!!! fly freak flag loud and proud

by Philip Brasor

Nic Offer is sitting on a couch in a private room above the Liquid Room venue in Ebisu, cutting a less imposing figure than he does when he’s on stage. Maybe it’s the hair. “You got it cut short,” a female acquaintance notices after popping in to say hello. Offer’s usually unkempt curly locks add to his wild image when he’s fronting the band !!! (verbalized anyway you like but usually as “chk-chk-chk”), which turns into a pounding, sweating beast in concert.

He’s in Japan promoting their new album, “Myth Takes,” but at the moment he’s talking about Tapes ‘n Tapes, which he saw the previous night in a Tokyo club. “I was like, ‘This is what all the buzz is about?” he says. “The American music media is now fixated on this ’90s emo thing, and as far as that goes, they’re perfect.”

Several years ago, the American music media were fixated on so-called dance punk, the minimalist funk coming out of Brooklyn and spearheaded by groups like The Rapture and !!!. At the time, dance-punk was considered fresh, radical even. The music had a purpose, which was to reassert dancing as the main reason for going to a rock concert — not moshing or slamming, but dancing with your significant other to channel the old sexual urges and free your mind.

Dance punk has since lost its revolutionary cachet, and Offer admits that !!! is no longer on a mission. “Now we don’t have to work that hard to make people dance,” he says. “Certainly anyone who comes to see us, that’s what they’re there for.”

!!! was formed by members of two groups from Sacramento, California. The city’s relative isolation created a scene where the members could indulge their obsessions, which ranged from old-school funk to dub. In 2001, many of them moved to New York, and they were fortunate to arrive just as local groups like Yeah Yeah Yeahs were gaining national attention.

The band’s self-styled “electro-acoustic No-Wave post-disco” has little regard for punk’s musical attack but a lot of regard for anything that gets a response. Though the songs are not overtly political, they often seem that way because of Offer’s provocative delivery.

“I didn’t mean ‘Louden Up Now’ to be a political record,” Offer says about !!!’s previous album. “It just was.” Though it received good reviews, he was stung by some of the negative press. “It made sense. It was very much ‘me’ and therefore difficult for anyone listening to find themselves in the songs. Maybe I was infringing on people’s sensibilities, especially as I was in a band with seven other guys.”

Offer still flies the freak flag on “Myth Takes,” but he says the group tried different things. “People want us to burn up the dancefloor,” he says. “But you should surprise your audience. What I’ve noticed is this thing where a band comes out and they get an audience that’s young and hip. But eventually they stop being young and hip and just keep buying records by the same bands. Take Stereolab. I love their early records, but the guy who buys every Stereolab album and sees them every time is probably a bit stale, and the band’s output reflects that.”

“Myth Takes” spices the mix with metal, some more overt punk, and hip-hop, especially on “Must Be the Moon.” “I think we were all afraid of going there, of rapping,” Offer says. “But it was inevitable. What was exciting about the ’60s was that there were all these British people attempting to do American R&B and blues, but with hip-hop it’s like no one is allowed in. White people have to get away from that feeling of, ‘I’m from the ghetto . . . but, actually, I’m not,’ you know what I mean?”

An influence that Offer denies is Red Hot Chili Peppers. “A lot of people say they hear it on the new album,” he says, “but the record was finished by the time we went on tour with them.”

Following a !!! gig in Los Angeles attended by guitarist John Frusciante, the band was invited to open for the Chili Peppers, playing 10 U.K. concerts — all in soccer stadiums. “It was like 50,000 people per show,” Offer says. “But after 6,000 it doesn’t make any difference.”

It hasn’t seemed to have made a difference in Offer’s material situation. He still shares a residence with !!! bassist Justim van der Volgen and his wife Phyllis Forbes, who used to be in Offer’s other band, the electronic-dub outfit OUT HUD, which broke up last year.

Even with !!!, Offer has no illusions of immortality, but if and when he bows out he wants it to be on his own terms. “There was this one major label guy who kept bugging me,” he says, “and I’m like, ‘Should I call him?’ It was the same guy who signed Le Tigre, and when they released that album on Universal it was just so sad, because they had been such stalwarts before.” However, he thinks there may come a time when a leap to the majors will make sense. “When I know it’s over, we should go for the big check,” he says. “Then we can start making crap.”