Earlier this year, before [article id="1607482"]Metallica thundered onstage at South by Southwest[/article] in Austin, Texas, the [artist id="1969383"]Silversun Pickups[/artist] were given the unenviable task of warming up an audience of over-served, overheated, die-hard metal fans.
It seemed like an odd choice for an opener: the swoony, alt-leaning Pickups yanking the curtain for [artist id="995"]Metallica[/artist], one of the hugest, heaviest acts on the planet. Somewhat surprisingly, however, things went off without a hitch.
"That crowd was amazing. ... Everyone was so stoked. We've never had that many people headbanging at our show before, and it was pretty cool," Silversun Pickups frontman Brian Aubert laughed. "It was a sea of black. I saw this guy who looked like he was 50 years old, he was bashing his head against a pole, just having the greatest time ever. It was pretty great, actually."
Afterward, they watched from the side of the stage as Metallica destroyed everything in their path. And, again, this was something the Pickups weren't exactly used to witnessing firsthand.
"We were getting sweat on by them, which was amazing. It put me in a place ... it was nostalgic," Aubert continued. "I saw them when I was really young, and being that close to a band that's been that large for 30 years, it's awe-inspiring. Because how many bands like that are there working today? Five? Plus, Robert Trujillo is like the most amazing bass player ever. We were all watching him. [Silversun bassist] Nikki [Monninger] was taking notes."
"He was in the pocket, and I try to be," Monninger laughed. "I love pockets."
The whole Metallica thing is a pretty good example of how the past three years have gone for the Pickups, who went from the most popular band in Los Angeles' trendy Silver Lake neighborhood to slightly oddball mainstays on modern-rock radio, thanks to the success of singles like "Lazy Eye" and "Well Thought Out Twinkles." They toured like crazy behind their full-length debut, 2006's Carnavas, then jumped right off the road into a studio, where they began work on [article id="1606065"]the follow-up, Swoon.[/article]
The first single from that album, the angsty "Panic Switch," has done even better than their previous songs, going to #1 on the modern-rock charts, cracking the Hot 100, and putting them in the same breath as other rock-radio giants like Nickelback, Staind and Shinedown. And again, this seemed a bit odd — to everyone but the Pickups, that is.
"I think it's sort of ridiculous to put limits on your fans, and that mentality. Anyone who wants to listen to us can," Aubert said. "I remember when 'Lazy Eye' was on stations like that, I always felt like we were the really wacked-out kids at the prom, that would, like, spike the punch and stuff like that. Like, all of a sudden, we were at this party and a lot of the people were like, 'Dude, who are these guys?!?' but some of them were like, 'Hey, these guys!' It makes you stand out, for sure."
And from the sound of things, the follow-up single "Substitution" is only going to make them stick out more. Or, at least the video — helmed by sibling team the Malloys, who have done clips for N.E.R.D., the White Stripes and Kid Rock, to name just a few — should. By all accounts, it's shaping up to be a fairly odd project.
"It's cool. It's gonna be weird. We're playing the song in a surreal moose lodge, and then there's musical chairs going on with, like, eight Amazon-type gorgeous girls. Babes, I suppose," Aubert said. "They were actually playing musical chairs for, like, a real prize. ... It got pretty ugly. Everybody in the room watching it was like, 'This is the weirdest thing.' All the girls are color-coded. In one way, it's bright and sort of silly, but the way we're looking at it is sort of depressing. In fact, I have to admit: It's by far the darkest video we've ever done."