runny as baby burp. "I've heard the 'where are the songs?' thing, but the songs are there," says Brian, not petulant at all, but he has a right to be. Yank out those hooks, and there's brain everywhere. Fall plus Damaged Black Flag is too rudimentary; Piranhas are terrifying, but remember, a hundred years ago, people saw that train coming toward them on the cinematheque screen and ran screaming into the street. "I've seen people back away," says Brian. "But . . . I've never seen them leave."
The Piranhas perform with The Mean Reds, The Okmoniks and The Plastic Letters at Koo's, 530 E. Broadway, Long Beach; www.koos.org. Fri., 7 p.m. $7. All ages.