A few years ago, in a New York studio full of vintage synthesizers they’d never tried using, the long-running indie dance rock band !!! (pronounced “chk chk chk”) decided to experiment. These explorations proved fruitful, and in 2018, the band road-tested its eclectic new sound on tour throughout the U.K.
The new music worked, so the band returned home to record it at frontman Nic Offer's apartment, which has also served as !!!’s practice space for the past 18 years. Here, the band's current five members, along with a host of guest musicians, played everything from synths to sax; what took shape was Wallop, the band’s eighth studio LP, out Aug. 30 on Warp Records.
Formed in the late ‘90s, !!! rose to critical acclaim in the early years of the 21st century. Politically-minded jams like "Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story)" and "Pardon My Freedom" lit up dance floors alongside tracks from contemporaries like the Rapture and LCD Soundsystem.
Over the years, !!! continued to blur the brutaliy and beauty of modern life with astute, witty lyrics and driving rhythms. Wallop leans into the '90s — an era when the group was a bunch of self-proclaimed “stuck-up young kids” in their hometown of Sacramento — with the sticky thump of late-'90s house and dance floor-friendly indie pop oozing through tracks like the June single "Serbia Drums" — a rumination on underground movements being "co-opted" by mainstream culture — and album cut "Rhythm of the Gravity." The band will tour the U.S. and Canada through September and October, with dates in Japan and Europe to follow.
Here, Offer discusses Wallop, the group's beginnings and making music in the Trump era.
Since !!! had its formative years in the '90s, what was it like to revisit the sounds of that era with this new album? Let's be clear: in the '90s, we were stuck-up young kids. We were not interested in what was happening in indie rock or dance music. We were really into Missy [Elliott] and Timbaland and old '70s soul and stuff like that. So, when we look back at the '90s, it's a new discovery for us. It's not really a retro thing, necessarily.
We always viewed ourselves as being part of contemporary music, and I think that there's a thing in contemporary music where there's always somewhat of a 20-year mirror effect, looking back. Stuff finally starts to sound fresh again. It comes out, it sounds contemporary, it becomes dated, and then, at a certain point, it starts to sound fresh again. I feel like that's the '90s stuff that we were looking at this time.
What were you listening to while making this album? We were listening to a lot of two-step and garage. When I first moved to New York, that was just ending. When we would go out, we would kind of hear stuff like that, but, definitely — growing up in Sacramento — U.K. dance music wasn't happening there. We like that grimy house, that kind of '90s thing. I guess some of the tracks, "Slow Motion," has something of a Blur kind of thing. I guess I was paying attention to Blur back in the '90s. I always liked them. That was a new attempt for us. We never attempted to do something that sounded like Blur. Actually, it goes into kind of a Massive Attack part at the end of "Slow Motion." We still don't like trip-hop. We were like, “Well, what if we made trip-hop that we like?”
Over the years, !!! has had a lot of songs that have reflected the social and political climate of the times, like "Five Companies" and "Pardon My Freedom." Was that something you considered when writing the lyrics for this album? It was. The way it works is that we finished the last record [2017’s Shake the Shudder], we debuted all the songs for the last record the night Hillary Clinton lost the election. The first day when I showed up for interviews [promoting that album], everybody was like, “so it's a political record, right?” We were like, “No, not at all.” This was written when we just thought [Trump] was a joke, and everything was going to be fine and we were going to have our first woman president. We weren't really that concerned with it.
We felt, as we started this [new] record, "Well, everyone really wanted a political record from us, we should write a political record." It has to come naturally. Once we kind of pulled away from it and stopped trying to write political lyrics, the politics really crept in there naturally and it felt a lot better.
Someone asked me in an interview the other day, do I think it's a musician's duty to write something political, and I don't think that at all. I think, especially, all we're talking about now is politics and it's very difficult to find something to say in a song that there isn't a thousand different versions of on your phone right now. Everyone is full of opinions. You don't necessarily need to express your opinion in music right now. I think the more important thing is to express something beautiful. There is so much ugliness in the world that you should put something beautiful out there. If some political lyrics happen, fucking fantastic. And some did on this record, but I felt that they were very natural and not just like, "Trump's an idiot."
Doesn't creating something beautiful, when there's a lot of really awful stuff going on, become kind of a protest in a way, too? I think it does. I'm at a loss in 2019 for what we can do. I don't know that our beautiful record is going to save the world, but it's what I know how to do, and it's something good. So, yes, I think that we have to start with the good things that we know how to do.
Watch !!!'s new music video for "Couldn't Have Known" below, and check out the full Wallop track list, as well as a list of upcoming tour dates.
Wallop Track List 1. Let It Change U 2. Couldn't Have Known 3. Off The Grid 4. In the Grid 5. Serbia Drums 6. My Fault 7. Slow Motion 8. Slo Mo 9. $50 Million 10. Domino 11. Rhythm Of The Gravity 12. UR Paranoid 13. This Is The Door 14. This Is The Dub