The Song, Not the Singer
The dangerous twang of Double Naught Spy Car
By Greg Burk
”We don’t pay off for fans of any genre,“ says Paul Lacques of Double Naught Spy Car. ”If you‘re a surf fan, we’re really gonna let you down. If you‘re a jazz fan, we’re gonna offend you. If you‘re a rock fan, good luck. If you’re a country fan . . . well, maybe we‘re reaching a country audience. We sort of mock genre, and at the same time we’re trying to create our own genre.“
No slot. No singer. What a bunch of stubborn dickheads. Must be musicians or something.
”We‘ve never aimed to please,“ says Lacques. Too bad they can’t even succeed at that — listeners seem to like the mess the Spy guys heap on ‘em. And a hellacious wreck it is: James Bond film music bashes up against ska, lounge jazz, reggae, Middle Eastern, Hawaiian, space and blues, with bassist Marc Doten and drummer Joseph Berardi locking into thumps, walks or rumbles; guitarist Marcus Watkins twanging and clean-chopping; and Lacques’ distorted steel guitar skidding all over the place.
And surf. Can‘t forget that. Spy Car proves Hendrix was wrong when he moaned, ”You’ll never hear surf music again.“
”He said he really meant S-E-R-F,“ Watkins suggests, but that was obviously just Hendrix‘s joke to deflect cries that he was a hippie elitist. The historically minded Watkins also offers surf guitarist Dick Dale’s claim that Hendrix, when recording ”Third Stone From the Sun,“ added the line in tribute on hearing that Dale was grievously ill.
”So actually,“ he says, ”it was a compliment.“ Watkins surfed when he was a teenager in Florida. Unlike Dale, he stopped when he started playing music. But you can take the boy out of the surf . . .
Anyway, the Spies are getting sick of all this beach talk. They don‘t think there’s a big ”Pipeline“ element in their songs.
Doten: ”They just sound like that ‘cause they have a Stratocaster on ’em.“
Watkins: ”I don‘t have reverb on my guitar!“
Berardi: ”But Paul has twice as much as he should.“
Lacques: ”And half as much as I’d like to!“
Turns out that Doten and Lacques both dug the untwangy Randy Rhoads, the Ozzy Osbourne guitarist who crashed his plane while trying to buzz Ozzy‘s tour bus in 1982.
Lacques: ”The day the music died.“
Berardi: ”No, we’re still killing it on a daily basis.“
Hmm. Has the Ozzy connection forged a satanic link in the Spies‘ sound?
Lacques: ”I can hear Satan listening to music more than God. He has more fun. He has a pad somewhere, and a really good stereo.“ In fact, Lacques sort of looks like Mephistopheles.
Doten: ”It’s the eyebrows.“
Lacques demurs: ”They‘re antennae. They’re what make me sensitive. That‘s how you read people’s auras.“
Why would he want to? He doesn‘t aim to please, remember? Well, one suspects that Lacques’ supposed indifference to popularity is no more than a sham for this deviled ham. Otherwise the Spies would never have taken such care with their pair of CDs, the latest of which, ominously titled Danger High (Pascal), adds further dimensions to their compositional universe with the slow Polynesian slide of ”Someone‘s Creeping in My Yard,“ the dark Middle Eastern surf of ”Macedonia 6-5000,“ and the apocalyptic pomp and dissonance of ”The Mayor’s Procession.“ It‘s a headphone album, with rad stereophonic panning.
Doten: ”We encourage drug use when people listen to the music. I wanted to put that on the label of the record: ’Should be listened to under psychedelics.‘“
Lacques: ”We cut it live.“
Watkins, deadpan: ”Except for, like, all the drum machines and synthesizers playing our parts.“
Danger High is all short songs, tightly arranged, though much of the material was derived from communal jamming. Could Spy Car cash in on the jam-band craze?
Lacques: ”I actually think this is a pretty good jam band . . .“
Doten: ”In the sense that we have enough restraint not to do it.“
Lacques: ”We’re sort of Calvinists, in that we frown on jamming in public.“
Watkins: ”Well, we could start tapping into that puppy-on-a-rope crowd.“ Huh? ”Those Deadhead types who‘ve got ’em on ropes as opposed to leashes.“
Lacques: ”People with calluses on the bottom of their feet.“
Doten: ”Like hobbits.“
Spy Car missed the Lord of the Rings boat, though. They had a song called ”Goblins Riding Wolves,“ but changed it to ”Journey to the Center of Guitar Center (Sherman Oaks)“ — the parenthetical serving to distinguish the Valley aesthetic from that of the Hollywood store.
Spy Car: ”Or West Covina.“ ”Or Lawndale.“ ”Or Glendale.“ ”Or Glendora.“
What kind of audience response are they looking for?
Doten: ”You know, the one where they give you money afterward.“
Lacques: ”Playing live is an adventure, and the crowd reaction is usually very surprising.“
Watkins: ”I think we‘re communicating with the audience if they start laughing, or if they start dancing. If we had a packed dance floor of laughing people . . .“
Lacques: ”I think someone needs to sneak us into a rave, right when everyone’s dropped.“
Watkins: ”It could be really, really awful. We‘d be pelted with stuffed animals.“
Though Lacques is the only original member of Double Naught Spy Car (the name’s a reference to Jethro‘s vehicle in The Beverly Hillbillies, of course), the three stringmen have strung together for five years, with Joseph Berardi kicking in a year and a half ago. All the members have other gigs. Lacques plays in the country band I See Hawks in L.A., for instance, and he and Doten recently flew to Japan to back up the Hawaiian singer-comedian King Kukulele. Watkins plays with French rock stars. Berardi’s activities have ranged from avant (Non Credo) to bent pop (Stan Ridgway). They can pull off practically anything, but they especially enjoy the periodic waves of activity in Spy Car, which Lacques calls a ”long-term labor of love.“
Pop stardom isn‘t the point, and Lacques thinks the Spies don’t need to worry about it: ”You look at Rolling Stone‘s Top 50 artists of the year — they all look like 18-year-old models. And the average listener is preconditioned to hearing perfect time and kind of sterile musical situations. Everything else sounds like noise.“
Strange sounds get under the skin of some people, though. After that happens, the world of pop drops right out of sight and they become music explorers or, God help them, musicians. For Doten, the turning point was Ozzy. For Watkins, it was King Crimson. For Lacques, at age 12, it was Dylan: ”He sounded like some insane person. Like any kind of music I would come to love, it was threatening at first.“
And who really wants to be Motley Crue? We’ve all seen Behind the Music. If you‘re huge, you’ve got to go out on the road for years at a time, and you become drug addicts, and your manager steals your money, and you lose your girlfriends.
Watkins: ”But think of all the girlfriends you gain . . .“
Doten: ”Yeah, by playing instrumental surf music of a harsh nature.“
Berardi: ”Well, I think it‘s kind of sexy.“