February 9th, 2006 | Interviews

Seattle (and San Francisco) band the Intelligence chew up early Devo demos and the first LP by the Australian band X to get the nutrients necessary to create their own mutant pop songs. They put their less-recent record out on the Fall’s new home label Narnack and their most recent on LA’s In The Red. Guitarist Lars Finberg speaks from guitarist Nick’s house in San Francisco.

What was it like working in a steel mill?
It was a temp job that I just got from a staffing agency. Basically processing orders, but really scary. I showed up dressed-up thinking it was an office job, and it was really just a little shack with a space heater and gigantic men commenting on how tiny and girlish my hands were. If I fucked up by like putting an orange card somewhere I had to put a red one, it would make tons of rebar and steel worthless, and they’d come in and say, ‘YOUR MEMORY’S ABOUT AS LONG AS YOUR DICK, AIN’T IT?’ And I’d be like, ‘Are you going to hurt me?’
I didn’t know America even made steel anymore.
They really just bent rebar into different shapes.
So your job was gigantic dudes twisting metal.
With me in a cardigan sweater. I called in sick quite a few times.
Do you think your music sounds like gigantic dudes twisting metal?
Have you seen us? We’re all pretty tiny.
When you hear the letter X, do you automatically think ‘Australian’?
Yes. But with a bulletpoint under it–also the Amsterdam Ex from Holland. I didn’t actually like the Los Angeles X until this year. You know when you’re hearing quintessential punk rock bands growing up, and at least for me growing up in Bakersfield, it depended on what your friends or older kids played for you, it was Dead Kennedys, JFA, that type of stuff. And X was just–I didn’t hear it. Same with the Damned–I always thought it looked kind of silly. And years later, I was like ‘Holy shit, the best thing ever.’ So by the time I got around to listening to X, I had already gone apeshit for the Australian X, and I was like, ‘Ugh, these guys don’t even compare.’
Your song ‘Telephone Wires’ sounds like X.
We cover ‘Simulated Lovers.’ All of the Dragnet Records bands–it was like a universal joke that we had to cover X songs. A-Frames do ‘Batman’ and Dipers do ‘Police.’
How would you describe your own natural style of songwriting?
I don’t know if it sounds stupid or cheesy, but when I first started, Karate Party and the Country Teasers were two of my favorite bands–I didn’t want to do a country thing like the Country Teasers, but to try to be sort of weird but sort of catchy at the same time was really important to me. I guess I’ve talked about it before–the way the records sound is almost like sort of pop songs recorded all gritty with the drum machine kind of blown out. A lot of stuff I really like–I mean, I like hanging out with the Coachwhips and the Hospitals and I love all that kind of music–but I really like modern r ‘n’ b. If I’m trapped in the car, I’ll listen to the urban station.
‘Trapped In The Closet’?
I love that shit. I love really well-recorded pop.
What do you like about it?
I have never until like the last couple years been into dancing and stuff–now I’m like totally into drinking beers and dancing with friends. I have a big group of friends in Seattle that aren’t into arty music, but have a great time hanging out and listening to Kanye West and Missy Elliott. With the art-damage shit–I mean, everyone loves some really weird shit, but then politics sort of get involved: ‘Oh, the new Deerhoof record is too poppy!’ But if you’re at some club, if a song is just good, that’s it! I don’t know if you’re into any of that stuff, but a song like ‘Golddigger’ is undeniable. Or some great Busta Rhymes. The politics of ‘be cool’ doesn’t come into play. If it’s really good, it works. I find that really attractive. I guess it’s back and forth–for my friends that don’t listen to weird music, I try and write something catchy enough that they like it, that’s maybe a little more universal, and then vice versa–a little catchier than the Hospitals might be or a little more mainstream just because I like both kinds of music. I like new music as much as I like finding old stuff.
What’s your dance style like?
Have you seen that movie about krumping? Dude, it’s totally a drunken and way sloppier and bad-rhythm version of that. Which is really weird because I’ve been super-intimidated my whole life about that stuff. I guess when you get older, you stop getting intimidated.
Are you really Seattle’s angst-ridden art-pop warrior, as you have been described?
Any of the above?
Not warrior?
One of rock’s chosen warriors, maybe.
What was it like hanging out with Mark E. Smith?
It was great–we’re all huge fans of that band, obviously. I sat next to him–the people in his band were easy to talk to, but I don’t really know what to say to that guy. The way he carries himself is a bit unapproachable. He seemed really friendly, but it was really insane to be in New York sitting on a couch next to him.
Did you see his teeth?
I didn’t see anything extraordinary about his teeth. His lips cover them. But you hear about him being some curmudgeon, and he was really just holding court and making everyone laugh. Actually, he was telling all these jokes and little stories and at the end, there would be kind of an awkward pause because I couldn’t understand a thing he was saying, and it’s almost like he gives this look like ‘this is the part where you laugh really hard’ and then fifteen people would all laugh really hard. I mean, it was all in English, but I didn’t understand anything. I leaned over to my friend after like twenty stories and was like ‘Can you understand any of this?’ And he said ‘Not at all.’