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'Techno-Pop' Duo Harnesses Strange Sounds

December 29, 1987|THOMAS K. ARNOLD

SAN DIEGO — Brothers Chris and Mark Reynolds, known around trendy San Diego new music circles as Naive Art, don't go in much for conventional instruments--or conventional sounds.

An automotive shop's air hammers are their snare drums. Slamming metal doors are their cymbals; ricocheting gunshots, their drum rolls.

Thanks to modern technology--specifically, an array of computers, samplers and synthesizers--the two expatriate Britishers are able to harness these and other industrial noises into a percussive dance beat for their infectious brand of techno-pop.

"Why use a snare drum or a cymbal when you can use something no one else is using?" said Mark Reynolds, 25. "Instead of borrowing from other musicians and copying their sound, we go out and borrow from (the) real world, the 20th-Century world of machines and high tech, to create our own."

The "techno-pop" label has been alternately applied to the stark mechanical minimalism of Germany's Kraftwerk and the tightly structured, post-disco dance music of English bands like Soft Cell and the Pet Shop Boys.

But Naive Art's idea of techno-pop is to combine the two. And when the Reynolds brothers get together to make music, they rely as much on electronic wizardry as on musical know-how.

"We program all sorts of different sounds into a computer, and then run them through a sampler so that they come out perfectly syncopated, just like traditional percussion instruments," said Chris Reynolds, 23.

"We do the same with bass lines, drum beats and other rhythm tracks. Then, when we perform live or are ready to record a song in the studio, we simply put on the tapes and play a melody on the synthesizer and sing along with them."

In the six months since the Reynolds brothers formed Naive Art, they have performed in virtually every local nightclub where original music is the rule rather than the exception.

Recent gigs have been at Club Mirage in Mission Valley, Playskool downtown and Mannikin in Pacific Beach, where they'll play again on Thursday--New Year's Eve.

"They're very unusual because most original bands in San Diego are still into that 'I want to be a new wave or punk-rock band' syndrome," said Phil Frias of the Mannikin.

"Naive Art is really the only technically with-it band in town; they're going after the same programmed dance-music market as European groups like Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys, and whenever they play here, the dance floor is packed."

Chris and Mark Reynolds hail from Liverpool, where their father played piano in neighborhood pubs and at family gatherings.

Still, it wasn't until 1980--eight years after they moved to San Diego with their parents--that the two brothers started playing piano themselves, quickly graduating to synthesizers.

"You don't have to be a really good musician to play around with synthesizers," Chris Reynolds said. "Sure, it's helpful to be flexible with your hands and know something about music theory, but essentially all you have to do is experiment until you come up with something you like, and then go from there."

Consequently, the brothers formed their first duo, Shades of May, less than a year after they had learned to play, and immediately started writing music together.

"It's always been easier for us to play our own songs," Mark Reynolds said with a laugh, "because no matter what you do, you can't play them wrong."

By 1984, the Reynolds brothers had progressed both as musicians and as songwriters to land steady club bookings and place one of their songs on "Local Heroes," a compilation album of home-grown talent put out by progressive rock station XTRA-FM (91X). They repeated that feat a year later, as White Boy Disco.

In 1986, their parents moved back to England, and the two brothers took a respite from music. For more than a year, they traveled about Europe "to get over what was to us a most traumatic experience," Mark Reynolds recalled.

Last spring, however, he and his brother returned to San Diego with a renewed sense of commitment to their music. "We had experienced life," he said, "and after everything was settled down, we just felt it was time to really start having a blast."

Accordingly, since Naive Art's debut six months ago at the Hillcrest City Fest street fair, the Reynolds brothers have been writing, performing and cranking out demonstration tapes with more fervor than ever before.

Already, one of those tapes, of the song "Broken Heart," has gotten onto the play lists of more than a dozen discotheques in San Diego and Los Angeles and on the East Coast.

And Mark Reynolds is convinced it's only a matter of time before some pub-crawling record exec hears that tape--or a vinyl version of "Broken Heart," which will be shipped out in January--and offers Naive Art a major label deal.

"Seven years ago, we were writing songs that we thought were great, and now we look back and have a little chuckle," he said. "But the songs we're writing now, not only are we saying they're great, but so are club owners and deejays around the country.

"One reason for this is that we've become much better songwriters. But an even bigger reason is that we're finally making full use of all the technology that's available.

"We have so much power at our fingertips it's incredible. Over the years, we've really learned to control our musical environment to the nth degree. It's almost like being God."

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