THE CONCRETES at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Monday (October 11). $15. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
It's usually a no-brainer to discern a band's role models by listening to their music, but few groups are unabashedly ballsy enough to wear their influences on their sleeves.
The Concretes, a girl-trio-turned-eight-piece-indie-pop-orchestra from Stockholm, have no such reservations. You might wonder about the 60s bent of their delightfully girly ditties after listening to the grandiose Spectorish Wall of Sound intro to Say Something, but the lead track off their new self-titled disc, and tunes titled You Can't Hurry Love (it's not a cover) and, uh, Diana Ross, should clear up any lingering doubts.
"We are obsessed with Diana Ross," chirps guitarist Maria Eriksson over the phone from Sweden, where she's taking a break during sound check for the first show on their Scandinavian mini-tour. "We're especially obsessed with one song called Love Hangover, from later in her career. It's kind of disco-house dance music.
"She stands for a type of woman who was created in the 60s. She was supposed to look pretty and happy and was so talented, and underneath she was so sad. She's smiling on the outside and depressed deep down."
That's so dark, man.
The Concretes' songs, while occasionally wistful and melancholy, don't seem to have that sad clown angle to them, although they share the brilliantly orchestral pop aesthetic and naive little-girl chirp of the best of the Supremes' stuff. Eriksson claims they were never aiming to form a nouveau girl group, although they're fans of the Marvelettes and agree that the vibe suits them because "you can dance to it and everybody looks good."
Oddly enough, since their music often evokes something akin to a Dusty Springfield-fronted Velvets eating lollipops in the Brill Building, Eriksson and best friends Lisa Milberg and Victoria Bergsman (the Concretes' drummer and singer/lyricist respectively), didn't grow up listening to specifically 60s music. Milberg and Eriksson, who've known each other since they were seven, cut their teeth on the latter's older brother's cast-off rockabilly, garage punk, country and jazz LPs.
When the two met Bergsman in high school, they hit it off and decided to start a band.
"It was natural, because all of our friends were into music and played music," explains Eriksson. "But we couldn't play at all. Our first song was just two chords, and I think it was about a car. It was very naive. Even more naive than we are now."
And that's pretty naive. One of the sweetest tracks on their new album is about a talking cat. Luckily, the ladies learned how to play their instruments by trial and error, and they gradually invited a passel of boys to flesh out their woozily fragile songs. Now the band includes a sax player and an organist, with various guests (including football-player-turned-indie-heartthrob Nicolai Dunger) joining them onstage from time to time.
Trying to wrangle such a sprawling bunch in the recording studio proved to be a problem, particularly, says Eriksson, with the band's original attempt to adhere to a communal democratic structure.
"It was total chaos, because it was eight different people trying to get their say in. We didn't know how to record properly - we didn't know anything, actually. If we had some money in the bank, we'd decide to spend it on going into the studio. Then we'd decide we didn't need to master the album; we could just send it away for people to hear."
So Eriksson agrees it was a good thing that they recruited producer Jari Haapalainen for the newest disc, their EMI debut, noting that Haapalainen favoured Spectorish production qualities and taught them lots of important studio terminology.
As for those influences... the band is brashly up-front about folding in other bits of songs. Like, in the coda of New Friend, the sad heartbreak ballad that kinda sounds like a revamped version of the Velvets' Sunday Morning, Bergsman starts singing part of the chorus of U2's One - complete with the lyrics "It's too late."
"Yeah, we've heard that," admits Eriksson. "But it's not on purpose. We've actually never listened to U2 before. It's just a coincidence."