Crate-Digging: The Interpreters – Back in the U.S.S.A.

I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.

(RCA, 1998)

Remember 2001? Yeah, me neither.

OK, OK, that’s no way to begin anything. Of course I remember 2001. I got MARRIED in 2001. Wouldn’t that be something if I completely blocked that entire year from my memory? I’d be crucified, sure. But the point here is that 2001 was the banner year for the awesome yet derisively-titled “nu-garage” movement, a phrase I’m sure has been used before, but if not, I’m coining it now. Ringing a bell? Quit shrugging, you know exactly what I’m talking about, you hipster bastard. I know bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes and The Hives aren’t cool anymore (but have you honestly listened to their records? Remind yourself, it’s worth it), but in 2001, the three of them were unstoppable. Each had released super-fun albums that year (well, 2000 in The Hives’ case) and the hype seemed justified. They all had nostalgia on their side – an unbelievably important commodity in music, you hear it mentioned in tons of reviews – and no matter how much Stooges, Stones, or Velvets worship gushed to the surface, it didn’t matter. These bands repackaged their idols and refocused their spirit on a public that was desperate for a good time, and boy did they deliver.

I can see I’m losing you. You’re scratching your neck beards in consternation and your eyes are darting toward the door. “What do The Interpreters have to do with those other bands? I haven’t even heard of The Interpreters!” You youngsters – I have to do everything for you, do I? OK, so the facts: three-piece (guitar/drums/bass – what’d you expect?) from Philadelphia dresses in skinny clothes and pretends they’re mods, nodding at every English “The” band from the 1960s and ’70s: The Who, The Jam, The Kinks, they’re all in the mix. British Invasion. But from Philly. “Ironic … Blowout” even cribs the “My Generation” riff – fortunately the song finds a strong identity as one of the better songs on the record instead of sounding like a straight rip.

And you see that release date up there? That’s right, 1998. Unfortunately, The Interpreters missed the boat on the whole garage revival thing. They would have fit in perfectly. They were thin, they were weird looking, they were smarmy, uppity snots who wore black turtlenecks in their lone video, which happened to get some MTV airplay. Of course, Back in the U.S.S.A. had already been released by the time “Shout!” graced our TV screens, so what’s a self-respecting record label like RCA to do with moderate success? Why, try to pad their wallets with a double-dip re-release of course! The record came out again, this time with “Shout!” replacing “Standing There” at track 10. Guess which version I had? Yes, the earlier one. Stupid RCA.

But I like “Shout!” and I’m bitching too much, so how about this to reel you in?

Now we’re talking. Rev ’em up, baby, the mods are back! Although “Shout!” is a pretty good song, The Interpreters should definitely be called out for one of the most sinfully boring videos ever created. If you skipped past the video, you should really watch it, it’s short. It’s really bad, too. The singer’s a really ugly girl. Or, er, a really ugly guy who looks like a really ugly girl. If I were him I wouldn’t have chosen to slink around that white backdrop – the action kind of hits my gag reflex at certain points. And what’s with the whole shoe/sock-adjustment segment? Did he just want to show off his footwear?

But gosh, it’s hard to really hate on this. Back in the U.S.S.A., cute title and all, is a fun, energetic, obnoxious (in a good way), and outrageous sugar high. And there are better songs than “Shout!” on the record – even though I find that song highly if mindlessly entertaining – such as “Lucky Day,” “Ironic … Blowout,” “Teacher,” “Uptight,” and “You Are the One.” You could drink martinis with your pinky out or shotgun PBRs to it – it doesn’t discriminate in that way (even if it looks like the band members probably do). I used to blast it on the tape deck of my 1988 Plymouth Reliant during my college summers – and it’s painful and embarrassing to admit to you that I drove such an uncool car. (The Interpreters would undoubtedly have been less than enthused peering over their noses through the windshields of their Aston Martins or Lotuses.)

And the high-octane punk swagger and mod outfits aren’t the only things that betray the band to its ’60s and ’70s influences – the insert reads (and the stock kinda feels) like a passport, stirring some cold war undertones that appear here and their in the band’s oeuvre. Sadly, fame – or something – took its toll, and frontman/bassist Herschel Gaer soldiered on in 2000 with a new rhythm section, and I haven’t heard from him since. Nor have I ever, until today (well, the day I’m writing this), heard of guitarist Patsy Palladino’s and drummer Branko Jakominich’s (he’s Russian! Get him!) offshoot (and dumbly titled) The Branko Band. I guess sweet duds and slick haircuts can only get you so far. After that, you have to not be stupid.

RIYL: The Who, The Hives, The Jam, Supergrass
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8 responses to “Crate-Digging: The Interpreters – Back in the U.S.S.A.

  1. is there a possibility for the Interpreters Shout to be downloadable? That band/album/record, aside from the yahoo videos, is a non-entity on the web via purchase or otherwise.

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  2. Just looking up The Interpreters and happy that there is at least sime evidence of their existence on the Internet. I loved them and used to speak to Herschel after shows. Once I waited til almost 1am for them to play at JC Dobbs and they did a blazing, Ramones-paced set, smashed their instruments then darted out the front of the bar. Wow. Shame they fizzled after those great reviews they had. Good times!

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  3. haha, that’s cool! i hope they were nice guys. i’m always rooting for pretty much anything that comes out of philadelphia to succeed.

    here’s the thing – they had this really good album, but i’m not sure their freshness would have remained intact upon further releases. just a hunch. although they were about 3 years too early – they could have totally rode the strokes’ coattails in 2001 if they came out then. oh well!

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  4. oh yeah, i pretty much just parroted what i wrote in the review. oh well – it’s been two and a half years since i wrote this, i can be forgiven, i hope.

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  5. I remember seeing them once – 1999? at the Brighton Bar in Long Branch, NJ. Played with the Shelia Divine. Great show, though there was around 30 people!

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