It takes nerve to name your rock n' roll band THE ART and then select an infamous prankster's riff on Andy Warhol's death mask for the cover of your provocative premiere album: THE ART: Here Comes the War.
"We are trying to create a pop wave for the future that is based on dreams and hope," says THE ART's Azaria Byrne (in Kill City shirt) photographed with his Australian band (L to R: Jordan McDonald, Kara Jayne "KJ" & Jak Coleman) at Kill City in Hollywood
Was the intergenerational cross-era reference to the High Priest of Pop Art meant to be ironic? That this question is unanswerable is a large measure of the band's intoxicating blend of emotional force...
THE ART performing at Bar Sinister in Hollywood
...and devastating charm.
Azaria, the band's lead singer and chief songwriter, here off-stage in Hollywood, explains: "We wanted to keep it simple. It is like making love itself; violent, but then it has some beautiful soft moments."
THE ART is nothing if not sincere in its mission: a tooth and nail battle against the corporate artifice that has taken over the music industry. They fearlessly combat charges of pretentiousness as they ambitiously dive into the murky depths of the human shadow, which includes their own rock star ready images.
KJ outside Kill City on Melrose Ave in Hollywood
"There isn't anything they can't do if they set their minds to it," says their Los Angeles based manager, Vicky Hamilton. "THE ART are making rock and roll sexy again, and for me, fun to be in the business again."
Hamilton, coordinating a Kill City photo shoot for THE ART, is the subject of a documentary. Until the Music Ends exploring alternatives to the hierarchical structure of the "old school" major record label system in which musicians can use new paradigm models to not only survive, but thrive.
The former A&E executive for Geffen Records managed Guns N' Roses and Motley Crue, the biggest Los Angeles bands since Van Halen.
Impresario Vicky Hamilton with THE ART at Rockpaper Coffeehouse in Hollywood: "After 25 years of being a rock and roll manager, I had pretty much decided I wasn't going to manage anymore. This band is like family."
Incredibly, in this time of corporate dominated radio, the band's Californian emergence is happening in a natural organic way that is reminiscent of the sixties; DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, a longtime booster of iconic new sounds has had THE ART on his Rodney on the Roq playlist for the past month and their catchy tunes are spreading through private art parties. "We are creating what we want to create, not really knowing where things are going to end up," says Azaria. "That is what I find is really exciting about my band. Just throw it against the wall and see what abstract painting comes out of it."
A painter who learned to surrender control through the making of abstract art, Azaria emerged on the music scene with a solo CD. He told me that he is grateful to the band for helping him transform his elusive visions into narratives of subjective struggles that, he admits, are exacerbated by a life on the road.
Azaria clowning around for the camera, shares with his band no fear of criticism, due to their belief that it is human to be creative.
The irony taking place underneath the mask is that an androgynous band is catching fire globally without the corporate star-making machine that destroyed the music industry along with the media domination of television shows such as American Idol and The X Factor.
The power of the songwriting ("The truth is just like Xmas. Santa Claus isn't real. Maybe if I was just like them, I would know how to feel") makes their mission true: to clear away the obstacles of celebrity-driven culture and replace it with a new form of equal partnership idealized by the sixties revolution before it fell into chaos.
Azaria, Jordan and KJ at Kill City, Hollywood
Such soul-baring honesty makes the sign contained in Warhol's final self-portrait, a foreshadowing of his death, all the more appropriate. If Warhol, like Marcel Duchamp, the granddaddy of postmodernism, did nothing else with his fame than cause us to question the very nature of what is art, then THE ART is beating their forerunners at their own game with music that is not only an ongoing revolt against the corporate sanctioned status quo fitting music into neat categories, but a declaration for the admittedly messy (r)evolution of making life art and art life.
The wit of this fast-rising Aussie rock band is reminiscent of the early Beatles. It connects the accidental avant-garde style with an easy camaraderie -- they have known one another since they were students and live in the same Sydney neighborhood. Their bemused detachment points toward the inevitable destiny commanded by a magnetic band capturing the zeitgeist with beauty, force and sheer talent.
This band of distinct individuals rocks with a intensely cohesive sonic voicing rock 'n' roll as religion. Their jeans and lush mops of hair define a new aesthetic of beauty that goes deep but has to do with grace.
KJ, here Rock Paper in Hollywood, is the bassist/singer/songwriter with a kundalini fire reminiscent of Joan Jett.
Jordan, the beefy drummer, has a predilection for appearing practically nude on stage.
Jak, here at Rockpaper Coffeehouse in Hollywood, is the band's philosopher, waxing poetic in discussion of how Nietzsche's unrelenting search for universal patterns was reduced to chaos -- insanity by way of syphilis.
But it is Friedrich Nietzsche who wrote in Twilight of the Idols: "Without music, life would be a mistake."
THE ART takes this to heart, turning the prima materia of life at the cusp of a paradigm shift into gold via the philosopher's other pronouncement: "Art is the proper task of life."
This virtuosity with the transparency of surrender is sending THE ART on the way to global stardom, to be all the more instantaneous in the 21st century via the social network. They are a hardcore emotionally raw sixties rock n' roll band -- reminiscent of the Rolling Stones and the Doors, with Azaria giving all out Jim Morrison style performances...
...that take the avant-garde to its edge by merging boundaries between performer and audience.
Ironic too is the charge that they are a Goth band after touring with Marilyn Mason in Australia. In fact, THE ART's natural transgenderism places the legendary King of Goth's cosmetics in a new philosophical light: an outer struggle for an inner balance of opposites. This pursuit of wholeness comes directly comes out of the lead singer/songwriter's struggle with bi-polar disease, for which he was medicated as a youth.
Rock is his medicine now. The dual relation of dreams and nightmares will be the subject of the forthcoming double album that the band is returning to Australia to make. "It is for me a heartbreak album," Azaria says. "When you get your heart broken you have nightmares and you hope to have dreams again. You have to manifest your dreams and create them into reality."
THE ART, in Hollywood, manifesting its dream to redefine art for the masses
This is most likely a reflection of the ups and downs of life on the rocky road to rock stardom in the 21st century. After Lady Gaga, no one can claim to be innocent about the process of acquiring fame. But THE ART doesn't try to hide the risks and rewards of personal revelation in their music.
In "Dirty Girl" the male protagonist takes on the role of "Other" to passionately proclaim "your boyfriend doesn't have to know" to a female lover who has selected an older, wealthy man as her public consort.
Such scrappy behavior -- hopeful, yet realist in a "turning world" -- is what propels this Down Under band over the precarious tightrope navigating the middle ground between dreams and nightmares on their journey to define a rock 'n' roll (r)evolution in the 21st century.
Lisa Paul Streitfeld is a cultural critic discovering and interpreting new art forms for the 21st century. You can find her at the House of Blues on April 2, for THE ART's final Los Angeles performance of this tour.
All photos by Lisa Paul Streitfeld