Shot in the dark
Disappears doesn't show up on film, but the Chicago band is no vanishing act.
Anyone who’s seen Disappears live might easily mistake the title track from the band’s debut, Lux, as a belated shout-out to the late Cramps singer Lux Interior. The punk icon’s bluesy drawl has clearly made an impression on Brian Case, the frontman of this most promising of new Chicago rock acts. Disappears has even covered the psychobilly warriors’ “I’m Cramped.” But Case, 33, says, “It’s not about Lux Interior, but it should be.” Guitarist Jonathan van Herik, 34, interjects, “It’s a song about Paris Hilton.”
In fact, the hotel heiress is probably the last person you’d think of when taking in Case’s reverb-drenched barking over a thick swarm of distorted guitars and throbbing percussion. But it’s precisely blond, vapid socialites at whom the title track takes aim. “The song is about L.A. girls. Rich girls. Lux sounded cooler than luxury,” Case explains before adding, “It’s the Latin word for light.”
Light, too, seems like a completely foreign concept to the moody band as we chat inside the dimly lit Rainbo Club in Ukrainian Village. The four members of Disappears sit huddled in a red vinyl booth, picking at tortilla chips and guacamole between swigs of beer. It’s a few hours before the evening rush, and only a handful of patrons fills the bar—a scene well familiar to these guys, all of whom work here (except for Case, who tends bar at Nightwood).
The pings and Bada Bings of a Sopranos pinball machine fire away as Case traces the band’s history back to a modest home-recording project in drummer Graeme Gibson’s loft in late 2007. Last summer, just months after its first gig, the group played Pitchfork Fest. But Lux, recorded in January 2009, is only now finding release via Kranky records after a painstaking process that included the dubious honor of being the last band on Touch and Go’s roster.
The defunct Chicago label’s then A&R guy, Howard Greynolds, began courting the group in 2008, having known van Herik and Gibson from their previous band, Boas. Greynolds was confident enough in Disappears to front the money for a record in the hopes that T&G chief Corey Rusk would get on board. But things never got that far.
“I heard about [the label] folding the night before Corey was supposed to come to our Hideout show,” van Herik says. Gibson, 31, sporting a newly asymmetrical beard, adds, “Howard told me that he brought Corey a finished copy on Friday. The following Monday, Corey came in and said, ‘I don’t wanna do this anymore.’” At which all four members burst out laughing. “I’m not kidding!” Gibson says. “Our record was the last thing on his desk.” Case brushes aside his tousled hair and cuts in, chuckling, “The final nail in the coffin!”
That the band can maintain a sense of humor about such an agonizing incident speaks volumes to their character—and their history. These guys have been through it all before, most notably Case with the Ponys and 90 Day Men. Which doesn’t make Disappears a composite of the group’s cumulative pedigree. Despite its blog’s head-scratching description—“CCR via Minor Threat”—Gibson best sums up the band’s sound as “dense and intense.”
Case recalls his wife’s reaction upon first hearing Lux: “She was like, ‘What’re you singing about? This is dark!’” Gibson counters, “The lyrics are very optimistic, like a happy caveman child philosopher or something.” They all erupt into laughter once again.
Van Herik steps into Rainbo’s famous photo booth. We’ve asked the band for a brief session, hoping to get off-the-cuff snapshots. But the well-worn Model 12’s flash immediately burns out. Van Herik slaps the dark, blank image down on the table. Bassist Damon Carruesco, 33, finally pipes up: “That’s really dark.” Case ponders the pic, “None more black.”
Disappears lights up the Empty Bottle Saturday 17.