One of the first things most people notice about the Intro Muros new "Why Not More Parmesan" album is a white sticker on the cover that advises, "There is NO sex on this album . . . NOR any love songs . . . NO heartbreaking lovers . . ."
So, you may ask, what's left for a rock band to sing about?
For the Huntington Beach-based quartet, which plays Safari Sam's on Sunday, that leaves political issues and social concerns to dominate the nine songs on its debut LP, released recently on the Glass O' Milk Records label.
Under the densely layered, R.E.M.-like musical textures, songs such as "Manifest Destiny," "Fear" and "President Jim" explore the subjects of nationalism, personal isolation, despair and hope.
"A lot of our songs have to do with the American political system and how we get very pushy beyond our boundaries," lead singer and bassist Julie Willing, 27, said Wednesday, following a rehearsal at drummer Joel Simpson's Huntington Beach residence. "The social songs have to do with more or less allowing people to be themselves. Which I guess is just another way of not being pushy."
Just as the band members, who have been together less than one year, are political individualists, they are also musical iconoclasts. "Intra Muros means 'within the walls' in Latin," said guitarist Jonathan Broderick, 19, who wrote four of the album's songs and co-wrote two others with Willing. "One of the things we talked about when we started the band was the way that everybody likes to peg you in a category and say, 'What kind of band are you?' Like a word can describe anything. We never agreed with that. We never stick to the same thing. The name of the band, and a lot of what we've written is about that," Broderick said.
Yet the four musicians aren't always as solemn as some of their serious-sounding philosophy might suggest. Just look at the album's enigmatic title, the whimsical name they chose for the record label or the photograph of a toy duck on the LP's back cover.
"Some of the stuff we're writing now is about personal relationships," Broderick said. "That's why we named the album 'Why Not More Parmesan.' " We don't want to be known just as a 'political band' that can't write about Twinkies or whatever. We don't want to be serious all time. But there are a lot of serious things to be said."
Added guitarist Mark Romero, 21, "It's like El Grupo Sexo--you can talk about serious things in a humorous way and point out the ironies."
Besides the ringing high harmonics of Broderick's guitar work on the album, the most distinctive part of the Intra Muros sound is Willing's darkly rounded vocal style, distantly reminiscent of poet-musician Patti Smith.
Willing, the only band member not raised in Southern California, was born in Michigan and lived on the East Coast for several years before moving to Orange County in 1977. Except for Simpson, who is a student at Orange Coast College, all the band members support themselves with day jobs--Willing manages two clothing stores, Broderick works in a restaurant and Romero works in an insurance office and has library jobs.
The band's goal is to break into the Los Angeles club scene this summer. But for the immediate future, the quartet is concentrating on playing more local shows--including return dates at Safari Sam's June 1 and 13--to support the album, which is stocked in several local independent record stores. In the few weeks the record has been out it has also picked up modest radio air-play--locally on KUCI (88.9 FM).
Although the group is off to a quick start recording its first album sooner than do most fledgling bands, the four musicians are nevertheless realistic about what it takes to succeed in the Southern California music scene.
"None of us are in this for money," Simpson, 21, said, eliciting a round of laughter from the other band members.
Added Willing, "We're not really out looking for a record deal because we made this record thinking that if we don't get (a major label contract) then that's it," Willing said. "We're taking everything that we're making off this record and putting it back into a fund so we can make another one. If we have to pay for it ourselves, we're going to do it again."
LIVE ACTION: Tickets go on sale Monday for Rick Springfield's Aug. 22 show at the Pacific Amphitheatre. . . . Saxophonist Sam Phipps, a.k.a. "Sluggo" of Oingo Boingo, will bring his quartet to the Newport Harbor Art Museum June 13 as part of the museum's Contemporary Culture series of new music and performance. . . . Master Bedroom Music will play at Panache in Long Beach on June 11.