Out of Oblivion
AMC’s Danny Pearson has it both ways
By Sara Bir
If you drive out to Danny Pearson’s house and back your car into a ditch, he can get you out again. Having spent 10 years in a little band called American Music Club–who stand as a prime example of a group that went everywhere and nowhere, so loaded were they with unwieldy, package-challenging potential–Pearson knows how to roll with the punches. I back my car into a ditch in his Sebastopol driveway, and instead of answering stilted interviewer-type questions, he spends the next hour jerry-rigging a jack, some rocks and firewood together to get me out. In the end, I probably learned more about him from that than from our interview.
The recent regrouping of the American Music Club, who played the closing night at San Francisco’s Noise Pop festival this past February and are heading to England next month, has so far been a feat of jerry-rigging as well. It’s not a triumphant return for the band as much as a familiarly precarious new beginning.
Formed in San Francisco in the mid-’80s, AMC were always the unintentionally perfect band for obsessive music geeks. Imagine the surliest, most eccentric gang of singer-songwriter types possible and inject them with punk credo. With infamously hard-drinking frontman Mark Eitzel and a hopscotching disregard for musical genres, AMC drew in audiences based on the guttural poetry of Eitzel’s lyrics and the unpredictability of the band’s live shows, at which Eitzel might rant at the crowd or just up and take off.
Between the critically acclaimed albums Everclear and Mercury, the band stood poised for a mainstream breakthrough that never arrived. Their label, Virgin, dropped them, and AMC gradually dissolved into miscellaneous musical projects. Pearson played bass with AMC from 1985 to 1994, and he is with them again now, though that’s not the entire reason I drove into a ditch. A few months ago he quietly released a solo album, The Oblivion Seeker, to which electro-folkster Karry Walker of the criminally overlooked Ultralash contributed backing vocals.
The Oblivion Seeker does not sound like American Music Club Jr. The album deserves attention in its own right, with its quivering, almost vulnerable vocals and bare-naked arrangements culminating into bedtime stories for grownups. Pearsons’ lyrical non sequiturs are nearly childlike; somehow he manages to make the line “Won’t you suspend your disbelief / for just one more day” insanely catchy and quietly poignant.
Pearson speaks almost dismissively about his solo efforts, instead reverting to AMC’s renewed activity of late with tones of apprehension, excitement and disbelief. Things were never easy for that band, and for safety’s sake, the band members aren’t anticipating them getting any easier during Round Two.
“It’s been kind of an experiment, and anyone could bow out when they can’t take it anymore,” says Pearson. “It’s not a reunion just for the sake of reunion. Mark doesn’t stop [writing], so there’s always material and there’s always a way to present it. But it’s good that it’s a shambles, because everyone goes off in their own directions and they have the freedom to do whatever they want.”
AMC’s shows have so far been erratic instead of full-blown tours. That may change, especially since the band have a new album in the can. Recorded at AMC drummer Tim Mooney’s studio in San Francisco (where Pearson recorded his solo album), the new material is still being mixed and will probably be released later this year under the tentative title You Better Watch What You Say (a nod to the Patriot Act).
Pearson plays some mixes of AMC’s new songs, which I semibootleg on my crappy microcassette recorder. I realize I haven’t sat down with someone else with the sole purpose of listening to a meaningful song since I was in high school, and I’d forgotten how singular and pure it is, like going to church. The new tracks are vintage AMC: moody, turbulent, angrily comic at times; the density of the instrumentation only deepens the effect.
Pearson says that AMC’s new gigs have all been loud, which doesn’t always run with his more acoustic tastes. “Mark’s been having a hard time wanting to do a quiet song. I like to do my own stuff, and then I’m in control of it.”
Well, yeah. But complete and utter lack of control obviously has its thrill as well. For the time being, Pearson can have it both ways.
Danny Pearson will play at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco on Monday, April 26, with Ultralash and Adrian Beatty.
From the April 21-27, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.