The first order of business when discussing The Muslims is to immediately lay to rest the whole “What's with that name?” question.
“It's just a band name,” guitarist Matty McLoughlin says. “It isn't meant to describe us or associate us with anything. It just kind of stuck.”
The fledgling San Diego quartet has existed for little more than a year, but the band's popularity is nevertheless beginning to soar, with performances at South by Southwest scheduled for later this month and a series of singles and EPs slated for release later this year.
Still, considering the band has yet to release even an official demo, the easiest way to access The Muslims' music is by visiting their MySpace page. There you'll find Matt Lamkin's subdued vocal delivery (reminiscent of Jonathan Richman or Lou Reed) backed by a wash of guitars, bass and drums varying between punk, rock and pop flourishes.
Perhaps the best example of their song craft is “Extinction,” a simple, excellent song with a punk attitude. The opening lyrics—“If you gimme a gun/I'll point it at you”—are anchored by a catchy guitar line that builds toward a cymbal-bashing chorus. Even the guitar solo, which recalls Mick Jones' break in The Clash's cover of “Police and Thieves,” is a treat. In short, the song—along with tracks like “Nightlife” and “On My Time”—sounds like it comes from a scrappy young band striking gold with a signature sound. And that's what it is.
“Matty and I have been playing guitar with each other for about two years,” Lamkin says. “We met in high school and then went off to college and started hanging out during breaks. When we finished [college], we just decided to write songs.”
Lamkin and McLoughlin embraced a simple approach to songwriting while absorbing music from acts like The Kinks and Iggy Pop. The pair decided to book a show with a friend's band, The Vultures, even though their lineup—not to mention their songs—wasn't yet fully formed.
The Muslims played that show, at Beauty Bar in January 2007, using a couple of buddies as the rhythm section. Eventually, Dave Lantzman stepped in as bassist, and Brian Hill took over on drums.
“I think we started out a bit more jangly and loose around the edges, but now we've got these top-notch musicians,” Lamkin says, nodding to Lantzman and Hill, “and we've tightened it up a bunch.”
Lamkin's remark draws chuckles from the other band members, all sitting comfortably in a dark nook of the Red Fox Room in North Park. These guys don't seem to take themselves—or their music—to seriously. In fact, they cite comedic influences like Lenny Bruce, Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray as having as much an impact on them as bands like The Replacements, The Fall, Iggy Pop and New Order.
“The Kinks were funny. The Ramones were funny. The Replacements were funny,” McLoughlin says. “A sense of humor is the one thing tying all the bands we like. They all had a good sense of humor.”
He pauses for effect before delivering his own zinger:
“And they weren't pussies.”
The Muslims aren't exactly timid themselves. The band plans to unveil multiple releases this year, including two 7-inch albums on San Diego labels Sweet Tooth Records and Art Fag Recordings, along with a 12-inch EP and CD compilation on 1928, a New York-based label. In addition, The Muslims will play at least five shows at South by Southwest, including a slot at a Vice Records party.
Lamkin is quick to clarify that the band is not in talks with Vice, the same label The Black Lips, The Raveonettes and Bloc Party call home. He points out that The Muslims have only just started touring outside San Diego. The band recently spent little more than a week on the road with The Sess, another local fave, traveling as far north as Oregon while playing the Troubadour in L.A. along the way.
“In terms of the tour thing, there are some good nights and some bad nights,” McLoughlin says. “It was both of our bands' first tour, and some nights we were playing in front of old, bitter, fat, failed musician, shit-talker guys, and some nights there were 22-year-old kids jumping into the amps.”
The tour also proved that The Muslims can handle their share of rock 'n' roll shenanigans.
“Our impromptu road manager has an aunt who operates an organic blackberry farm in Oregon,” McLoughlin says. “So we all stayed out there on the ranch when we were on tour. We had bonfires and there was hallucinogens and drinking for two days.”
McLoughlin sums up the adventure: “Just freaking the fuck out. A few psychedelic meltdowns. No girls, just 15 guys, freaking out and getting wasted.”
But the band's music goes over just as well with the R-rated crowd at The Casbah as it does the PG-13 kids at Che Café. And though The Muslims were thrust almost immediately into the club circuit, they'd just as soon play house parties, even if the payday is only “15 bucks and cigarettes,” McLoughlin deadpans. They're just happy to be a part of the festivities. The Muslims play at 9 p.m. Monday, March 10, with Crystal Castles and Health at The Casbah. 619-232-HELL. www.myspace.com/themuslims.