Being threatened with a lawsuit by The Muppets might not generate the typical rock star mystique most bands desire. Few heavy rockers want the image of Fozzy, Kermit, and Miss Piggy associated with their band. Nevertheless, New York rockers Brian Rayman, Danny Tieman, Lisa Cuomo, and Than Luu were asking for trouble when they named their band after the bald Muppet scientist, Bunsen Honeydew. You know, the puppet in the white coat who terrorizes Beeker. The copyright holders caught wind of the band and they dodged a lawsuit by renaming themselves Four Volts.
However, having The Village Voice blame them (in part) for the closing of Coney Island High may have added a little edge to their reputation. Reportedly, one of their shows was so loud and abrasive it brought in multiple complaints that led to the ill-fated club’s eventual demise.
Over the last couple of years, Four Volts have secured the reputation as one of New York’s best live bands. The buzz has expanded with a four star review in NME, a critics choice write-up in Time Out London, and air play by John Peel. The band has even released several tracks on Transcopic, Graham Coxon’s (Blur) label.
Four Volts are noisy enough to satisfy anyone longing for lively post-punk anthems. But it’s their hooks and pop sensibility that will keep their music ringing blissfully in your head after you press the stop button on your iPod. They’ve been compared to everyone from Jesus and Mary Chain, to Blur, to My Bloody Valentine but soon people will be comparing new bands to Four Volts.
Their just-released debut record, Triple Your Work Force, was produced by Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth, Cibo Matto, Boredoms) on Williamsburg’s newest label Kanine Records. It’s an impressive debut. You can see Four Volts live every Wednesday in February at Pianos. We interviewed Long Island natives Danny Tieman and Brian Rayman via email in late January 2005.
Where did you meet? What’s your role in the band?
Brian Rayman: I went to high school with Danny. Been doing Four Volts for a year or two now.
Danny Tieman: I’m learning how to play guitar, how to contort my body on stage, and how to sing. I met Brian in High School. He was one of a whopping few friends I could count on. One of Django Reinhardt’s mutated hands. Lisa Cuomo plays bass and sings. Than Luu plays drums and sings.
Has your music ever gotten you laid?
BR: Never. It usually scares the ladies away!
DT: Ha ha -2/4 of Four Volts are virgins, but I’m not saying who.
How did you get involved with Blur’s guitarist Graham Coxon?
DT: Well we played this show at Coney Island High — if anyone remembers it before it closed down. We were threatened at that show by management because we were too abrasive and loud. Ha. Really, people couldn’t order their drinks, etc. But anyway, some girl came up to us after the gig and was like “I know a good label for you guys, send them something.” She claimed she knew Graham, so we thought “ohh shit, big in.” But she didn’t. In the end he wound up hearing our demo, and after quite awhile they released a 12 inch single/ep and we toured over there after that.
The press material states that “their fan list includes Calvin “K” Johnson, Beck, Blur and the Television Personalities.” You must be great self-promoters. How did you hear they were fans?
BR: We met Calvin at a show in Williamsburg. He said he loved us and danced like he meant it! Super sweet guy. Graham from Blur released a Bunsen Honeydew record — which showed up in a photo of Beck’s record collection. No joke! And we’ve befriended Sportique over the years — who are a great band and include former members of Television Personalities. They said they like us. I’ll take their word for it. Oh, and as for “self-promotion”, we’re
the f-ing best. Watch this one: we’re the music industry’s “best-kept secret”. Just ask Beck, Blur or Calvin Johnson.
DT: Actually we only aim to have the world’s most famous and celebrated musican’s as our fans, no one else. We’re retarded like that, that’s how things work for us, it’s not intentional in any way. Ha
When did the copyright holders of “Bunsen Honeydew” discover you? Did they have lawyers contact you?
BR: A couple years ago. I think they found us from the record released
on Transcopic. We were contacted and told to stop by Jill Peterson. That’s Jill Peterson of the Henson Corp., now owned by Disney.
That’s JILL PETERSON:
1416 North LaBrea Ave.
Hollywood, CA 90028
DT: Yah they threatend us pretty good. They ordered a cease and desist actually. They tried to strong-arm us to surrender the domain name bunsenhoneydew.com. Well, we didn’t (ohhh noooo) but we did let it expire when we changed the band name. The funny thing was they were claiming we were defiling the goodwill/nature of their name/muppet. But funny enough… if your feelin’ kinda randy (and your boss isn’t around) see what’s become of “cyber good will." Hats off to the law crew at Henson, heh heh. Can anyone say Italian porn??? [note, the site is under construction]
Do you guys ever hang out, or do you see too much of each other at practice/shows/in the studio?
BR: What? We hang out all the time! We even hang out with the people who did the [CD's] artwork and Martin, who recorded the record. We’re all friends.
DT: We all want to get surgically attached — we’re just not sure who would fit where — and how we’ll use the potty — we all have shy bladder, but we’re mapping things out.
Any pop vices like the O.C. or Elimidate?
BR: Ha! I think we were played on MTV’s Made.
DT: Yah, I watched that episode, when it was on last week — funny I think the O.C. seems very late 90′s which is odd… 90210 is infinitely cooler.
What band would you be most honored to be compared to?
BR: Hmmm… For me, maybe Roy Orbison?? If that’s aiming too high, then
The Buzz — a 60′s group with one single, but well worth it.
DT: Most honored…oh man….that’s crazy. Bands who survive thru time,
and keep their cool I guess… the very few who manage to do it. Maybe TVP’s
or Sonic Youth?
Who was the first band you ever saw live?
BR: Either Judy Collins with my dad or the Beach Boys after a Yankee Game
with the fam — I can’t remember.
DT: Depeche Mode, was my first real concert. I was 13. I squeezed into my
sister’s Doc Martin’s, which were about 3 sizes too small. My feet were like
lil’ loaves of bread bakin’ in there.
What’s you favorite New York restaurant? Bar?
BR: We ate at Moto the other day.
That was good! Favorite bar? They’re all the same to me.
DT: I know this is sick, but I’ve been on this insane San Loco kick, and
Vegetarian Paradise will always hold a special place in my heart.
Is Four Volts a better live band or studio band?
DT: Live, more intense. for sure.
Do you guys ever get fucked up before going on stage?
BR: Sometimes we fuck each other up. Does that count?
DT: Than and I did jumping jacks once before a show, before we were told
to stop But Lisa is really the only one who drinks before shows in general.
I knocked two teeth out at a practice when I was completely sober. You know
what I mean?
I hate the word “succulent.” Any pet peeve words?
BR: “Succulent” sound gross! I hate it when a person says “negatory”.
DT: I really really hate the words: meal, nest, snack, panties, puss, cuss…and
BR: More shows? Tour! I’m psyched to record again.
DT: Lots of live shows… build up our fan base, you know the works!!!!!
Extra Credit: What’s on you iPod playlist (real or imaginary)?
BR: Suicide, the dB’s, XTC, Paul McCartney and Throbbing Gristle.
DT: Johnny Cash, Mum, Husker Du, Psychic TV, The Beatles, Libertines, Swell
Maps, Rebecca Shiffman, Jacques Brel, Wire.
– Interview by Robert Lanham