Ben Clark, frontman for the Seattle band The Lashes, has been called the “best interview ever” by the folks promoting The Lashes first album Get It. It is perhaps pressure to live up to that title that he answers his phone like a five-year-old who’s just downed a bag full of Pixie Stix. His energetic “hello” is so prolonged and loud that it’s followed by a full 20 seconds of dead air as I try to figure out whether or not I dialed the wrong number. A real trooper, he sustained pretty much the same energy level throughout our 46-minute discussion. For that alone you owe his album a listen or two.
Prior to this conversation I’d been listening to a promo copy of Get It, which drops on February 21, on a constant loop in my car. It’s very now, very hipster, and while I’ve found myself appreciating this genre of music more and more the last couple of months, The Lashes are the first band to make me realize that this newfangled rock and roll style sounds a lot like the stuff my mom used to play on the old eight-track player back home. Rooted in the 60s, pure pop vocals with rocking guitars, Get It could slip easily into a playlist with things your mom listened to when she was 16. I dig that.
And so, the album is good. The lead singer is fun and charming. But why else should you give a damn about yet another band with “The” in the name? Let me tell you.
The Lashes is made up of six floppy-haired boys – Ben on vocals, Scotty and Eric on guitar, Mike on drums, Nate on bass, and Jacob on keyboards – and when I finally get to greet them in person three days after this interview, the first thing I see is three of them pushing some woman’s stalled car down the street in all of their punked-out glory: Skinny jeans, jet-black hair, multiple belts and Converse All-Stars. And if that wasn’t endearing enough, several songs into their short set Ben pulled some girl from the crowd to dance, and as the song ended, he picked her up around the waist and flipped her head over heels, before shaking her hand and delivering her back to her friends. That’s a better reason than most to be in the front row, in my opinion.
How could you not like guys who behave this way? You pretty much just have to.
You’re playing in Oakland this weekend, and I was wondering if you had any details about the show. Because I’ve seen about six different conflicting start times – and at this point I’m expecting to just show up at three in the afternoon, and you guys will go on about eight or something.
Well, give me a call earlier in the day, and I’ll let you know when we’re playing.
You’re like a concierge service!
Yes! Exactly. This is what The Lashes do for their press. Do you need a date? I’ve got plenty of single boys. All of them are cute, with great haircuts. We’ll trade dates for press. We’ll trade wake-up calls. We see that it’s branching out our brand identity, to saturate the market with our special kind of personality.
You’re like the Target of rock bands.
That’s exactly it. That’s exactly what I want you and everyone else to write about us. We’re the Target of rock bands.
Just remember where it came from. I’ll be expecting a trademark.
Of course. You’ll get all the credit.
Much has been made of the fact that you and the guys all grew up in small towns. What’s one stereotype people have about small towns that isn’t true?
That everybody is rich. And, you know what? That’s not true. Everybody in a small town isn’t rich. I don’t know why people think that. Everybody thinks that people in small towns are rich, and well-to-do, and lives in a skyscraper. That’s just not what small towns are like.
Wow. What was the small town like that you grew up in?
I’m just being sarcastic. I’m just joking, sorry.
Did growing up in a small town influence the kind of music you listened to growing up, and the kind of music you wanted to grow up to make?
Probably both. When we were in high school, even somebody knowing who Weezer was, that was a big deal. And then we’d go to a Weezer show in a real city, like Seattle or Portland, and it would be packed with all these kids just like us and we’d wonder ‘why don’t any of these kids live in our towns?’ Why are there only five kids in our town like this, and we’re all of them?
You start to learn about cooler music somehow, from friends or through your parents. Most of us grew up on our parents’ stuff, listening to their Beatles records and stuff. We all got heavily into 60s rock music.
So that definitely influenced the kind of music you would grow up to make.
Definitely. More than the kind of popular music that we would have gotten into during the same time period living somewhere else.
The real thing about a small town in this — nobody makes it from small towns. Nobody in our towns were in a real band, one that was really well known. The big success stories out of Spokane, Washington, [where I’m from] were bands that had smaller success through touring and working hard. They were great rock and roll bands, but you never have right in front of your face the guys who are making it — the guys who are totally able to survive on just making music. And nobody wants you to leave your small town to find success, and nobody in the big cities wants you to show up and steal everybody else’s thunder. This experience gets you ready for the harsh reality of the cold, cruel world. (laughs)
Did you go through any embarrassing musical genre periods?
The thing about growing up in Spokane, or any other small town, is that if a show is coming to your area, it doesn’t matter who the fuck is playing. Everyone’s going out to the show, because your next chance for a rock and roll band is maybe a month away, as opposed to bigger cities that have all-ages shows every fucking night of the week. We would go and really just take notes – we’re such rock and roll fans – we’d go and take note of what we loved and what we didn’t. We were all such rock and roll nerds that we’d always show up early to try and talk to the bands that were there, just to see what it was like outside of our world, because we knew it was so different. So we made a lot of friends in bands who I guess would be embarrassing to say that we liked.
Oh, come on. Just name one.
The Bloodhound Gang came to town. They were charming young gentlemen. I got to play with Goldfinger when I was right out of high school, at the heart of the Goldfinger/Reel Big Fish ska phase that everyone loved so much.
You know, now that I think about it, I probably go to worse shows now, because I just love bad shows! (laughs) We went to the Ashlee Simpson show a little bit ago.
You call that bad?
Well, I mean ‘bad’ in the worst way possible. I went to see the Spice Girls, two weeks after Ginger quit.
Is there a song or artist that always shows up on your mixed tapes, CDs or playlists?
The Zombies always show up. The Zombies, “This Will Be Our Year.” It’s two minutes of really uplifting piano-y love song. That makes you want to kill yourself.
Did you have to give up anything important to you – or set anything aside indefinitely – in order to become a successful musician?
Definitely. We all ruined our lives for this band, and we’re pretty proud of it. We all dropped out of college. We’ve all taken really bad jobs so that we could go on tour or play shows at night and not have anything else interfere with the schedule. We’ve all had relationships fall apart because of this. We’ve made parents very worried, (laughs) about how we’re eating or how we’re making it to places.
Right up front we all made decisions about whether or not we were really going to go for it – whether or not we were going to make this our lives. We all made a lot of sacrifices, not being able to do stuff that a lot of people do and go through. For us it was always about taking the rock and roll path as opposed to anything else. It was the obvious choice for us. If we didn’t, we weren’t following our dream as much as we could. All of us are pretty sappy about following our dreams. So, we own it. That’s our big mantra, that we own everything we do. That if we’re going to do it for real, we’ll do it for real, we’ll be broke and we’ll burn all of our bridges. (laughs)
Definitely, you guys are close. It sounds like you’re all best friends. And-
We are! And even if we aren’t, we want it to sound like we are. As long as people perceive us that way, we can all fucking hate each other. Jacob just flipped me off as he walked by. Boy, did he walk in at the right time.
So let’s pretend that I’m in the market for a date to the show on Sunday.
You mean you aren’t?
Your job is to sell me on the other guys. What’s the thing you would highlight about each one? What’s your sales pitch?
Well, did you start off by looking at a picture?
I’ve looked at several.
Okay. So you don’t need to be convinced of everyone’s debonair looks then, right?
Right. In fact, if it was solely based on hairdos and/or nice suits and ties I’d be sold. But I need something more.
Okay. Um. Wow.
It’s hard, isn’t it?
No, it’s just that so many things are really obvious. I don’t usually have to tell people why my friends are so great. You’ve got to give me a name to start with, I can’t just choose one.
Let’s start with Scotty.
Okay. Scotty is by far the most handsome boy in the band. And he’s the witty, mysterious one that always says the funniest things when you least expect him to.
You gottta pick the next one.
Okay. Mike, our drummer, he’s our eleventh drummer. He has gone through hell and back to be in this band. He’s been a janitor and a pizza deliver driver and a telemarketer and a construction worker. And he didn’t even own a drum kit until he was in The Lashes. He’s got the most honest to goodness real heart out of anyone that we’ve ever met. He’s just the nicest guy who doesn’t give a fuck about shit. He’s a total cowboy.
I love cowboys!
See, Mike might be your guy. He’s got bedroom eyes, too. Eric is the sexiest one in the band.
How is ‘sexy’ different from ‘handsome’?
‘Handsome’ is like all about a look and not trying. Being attractive without having to try; there’s a distinguished quality to ‘handsome.’ And ‘sexy’ is obviously just like, bonertown.
Okay. Um. So, Eric gives me a boner?
(laughs) That’s Bonertown actually. Eric takes you to Bonertown. Nate is out of his mind crazy. He’s the one who will do something that will make you fall in love with him and be scared of him all at the same time. He never fails to win over anybody.
Jacob is the charmer. He’s the total Eddie Haskell in the band. Jacob’s the nicest guy and always has the right thing to say.
Just so you know, the way you were sold to me is that you make girls swoon.
Did someone tell you that who was paid by my label? Because then it must be true! (laughs) I hope they’re telling the truth. I hope they’re telling the truth about our swoon capabilities.
What’s something you guys have to compromise on to keep everything running smoothly?
Um. Damn. We don’t have to compromise on anything. That’s what’s so weird!
Not even, like, what kind of water you drink in your dressing room?
(laughs) Sometimes when we order pizza we have to compromise. But, basically, we even all like the same kinds of pizza. The thing is, when we get out on the road and we’re playing shows and all that stuff, it’s like we’ve all lived together for so long that no one’s going to argue with each other over getting in each other’s space.
We all wait around the rest of our days to go on tour, it’s what we love. So when we get to it’s the most fun ever. From the moment we get in the van it’s like a total party. We really enjoy being on tour and get so excited about going places and playing shows and getting people to actually show up. Because we know that’s not a guaranteed thing.
There must be something you miss when you’re out there on the road.
Oh my gosh! Talk to us when we’ve been gone for a year straight. Maybe next year I’ll be like ‘gosh, the view of the Space Needle is the only thing that can fill the void in my life!’ Right now we’re all totally ready to get the heck out of dodge. Not because we hate Seattle or anything, but because we’ve been playing there for so long that we’ve gotten to the point where we’re ready to try and take over the world with our record. We’re ready to either fall on our faces or become assholes like The Killers or something. (laughs) We know there’s a lot of other motherfuckers out there who would take our spot in a second, so we know we don’t have anything to bitch or complain about.
Let’s talk about the new record. Get It is an album full of old-fashioned themes, like falling in and out of love. How hard is it to keep these topics fresh?
Some people may say that we’re not fresh! We try to be fresh, we believe that we’re being fresh, but… I think you have to have a serious disposition for crazy girls. And as long as you’re attracted to crazy girls, you can always find a twist on the universal themes of life and love and makeups and breakups.
“Sometimes the Sun” is the first single off the new album, but is there another song that holds a special place in your heart?
You know, we made this record with such a belief that we wanted to make an album, and that we wanted it to be hard for people to pick their favorite song or hard for the label to pick a single. We didn’t want to put out a record with anything we thought sucked. We really went in and planned it as an album, because that’s what we love. We know there are a lot of bands that put out great singles that everyone has in their heads and everybody loves and then you buy the record and it’s okay, but that one song is the song.
We pick a new favorite song every time we play a show or rehearse, because that’s what we want other people to do, too. There’s a lot of things that are very simple about our band, we have simple ideals, but we try to have something smarter underneath, something that you won’t catch the first time, but will be like hidden treasure when you do.
So the answer’s no?
So the answer’s no. All of our songs suck anyway, and some other guy wrote them. Whatever. (laughs)
Say you’re making a new video and could have any girl in the world in it, who would you choose and why?
Oh, man. Fuck. I’ve been thinking about this.
It would be handy if you were single for this one, because then you couldn’t get screwed with the wrong answer.
I am single, is that what you were asking? (laughs)
Sadly, that was not a thinly veiled attempt to find out if you were single.
Oh, okay. (laughs) Well, I am. Swoon! Now!
Man, I’ve been thinking about the answer to this question since I got MTV in 1984, when I would sneak off to watch videos with hot girls in them. Like Tawny Kitaen. She was in America’s Funniest People with Dave Coulier from Full House, as a side note.
You’re picking her?
Yeah, I’m picking her because she’s old school. I sold her jeans one time at the Levi’s store in Seattle when I was working there after I first moved. Eric was my boss, actually, that’s how I met him. And Tawny Kitaen came in and I fitted her for Levi’s. I kind of always thought I needed to call her and ask her to be in our videos, slithering around on a Corvette or something.
Speaking of fantasies you had as a teenager…spill some details about your gig at the Playboy mansion.
Oh, that was weird! (laughs) The Playboy mansion was so surreal. We’ll always tell stories about it, because people will always ask, but it’s something that when we talk about it amongst ourselves, we can barely believe it’s something that we did. Not because it was the fantasy, because it was so odd. First of all, there are still cool Playboy parties where Jack Nicholson is fucking some girl on the lawn outside the monkey cages or something – we’ve heard rumors about that – but the party we played was a really corporate party, with all these French, German and other foreign businessmen who were there to get sold a video game. This is what Playboy mansion parties have become.
It was a cross between Hooters and Disneyland. Everything is so bright and colorful and it’s like you’re half an hour into The Wizard of Oz because everything is Technicolor. There’s all these very pretty girls walking around in very little clothing, and then there’s all these businessmen who can’t speak very good English groping all these girls, who are just trying to get their paycheck! It felt very odd. It made us not want to act sleazy. We were the stand-up gentlemen there — until Scotty and Nate and Eric jumped in the grotto at the end of the night with the hot playmates. They stripped down to their underwear and went swimming with the playmates, and then we got kicked out as soon as the party was over.
You guys have a bit of a reputation as fashionistas. Do you actually consider yourselves fashionable guys, or is that something the label is trying to cultivate?
No, we’re by far the first people to tell you that we like our clothes. (laughs) We’re all very into fashion, none of us have any qualms about saying that rock and roll and fashion go together — they just do. No one wants to go see a fucking rock and roll band when one guy’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt and another guy’s wearing sandals and some guy’s wearing an army helmet. That’s not a rock and roll band! You want a rock and roll band to be the way they’re supposed to be, pants too tight and hair too long and clothes too dark. Lots of belts.
What do you make of the prevalence of the word ‘hipster’?
That’s just the way things happen. There’s two things we can do. We can either blame Ben Gibbard [of Death Cab for Cutie] for being the reason behind it all or [we can embrace it]. There’s underground scenes that grow until they’re big enough to be a movement, and if it sells enough albums people will start writing about it. The media is always looking for a tag to put on things – they’ve got to, because they have to sell it. That’s how the world works. Suddenly there’s all these hipsters, and there’s indie rock, and all the songs could go on The OC Mix.
Name me five other bands with the word “the” in the name that you love.
The Beatles come first…The Sonics. The Sex Pistols. I’m trying to branch out over the decades so it doesn’t sound like we’re just into one thing.
You mean like The Hives, The Vines, The White Stripes, The Strokes…?
(laughs) Although I like all those bands and I’m not in this to talk shit about anyone else and I’ve bought almost all those records, I’m going to try to keep it to ‘cooler’ bands. Two left, and I’ve got The Beatles, The Sonics, and The Sex Pistols. Where to go from here? Uh, uh, uh, uh…I hate these list questions, it’s just so hard! I’ve got eight-fucking-thousand artists in my record collection and I have to pick five.
It doesn’t have to be the five you love the most.
I know! But, see, I’m such a fan of music that I could talk to you for two hours about one band, or I could talk to you for two hours about every band in my collection. But to go down to five!
Okay, let me ask my final question, and then at the end if you feel like adding two more you can.
I will! And now, see, I just ruined everything. You think I’m a tool. Swoon no more for me.
What do you want to happen next in your life?
We want lunchboxes. And dolls and sheets and candy bars and wigs and everything. I’d love to be the next New Kids on the Block, which is everyone’s dream, really.
Do you dance, like, in a synchronized way?
None of it is synchronized, no. But there’s some damn good dancing, I won’t back down from that. Other than becoming the New Kids on the Block of the future and being on bedroom walls, we’re just really excited to be able to give people the chance to love us or hate us. That’s really all we want. To put out a rock and roll album that we’re really proud of, go to peoples’ cities, and give people the chance to totally fall in love with us or hate our guts. We’ll get some of both, and that’s okay with us. (laughs) We’d much rather get a passionate reaction out of people than for people to not care.
Fair enough. You’ve got 30 seconds to give me two more bands.
The Beatles, The Sonics, The Sex Pistols. I need one from the 80s. I would say Huey Lewis and The News, because there’s a ‘the’ in there.
Let’s say ‘The News, Huey Lewis and.’
Great. That’s one. And then we need a big one to top it all off. God! (laughs) Best. Interview. Ever. Isn’t that what it says about me in the bio? Some asshole says something like that and then I gotta fuckin’ know all the bands that have ‘the’ in their name. Otherwise I’ll look like a jerk!
Oh! The Supremes. Wait! Can you change it to The Ronettes? At first I thought The Supremes, but then I thought if I were going to pick a girl group, The Ronettes totally kick the ass of The Supremes. That’s pretty good, right? It’s a little bit 60s heavy, but I can live with that.
Ben, thank you so much.
No, thank you so much.
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