Let’s go out on a limb here and compare The Downers to a Muppet. No, not Animal or Zoot or Floyd or some other member of the Electric Mayhem (mad props, though). Not Kermit. Not Gonzo. Not even that big-ass monster from The Muppet Movie, Jack. We’re talkin’ ’bout the Swedish Chef ... bork, bork, bork!
It’s the unbridled exuberance with which the band mixes garage, mod, glam, new wave, punk and Brit rock that earns the comparison, as it makes for a hearty musical stew that’s tasty-tasty and okey-dokey, to say the least. “We try not to stick to one sound,” says bassist Mike Snider. “Great songwriting has no boundaries—it’s deeper than the surface.” Singer-guitarist Paul Burke weighs in: “Everyone in the band is very adamant about rock in general, no matter what era, and whether it shows or not, we just wanna write good music.”
And they have. Since forming two-and-a-half years ago as a side project to Burke’s band The Corleones, The Downers (Burke, Snider, drummer Cathy Foy, guitarist Dave Combs and keyboardist Doug Grose) have ridden a wave of raves created by their debut CD, Invading Your Space, the flagship release on local label Alpha Male Records. “We never expected this kind of response,” says Burke. Ditto Snider: “I joined this band because I loved the music and the people behind it. At the time, I wasn’t planning on doing more than playing shows once in awhile and maybe drinking a few beers with friends.”
It’s easy for The Downers to be modest, but they’ve reason to beat their chests, should they so desire. Invading Your Space is an ass-kicker if there ever was one. Opening salvo “Ibuprofen-Alcohol,” a six-minute, Radioheady, unison bend/crashing cymbal swell, is a perfect intro, paving the way for “3x as Nice,” the band’s jangly, organ-laden tribute to the Romantics. Other hotspots include the runnin’-through-the-graveyard-with-a-boner rave-up, “Monster of Love,” the ‘80s Devo-tional “Eight Zeroes” (“There’s a party in my pants/Is your computer enhanced?”), and the Jane’s Addiction-Hawkwind-Dead Kennedys shaker, “Bad Habit.”
In a live context, the band infuses the songs with even more personality, an ethic which has been key to their appeal. “We cannot emphasize more the importance of sounding as good live as you do on record,” says Burke. “But when you play live, you don’t wanna sound overly predictable or rehearsed because live performances need an element of improv and personality.”
The disc is selling “moderately” and the band has already been on a regional tour—thanks to contacts and knowledge Snider picked up booking for Kilby Court and elsewhere. Plans are in the works for a Midwest-West Coast jaunt in May, to coincide with the release of a three-song EP, Like I Told You Before. Where the band was once a whim, they’ve realized a need ... an opportunity ... to capitalize on momentum. “A lot of bands take forever, they forget that the days of a scout walking into a ma-and-pa club looking for the next big thing are over. If you want to be successful, you need to go out and showcase to as many people as possible. It takes time and persistence.”
They’re certainly reaping the rewards of that ethic. In addition to the EP and imminent tour, The Downers will contribute two songs to a My Sweet Records compilation and appear as part of the release party at Kilby Court March 16 with New Transit Direction, The Kill and Sherlock. On March 20 at Xscape, add Pinback to their lengthy list of opening slots for national acts (which includes Modest Mouse, Mates of State, The Minders and ex-New York Doll Sylvain Sylvain).