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Sugarcult boasts the sweet sounds of yesterday
(CNN) -- Sugarcult is a band on the verge of something sweet. If all goes according to plan, the group will get signed by a label, then in the future will occupy a space on MTV and VH1 airwaves.
But when you see the Los Angeles-based foursome perform, you feel as though you're looking into the past -- to those suited days of the early '80s, to be exact.
Lead singer/guitarist Tim Pagnotta and lead guitarist Marko 72 (yes, that's the name he goes by) both look like they should have been in the Romantics. Bassist Airin Older looks he stepped away from Duran Duran. And drummer Ben Davis seems an amalgam of every '80s drummer who ever lived.
The band fine-tunes its look by wearing business suits with colorful shirts and ties during live performances.
The sound of Sugarcult is '80s, too -- a melodic, power-pop vibe reminiscent of the Knack crossed with the Ramones and Elvis Costello.
But that's not to say Sugarcult lacks originality. Pagnotta says he's his own musician, someone who looks for "the little cool nuances that make singers themselves, the rhythmic phrasing, the way the words scan over the melodies.
"There's so much to learn from those old bands," Pagnotta says.
Judging by Sugarcult's latest six-song extended-play disc, Pagnotta has learned to write the kind of punky love songs that skip from dreamy happiness to the edge of disaster. He pines about girls he loved too much, girls too perfect to be true -- in other words, girls who broke his heart.
In "Say I'm Sorry," Pagnotta manages to mix the lyrics "Wrap me up in plastic/ cuz I'm feeling pornographic" with "All I ever do is say I'm sorry/ the bitter pill is sweet as candy now." In "Bruises," Pagnotta sings, "I can tell I'm falling in love with you/ the bruises prove it's real."
'What's up with the suits?'
The members of Sugarcult met at a junior college in Santa Barbara, California, in 1998. Pagnotta, 23, introduced himself to drummer Davis during a cigarette break. He hooked up with bassist Older in music class.
"He was the only person in the class that was doing really well, so I sat down next to him and we started talking about music," Pagnotta recalls. "Three weeks later, we were sitting down trying to jam out my songs."
But they still needed a good lead guitarist. At their first gig, with the band wearing those suits, Marko 72 showed up to watch the college guys play. He was in another band, but was intrigued by what he saw and heard from Pagnotta and his friends.
"He came up afterwards and he said, 'What's up with the suits?'" Pagnotta says. "Then he showed up in his band with a suit. He was the only guy wearing a suit in that band. We were like, 'This is meant to be.'"
Apparently so. With Marko 72 suited up, Sugarcult moved to L.A. to get discovered. The band is still waiting for the big break, hoping a major label will come calling.
'Dope' new sound
That moment appears to be just around the corner. The industry magazine Virtually Alternative listed Sugarcult on its list of "20 Dope New Sounds."
Pagnotta and company, meantime, are getting their faces in front of cameras. They've appeared in two commercials and were the "rock band" in "Drowning Mona," the new film featuring Bette Midler, Neve Campbell, Jamie Lee Curtis and Danny DeVito.
Most recently, they played two small but well-received shows at the South By Southwest 2000 music conference here. They had no money to get to Texas, so the band members begged hometown businesses for donations.
They also finagled some cash from an unlikely source -- Balance Bar, the Carpinteria, California, nutrition bar.
Pagnotta recognizes the irony in this.
"It's so funny," he says. "Triathletes in their young 20s that are training every single day are trying to get an endorsement from this company. And here we are, out of shape, drinking and smoking, promoting debauchery, and we're somehow sponsored by a health-bar company."
Sounds sort of parallel to the early days of MTV, doesn't it? Back in those suit-wearing, long-ago 1980s. » Return to main story
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