By Cory Sklar
By Alee Karim
By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
"Let's see ... has anything supernatural ever happened to you? What's your favorite bird? What did you do last Halloween?"
Steve E. Nix hesitates for a moment, looking down at a tattered sheet of paper, before continuing.
"And then, I dunno, all the typical dumb questions people always ask bands: When did you start? How did you get your name? Shit like that."
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An hour before I caught up with the bottle-blond Briefs singer/guitarist, our roles were somewhat reversed. Back in his hometown of Seattle for a couple days of R&R before resuming his regular life on the road, Nix had been playing journalist, conducting a phone interview with members of Clit 45, the Briefs' BYO Records labelmates and fellow West Coast old-school punk revivalists, for a magazine article.
And me, I had been jumping around my living room to the pogo-tastic, three-chord blitzkrieg bop that is the Briefs' recent third album, Sex Objects, as if I could come close to generating the hyper, reckless energy that Nix and the rest of the quartet do whenever they play live. But I've already resigned myself to a career in writing rather than rock stardom, and as fun as it was for him to be asking the questions for once, the easygoing Briefs frontman has no immediate plans to give up his current way of life for anything resembling a 9-to-5er. Like his bandmates -- guitarist/ vocalist Daniel J. Travanti, bassist/ vocalist Lance Romance, and drummer/vocalist Chris Brief -- Nix happily lives like any genuine, self-respecting punk rocker should: never any money in his pockets; goofy haircut and fuck-you fashion whenever he feels like it; always hustling to scrape up the cash to pay for the crash pad that houses his precious vinyl collection; spending eight months out of the year stuffed inside a stanky tour van; engineering his friends' bands' albums in exchange for pizza, sometimes with toppings. Most people probably see it as a difficult way to get by, but Nix shudders at the suffocating alternative.
"I think I can put off getting a real job for a few more years," he laughs. "I mean, it's tough when you come home from tour and you're selling your belongings because you didn't make enough money to pay all your bills, but whatever. It's a pretty interesting trade-off. You sacrifice everything to be in a working band at our level -- we're always broke, we all sleep on the same floor of the same crappy motel room. You can't have a normal relationship with your girlfriend. But at the same time it's totally rewarding -- you get to tour with a lot of your heroes, and that's a huge thing for me. And it's a total, complete sense of freedom."
Seattle in 2005 is not an easy place to be even a semicrusty punk, though. The city still teems with the slate-blue dress shirts, Friends haircuts, and boorish behavior of the one-time dot-com yuppies who flocked there in the mid-'90s and never left. Rents remain high. It only takes one noise complaint from a neighbor to permanently shut down the smaller, dive-ier rock clubs, and the continually floundering economy has forced many of the independent, punk-friendly record, magazine, and skate shops to close their doors for good. And while Seattle's music scene could never be seen as monolithic (even during the grunge years), there's no doubt the city's been under the sway of sensitive-white-dude indie-rock outfits for some time now.
It was likewise difficult in 1999, when Nix -- an Adolescents and D.R.I. fan who grew up in nearby Tacoma -- and his friends started thinking about putting a band together. "With the onslaught of all this emo crap, where somebody's whining about the girl that left them and how everyone just needs to understand their fuckin' problems, I was like, 'Man, I'd really like do to the opposite of this, just something that doesn't take itself so seriously,'" Nix says. "When we started out we did it purely for fun. We got an opportunity to play a basement party before we even had any songs, so we just whipped three together. We were all listening to those Killed by Death compilations and were like, 'Wouldn't it be cool if there was a band like the Vibrators right now?' So that was kind of our idea, to try and capture that same spirit and energy."
Within a year, the Briefs had put together a 13-track, 24-minute debut album, Hit After Hit (on Seattle's tiny but well-regarded Dirtnap Records), that laid out the act's musical agenda in no uncertain terms: a nice dose of '77-style punk rock -- i.e., fast and aggressive but not brutal, snarky but not grouchy, loony but not asinine -- mixed with a healthy appreciation of simple, new-wavey pop melodies. Vocals that spit, sneered, and hiccuped, occasionally delivered in a faux-British accent; backing "whoaaaa-ohhhs" and chanting choruses; thick, growly guitar tones; tunes about being poor, weird, having crabs, and getting new shoes and socks -- sure, the foursome had pledged overt allegiance to the Ramones, the Buzzcocks, the Rezillos, the Damned, the Sex Pistols, the Weirdos, et al., but that wheel was getting the Briefs exactly where they wanted to be, so why reinvent it?