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— by Farrah Weinstein

For a moment or two, you might think you're listening to just another underground L.A. rock band when you hear Silversun Pickups.

But all of a sudden, the instruments slide into a schizophrenic blitz of rage, and lead singer/ guitarist Brian Aubert starts howling like a hyena. The alt-rock basement band is emotionally extreme, with a collision of magical keyboards, harsh bass grooves and lickety-split drumbeats.

Bass player Nikki Monninger and Aubert lived together for several years, trying to get a band off the ground, before teaming with Christopher Guanlao (drums) and Joe Lester (keyboards) to form the Pickups.

Watch why Los Angeles' arty Silver Lake 'hood has glommed onto the band — and why the Pickups didn't know what they were doing when they started.


Lester said the group was inspired by bands like Super Furry Animals and Wilco, but mostly it was the local bands that kept the rockers interested.

"We draw inspiration from our friends' bands," Monninger said. "There's Earlimart (see "Earlimart Lose Friend In Aaliyah Crash, Come Back Stronger After Breakup"), Irving, and Let's Go Sailing, and we've shared bandmembers between those bands. And it's just nice when someone needs a bass player, and they've got a bunch of people that would jump and want to be a part of it."

With all the live gigs they were playing with friends and touring bands that dropped into town, Silversun Pickups realized they were devoting a little too much time to playing and a lot less time to practicing.

"We said yes to everything," Monninger said. "We'd be the only ones that were willing to play at 1 a.m. That's why we probably didn't record for a while, and finally we made a conscious effort to stop so that we could record."

The band — which has been compared to the Smashing Pumpkins and Veruca Salt — performed at New York's CMJ Festival and ran into Mitchell Frank, owner of L.A. club Spaceland. Frank offered the group a gig immediately, which led to another gig, and then another. And it kept going from there, without any time to hit the studio.

The final straw came when Aubert saw a kid passing around a bootleg of Silversun songs at a show.

"I asked him what it was, and he said it was us, and I'm like, 'Great, I'd love to hear this recording,' " Aubert said. "And then I took it home, and it was horrifying. I was like, 'Oh man, we gotta record. We have to do something.' "

In March 2005, the band signed with Dangerbird Records and recorded their first EP, Pikul.

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Then, while touring for the EP, Silversun Pickups started working on their recently released debut LP, Carnavas, produced by L.A. underground hip-hop beatmaker Dave Cooley (Fatlip, Madlib, Z-Trip) and mixed by Tony Hoffer (Beck, Supergrass, Belle and Sebastian).

"One of the biggest goals of the record was to make the guitars huge," Cooley said. "And everyone who's heard the record is kind of connecting with that right away."

Still, it was one big hustle, and while the Pickups were on tour, they would stop and listen to the latest mixes sent to them via e-mail.

"Thank goodness for hotels that have wireless," Aubert said. "Not that we were staying there, but when we were on the road, we had to pull over to a hotel and sneak wireless so we could listen to mixes being sent to us while we were headed for, like, Texas or something."

And with their latest album, they were psyched to be able to capture the live essence of their music.

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"Which is funny," Aubert said. "Because it's like, we recorded before kind of live, and it doesn't sound like us live, and now that we've been in the studio — crazy — it sounds more like us live. That's one thing we learned."

Lyrics like "Everything bad is connected/ And beautiful/ And now I know just where I stand" can be found on a melodramatic track called "Kissing Families," among other notables such as "Melatonin," "Checkered Floor," "Lazy Eye," "Dream at Tempo 119" and "Three Seed."

The band — which is on tour and will hit the road with Viva Voce on September 28 — already has a fanbase that consists of crying, screaming teenage girls who have propositioned the band on MySpace.

"Not anymore," Aubert joked. "We don't have them, we're not allowed. They are surgically removed from our audience. So if you're a crying teenage girl, you're not allowed to come anymore."

Silversun Pickups tour dates, according to their Web site:
  • 8/16 - Atlanta, GA @ Drunken Unicorn
  • 8/17 - West Hollywood, CA @ The Troubadour
  • 8/19 - Los Angeles, CA @ Echo
  • 9/1 - San Francisco, CA @ Live 105 Club Sessions
  • 9/2 - Oakland, CA @ Art & Soul Music Festival
  • 9/28 - San Francisco, CA @ Rickshaw Stop
  • 9/29 - Visalia, CA @ Howie & Sons Pizza
  • 9/30 - Los Angeles, CA @ Echo
  • 10/1 - Phoenix, AZ @ Modified
  • 10/3 - Austin, TX @ Emo's
  • 10/4 - Norman, OK @ Opolis
  • 10/5 - Springfield, MO @ Randy Bacon Gallery
  • 10/6 - Lawrence, KS @ Jackpot Saloon
  • 10/7 - Urbana, IL @ Courtyard Cafe
  • 10/8 - Newport, KY @ Southgate House
  • 10/10 - Arlington, VA @ IOTA Club & Cafe
  • 10/11 - New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
  • 10/12 - New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
  • 10/14 - Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda's
  • 10/15 - Cambridge, MA @ Middle East Club
  • 10/16 - Rochester, NY @ Bug Jar
  • 10/17 - Toronto, ON @ Lee's Palace
  • 10/18 - Akron, OH @ Lime Spider
  • 10/20 - Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle
  • 10/21 - Ames, IA @ Maintenance Shop
  • 10/24 - Denver, CO @ Hi-Dive
  • 10/26 - Boise, ID @ Neurolux
  • 10/27 - Seattle, WA @ Crocodile Cafe
  • 10/28 - Portland, OR @ Douglas Fir Lounge

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 "Well Thought Out Twinkles"
Carnavas
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   Photo: Wyatt Troll


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