Surprising for a band whose skuzzy R&B is at turns immediate and grating, The Strange Boys’ 2009 effort, The Strange Boys And Girls Club, was one of the year’s most rewarding listens, a record whose dark humor revealed itself gradually. This year's Be Brave is nearly as rollicking, a dusty romp through deep-seated and folky rock ’n’ roll. But, as sophomore efforts tend to go, especially ones following critically lauded debuts, Be Brave feels more pensive, slicker even. The Strange Boys are starting to lose their new-band sheen, but who really cares? The group sounds as promising as ever, and the live show still ruptures into shout-out-loud singing and twisting bodies. The A.V. Club caught up with singer Ryan Sambol before Thursday's show at the Turf Club to talk about the big issues: corporate sponsorship, politics, and the (not so) profound influence of American Bandstand.
The A.V. Club: Jenna Thornhill-DeWitt of defunct noise-punks Mika Miko just joined the group. How did adding a female saxophone player to The Strange Boys change things?
Ryan Sambol: Jenna is definitely a unique, interesting person. It's the same thing with [back-up vocalist Tim Presley]: She changes the environment when she's around. I can't really say how it changes it, but I know it does. It's definitely a lot funnier when her and Tim are around.
AVC: You played the Scion Garage Fest last year. What are your thoughts on Scion's sponsorship of the indie-rock scene?
RS: It's tough, because I don't know any band that we consider contemporaries of ours that supports a corporation. They don't have loyalty to any company. But when you were told your flight is paid for, you get to stay in a hotel, and then play this festival with all these other great bands, and people aren't charged to get in, there's really no reason to say no. I think Scion is owned by Toyota, but I don't know why they're putting so much money into it, and I don't know where they're getting the money from. But I know that none of the bands that were involved in that festival really cared. Vice were the ones that put it together. It wasn't like I had John D. Honda calling me, saying, "When I'm not selling cars, I'm listening to your guys' records." It was all through Vice.
AVC: Your lyrics have talked about 9/11 conspiracies and your frustration with politics. Do you think it's important for bands to give voice to those sorts of things?
RS: Personally, I can't help but write about those kind of things, or those things can't help but show up because I think about them. Philip [Sambol, bassist] especially is the most proactive in finding out the right information—or the unchanged, unfiltered information—of what's really happening in the world. I don't think we're overtly political or anything, but I definitely think that there shouldn't be a time where I shouldn't say something because it's political. Though it is hard sometimes, because people have such a weird reaction to that. That's why I call what we do—if it's not rock 'n' roll, it's just folk music. Because it's about people, and made by people, for people. So some of that stuff should be included, not because I'm trying to prove a point, but because it is part of my life. I wouldn't want to be held by any political opinion where you would hear another one of our songs and think, "Well, this doesn't mean anything." Where as a political song would have this so-called "meaning" to it. That's where I get tongue-tied. It's just songs.
AVC: It's been said that you and your brother were heavily influenced by an American Bandstand compilation. Where does that story come from?
RS: My father used to work for an American Bandstand theme restaurant, and he had this tape, a "greatest hits" kind of thing, that we used to listen to as kids. This interview stuff is so hard, because first of all, do you always answer the same way? People always ask us about our influences, and for the first few interviews I ever did, I told them about the American Bandstand tape. Then that was in every single article, so I stopped talking about it. And when you try to answer a bad question, you can get tongue-tied into trying to explain something that you shouldn't be explaining at all. But if you say, "Oh, that's a stupid question, I don't want to answer that," or you answer in some silly or joking way, you get this thing where it's like, "Are you taking this seriously? It's my job too. I'm supposed to interview you." I really don't know how to answer that stuff. It's probably going to come to a point where we just won't answer it anymore.