The Von Bondies opening for the Deadly Snakes at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (February 20). $13.50. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
Even when Detroit's Von Bondies are having a shitty time, something good comes out of it. That's what their lead axeman, Jason Stollsteimer, says anyway.
"Half of 2003 we spent recording, touring with the Cramps and playing a show with the Stooges. We had a lot of time off, which we hadn't had in two years. The six months we had off while we were doing our record were hell. I'd rather be touring than not doing anything - it's not like we have 9-to-5 jobs."
The recording they've finished is Pawn Shoppe Heart, their second LP, and their debut on Seymour Stein's relaunched Warner Brothers affiliate, Sire Records.
Stollsteimer says the band was impressed by Stein and not the major-label bucks.
"If Warner Brothers had said, 'We want to sign you,' I'd have thought, 'Oh, we're going to get lost, we're just another band,' even though I liked that movie Batman.
"The difference is that Seymour Stein relaunched the label on seeing us. We were very flattered that he wanted us on his label based on seeing us live. I mean, Madonna, the Ramones, the Talking Heads, the Dead Boys, the Smiths, they're all legends. He signs bands whether or not the industry likes them."
It's easy to assume that Sire's affiliation with the Talking Heads is what led former Head and Modern Lover Jerry Harrison to handle production on the new record, but that's not the case.
"We'd been signed for a few months and were thinking of producers. I was thinking Mickey Most, but he's older and hard to get, so the label got together, like, 10 producers and engineers and had them come out to see us.
"I didn't know whether Jerry Harrison was a producer, an engineer or just a guy who liked our band. He came up to me and said, 'Your show was amazing. I've never done a rock 'n' roll band before. I don't have anything that I've done that's like you. '"
Was the band worried that Harrison might make give them a world-music- influence sound?
"No. The Talking Heads sounded like themselves. The Modern Lovers sounded like themselves. Even Live (whom Harrison produced) sound like themselves."
Before signing with Sire, the Von Bondies got a few looks from various labels. They usually avoid the showcase format, but made an exception in one case.
"Rick Rubin. It was cool. He's a very laid-back guy. He gave me tips on dealing with flying. He's very earthy and organic. He takes off his sandals and keeps his sunglasses on. He was looking to sign us to American, but I was sick that day and I knew we weren't gonna get signed because I sounded horrible."
Of course, the giant pink elephant looming over the phone as we spoke was Stollsteimer's Internet-famous brawl with White Stripe Jack White at the Magic Stick in Detroit, a situation I wasn't permitted to ask him about due to ongoing legal issues.
Because I wasn't able to get info from him directly, I feel obliged to put forward my own theory. What I'd like to believe is that Jason is the Deep Throat who tipped off the British that Jack and Meg weren't brother and sister, and that Jason was telling people how Jack fell in love with the cowboy character he played in the dull film Cold Mountain to the extent that he would dress up like a cowboy and look in the mirror vacantly for hours on end.
I'm imagining, too, that Jason put a flaming bag of dog shit on Jack's doorstep. Or maybe they both went to the Magic Stick and got wasted on Zima, and then Jason's face and eye accidentally fell on Jack's tightly clasped fists, repeatedly and painfully.
I posited my theory to Soledad Brothers drummer Ben Swank, subject of Pawn Shoppe Heart's Been Swank and close friend to both White and Stollsteimer. Swank was unreceptive, asking belligerently, "How did you get my number?"