Avant-Rock Stars 

Erosion brings the art-punk noise with a new CD and no van.

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Erosion’s penchant for rock & roll mayhem Salt Lake City-style is in the blood—guitarist Brett Sundberg’s blood, to be exact.

“My father’s band, the Mark 4, played a rock show in the early ’60s at the Cottonwood Mall,” he says with a noticeable trace of pride in his voice. “One of the sponsors was a company called Petino Shoes. They said they would pay for them to record a 45 single if the band could work ‘Petino Shoes’ into the song somehow, because they were going to use it for a radio ad. On the other side of the single, the Mark 4 recorded their own song called ‘Death Freight.’ There were two rock & roll radio stations in Salt Lake then, and they were playing both songs on the 45. Anyway, halfway through my dad’s band’s show, a riot broke out, with people looting shops and everything. The kids were going crazy. That was back when rock & roll meant something, so we play ‘Death Freight’ in our set.”

If Erosion could have booked the CD release bash for their second album at the Cottonwood Mall this weekend, the universe might have achieved a full cosmic circle. As it is, Sundberg, singer-guitarist Jon Bean, bassist Mark Scheering and drummer Dave Boogert are releasing Erosion on a slightly smaller scale with a pair of club shows. The universe and the mall will have to wait.

“We played our first show at the 9th & 9th Street Festival in the summer of ’98,” Bean says, expressing Erosion’s willingness to play unusual venues. “But little old ladies were yelling at us, ‘You’re too loud! You’re rattling the pottery off the shelves!’”

“It’s Dave’s fault,” Scheering interjects. “He hits really hard, and we have to keep up with him in volume. Even one of those plexiglass deflectors you see on Jay Leno wouldn’t work. He’d have to set up in the green room.”

Soft-spoken skin-pounder Boogert counters, “It’s funny—Burt’s Tiki Lounge is the smallest club we play, and there’s never been a complaint there.”

Like their first album, last year’s I Love You … Goodbye (which included the band’s version of “Death Freight”), Erosion tests the bubble of pop-song structure at every turn, swinging wildly from new-wave conceits to reverb-damaged surf to noise-rock experimentalism to spaghetti-western metal and beyond.

“It’s a better quality recording and we knew more what we were doing this time,” Boogert says, noting that three songs from I Love You were re-recorded for the new disc. “Both CDs were recorded almost totally live, but you can’t tell on Erosion. The first was a lot grittier.”

Other new twists this time around include electro-shock dub reggae (the you-knew-it-was-coming “hidden” cut, track 16), low-fi romanticism (the you-didn’t-see-it-coming “I Love You … Goodbye,” kind of a retroactive title song) and an overall sonic cohesiveness rarely found in local releases. Now if only someone could figure out how to classify it.

“We’ve been called ‘art-punk hipsters,’ but my favorite is ‘avant-rock,’” Scheering says. “The media has to label things because people are always asking, ‘What does it sound like?’ We’re coming from four different musical backgrounds with a few things in common, but we all have different ideas of what good music is. We registered ourselves on [Internet indie-music site] Garageband.com under every genre we could. It came out as ‘sonic acid power desert country pop,’ but we shortened it to ‘alternative, sexy.’”

“I think it’s actually back to “avant-rock/art-punk” now,” Sundberg laughs.

Erosion includes three accomplished graphic illustrators. As a former radio host, Scheering “just talks,” but frontman Bean comes off as the band’s true artiste, someone who’d much rather speak through ink and guitars. In a rare clip from Erosion’s pile of local press not related to music, he once made the Salt Lake Tribune’s Rolly & Wells gossip column by getting arrested on a UTA bus for wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. It was the morning after a gig where the band played in “Property of County Jail” gear and he didn’t feel like changing clothes for work. After being manhandled by Salt Lake’s finest, Bean was set free to rock another day.

If he’s written a song about it, you’d probably never know from his decidedly abstract lyrics. His most easily deciphered tune on Erosion is a mood-pop scraper called “Smiling Zombie Robot Ghosts”—good luck with the rest.

“I write about the same things most people do: love, life, death,” Bean explains. “It’s just about documenting what’s going on in your life; that’s what expression is to me. The ways things are going these days you have a lot to write about. The lyrics usually come last, anyway. Since I’m the main singer, I usually write the words, but Mark’s been doing more lately [Scheering takes lead vocals on the CD’s epic “The Road Out”]. He’s more into the political side of things than I am.”

Strangely enough, some of Erosion’s most powerful moments come in the form of instrumentals—not noodling hippie-jams, but tightly structured aural assaults that vividly explode sans vocals. It’s a lost art in rock, but tracks like the menacing “Elephants” and the eight-minute “Yellow Hat” wouldn’t work any other way.

“Sometimes, the song just seems to express everything it needs to say without tacking on words,” Boogert says, adding with a laugh, “Maybe it’s because we really want to work with filmmakers and get our music into movies—I don’t know.”

While Erosion have toured their ear-shattering live show south to the unlikely environs of Moab (“It seems weird, but we got paid more for that show than we ever make in Salt Lake,” Sundberg says), their first attempt at an out-of-state road trip two weeks ago wasn’t meant to be.

“Our van threw a rod on the way to Seattle,” Scheering says dejectedly. “We ended up in Boise, which is really just Bizarro Salt Lake—everything is the same, but backwards. It’s smaller, but the liquor laws make sense. They have great clubs, but everyone wants karaoke. We told one club manager, ‘Look, we’ve got all of our equipment right here—can we just set up and play? You don’t even have to pay us.’ He said, ‘But tonight’s karaoke.’ It was a Saturday night!”

They should have hit the mall.

Erosion CD release, Ya’Buts, 45 W. Broadway, Friday March 2, and Burt’s Tiki Lounge, 726 S. State, Saturday March 3. Info and song clips: Garageband.com/artist/Erosion.

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