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The Make*Up has always had a knack for great song titles. Any band with the temerity to affix titles like “So…Chocolatey,” “Don’t Step on the Children,” and “We’re Having a Baby” to their works demands some respect. The tradition continues on the D.C. garage-punk-soul-funk quartet’s forthcoming album, Save Yourself (out this week on K Records).
But the fact that songs like “Call Me Mommy” and “C’mon, Let’s Spawn” can be counted among the nine tracks on the Make*Up’s most assured record yet takes a back seat to the sheer accomplishment of remaining relevant for almost five years in a scene as tumultuous and vital as this one. Born out of a desire to turn the paradigms of punk rock (and society in general) on their withered, pointed heads, the Make*Up’s intention “to blur the sacred barrier between the group and audience or, rather, the producer and the consumer,” as singer Ian Svenonius put it, has remained constant through a slew of full-lengths and singles on K, Dischord, and two smaller labels.
Save Yourself is the Make*Up’s first step in a different direction—one more based on a streamlined, measured assault. But the message remains clear: “We’re not artists,” Svenonius insists. “We’re doing this for an audience and a reaction. When we play a show, we want people to respond, and we want to provoke and invoke something. We’re not up there convinced of our brilliance or that we think what we do is good because of who we are. We have none of the arrogance of the Western artist.”
Svenonius describes Save Yourself as a more “intentional” record than previous efforts. “The record is more concise,” he asserts. “It’s kind of a reaction against the obesity that is typical of the CD format, which is, once again, technology dictating a form of expression. We’re reacting against that. We wanted a record that was sonically and conceptually solid, and we wanted to go for kind of a swampy tone.”
Swampy or not, Save Yourself is the declaration that Svenonius, guitarist-organist James Canty, bassist Michelle Mae, and drummer Steve Gamboa have been intending to make. As important as the Make*Up’s records have increasingly proved, the band’s live performances are indispensable, forums for the inclusive, frenzied “gospel” music that the four have been trying to invoke since the beginning. Has it worked?
“It’s a process,” Svenonius explains. “Did communism fail? Does capitalism work? These are things we have to ask ourselves. When we were using the word ‘gospel’ it was, in part, to be provocative…to question the idea of people always referring to the blues form in the way that modern rock ‘n’ roll has re-examined the blues form over and over and over again.” Svenonius takes a moment to process and then adds with a laugh, “I don’t know if it worked, but I see our shows as something preferable to a lot of shows I go to.”
The Make*Up plays the Black Cat Thursday, Oct. 28, with the Knoxville Girls and the Woggles.