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With all the CDs that come across my desk, the American Professionals' latest, We Make It Our Business, caught my attention for a rather weird reason — it looked incredibly boring. At first glance, it seemed like a software or PR company had accidentally sent me some sort of business portfolio in disc form. Upon further review (i.e., actually reading the accompanying materials and listening to the music...this is why they pay me the big bucks) I realized it was anything but. The SF-based trio makes danceable, upbeat but never overly slick power pop with a little gravel in it; the new record should please anyone who can't afford to see the Replacements at Coachella this year (or even those who can). The band also licenses its music to a couple of shows on Nickelodeon, via a process lead singer Chuck Lindo (also of Noise Pop veterans Action Slacks) still finds mysterious. Ahead of the American Professionals' record release this Wednesday, we checked in with Lindo to hear about his influences, the music biz, and how he gets his seafood fix.
SF Bay Guardian: How long have you been in San Francisco? How did the band form?
Chuck Lindo: Cheryl [Hendrickson, the bass player/vocalist and also Lindo's wife] and I moved here from St. Louis in 1991 with my old band, The Nukes. We left behind the humidity, crappy wintertime produce, and a pretty impressive fan base for the possibilities and romance of this freakshow of a place. Still here, but for a brief four year stint in Los Angeles 2003-2007. We got a chance to dry our bones out and re-learn how to drive cars. We met Adam White through another band I play bass and sing with, The Real Numbers. He had just moved out here from Indianapolis and we hit it off like crazy. There's something about those midwesterners that just feels right. I think there's some kind of code or dog whistle in there. It's hard to describe.
SFBG: How would you describe your sound? There are obviously a lot of power-pop influences, some post-punk stuff going on.
CL: There is a lot of power pop in there, but we do come from the "power" side of that spectrum. I've always had a deep desire to hear Black Sabbath playing Squeeze songs. Somebody said we sounded like Cheap Trick on the Foo Fighters' instruments playing Smithereens' songs. I'll take that. My first "real" band, The Nukes, was pretty damn close to being punk really, but not quite. I could never wear the attitude comfortably, but I do like it loud, fast, and crunchy. Cheryl and I have a funny mixture of influences. We both love heavy rock stuff, but she's an Elton John freak and grew up on the Monkees and all those musicals like "Oliver!" and "Bugsy Malone." I got into things like The Descendents and Dead Kennedys and The Clash in my teens and early twenties , but I have a gooey soft spot for early '70s singer-songwriter stuff, and I'm cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs about Stevie Wonder.
SFBG: How did the "business" aesthetic come about? Where does the band name come from?
CL: There's an endless trough of funny stuff in the the faceless corporate ogre world. A lot of the aesthetic comes from observing my sister Nancy's work. She's a good old-fashioned family doctor in Wisconsin, and I've witnessed the evolution of how big pharma reaches physicians and now the general public itself. At first, I think they couldn't say exactly what some of these drugs were intended to do, so they used all sorts of evocative imagery to produce the warm-fuzzy take-away. So much of that stuff was just pure creative genius, it's impossible to not be impressed, even if it is sort of insidious. I just think it's funny to overlay that ethos on a little three-piece rock band.
The name "The American Professionals" was coined by our friend David Reidy. He was a charter member of the band when I first started writing songs back in the late 1990s. He's Irish and was working on getting his US citizenship at the time, and he was thoroughly enamored with the gumption, optimism, and resilience of the American people. We were backing an amazing singer-songwriter, Pamela Martin, and at a live show, right before soundcheck, he pointed back at his guitar rig and said something like "Chuck, you see that? That's the American professional setup right there." He had his spare guitar, rack tuner, slide, combo amp with road case, pedal board, extra strings, a white towel, the whole deal. It became this sort of rallying ethic: "How do we do it? Think 'what would The American Professional do?', and that's what you do." So, of course it became the name of the band. That's what "The American Professional" would do. David's a partner at Reed Smith now. Not even the least bit surprising.
SFBG: How did you start licensing your music to TV shows? Does it change your writing to be thinking about the possibility of a show wanting to use a song? Are there bands whose model you're following here? I'm thinking about They Might Be Giants, who've done stuff for The Daily Show and Malcolm in the Middle but not, say, beer commercials.
CL: I get to approach that from two angles. We've licensed our existing music to several indie films and network TV shows, but I also founded a boutique music house (we call it a "music cottage" sometimes) Jingle This! with my longtime friend John Schulte. We make bespoke music for all sorts of stuff. I love hearing a well-thought out placement, especially when it's a semi-obscure song or a deep album track, but I do tire of people attaching really famous, popular songs to products. I totally understand the power of it, but it makes me sad to hear people relying on the spectrum of emotions that accompanies a particular song and then sort of jump its train. I think it's much more challenging, and if it works, rewarding, to make an original piece.
They Might Be Giants are a perfect example of doing it right, yes. They're so insanely creative and versatile, but there's always a thread of their sound in there, however intangible that may be. I like the way The 88's music gets used. They do the theme for Community and they've had a ton of stuff licensed, all to great effect, I think.I still don't know how we initially got approached by Nickelodeon to use our stuff in Zoey:101 and Drake and Josh. It was kind of like manna. Very mysterious. Very, very nice, but still mysterious. So that said, I don't feel like it serves anybody to go chasing after licensing opportunities by attempting to make music that you think will be in demand. I feel like if you keep your head down, dig in, and make something that truly is a reflection of your own take on things, even if it's done in character sometimes, it's going to resonate with somebody, somewhere, and that will make it attractive for total, mind numbing, wealth-creating exploitation.
SFBG: Do you think there's such a thing as "selling out" anymore, as a musician?
CL: I can't conjure up what would constitute "selling out" these days, especially for somebody just hitting the scene now. I guess if a band got sponsored by Eli Lily and started writing songs cryptically about the benefits of Cymbalta and passing it off as a real band, that might be a little screwed up. Actually, that kind of sounds like fun to me. Don't steal that idea.
I do, however, get a little sick of hearing The Who's songs in every version of CSI, but hey, that's their business.
SFBG: What's next for the American Professionals? Touring?
CL: Yes. We like to take little quick and dirty regional excursions. We're hitting the midwest in the spring, and then up and down our lovely coast after that.
SFBG: What other SF/Bay Area bands do you admire?
CL: There's an insane amount of world class music here right now. Even just in the circle we run in we have The Real Numbers, The Corner Laughers, The Bye Bye Blackbirds, Agony Aunts, and my band crush, Trevor Childs and the Beholders. Those fuckwads are so ridiculously good, and they keep getting together, breaking up, blah blah blah. It's maddening. It's hard not to get puffed up with pride that we have Chuck Prophet walking among us here. I got all fanboy on him and clammed up when I was standing next to him at the Great American a few months ago. I had just been on a Temple Beautiful jag and was in awe.
SFBG: What's the #1 San Francisco meal you couldn't live without?
CL: Oh, that's a toughie. I used to be in food and bev so we ate out a lot. I have so many food memories seared into my brain, it's hard to pick even ten of those. We live right up the street from Swan Oyster Depot. If I had to nail it down to one experience, it'd have to be just plopping down at that little corner of heaven and strapping on the feed bag. Cheryl doesn't like any seafood at all (nothing! zip!) so any time we have out of town guests and she's at work, I grab them by the collar and drag them down there.
The American Professionals
With Felsen and the Tender Few
Wed/29, 8:30pm, $10
Bottom of the Hill