Magnetic Personality

We chat with Stephin Merritt and Dayna Kurtz, explore the folly of !!! and talk band battles with Thee Lordly Serpents

Is there any music that you've always wanted to perform but haven't been able to nail?

As a singer, when I hear stuff that I don't know how to do -- like Mariah Carey's dog-whistle stuff -- I give it a try. You know, like, "Can I do that?" It's interesting to try to test the limits of your ability. One thing I've never been able to do that I'd really like to do is scream like Prince or James Brown. You know, that "Waaoww!" -- that really intense, sustained scream that has a note in it somewhere, but it's mostly a scream. That's probably the one thing I'd love to be able to do without hurting myself, but I haven't figured that one out yet. -- John Goddard

!!!: That's right, !!!
!!!: That's right, !!!
The The
The The


June 29

What's in a Name?

If you're in a band and don't already know that the Web is a powerful tool for self-promotion, then you'd better get with it. Major labels won't promote you unless you're already a superstar, and indie labels just don't have the time or the resources. Because is the number-one search engine on the Web, it's imperative that you pick a name that will show up easily in the search results.

!!! (pronounced "chk chk chk") -- a booty-shaking, post-punk ensemble that performs June 25 at the Creepy Crawl -- does not show up at all on a Google search. How is the band gonna promote itself? How is it gonna get the word out? (To save you the trouble of finding it, here's the site:!!!)

In honor of !!!, we've compiled a short list of bands with difficult-to-search-for names, names that have undoubtedly set them back. Learn your lesson, kids: Choose band names wisely.

The Standard: If you've heard these guys' debut, their name might seem appropriate -- that first record was so forgettable that the band bought it back from the label and took it off the market. But the Standard's latest album, Wire Post to Wire, shows the band members to be remarkably ambitious and adventurous songwriters. The new standard-bearers of indie-prog? You bet. Check out

Why?: A member of the overhyped Anticon hip-hop sect, it's not just Why?'s dumb-ass name that sets him back, it's the whole pretentious art-school pseudo-hip-hop vibe. Why bother searching for this unsearchable? If you must, see

The Letter E: Because it contains members of June of 44, Rex and the Blue Man Group, you might assume that the Letter E is some sort of supergroup. But unfortunately, this band plays mostly inconspicuous instrumentals that fall into the amorphous category of "post-rock." At least it's not Kenny G. We finally found the elusive Letter E at

The The: Around way before this Information Superhighway nonsense, The The can't be blamed for having the least searchable name ever. You might as well name a band ".com." Someone probably will. For now, go to -- Guy Gray

Eye of the Tiger

There's no right and wrong in music, they tell us. Everyone is trying his or her best, so let's all hug. It's not a sport; it's an art.

Well, screw that. Sometimes we all want blood and the thrill of combat, even music geeks. And that's where a battle of the bands comes in. Two bands enter, one band leaves.

Or, in the case of the Little Steven's Rockin' Garage Battle in Chicago, twenty bands entered, including local boys Thee Lordly Serpents. If you don't know Little Steven Van Zandt from his day job backing Bruce Springsteen, then shame on you. He's also the awesomely pompadoured Silvio Dante on The Sopranos, and his third job is hosting a pretty cool syndicated classic-rock show (on KIHT [96.3 FM] late Sunday night, thanks for asking). The battle in Chicago took place to determine who'd go on to the finals in New York.

To Thee Lordly Serpents, it felt like a street fight.

"I felt like I hadn't been nervous playing for I don't know how long," says Serpents bassist Johnny Venom. "I don't know if you'd call it nervous. It was almost like you were out on the street being threatened. It got the adrenaline pump going. [Drummer Roger Cottonmouth] said he wasn't excited at all, and then he started our first song at about two-and-a-half times the normal speed. So he was a little geeked up too. All the bands are just as friendly with each other as they'd normally be, but I did feel a heightened sense of urgency."

Unfortunately, there were no Morris Day & the Time-type villains talking trash.

"Not to our face," says Venom. "I'm sure different factions were talking behind each other's backs, but that's normal."

Thee Lordly Serpents made it to the Final Four before being beat out by Illinois' the Blackouts. Better luck next time. -- Jordan Harper

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