Published Oct 28, 2015Sacramento dance punk sextet !!! just released their sixth full-length, the ambitious, disco-baiting As If, on Warp Records. And while some critics have praised the album for its wealth of ideas and genre-bending tendencies, others have wondered where the "punk" in their "dance punk" disappeared to.
"It goes two ways for an older band," frontman Nic Offer tells Exclaim! "You either get more boring and get diminishing returns from your earlier, exciting records, or you find a way to keep that young attitude and to push to something greater, to make something wiser, to build upon, to get better at it."
With the album being recorded in Brooklyn with help from a number of producers (including Jim Eno of Spoon, James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco and indie rock producer extraordinaire Chris Coady), Offer asserts that an enormous amount of preparation and thought went towards the creation of As If.
"We did a lot of touring on the songs before we went into the studio, and the last batch, we booked a week's residency in a small club (Union Pool) in Brooklyn and played the same songs every night. Then went into the studio and knocked them all out, pretty much live. We had a couple of different approaches to the record — some stuff was very live and some stuff, we were into current dance music, so some stuff that was not very live. Then we took a full bore approach to both of those."
But it wasn't just producers and audience members who helped shape the sound of As If, as Offer and co-vocalist Rafael Cohen shared the mic with a slew of guests, including Cameron Mesirow (a.k.a. Glasser), Molly Schnick from Offer's defunct side-project Out Hud, and gospel singers Yolanda Harris-Dancy and Teletha Manor. As Offer suggests, the addition of guest vocalists helped give the album much of its personality.
"We wanted a classic disco gospel feel and we hired these gospel singers and they brought out a lot that I could never have put into it. It's just another way of making it exciting," adding, "I didn't want it to always be so tied to me, that's a way to bring a greater palette to our performances."
Although they may have traded in the punk for the funk, !!! managed to keep their acerbic wit on tracks like the spacey "All U Writers," club banger "Till the Money Runs Out" and the island-flavoured "Lucy Mongoosey," something that Offer says remains a vital part of the band, but doesn't necessarily define them.
"It's such a tricky thing to use humour in music because it is so misunderstood. I don't think we've ever done anything as a joke or pastiche, to us, if anything, it's serious. Disco is never done with a nudge or a wink. I understand that funk and disco became something of a punch line to some people, but it's never been that for us, the humour comes through in other ways."