Riff Raff

Goth Talk Erik Carter is a good-humored person -- a surprising and refreshing thing to know, considering he sings like he's being strangled. As the guitarist, singer, and lead songwriter in Oakland trio Mumble & Peg, his subject matter is mostly desperation and gloom: On the group's second album for Vaccination Records, This Ungodly Hour, he speaks of "a teeth-numbing yearning," and kisses off relationships with statements like "I'll break your spine with kindness," and "This isn't one of our domestic squabbles/ It's the end of them." Though washes of electric guitar appear on songs like the whistle-while-you-mope "Hostel," the band plays out like an acoustic Bauhaus. Or perhaps more like Tones on Tail, that group being the one Bauhaus spinoff that wrote actual melodies.

Carter gets the "folk goth" tag a lot. "I'm a problem music collector," he says. Noting the ever-growing stack of records in his home (also the cause of his healthy credit card debt), he adds, "There's so much in here that I could claim as a reference."

Carter moved to the Bay Area in 1993 after living in Massachusetts, where he'd played in bands proffering "math metal, or punk rock songs about girls." After taking in one Idiot Flesh show, complete with face paint, fire eating, inflatable suits, and other absurdist props, he wanted in. "Back when I was living in Massachusetts, the formula always took over the band," he says. "So when I went to an Idiot Flesh show, I thought, 'This is everything we wished we were.' " He began working the band's sideshow playing acoustic folk music and feeling sure that he stuck out like a sore thumb. But playing with rock bands actually makes sense for a group whose truck is in mordant themes and song structures that are closer to goth rock and chamber jazz than folk. Besides, he finds Bay Area coffeehouses a lousy option.

This Ungodly Hour, released this week, has been finished for the better part of a year. Two of its songs have already appeared on Vaccination's Funny Rubber Hand compilation, which also features a cover of Brian Eno's "Driving Me Backwards" that was originally recorded for a tribute compilation that fell through. Mumble & Peg was asked to contribute to a Van Halen tribute record, too, which meant Carter "had to wander around town asking people for the lyrics to 'Running With the Devil.' " And in the time between the album's recording and release, drummer Chuck Squier has retired from the band, replaced by Jenya Chernoff. "I had this delusion that if we kept putting off the release, we could set up a release date and make it a big thing," says Carter.

The band had to settle for an intimate release party at Berkeley's Starry Plough last week, though they're also planning a 20-date tour next month in Germany. At least, Carter thinks it's in Germany. "I'm not that knowledgeable about the cities -- my geography fails me," he says. He wearily describes the hassles of bands having to do their own booking; he's been encouraging Vaccination owner Dren Macdonald to start his own booking agency and pick up the slack ("We haven't gotten it organized yet, but we're moving in that direction," says Macdonald). The band also has tentative plans to do some more recording on the road in Europe. "It'd be great for our next record to say 'Recorded in Berlin,' " says Carter.

Chris von Sneidern's Britpop Secret Local rock star Chris von Sneidern -- we've referred to him as such ever since seeing him signing autographs after a show at the Great American Music Hall -- says he's been getting comparisons to Badfinger almost from the get-go of his career, so he did the obvious thing: He started listening to Badfinger, the British rock band famous mostly for being the first signing to the Beatles' Apple Records imprint. What goes around comes around: In 1994, producer Dan Matovina caught one of Sneidern's shows. Matovina also happened to be entrusted with the demos of Badfinger frontman Pete Ham, who hung himself in his garage in 1975. So, for Golders Green, the second collection of Ham's acoustic demos and sketches, Matovina called Sneidern in to "make it a little bit more, dare I say it, give it the Jeff Lynne effect, adding to the dead guy's demo tracks."

As a matter of both taste and ethics, that's entering questionable territory: While not exactly the horror show that was Natalie Cole's duets with her late father, overdubbing new tracks on archival tapes can be a dubious proposition, and Sneidern himself asked, "Why bother?" For the handful of tracks he worked on at his studio Ord-Upon-Avon, using instruments, amplifiers, and equipment that Ham himself might have had on hand, he also called in Derek Ritchie to play drums. Ritchie currently plays with Sneidern in his new band the Sportsmen -- describing the group's sound as "Camaro rock," the group plans its debut on July 18, 19, and 20 at the CoCo Club, the Make-Out Room, and Mick's Lounge, respectively. An album's in the can, but it's currently slated for Japan-only release. "I think I want to maybe re-track the record and go and record some new stuff for an album that will appeal to my regular fans," says Sneidern.

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