The goal is to prove that you don’t have to go and be a lawyer to make something of yourself.
story by Jay Gentile
Rising high-energy Chicago dance rockers The Dirty Things proclaim that their Web site is “best viewed while wearing nothing at all.” So just how dirty are The Dirty Things? Chicago Innerview invited a couple of them over in an attempt to find out. Looking unsoiled and smelling decent enough, Chicago Innerview probed frontman Michael Scahill for answers.
Scahill says that the “dirty nasty dudes” of the Pretty Things were a favorite in his youth, and that he liked the idea of carrying on the sarcasm in reverse with these self-proclaimed “clean-cut guys.” And the name works with the type of music they play, which is often characterized with phrases like “new new wave,” “jittery,” “angular,” “post-punk,” “post-funk,” “art party,” etc. Basically it is fun, catchy, chaotic dance rock in the vein of the Rapture, Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, Bloc Party, Radio 4, etc. And while this type of music has become immensely popular as of late, according to Scahill, the band isn’t interested in following trends or copying what’s popular.
“When I first started with this music, there was no Franz Ferdinand, no Bloc Party,” he says. “Just me digging through my old records. For years I was like, ‘I can’t play ’80s music. That wouldn’t work.’ Finally I decided to do it and now it’s this huge thing.” (The band cites the Clash, Wire, the Cure, Gang of Four and Talking Heads as influences.)
Following a stint in New York City, Scahill met up with former Lexington, Kentucky, high school classmate Paddy Ryan, who had just relocated to Chicago from London and was convinced by Scahill to pick up the bass. After snatching drummer J. Paul Lohr from the local punk scene, the band played a flurry of shows around the city in January of 2004, gaining their fair share of attention for their energetic stage presence and fresh sound. They cut a 5-song EP in July of 2004 titled Movement Making Noises, which included radio-friendly rockers like “Stop” and “New Dance,” both of which ended up on college radio after an unknown promoter contacted the band asking to put their stuff on the air.
“It’s really weird trying to sell yourself,” says Ryan. Luckily, The Dirty Things really didn’t have to. Through “this weird underground that I have no idea about,” Ryan says the songs got picked up across the country and, in January of 2005, they somehow made industry chart Tripwire’s “Next Level” list (at #5) along with bands like LCD Soundsystem, Louis XIV and Sons and Daughters. (They didn’t even know what Tripwire was, and still aren’t really sure.) They also attracted press from England to Chicago. “On songs such as the aptly titled ‘New Dance,’ the young quartet [now a 3-piece] easily betters the Rapture, if not bands like Franz Ferdinand and Clinic,” said Chicago Sun-Times critic Jim DeRogatis.
The group is currently enjoying attention from the A&R community and courting labels from local indies to majors, looking for someone to put out a more sonically-diverse full-length they hope to record by the end of the year. When asked what the goal of the band is, Ryan and Scahill responded in unison: “To beat the Beatles.” And, for once, they seemed serious.
In the meantime, the Dirty Things travel to Detroit for a slot at the Motor City Music Conference before heading to New York to play CBGB’s at the end of April as well as a Gang of Four after-party in mid-May. They will then return to Chicago to continue bringing the dance party to devoted (and, they say, mostly female) fans and pretentious hipsters alike.
“We came up with this horrible concept that we hate watching bands just stand there,” says Ryan. “The unfortunate thing is that we have to [constantly move.] After 25 minutes, we’re completely drenched in sweat. We don’t wanna be too-cool-for-school, especially if we want the audience to dance because if we don’t, there’s no way in hell they will…I don’t jog on the weekends, so I gotta get my exercise.”
“The goal is to prove that you don’t have to go and be a lawyer to make something of yourself,” adds Scahill. And Ryan closes the interview with a little advice for aging hipsters: “You’re gonna die real soon. Move a little.”
The Dirty Things :: with Assassins, The Cinema Eye, Midstates and Life During Wartime DJs Mother Hubbard and J2K :: Logan Square Auditorium :: May 20.