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In the Studio

Chk Chk Chk (!!!) Want to Make Pop Music Weird on New Album ‘As If’

“I don’t think people expect anything of us anymore,” Nic Offer, frontman for dance-punk stalwarts !!! (pronounced “Chk Chk Chk”), says about his band’s forthcoming sixth studio album, As If, which will arrive in the fall. He continues matter-of-factly: “I don’t think it’s [unusual] to expect much out of a band that has been together for 18 years. My hope is that we are an unusual case.”

In the spirit of embracing the new, Offer — who founded !!! in Sacramento in 1996 — switched up his songwriting headquarters. After years of more traditional, and in some instances, transatlantic studio recording (their fifth effort, 2013’s THR!!!ER, was recorded across four different countries), the singer holed up in his New York City bedroom with multi-instrumentalist Rafael Cohen to write 40 new tracks, one of which being the house-inspired “All U Writers,” released last April.

As their homegrown collection accumulated, Offer says that he and Cohen started to get a case of, as he puts it over the phone, “demo-itis.” “We started using the stuff we were making in our bedrooms and just kind of integrating those tracks with the band.”

Together, the two whittled their batch down to 20 tracks, and honed them at studios in NYC, Los Angeles, and Austin. “We call it the ‘slippery when wet’ method,” Offer jokes. “A whole bunch of our friends and everyone in the band votes on the songs and then that’s the album. We are throwing everything at the wall, doing genres we’ve never done before.”

“Everyone wants us to be punk; everyone wants us to be raw,” he continues. “Well, we want to make dance music. The kind of dance music that sounds raw is that early-’90s house records.”

To vary up their sound, the band drew inspiration from dance world all-stars like Russian electronic DJ Nina Kraviz, deep-house deity Levon Vincent, and dubstep whiz Ramadanman. “[We listened to] lots of records where they don’t make good albums but they have five killer 12,”” Offer says. “Basically stuff out of Berlin and the U.K. and Jimmy Jones and Seth Troxler.”

When he eventually got to L.A., Offer met with producer Chris Coady (Beach House’s Teen Dream, Future Islands’ Singles) to mix As If at Sunset Sound, home to ’70s funk and disco standbys Sly Stone and Taste of Honey, among others. “It was really exciting for me,” he says. “I literally got goosebumps when I walked into the room that had been Prince’s.”

He also tapped THR!!!ER producer and Spoon drummer Jim Eno for As If, as well as Patrick Ford (Tanlines, Richard Hell, Marianne Faithfull), but majority of the production was left up to the band. “This is the most self-produced [we’ve been] since when Justin [Van Der Volgen] used to be in the band,” the singer says. “It’s a result of us, like, finally figuring out how the drum machines work. It’s definitely a record where we learned more than we have in years.”

Offer’s willingness to absorb new information is also imbued in the new album’s name; calling the title of As If grew out of the frontman’s desire to imagine himself in a number of different musical roles, which he says are explored on each of the record’s ten tracks. “What if we were Nina Kraviz?” he says. “What if we were a Motown band from the ’60s? What if we were DJ Rashad? What if we were a traxx record from the ’90s?”

“We believe pop can be weird,” he continues. “You know, like, the Beatles or Prince or OutKast. Just because it follows a structure doesn’t mean it has to be conventional.”

Neither does !!!’s recording style, apparently — or their vision for long-term success. “Any band is going to grow and change and evolve to their situation,” Offer says. “I hope that our dreams are as big as they were on our first record, and we’re still trying to create something that we never thought we could have created. I feel like we definitely hit that several times on this record. That is what I would hope for us, but I don’t think that’s what is expected of us at this stage in our career. That’s fine — that’s what I think of other bands.”