Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’: The ??? on !!!


Brooklyn dance rock veterans !!! are currently overseas on tour in support of their excellent new album THR!!!ER. PopMatters was able to catch up with the Sacramento-born group’s founding frontman Nic Offer via email to discuss the origins of the group’s punctuation-friendly handle, diva vocals, Big Audio Dynamite, and the strength of the hottest !!! lineup to date.

The band is spending their August on the European festival circuit, securing spots on the stages of such prestigious parties as London’s London Visions Festival, St. Malo, France’s Route du Rock, Pukkelpop in Hasselt, Belgium, and the For Noise Festival in Lausanne, Switzerland before returning to the States at the month’s end for gigs at the FYF Fest in Los Angeles and Seattle’s Bumbershoot. September, meanwhile, finds the band in British Columbia for shows in Victoria and Vancouver before heading to Oregon for a pair of gigs in Eugene and Portland and then after a small break hitting up the Lone Star State of Texas for concerts in Forth Worth and at the Utopiafest in Utopia at the end of the month.

!!! have been around for nearly 18 years now and continue to reign supreme as one of the hardest working live acts on the circuit today, bringing massive amounts of energy and skill to wherever they are booked to play, be it a festival before a six-figure capacity crowd or a small club before a few hundred rabid fans. If you haven’t seen them in concert yet, you are missing out on something special.

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I understand the name of your group is a reference to the dialogue from The Gods Must Be Crazy, yet still people continue to be stumped by the origins of your name 15 years into your career. Do you find that amusing? Also, can you please tell me your favorite scene from that film?

When we named the group, we wanted something that made us stick out from the other bands, little did we know that meant we’d have to answer questions about it 16 years later. I honestly have not seen that movie since I was like 10. Not sure I remember much about it.

I hear a real organic feel to THR!!!ER, more so than your previous records. I understand you guys played these new songs out live before recording them. How did that approach to the making of this album work this time out for you on a creative level?

I think a big part of that is the studio we worked in. It just has a great organic sound. Half of the record was created in the studio and was never played live by the band till after the record was done. But the other songs were pretty road tested and it allowed us to just bang them out in the studio. Often in the past, were trying to nail a live feel on songs that weren’t serviced well by a live feel.

What is the story behind the aquatic themes that coincide with THR!!!ER?

It all just seemed to match up. Sometimes Rafael and I work like this, he sends me an instrumental and a version with vocals. I wrote the vocals over the instrumental and at the end of the night listened to his version with vocals. Surprisingly, we had both made the song about swimming. So we just kinda blended both vocals together and the song was done. When Mario brought the idea for the cover, it all just seemed to make sense together.

How did you land singer Sonia Moore for “Except Death” and “One Girl/One Boy”? What inspired you to seek her out over other singers?

She had been in Jim’s studio before so we looked her up on YouTube. When we heard her in this song, we knew she was the girl.

What did you like most about that Mr. 3.2 video?

Dunno. We’ve just always liked those diva type of vocals. If I could sing like that I would.

How do you feel this current line-up of !!! has enhanced the evolution of this band?

[Multi-instrumentalist] Rafael [Cohen] came into the band after the last album and I shudder to think what this album would be without him. It’s good to have someone else who lives in NYC and just comes by the house to work on songs.

How did you link up with Jim Eno and given the outcome of his partial involvement in THR!!!ER, do you plan to work with him on a more intensive level in the future?

We really just called him up, went over to the studio, played him some dance tracks and asked if he wanted to make some dance tracks. I’d love to make another record with Jim.

Do you have a favorite record Jim Eno produced? Which one and why?

THR!!!ER, duh. Actually, I guess I prefer Kill The Moonlight. No one can say anything to convince me that it’s not one of the greatest albums ever made.

What’s the story behind the cover art?

It was a picture [guitarist] Mario [Andreoni] found on the Internet. We were absolutely convinced it needed to be the cover and had a really hard time tracking down the photographer. The idea of not using it for the cover was really torturing us and when Mario texted me that we had cleared it, I texted back in all caps.

It might just be my ears, but I heard a little element of Big Audio Dynamite in THR!!!ER. Was that just wax and the resonance of F-Punk ringing in my ears or did Mick Jones and Co. have any affect on the current progression of your band?

Nah, I haven’t heard that band in years. I bought No. 10, Upping Street when I was a kid, and didn’t like it, but I did like a few of the hits on The Globe. I think any B.A.D. you hear in us is just ‘cos we probably like a lot of the same records as Mick. But I was always a Clash fan; since you brought it up, I’m gonna check some of those old B.A.D. records out.

Did you get a chance to dig back into your B.A.D. Stuff?

Well, I dug into Spotify’s B.A.D. collection. It was pretty cool. I really miss Joe Strummer as a foil for Mick though. Mick was smooth and Joe was rough. That was a good balance. There were some good tunes in there, though.