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The Fantastic Four

If you owned a Geiger counter that measures rock-star energy

If you owned a Geiger counter that measures rock-star energyinstead of radioactive ions (we have one: it’s Japanese, andit’s rad), it would pulse intensely in the presence of thefour individuals we’ve chosen to represent 2004’s NextBig Things: the Distillers’ resilient punk heroine BrodyDalle; Geoff Rickly of New Jersey emo saviors Thursday; JustinHawkins of witty British metallurgists the Darkness; and PaulBanks, the haunted voice of New York City post-post-punkersInterpol.

Ifyou owned a Geiger counter that measures rock-star energy instead ofradioactive ions (we have one: it’s Japanese, and it’s rad), it wouldpulse intensely in the presence of the four individuals we’ve chosen torepresent 2004’s Next Big Things: the Distillers’ resilient punkheroine Brody Dalle; Geoff Rickly of New Jersey emo saviors Thursday;Justin Hawkins of witty British metallurgists the Darkness; and PaulBanks, the haunted voice of New York City post-post-punkers Interpol.

Evenhanging out at a Manhattan photo studio, their eyes crossed withfatigue thanks to jet lag, and, in Hawkins’ case, a half hour ofgrilling by federal officers (apparently, there’s another catsuiteddude with the same name who’s done something very bad), these fourradiate the all-important “it” that separates your White Stripes fromyour White Light Motorcades. Still, you’d need one of those high-techinstruments (ours is pink and covered with kitten stickers) to notice.Although all four bands are enjoying success after years of bubblingbeneath the surface, their lead singers, with the possible exception ofHawkins, can still walk down a busy city street without incident. Thisprobably will not last. As their window of anonymity rapidly closes, weasked them about life on the verge of a major breakthrough.

I. THOSE THREE WORDS

JUSTIN HAWKINS: The “Next Big Thing” always makes me think of the “Last Big Thing.” What was it again?
GEOFF RICKLY: When I’ve heard the term “Next Big Thing”applied to Thursday, it makes me feel like there’s some kind of strangepressure on us to do something different from what we’re doing now.Like we’re not a big thing now — we’re gonna be a big thing.
BRODY DALLE: It’s always, like, next week. It’s always a week away.
HAWKINS: It’s always the next drop of water that [the media]are going to lead the horses to. Then you find out whether or notthey’re gonna drink. It just means we’re gonna be in everyone’s faces,and then we might stick around, or we might not. The Strokes were theNext Big Thing, weren’t they — for a while? And they’re still a bigthing.
PAUL BANKS: I think the Strokes and the White Stripes aregreat. There’s a shitload of great bands that keep coming up. I don’tknow if the new bands are dominating the radio like all the shittymusic has been, but there might actually be hope that things are goingto get better.
RICKLY: Every so often, I’ll hear a record [after readingabout the band] and it’ll be totally revolutionary to me and I’ll be sopsyched. Whether or not it has the impact on culture that it’s beentipped to have is irrelevant to me. It was just my way of finding outabout the music. So even though I feel cynical toward the hype, anytime you’re introducing something new to people, it’s a positive thing.

II. HYPE + MAJOR LABEL $$$$$ = CRUSHINGEXPECTATION?

HAWKINS: In the U.K., it’s especially bad. The NextBig Thing syndrome is really acute there. Every fortnight there’s a newNext Big Thing, your new favorite band. The British market is said tobe the tastemaking market, but it’s losing a lot of kudos, because alot of the stuff that’s hyped doesn’t sell — people don’t like it. Thebands get all the exposure they could ever require to sell a record,and it still doesn’t sell.
SPIN: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, for example. [At press time, their Fever to Tell had sold 102,000 copies.]
BANKS: Maybe the record labels shouldn’t be putting so muchmoney behind it. But in the end, that record got made. From our pointof view of making music, it isn’t a business venture.
SPIN: But Interpol are on an indie, Matador.
BANKS: We are, yeah. We don’t have the pressure of having tosell this or that many records. But from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’standpoint, their record got made. And they’re not going to lose anymoney as individuals. I’d like to believe that [their label] Interscopewill be aware that [the musical climate is] changing, but maybe it willbe slower than they hoped, and they should stay behind a band like theYeah Yeah Yeahs, because they are great.
DALLE: Also, these major labels understand what they aregetting themselves into. They understand the type of band that they aresigning. When we got signed, the president of our label [Sire’s SeymourStein] was like, “I understand that you’ve basically built your ownculture.” It was ours — that’s what it’s about, and it’s aboutbuilding your band slowly.
SPIN: Justin, the Darkness have sold a million copies of Permission to Land in the U.K., but you haven’t sold too many here, even though the album has been out for quite a few months.
HAWKINS: We clearly don’t expect to take over the entireworld just like that. I expect a band with longevity to do what it doesover the course of several albums, rather than suddenly be ineveryone’s face, everyone’s pocket, and everyone’s record collection.That’s not going to last. That’s when you’re a novelty act.
RICKLY: I was very into the D.C. bands of ten years ago. Isaw what happened to Jawbox and Shudder to Think [when they signed tomajors]. There’s definitely something like, “Well, I know how thisgoes. We’ll see how this goes.” Maybe we’ll get some money, and whenwe’re done, I’ll be able to put it into our own indie label and put outour own records again. That’s what our producer said: “Don’t thinkabout whether the song will be a hit, think about whether you’re goingto be proud of the record when you get dropped!”

III. EVERYONE IS HIP

SPIN: Thanks to the velocity of pop culture,new bands are getting hyped more and more in the mainstream media. It’sincreasingly common for the average person to be able to name-check aNext Big Thing without hearing the music.
HAWKINS: Kind of like some of our reviewers. [Laughs]
RICKLY: After being around Brody, I realized that I had seenher face and heard about her for probably two years before I listenedto the Distillers. I was already familiar with the sort of style shewas representing. I feel like Thursday is one of the less stylized orimage-based bands. I almost feel like it’s productive for the media tohave our images out there before our music, because we don’t have avery striking image.
BANKS: [To Spin] The theoretical listener that youare talking about is an empty individual. I don’t even want them. Thepeople who count are the people who actually listen and care.

For more on the Distillers, Interpol, Thursday, and the Darkness, visit your local newsstand or subscribe to SPIN.

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