Are the Stereotypes a real band, or are they, as one music vet put it, a bunch of local musicians who wanted to show the Strokes that they could do it better?
When “The Night Before” opens their debut-a raw, chugging garage pop number that blatantly rips off the Strokes' “Last Night” (which, of course, ripped off Tom Petty's “American Girl”)-longtime San Diego musician Mike Kamoo seems to be saying, “Julian didn't invent this wheel.”
“There's a lot of irony going on,” Kamoo admits with a shit-eating grin over a pint of Guinness at the Mission Beach dive bar, The Liars Club.
The Liars Club itself is a good pretender. They don't have live music. Yet, with great punk records in the jukebox and a come-as-you-are vibe, it's a rocker's hangout-every bit as cool or cooler than many local rock dives.
And tonight, a rare San Diego rain confusing the rest of the city, Kamoo is assembled with his own ramshackle posse of pretenders: vocalist John Finkbiner, also a member of Lo-Fi Nipple who, as a day job, recreates art classics for corporations; drummer Bobby “Fantasy” Shaddox, a member of Billy Midnight and reluctant ladies man; guitarist Dante Conti, a member of the Bad Apples who handles the lighting rig at the Convention Center; and bassist Tim Hines, who fronts the Bad Apples and builds furniture and sells it on e-Bay.
They are the Stereotypes: five not-so-young rockers, each of whom have another band of their own, as well as day jobs.
Now, they've got a problem: the Stereotypes' debut is the best album any of them have been associated with. It is, without a doubt, the best garage pop album to come out of San Diego this year. A stroke of local genius-both aping and honoring the new garage revolution.
For the album, it was only Kamoo, Finkbiner and Conti (Hines and Shaddox joined after the album's completion). It was a fly-by-night, anything-goes project. No one expected longevity.
“It hasn't been a constant thing,” Kamoo explains.
“The CD was done in seven days [spread out] over a long time,” says Finkbiner. “I'd go [into Earthling], Mike would have some chords and we'd literally write 'em on the spot and record 'em that night. We'd call Dante in to engineer.”
“Very spontaneous,” adds Conti. “It was like, ‘Wow, let's put the guitar amp up against the piano amp and mic it and see what it sounds like.' We didn't know what we were doing. We tried everything. And it was just wine and drinking and ‘Who cares if I'm too drunk to play this part? I'll do it.'”
The absence of thought seems to be the key to the Stereotypes. Unlike “real bands,” who are often too attached to their sound and thus overthink the recording, the Stereotypes began a lark, a fuck-off release mechanism where the only rule was that there were no rules.
And now, Hines-the Stereotypes' reigning king of sarcasm-proposes that “Mike is the new Butch Vig.”
“We just wanted an unpolished sound,” Kamoo says when asked if they were inspired by the garage rock revival. “We actually wanted to write emotional, pretty songs and put a rough edge on it.”
“And make lots of money,” Hines adds.
“We were going after a dirty sound,” Conti says. “Most of the vocals on that album are the mic going into a Fender twin.”
From the lyrics of “Sleep Over,” in which Finkbiner makes popcorn and pillow fights sound like a seedy Warholian after-party, to what Hines calls the “one-finger piano” that runs through the entire album, their debut is-for all intents and purposes-a no-brainer.
And that lack of forethought, coupled with a great sense of melody, is another key to the Stereotypes.
“We intentionally didn't sit down and overthink it, insert weird chord changes or anything like that. We wanted to keep it really easy,” Kamoo says.
“We all learned how to play the songs in five minutes,” says Hines. “A good song is a good song. A pop song doesn't have to be like Britney Spears or *NSYNC. No matter how weird or lo-fi you make a song, the bare bones are just good melody, good hooks...
“The Flaming Lips' basic frame is a good pop song that can be played on an acoustic guitar,” he continues. “That's what the Stereotypes is, right there.”
And the Stereotypes are inspiring conflicting reactions. After only two shows, four different local scenesters called the CityBeat offices to rave about the band. Then there was the review in local 'zine, Reviewer, which railed them as a Strokes ripoff.
“I guess they didn't get the joke,” Kamoo says, and with his sheepish expression it's hard to tell whether he created “the joke” before or after the criticism.
Whether they'll be seen as an early tribute band or as a great new garage pop force remains to be seen. For their part, they've got headier things to consider:
“We had topless activity at the first show,” Finkbiner says. “Some woman showed Bobby her breasts.”
“That was the best,” says the reluctant ladies man, big shit-eating grin and all.