You should be skeptical of the Burning Brides. Theirs is a melodic, sexual garage rock, as if a soused, angry Mick Jagger was holding court at an all-Sabbath karaoke night in Seattle, circa 1991. In other words, now that the Great Garage Sale is upon us, it reeks of fad.
Yet Dmitri Coats and Melanie Campbell cranked out Fall of the Plastic Empire in a Philadelphia motorcycle garage way before NME soiled itself over the Strokes and before the White Stripes cautiously played the MTV Movie Awards. This is the story of unearthing the worthy, an archetypical plot of bands getting their due only after the mainstream's newest ephemeral hunger drives record label presidents to yell: “Find me the next (insert new genre titan here)!”
When the Burning Brides shopped Plastic Empire two years ago, few labels were interested. Tastemaker Matador Records made a mediocre offer; the band declined.
“It was way too brutal,” says Coats. “People from bigger labels would come to see us and I think we just scared the crap out of them.”
In April 2001, they put it out on a very small Philly label, File 13 Records, and sold a measly 4,000 copies-which, from the back of a van with minimal promotion, isn't so measly. Critics were impressed with Plastic's savage melody-a low-end, Queens-age album that screamed as well as it whispered. Playing it loud was essential, and when your landlord served you the eviction papers, you could bet he'd walk away humming tunes like “Arctic Snow” or “Plank of Fire.”
Coats was pretty impressed himself, but the Julliard dropout was realistic.
“I was like, ‘We just made one of the best rock records of the year and it'll probably just go unnoticed and maybe someone will discover it one day,'” Coats remembers.
“Now,” he chuckles, “a year after we put it out we're in a bidding war and everybody wants to sign our band and re-release our record. It's an indication that times have changed since we've started playing.”
Times have changed indeed. Even Rolling Stone, usually the last (and most influential) media outlet to declare trends, has harkened rock's return. Fidelity is suspect. Guttural emotion is back.
“Suddenly all these A&R people are running around like chickens with their heads cut off looking for the next big American garage rock band, or whatever,” he says. “And I guess it's just the right place at the right time.”
The house of Moby-V2 Records-won the bidding war. Label president Andy Gershon said the undeniably catchy power of Plastic Empire reminded him of the first time he heard Led Zeppelin II. The playfully confident Coats, who in speech treats “fuck” as a valid adverb and “shit like that” as a suitable finish to a sentence, would agree with such classic references.
“There's still nothing quite like what I grew up liking and what we're doing in the mainstream yet,” he says, “but it's definitely heading in that direction. The first concert I ever went to was Motley Crue opening up for Ozzy. I used to love early Van Halen-D.L.R. Van Halen-just all that classic rock shit. Early Aerosmith and Appetite for Destruction. And of course Nirvana-stuff that has a little bit more balls to it.”
Nirvana plays a big part of what Burning Brides do. In speaking with Coats and listening to Plastic Empire, it's apparent that Bleach was a big reason the aspiring actor gave up a promising screen career for rock-dive squalor.
“I don't think we'd have this band if it weren't for Nirvana,” he says. “They made us feel like if you could put together a simple song and just be really honest about what you're doing, that you could take a stab at it. When he blew his head off, he really took rock down with him for a good 10 years.”
Now that V2 is re-releasing their record-new cover art being the only significant change to the original-things have changed for the Brides. Coats says for their first trip to the UK, “we might as well have been Nirvana-they just freaked out.”
Rock star hunter Winona Rider isn't yet attending their shows. But Stephen Malkmus, Melissa Auf der Maur and Eddie Vedder are. As well, they've added heavyweight drummer Jason Kourkounis, who was a member of Delta 72 and currently drums in the semi-local band, Hot Snakes. They've recently toured with everyone from the Melvins to Queens of the Stone Age to the Anniversary-quite a stylistic gap.
“It leads me to believe that we could cross over and a lot of people would be into our band if they were exposed to it,” Coats says.
“We're just not a cool band,” he suggests. “Maybe that's why all these rock stars come out to see us-because we're not fucking cool.”