VIRILE URGENCY “We wanted it to be danceable,” says Nate Manny (far left, next to Spencer Moody). “It was aggressive not so much as a message but as a method.”
By the time this story makes print, yet another seven bazillion bands will be sporting logos involving a skull. But even in that congested pack of unimaginative graphics, the Murder City Devils' insignia boasts its own attitude. Illustrated in the blunt black and white of a warning sign, the logo's centerpiece skull has a slight sneer and wears a crown topped with pitchfork-sharp points and cocked to one side — as if hastily placed on a new monarch following the war-blasted demise of the previous regime. In place of crossbones, there's a pair of switchblades. The sparse, morbid image distills the Seattle band's anxious rock and roll to the basics: it's raw, violent, and a little contrived, mocking the death and disaster humanity has wrought.
The man responsible for the image is Nate Manny, the Devils' guitarist since the band's 1996 beginnings. From the get-go, he says, the act's angle was "intense," "indignant," and "confrontational," but all the havoc felt like necessary relief. "At the time, Seattle was about very indie, shoegaze, introspective music," he says over the phone, from the band's home town. "You would go to a show, and everyone would stand around and be depressed." Since most of the Devils (who hit Royale Boston this Wednesday) came into Murder City right out of hardcore bands, they were intent on bringing a sense of virile urgency into their new outfit. "We wanted it to be danceable. It was aggressive not so much as a message but as a method."
Punk and garage rock are the primary ingredients of the Devils' crackpot rock and roll. Some tracks show off that danceable quality ("Boom Swagger Boom"), but the band's sum discography is too dour to get down to in good conscience. Paeans to punk junkie Johnny Thunders and the Mütter Museum (a house of medical oddities in Philadelphia) stand alongside songs about public massacres, "the prettiest girl in an ugly town" (who is later killed), and living with "every shitty thing that I've ever done." And let's not forget "364 Days," their Christmas ballad, in which violins mourn Saint Nicholas's destiny of eternal solitude (save for the one day we all use him for our own gain).
The primary vein of this disgust is Spencer Moody, the frontman whose upset bellow gets weirder in person — Manny describes him as "a loose cannon in a lot of ways." Moody is an entertainingly off-the-wall presence. In one YouTube clip of a Devils festival performance, he precedes a song by asking all the straight people in the audience to turn around; then he encourages the homosexuals to move their hips. Manny reports that Moody's unpredictability makes him likely to attack audiences ("sometimes verbally, sometimes physically"). "Some days, he might hate a song, so the way he sings it is spiteful, and he uses it against the crowd. Other times, it means something different. We set the stage and he does whatever he feels like — which is sometimes upside-down total chaos and sometimes like the record. And it's not often like the record."