As soon as the laser sears the aluminum surface of Eat Sugar’s new disc, It’s Not Our Responsibility, any booty with a soul attached is liable to grow a mind of its own, get itself up off the chair and shake its proprietor around like a useless sack of meat. But while the bumpin’ backbeat is undeniable, Eat Sugar are far from routine, mindless dance-party rockers.
There are no long-haired dudes in yellow sunglasses twiddling mystery knobs behind racks of esoteric electronic gear, no strobe light/fog machine live shows featuring androgynous band members in heavy makeup and absolutely no drum machines.
“Structure-wise and with the live aesthetic, we’re definitely a Rock band,” says lead singer Aidan Bogosian.
Can you get down to ’em? Sure. But does Eat Sugar have anything to do with Dance music clichés like Acid House or remixes? No way. While a synthesizer stands in place of the standard-issue guitar, and the up-front drumbeats provide the definitive drive to their songs, Eat Sugar is indeed a Rock group at heart. They’re just one with dancable tendencies. And, thankfully, these boys have a foundational flair for the timelessly punky, left-of-center element of the keyboard-happy New Wave to which their sound is indebted.
They crib only the best from classic bands like Devo, groundbreaking late-’70s L.A. Synth-Punk progenitors The Screamers and Dayton’s legendary ’90s herky-jerk noisemakers Brainiac. It’s an approach that sets them apart from the much more affected, hyper-programmed Disco fetishizing of glossy Dance Rock contemporaries such as VHS Or Beta and The Faint.
When asked about comparisons to such once-trendy groups, Bogosian visibly bristles but admits, “It’s important for people to have a reference point.”
He acknowledges that Eat Sugar’s live drums and the interplay of the rhythm section is what sets them apart from what he calls standard New Wave revivalists.
“Initially we were a little wary of being lumped in with bands like that, bands that sort of peaked around the middle of (the 2000s),” he says. “But, ultimately, using electronic instruments to make Rock music, that’s not going away. That’s not a fad.”
Eat Sugar plugged their machines in right around that peak — 2006, in fact, when Cincinnati “was 100 percent on the Garage Rock tip,” Bogosian says. He met drummer Greg Poneris and bassist/keyboardist Jim Reynolds, formerly of local Electro Rock outfit Chalk, through mutual friends. Poneris and Reynolds happened to have seen Bogosian guest-fronting The Tigerlilies one night, and they dug his style, a sort of frantic yet tightly controlled delivery.
They rented a cheap warehouse practice space in the industrial wasteland of Camp Washington (which offered “24-hour access, no hassle and no residents around to be bothered by loud music late at night,” Reynolds says), started jamming on songs that Poneris and Reynolds had written post-Chalk and recruited a second keyboard player (later replaced by current synth wrangler Mike McBride). Eat Sugar was born — a catchy, funky Punk beast complete with handclaps, frenetic live drumming, gobs of synth noise and a melodic, sexy-sounding vocalist.
Their sound’s ambition reached far beyond their humble origins, and Eat Sugar quickly practiced their way to a four-song EP, which they released in 2007. They worked it hard enough to get positive mentions at Spin.com and in the pages of music mags like The Big Takeover, Detour and Artrocker. They even played a two-week stint in the U.K. on the strength of the single. Not bad for a band handling all of its own promotion and marketing.
It’s Not Our Responsibility is slated for national release Sept. 1, and it was recorded and produced by Enon (formerly Brainiac) guitarist and singer John Schmersal. Eat Sugar roped him in after opening for Enon at the Gypsy Hut last year.
“After that we were like, ‘We want to record — let’s ask John!’ ” Poneris recalls, laughing. “We thought since we’d played with Enon we could ask and feel pretty comfortable with that versus just cold-calling.”
Schmersal certainly did Eat Sugar justice on Responsibility, which pushes the drums to the front of the mix, adds some occasional effects to the vocals and makes the keyboards sound more like distorted guitars than ever, especially on the bass-driven “Seeing Red.” That the synths sound like guitars is especially ironic — and nothing new. The band, which has already gotten past reviews praising nonexistent guitar lines, admits to the omission of that particular instrument for a variety of reasons, which range from the vaguely ethical to the downright pragmatic.
“The guitar has been dominant in a lot of really awful Rock music from the ’60s to now, so it’s cool to stand apart from that,” Bogosian says.
“It was never a question we had to ask ourselves, because none of us plays guitar,” Reynolds says.
But with or without the damn guitar, Responsibility improves on the Eat Sugar formula by simply upping the Pop ante. In a nod to those who choose to pick the most obvious comparisons, their Web site jokes that they sound like “Duran Duran, but not really.”
“I used to hate ’em, but now I love Duran Duran,” Poneris says, laughing. “I think we’re kind of a good combination of them and The Screamers now. We have the harder-edged part of it …
“But there’s definitely a Pop song underneath,” Reynolds says, finishing Poneris’ thought.
And definitely one you can dance to.
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