Generally speaking, the sound of breaking glass is not highly regarded for its ear-pleasing properties. In fact, a polled majority of local music-lovers might rate it a distant second to what comes out of, say, the xylophone.
But the perverse minority would likely consist of those privy to one of Asheville’s better-kept secrets: Lube Royale. In more than one way, this band’s central concept is the stuff that makes parochial music teachers lie awake at night: namely, eight guys hell-bent on making noise.
“We break things — floor tiles and bottles, fireworks … all those [items] have been involved in shows,” says Lube Royale’s spokesman, “Pantene,” in a recent interview, cracking a smile that’s soon followed by a faraway look.
“We’ll pull that off again,” he promises.
As with all Lube Royale members, Pantene’s name bears an amazing resemblance to that of a popular hair-care product. His bandmates include “‘V-Oh-5,” “Clairol,” “Aussie Mega” and “Jerry C. Url.” It may seem silly, but the logic reveals itself on-stage, where Lube Royale members play in masks and costumes.
Performing incognito, says Pantene, “takes all the ego out of a performance. It becomes less of a rock-star thing and more of a collective thing.”
Sitting around a table cluttered with hastily jotted notes and half-empty beer bottles, it’s easy to see what he means by “collective.” Band members toss ideas around like fragments of mystery meat in a high-school food fight. And every so often, a phrase or concept sticks. When the subject of the band’s influences comes up, however, the ensuing deluge of answers makes it difficult to sort the honest from the hyperbolic: “Alcohol” … “Don Ho” … “Tito Puente” … “The Residents” … “H.P. Lovecraft” … “the music of Jim Nabors.” But it’s just this kind of intense free-association that makes Lube Royale what it is.
“I’d say our shows are 98 percent improv,” relates Pantene. “It changed music for me. I was in bands for years and years playing formulas. On the drums, it was 18 of these,” he says, pantomiming a tedious beat. “[In Lube Royale] I just lost all of that. It’s nice. It’s nice not to go into a practice and rehearse the same things over and over again, which is boring.”
By this time, you might assume that what Lube Royale does is some kind of amorphous nightmare of amateur jazz. Not so: Hearing them play, you’d never know that each slam, hammer and crunch wasn’t rehearsed a thousand times over. Which is to say that this band is impressively tight, combining a nearly industrial-punk sound with surprisingly complex, if occasionally violent, percussion. Imagine if the drum section of a Big Band band stumbled onto the wrong tour bus and was forced to play an improv set with an avant-garde rock group to earn some dinner scraps.
Somehow — for the most part, at least — it works.
Dissatisfaction with the monotony of the present music scene is at the core of Lube Royale’s ethic. “A band — drums, bass, guitar — would get on-stage and play. Then they’d break down their equipment. Then the next band — drums, bass, guitar — would get up there,” explains Pantene. “So what we started doing [was] creating a real spectacle around us.”
In fact, the band’s theatrical aspect is just about the only continuity from show to show. In addition to the costumes — which have ranged, over the band’s two-year history, from Christmas presents to fur suits to a kabuki-theater version of the Fates — the band screens short, absurd films during its performances.
These images — which the band shoots itself — serve a practical as well as an aesthetic purpose: “We needed something to tighten it up a little bit,” says Pantene, “so we used the cues from the film as a structure for the show.”
The band manages to accomplish all this with an appealingly modest amount of pretension. Knowing that no one knows what to expect of the next show surely gives members a creative boost — though not everyone is enchanted by Lube Royale’s self-described brand of “alcoholic avant-garde.”
“We finished our set in Athens a couple of weeks ago,” recalls Clairol, “and there were three or four people there.” The band shares a hearty laugh at the memory, and Pantene adds, “They gave us a 12-pack of PBR and 13 dollars. It was a good show, but it was like pulling teeth with those Athens people.”
Lube Royale’s next local show, two days after Valentine’s Day, will have an amorous theme. Don’t expect much soulful crooning, though. Members remain vague about the details, though Clairol does allow, “It’s not going to be about love … except for love of the drums.”