The phrase "New Wave" can send some people lemming-like off the nearest cliff, but it's hardly a fair reaction. Like any musical genre, New Wave had its hopeless posers and its genuine articles. Guess which ones get remembered.
The Epoxies understand what made New Wave great, namely a chemist's balance of Pop melodicism, Punk bravado and volume and a finely honed sense of humor — all of which they offer in abundance on their sophomore CD release, Stop the Future.
The pseudonymously named quintet (vocalist Roxy Epoxy, synthist/vocalist F.M. Static, guitarist Viz Spectrum, bassist/vocalist Shock Diode, drummer Ray Cathode) might sound like they're in a competition with VH1 to see who loves the '80s more, but they're clearly interested in going beyond the trappings of any genre or era.
"That's one of my favorite questions to address," Static says. "People hear '80s and think Culture Club or Wham!, and I don't think we have anything in common with those bands. Obviously, we're looking backwards somewhat, but it's more like '76-'81, early Proto Punk — X-Ray Spex, Go-Go's, stuff like that. People give us the '80s thing, but it's slightly misleading."
The Epoxies coalesced in Portland, Ore., five years ago with a very different sonic mission in mind.
Although the band's hyper-caffeinated energy was always a component of their overall vision, they had conceived a slightly less esoteric end result.
"It's not what we set out to do, but it's close to what we did right from go," Static says. "We had a concept that we were going to do a robot/Garage Rock band, and that didn't really work. People think we're a little more preconceived than we are. It really is just sort of what we ended up doing, with the things we were listening to at the time influencing us. Once we got the synths and the goofy, upbeat songs, the decisions were made."
After settling into their Go-Go's-meet-Gary-Numan-at-The-Buzzcocks'-barbeque sound, The Epoxies signed to Dirtnap Records, one of the Northwest's most respected indie Punk labels. The band quickly sold through their initial 7-inch (which included a cover of Adam Ant's "Beat My Guest") and eponymous debut full-length, mostly on the basis of word of mouth from jaw-dropped witnesses to their frenetic live presentation.
Like most young bands, The Epoxies realized any success they hoped to achieve would come from playing live, so they adopted a tour-at-all-costs attitude and booked themselves ceaselessly. Their non-stop roadwork coupled with the buzz surrounding their shows convinced Fat Mike, owner of equally respected Punk indie label Fat Wreck Chords and a fan of the band nearly from the start, to sign them.
With Stop the Future, released this past spring, The Epoxies have once again referenced what's right and good about New Wave without drifting into the wrong and bad. It's a tightwire walk that the band successfully negotiates because they have a strong sense of their musical identity and place little credence with pigeonholes.
"I think the answer is because we're a Punk Rock band," Static says. "The line between those two forms is so narrow. New Wave is a marketing term that was used to describe so many forms of music: Reggae, Dub, Electronica, arty noise stuff, Power Pop, Rock & Roll. It means the same as 'Alternative,' which means nothing at all."
The fact that The Epoxies identify more with Punk than Pop/New Wave has opened them up to an incredible range of gig opportunities, including tours with Anti-Flag and Strike Anywhere (on the "Rock Against Bush" circuit) and NOFX. But simply calling yourself a Punk band won't stud the dog collar when you're standing in front of someone else's audience and they're armed for the slightest provocation with nickels and AA batteries.
"The more bully belts and spiky hair you see, the more people are into seeing it, which is somewhat counterintuitive, but it sort of makes sense," Static says. "And now we're on Fat Wreck Chords, which is really weird, so we ended up opening for NOFX for a bunch of shows in the UK. That was a challenge obviously, because NOFX fans are more NOFX fans than they are fans of the genre. And they're militantly fans and militantly ready to hate you if they don't like you.
"So it was weird. We could play these 4,000-seat halls with NOFX and make 1,000 fans and still have 3,000 people just hate our guts. We're definitely a very polarizing band. There's not too many people who can take us or leave us. People either really like us or really hate us. We're doing something right at that point."
The Epoxies' musical identity includes the aforementioned sense of humor. Once again, it's a fine line between smirking parody and clueless self-parody, the subtlety of satire and the eye-rolling tedium of buffoonery, but The Epoxies manage to walk that line by recognizing the razor-thin nature of their footing.
"We share the same taste about what was good about the period, but there's definitely this whole self-indulgent thing where it's kind of hard to tell when we're kidding and when we're not kidding about what's appropriate about that music," Static says with a laugh. "And I'm not really sure that we know how many layers of sarcasm we've gone through at this point."
THE EPOXIES play The Mad Hatter on Friday with Against Me!, Smoke or Fire and The Soviettes.