Electric Corpse's self-titled debut EP is available now and can be found on their Facebook page.
Think "goth," and images of Anne Rice-era vampires (pre-Twilight) and black leather-clad bands such as Bauhaus, the Sisters of Mercy and Alien Sex Fiend will often come flooding forward. The word became a cliché in the music world long before it became unfashionable, with black mascara and black lace gloves the order of the day.
But to many, those overplayed images had little to do with the gothic art that is in turn romantic and devastatingly sad. Look at pre-Raphaelite art and, while the skin is pale, the eyes are not smudged with black and nobody looks like a Robert Smith-style death-mime.
The dark, poetic lyrics of Nick Cave and even Morrissey, certainly Kate Bush, capture that feeling beautifully — that Wuthering Heights (book and song) feeling of having love within your grasp and having it torn away before drowning in a sea of grief. A group of twentysomethings from Detroit called Electric Corpse has that aesthetic down pat.
The trio of Matt Galanek (vocals, guitar), Megan Marcoux (keys) and Laura Abbruzzese (drums) played together in a six-piece alt-rock band called A House in Paris, but it proved too big to keep together. Galanek and Abbruzzese decided to play out as Electric Corpse, later bringing Marcoux back too.
The three of them, who all have fairly regular daytime jobs, met each other via the Internet, and that's something to thank modern technology for. As well as the fact that they were obviously born to make music together, they look fantastic on stage — visually striking thanks to Galanek's "gothic geek" look (thick black glasses and swept-back black hair) and the two girls who seem to have a natural yin-yang thing going on stylistically.
And then there are the lyrics, and this is where it got slightly awkward for a minute. Having heard the band's music, it's gorgeous, stark-yet-layered music reminiscent of Joy Division, and — considering the band members' ages — it's easy to assume that this was a group of young people creating an image of darkness, a gloomy facade to surround themselves with (as so many young people do) to give themselves a cool air of gloom and nihilism.
That's not the case here. Almost every song in the Electric Corpse arsenal is about Galanek's girlfriend of five years who died. "Two are about four years old, and I like them so I carried them over from my previous band," he says. "They're all about the same subject."
Galanek, the songwriter of the band, has been through true tragedy, the sort of experience that no person in their 20s should have to go through. Naturally, that experience had a huge impact on his life; when he sits down to write songs about what affects him the most, those are the feelings that pour forth. So the romantic tragedy, the beautiful gothic sound of Electric Corpse, is very, very real. It's authentic, it's honest and it's natural and, though what happened to Galanek and the people surrounding him is horrible, it is refreshing to hear new dark music that isn't cynically constructed.
One has to wonder though, why would Galanek want to relive the most difficult thing he has ever had to go through again and again on stage? "I didn't think about that," he says. "Sometimes it helps live because I can feel it better up there, but most of the time, it's like, 'Why did I do this?' When we were together, she'd tell me to write songs about her and I never did. Now I do. They're all real stories. Like, if you listen to the lyrics, that stuff did happen."
The song "Downstairs Apartment" contains the lyrics, "And I just drove by where they buried you, but I didn't stop 'cause I can't stop thinking about how I carried you, alone and dead in your coffin."
Galanek explains further, "A little after she died, circumstance had me move a block away from where she's buried. I drove by her cemetery every day, sometimes two or three times. I was a pallbearer at her funeral and it was extremely hard for me. Even though I was so close to her daily I never stopped in to see her because I kept thinking how it was raining and there was wet dirt everywhere. [At the funeral] I had a cheap shirt on and that made me feel like trash because her people were well-dressed and had money. The grandpa, a big strong man, was weeping. It was just such a rough day. Every time I go to see her, I can't focus on anything but her funeral and it kinda drives me crazy so I don't go nearly as much as I should."
Does he ever see a point where he might want to write a song that doesn't hurt to sing?
Turns out he already has. "The song 'Going West' is new and it's about absolutely nothing," he says. "I had to make up words on the spot and that's what popped out. The words are, 'I'm going west, I've got my best shoes on.' That's all there is. It's about absolutely nothing."
This interview takes place at the Berkley Front after the band performed a blinding set, and just before two other bands play. While the other acts on the bill are great, they have little in common with Electric Corpse. The guys say that, if you play dark music of this sort, finding like-minded souls isn't easy. "I know people from other bands and it's about hooking up with those people and promising that we're good," says Abbruzzese, while Galanek admits, "We don't fit with anybody."
Still, there's a decent number of people at the Front this evening and they all cheer between songs. A handful of people approach the members after the set to tell them that they were great, and these humble young souls look mildly embarrassed, as if this writer might think that they set it up. "People appreciate it even though it may not be exactly what they're into," Abbruzzese says.
Electric Corpse is a band in its infancy — it has one EP out and has only played a handful of shows — but the quality of the songwriting, the stark honesty in the lyrics and the chemistry shared between the band members is spellbinding. Frankly, when the band played the last note of the set and walked off, it felt as if they'd just walked on. Some people will find the name cheesy, but that shouldn't put you off. Just enjoy the fact that this band has a knowing, self-deprecating sense of humor.
As expected at this stage in the interview, the band's ambitions are humble bordering on nonexistent. "Let's see, we want to make money tonight, and I'm going to have six more beers," Galanek says with a smile. "We want to take that money and buy T-shirts. We're recording an album and then we want to go on tour. Ideally, I want to write four more songs and record them. And practice a lot. That's why our other band didn't work out — we could never work out a practice schedule."
The Electric Corpse folks are happy to admit that, in this unpredictable and harsh music climate, they may be as big as they will ever get. If they stay together, they could well be playing the Berkley Front on a bill with two bands of different styles 10 years from now. They don't care.
"This is as big as I've ever been so that's fine," Galanek says. "As long as I keep putting new stuff out and playing out, I'll be happy. We don't have an audience yet anyway."
The interview is sputtering to a halt and the band members, obviously giddy at the idea of being interviewed at all, are giggling at every question now, particularly anything centered on the idea that they might be successful one day. But to finish, just to be cheeky and play the goth card one last time, which Batman does Electric Corpse prefer? Chris Nolan's or Tim Burton's?
"Tim Burton," Galanek says. "[Jack Nicholson's] Joker was cooler. I liked Michael Keaton a lot better as Batman too. He was more cool and suave. The new Batman's voice is overdone."
Getting back to the aspirations ...
"When I was 14, I was convinced Hot Topic would be my first job," Marcoux says, on cue. "We probably all applied."
I knew it.