Cool. It’s a factor that is greatly desired, but at the same time very hard to attain. Cool can’t be manufactured or bought–something is either cool or it isn’t. Retread bands with one original member playing the summer county fair circuit are not cool. Anything labeled “the hottest new trend” is probably not cool. And don’t make the mistake of confusing popularity with cool. American Idol and Top-40 radio are undeniably popular, but they are not cool.
Miles Davis 1959, Johnny Cash 1964 and W. Axl Rose 1988 were cool. Keith Richards (even though he now looks like a living fossil, bless his heart) remains cool to this day.
The band that you’re about to read about has so much cool it’s off the damn charts. Sure, they have the pedigree (lead guitarist Richard Fortus and drummer Frank Ferrer are alumnus of Guns N’ roses, and bass player Sami Yaffa was in New York Dolls and Hanoi Rocks), but it’s much more than that. It’s gritty, down ‘n dirty, honest rock & roll. It’s a guitar player slinging a beat-to-shit Telecaster with a lit cigarette in the headstock. It’s lyrics like “there’s a deal going down in the basement, while the devil sits in his Jaguar.”
Lead vocalist and rhythm guitar player Rob Carlyle appreciates the compliments, but remains humble. “Cool man, I appreciate it, I really appreciate it.” There’s a repeating line in the song The Feel that goes “They were the coolest band in the world.” When asked if the song was autobiographical, he laughs. “Well, I kind of hope not, because in the end, they never really get anywhere, do they?”
“Are we that good? That’s not really for me to decide. I guess the way that came about was that we got a review in Classic Rock magazine, a couple of . . . a few releases ago, and the guy wrote to me and he said, ‘Hey Rob, you know, the review’s going to be coming out in the next issue or two and you should really check it out. I think you’re really going to like it. There’s a little phrase in there that I think you’re going to really like.’ And I was like, ‘All right, cool.’ I had no idea what he was talking about. And then sure enough, at the end of the review it said something like, ‘I always sort of knew of it, but now it’s official, The Compulsions are the coolest band in the world.’ And I was like, wow, I’ve never really heard that said about anybody. So it was a phrase that I started putting on our promotional materials and stuff like that. And then it just started to become my worst nightmare that somebody would pick it up and use it against me somehow, so I figured, let me do it, if that makes any sense. “
The new album is called Dirty Fun, and the song called Evil Bastards features some amazing, kick-ass female backing vocals. The comparison to the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter and Merry Clayton’s dynamic performance on that song is unavoidable. “That was a friend of mine named Mekia and another girl named Valerie Evering,” says Carlyle “And they’re the two backup singers on Hell Bound Babies which is the first song on the album. They’re on that, and then they’re also on Evil Bastards and they’re also on Stay Easy sort of near the end, we bring them back. I’ve known Mekia from singing in clubs around town, and she’s got just such an amazing voice. The very first time that we used her, on Easy Money, on the previous album, it was real subtle what she did, it wasn’t really . . . I knew she was capable of so much more, and to be honest with you, she’s a wailing singer, and she could do even more probably than what’s on this record. But she’s definitely, I mean the girls, they both definitely fucking brought it. I’ve heard it a million times, but I remember when we recorded it man, it was just so hair raising, and those words too, coming out of them, it’s just so fucking spooky. “
“And then it’s got that little line in there about raping and killing too. There’s all these weird little subliminal connections that I’m not sure if they were deliberate or what, but yeah, I hear them a lot in the lyrics, and they’re not deliberate, actually. I could tell you that they’re not deliberate, they just happen. I guess you know what it is, if you’re going to call somebody an evil bastard, and really live up to it, I mean you have to go there. You have to go there. You have to get that dark; otherwise it’s just not going to be satisfying. “
Speaking of The Stones, the tune Lucky begins with a guitar riff that is more Keith Richards than Richards himself. “We get that a lot. I mean, Keith is obviously . . . he’s the big influence. The Stones are obviously a huge influence on the band, but specifically Keith, he’s still to this day, he’s got to be the king of cool. Yeah, that song in particular, I think I even said in the press release that the Stones had Happy, so I sort of wanted to have our answer to it, which would be Lucky. Also, since I’ve written so many songs about being down and out, and hard times and frustration and desperation and stuff, that sometimes you want to just look at life from the other side because songs come true. So hopefully, this one will come true. “
Right about the halfway point of Dirty Fun one might be thinking that although The Compulsions may indeed be the coolest band in the world, they sound a lot like a Rolling Stones clone. The band then turns convention on its head to throw that theory right out the window.
Submitted for your approval: Long Tall Sally. For much of the album the guitar tones are classic tube amp-style‘60’s blues/rock. The delicious irony of this version of is that while the song itself is a classic ‘60’s blues/rock song, the guitar tones are screaming, modern processed tones. In addition, there is an over-the-top fake crowd cheering throughout the song, clearly tongue-in-cheek.
Carlyle says “Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re always thinking about ways to keep you guys on your toes. The last thing a rock and roll band wants to be is predictable. I mean, that’s just the kiss of death, and you just have to constantly find ways to challenge yourself and challenge the listener, and hopefully pull it off.”
Then there’s the Brian Setzer-style rockabilly of Still Got The Hots For You, Baby. “Yeah, the other thing with the band is, I’ve always wanted on every album, aside from the straight up rock and roll stuff is to keep the listener on their toes with different little curve balls here and there. Dabbling in different styles and the rockabilly type thing is something that’s been on the list for a long time, and I guess I kind of figured out a way to kind of do it, and there it is.”
The band has only played two gigs since Dirty Fun was released; one in New York and the other in Los Angeles. “It’s a tricky band to do stuff with because the guys play in so many other projects, and quite honestly I just don’t have the financial firepower that those projects have. So I have to figure out other creative ways to get attention and keep the name out there and hopefully get to that point where this thing becomes even more of a real entity. I think I’ve done a pretty good job, all things considered, but you definitely want more all the time. “
“You know what, everything is just starting to heat up right now. After you, I have another interview at 4:30, and I have another interview at 7:00. There’s been definitely positive vibes about it. So it is really exciting, but it’s just starting to gear up and hopefully it’ll become a wildfire that spreads out of control. But we’ll see about that. Everybody’s been… it’s tough because it’s great when your cohorts and your friends like it, but when it comes from a complete stranger like you, it takes on a whole another meaning. It’s nice to hear from a complete stranger. It resonates from a complete stranger. That means a lot to me. “
Unlike the fictional band in The Feel who “never hit the big time, never got that deal,” here’s hoping that musical fate will be much kinder to The Compulsions.