Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ugly Kids Club Whack Around Popular

When Grammy-nominated producer and songwriter Steve Wilson was touring the Midwest in a rock band, he met a girl. She wasn't just any girl. Aliegh Shields was the sister of one of his bandmates, someone who had the same appreciation and love for music.

So it only made sense that when Shields graduated from high school and moved to Nashville, she would look up Wilson to help produce her demos. But then something happened. She wanted to do something different. And so did Wilson. 

"Our name is inspired by the pretty and popular kids versus the ugly, nerdy kids back in high school," says Shields. "It seems that the pretty and popular kids never end up going as far in life; they peak in high school because they don't focus on the long term. The ugly and nerdy kids do something significant with their lives because they are less concerned about just what was cool or would make them popular."

But that doesn't mean that the emergent electronic rock band from Nashville, Ugly Kids Club, is stuck on high school. They see the same game playing out in music — flashy compositions that aim at the masses. They wanted to so something different, and write about something worth talking about.

The debut EP from Ugly Kids Club is a crunchy, fuzzy rock, pop, dance, soul mix. 

Sheepskin was one example. It was the first song that the duo put together as a band, a biting commentary that takes a whack off the two-faced society Shields says we endure. The song itself leans toward the ugly side of life, but it also became a barometer for the direction of their self-produced EP.

"We can put on friendly faces, but behind the scenes we can be extremely vicious," she says. "If we don't learn to get along, we may not survive it."

The lyrics are dark and heavy handed. The guitars are fuzzy. And the distortion is amped up into a frenzy to match the visceral mood. Shields growls out the lyrics with Wilson, giving the entire track a heavy grade sandpaper coarseness until its abrupt finality-laced end. 

"The heavy distortion came from me wanting us to push the limit. I'm a bit obsessed with distortion and I have no idea why," says Shields. "I've had a few other people mention it [the distortion heaviness] and I respect all those opinions. Diamond In The Fire is probably my favorite song, which is ironic because it has little to no distortion."

The song, Diamond In The Fire, still carries the coarseness but Shields' vocals are largely distortion free. It gives the track more of a sultry club vibe compared to the rest of the EP while retaining the guitars. It's a solid track, giving diversity to the range that the band wants to bring to life ... and life sentences. 

"Justitia was a reaction to a documentary I saw about a man that was convicted of murder and spent 30 years in prison," says Wilson. "DNA evidence was later discovered and he was finally released."

The song, titled after the Roman goddess of Justice, is as much an allegorical personification of moral force as its namesake. Of all six tracks, Justitia is among the most layered, with Wilson speaking the lyrics and Shields lending her pop-sensible chorus but with the characteristically cruel distortion amidst elements of electronic, pop, rock, and soul. 

When combined it's exactly what makes the band's sound unique and all of it is by design. There is definitely some push and pull behind the scenes with Wilson pushing in the direction of electronic and pop and Shields pulling in the direction of soul and rock. The middle ground is where they want to be.

"I like the idea of not writing love songs and writing about other situations that rarely get covered in music," says Shields. "You do have to listen carefully to the lyrics to get a grasp of what we're talking about. But to me it's exciting to hear a danceable song that makes you pause and notice something deeper."

While Ugly Kids Club put out the EP to help them book shows, Wilson adds that there is some hesitation to putting out an album, especially one that follows the traditional format. They have enough material to put it out, but the entire concept of an album is beginning to feel like it's from another time.

"One of our visions for the band was to keep everything as simple as possible," says Wilson. "We want to see the limits of what Aliegh and I can do ourselves before anybody else comes along. Right now we're very happy to be creating what we want, when we want. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

The Self-Titled EP From Ugly Kids Club Whacks 6.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The best tracks on the EP include Sheepskin, Justitia, and Diamond In The Fire. One Small Instrumental is worth a listen too, with the best of it tucked inside the middle. My Soul certainly leans toward more pop-infused dance and the one cover, Burning Down The House, makes me appreciate the songwriting abilities of Wilson and Shields all the more.

The self-titled EP by Ugly Kids Club is available on iTunes. You can also download the Ugly Kids Club EP from Amazon. Last December they also issued a limited edition cassette tape, but you can also find a free download or two if you poke around their website.
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