Youth Group opening for Jet at the Opera House (735 Queen East), tonight (Thursday, June 16), $20. 416-870-8000. Also solo at the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen West), Friday (June 17), 5 pm. All ages. $10. 416-870-8000.
Youth Group's promo makes them sound pompous and precious.
It says stuff that's so heavy-handed I could spit. The pop outfit compares itself to a suburban Lou Reed starving to pursue their art, and describes its sophomore album, Skeleton Jar, as dark, which it is, with lyrics like "I feel like dying. You feel like dancing."
So expecting lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Toby Martin to be all gloomy and difficult, I'm pretty surprised when I get him on the phone at his manager's place in New York and he's all, "Hey! How's it going? New York is great. It's sweltering hot but it's excellent."
And then he's totally patient when I have to call him back three times because my phone line is fucked up, and doesn't get sniffy or anything when I ask why Australian men are such sluts. (He says they're not. It's just the skiers and boarders we meet in the mountains.)
The record is their North American debut, and Martin sounds pleased as punch to have been picked up by Epitaph.
"They got hold of the album and gave us a call," says Martin. "It was completely out of the blue. We weren't out looking for a deal. I never thought we'd get a release overseas."
Lucky. So I wonder if he still feels like dying. "That actually says, 'I feel like hell. You feel like dancing. '"
Oh, that makes such a huge difference. Why so glum, chum?
"I don't know. It's just what came out of the last few years, I guess. I like music that comes from a pretty dark place but then is ultimately uplifting. The bands I really love are the Cure and the Smiths and stuff. I think to be truly uplifting you have to come from the dark. It has to go somewhere."
And it's very earnest.
"Yeah. I think we save our earnestness for our music, though. In reality we're just a bunch of Australian fucks."
And while we're at it, what the hell is a Skeleton Jar anyhow?
"That term was actually a mix-up. The song was called Specimen Jar."
Well, that would certainly give a whole new meaning to the title track.
"Then when we were writing and rehearsing it I started singing 'skeleton jar' instead and it just kind of stuck. It could be so many things. To me, it sounds like a person. The skin is the jar and the skeleton is inside it. But it's open to interpretation."
There's some jangle and bounce to the record, some poppiness, some Pixies-ness. Martin's vocals have a touching quality. It's very Death Cab for Cutie, so it's no surprise that there's a sticker on the package with a quote from Cutie's Chris Walla endorsing Youth Group so strongly that "If you don't love them your heart is dead."
"I wouldn't say there's something wrong with someone's heart if they don't love us," Martin says, laughing. "I might say there's something wrong with their minds."