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Sunday, March 31, 2002

GERLING

Abandon the search for meaning


A not-so-funny thing happened to the Australian band Gerling on the way to Japan last fall. Having presented a buzz-worthy performance at last summer's Fuji Rock Festival, the trio was completely psyched for a Japan tour set for November. Then, America was attacked. But while a lot of bands subsequently canceled overseas shows because of a newfound (or, more precisely, intensified) fear of air travel, Gerling was forced to cancel theirs for entirely different reasons.

News photo
Paul "Presser" Towner, Burke Reid and Darren Cross form, collectively, Gerling

The name of their second album, the one they were coming to support, was "When Young Terrorists Chase the Sun," a title that their Japanese record company, Sony, understandably felt would be difficult to promote. "It was pretty crazy what happened with the timing of the album," says the group via speakerphone from their studio in a "junkie-filled" suburb of Sydney. "We finished the album in January 2001 and the artwork in February. We weren't in on that whole Afghanistan terrorist tip at all. The title was just a metaphor, kind of a challenge to mainstream music."

For the sake of convenience, the group's three members -- Australians Paul "Presser" Towner and Darren Cross, and Canadian Burke Reid -- have agreed to converse as a single entity, which goes nicely with a public stance summed by the generalizing purpose of their moniker. "It's supposed to be nondescript. If we called ourselves, say, Angry Pack of Wolves, you'd think we were a nu metal band. We wanted it so you couldn't peg us just by our name."

Actually, it's difficult to peg Gerling even by their music, which caroms recklessly between punk, techno and old-school hip-hop, often within the same song. And given that their live shows are designed not so much to re-create records but to freak people out in the most direct, deliberate ways imaginable, one has to wonder why they need to mention an album title in the first place.

"Indeed. But last fall, radio stations were avoiding anything that could be remotely associated with [the terrorist attack]. I think the record company figured that whacking up posters with the album cover would be a bit much, so they asked the promoter to reschedule the tour until we re-released the album."

The silver lining is that the re-release, which has been titled "Headzcleaner," will include the same songs as "Terrorists" (a cut originally called "High Jackers Manual" will be retitled "The Manual"), plus three new tracks, including a remix by Cornelius.

Gerling says they aren't put out by the time spent reconfiguring their workload. Starting over is the story of their professional lives. Having begun 10 years ago as a classic guitar-based punk band who couldn't play their instruments, they've learned to evolve on an almost daily basis

"After our first album, 'Children of the Telepathic Experience,' we did a year of touring. It then took us a while to save enough money to actually buy equipment and learn how to use it, and during that time we went through a lot of musical changes, as you can tell by the difference between the first album and this one. 'Children' was recorded and mixed in less than a week. With the second, we wanted to get our heads around the new stuff we'd processed and take our time and put out something that'll last."

"Processed" is the operative word, since Gerling doesn't so much write or arrange songs as throw a lot of disparate elements together and then force them to get along with one another. Most of the time, they come up with something resembling a real song, like the summery, lo-fi single "The Deer in You" or the clubby soul of "Dust Me Selecta," but just as often it ends up like "Brother Keith on Destructor Mountain," a hip-hop tune whose composition was dictated by forces beyond their control.

"It was quite a saga, that cut. We're all fans of [old-school rapper] Kool Keith, and we sent him the track to see if he would contribute something to it. It took him like eight months, and when he sent it back it was only half done. It sounded like he'd taken all these drugs, totally incoherent. So we cut up all his words and made up the rhymes for him."

Obviously, such songs have the danger of being less interesting in concert since they are mostly reproduced electronically. "Shows vs. records are like plays vs. movies to us," they offer helpfully. "In the studio, we can become an 80-piece orchestra. Live, we're a bit more . . . punk, I guess?"

Dada burlesque is more like it. Gerling shows are infamous for their lack of meaning, and while the trio are suckers for props like horses' heads and koala ears, as well as stunts like screaming point-blank into audience members' faces and inviting them up to play their songs for them, none of these things are ever planned.

"The shows are more raw than the records. A few days ago, we played what was probably our most sonically distorted concert ever. Just a wall of noise, but the audience really got into it." Rather than apologize for a subpar performance, they usually just blame it on another band called Gerlog.

The group's allergy to predictability may mean they'll abandon their stage uniform of button-down shirts and oversize black backpacks, a fashion flourish that clearly appealed to the excitable mob who witnessed their Japan debut at Fuji. The getup, it turns out, was lifted from Reid, who joined the band when he was still in high school (prior to that, stage gear was Superman costumes). But now that Gerling has a cult who copy the look, they've decided to switch to a "Clash-like" couture, though they seem hard put to describe what exactly that entails.

"Maybe we'll unpack [the backpacks] for Japan, but we've kind of outgrown them. We don't want to turn into The Residents or anything."

The Residents, they're reminded, always wore giant eyeballs onstage.

"Yeah, right." The sound of a sudden change of heart. "That might be cool."

Gerling play April 13, 7 p.m., at Shibuya Club Quattro (Smash, [03] 3444-6751); April 15, 7 p.m., at Shinsaibashi Club Quattro, Osaka (Smash West, [06] 6361-0313); and April 16, 7 p.m., at Nagoya Club Quattro ([052] 264-8211). Tickets are 5,500 yen.


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