Versus Put Their Two Cents In

With Baluyut brothers at the core of the Manhattan, N.Y.-based quartet, band unveils its third collection of jangly pop.

When Richard Baluyut of Versus thought up the title Two Cents Plus Tax

for the New York quartet's third LP, he thought he'd pirated a common phrase.

"I actually thought that was an expression and then I realized that I had made it

up," said Baluyut, 32, guitarist and main vocalist for the four-piece. "I thought it

meant giving someone your two cents plus, like, giving them a piece of your

mind and then some extra, but everyone I asked said they'd never heard of


Originally formed in 1991, Versus have had a revolving door of players, at one

time featuring a lineup of the three Baluyut brothers and vocalist/bassist

Fontaine Toups. Versus currently operate under a two-Baluyut system with

guitarist James Baluyut joining brother Richard, Toups and drummer Pat Ramos

to churn out well-crafted, jangly pop-rock tunes such as the 10 that constitute

their new album, released in May.

Bassist Toups takes the vocal helm for the track

HREF="">"Never Be

O.K." (RealAudio excerpt), a heart-rending illustration of a breakup

gone bad, a tune she says still hurts to sing live.

"It's about a breakup. It's kinda hard for me when I play it every night, it's like,

'Oh, God why did I write these lyrics,' " Toups said. "It's always a difficult

breakup when people leave and you just can't believe it. It doesn't make any

sense and you didn't get an explanation. It's a shock you really didn't see

coming. You wake up the next morning and you're like, 'Oh, really? OK, I guess

my life is totally changed now.' "

Reached by phone in St. Louis (a stop on the band's current tour), the Baluyut

brothers took time from following the Detroit Red Wings' progress in the Stanley

Cup hockey playoffs to offer insight into Two Cents Plus Tax.

Lead guitarist James Baluyut, 26, said the band's latest incarnation allows him

to contribute accents and color to Versus' sparse sound on songs such as


Reaction" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Mouth Is Heaven."

" 'Spastic Reaction' is the best example of that," he said. "It's a three-chord pop

song, but I guess what I play is a little bit countryish, so that adds a different

shade to it. That probably never would have happened in the old Versus. [For]

'Mouth Is Heaven' ... we had a bunch of guitar parts, and I transformed them into

samples, putting a new twist on it."

As they did on their first two albums, the debut The Stars Are Insane

(1994) and Secret Swingers (1996), Richard Baluyut said that the quartet

writes songs together as a rule, sometimes drawing inspiration from the New

York environment. He suggested that

HREF="">"Jack And

Jill" (RealAudio excerpt) picked up some of its ethnic flavor from the

predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood surrounding the band's practice

space on Manhattan's Lower East Side, and he said the arrangement of


Glory" (RealAudio excerpt) had been influenced by a Broadway


"I'd seen a Broadway show recently -- 'Rent,' " the elder Baluyut said. "Actually, I

hated it, but I was into the chorus singing, and I thought it would be cool to have

a bunch of people yelling in the middle part [of 'Morning Glory']. The chorus is

slower and quieter, after the verse is really kind-of loud and raucous. I thought it

was like 'West Side Story,' " he said, referring to the famous Broadway musical.

Although one might think that circling the U.S. with a pair of brothers in a

cramped van packed with equipment might get tense at times, Toups offered

her assurance that the Baluyut boys are far from the battling Gallagher brothers

of Oasis fame. "I don't really think about it that often, that Richard and Jimmy are

brothers. The band is kind-of like a family in a way. We're a pretty close band."