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MUSIC : Eleven Adds Up to 3 : Group's rock 'n' roll songs are introspective investigations of the ring of truth around the bathtub of life.

December 05, 1991|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In rock 'n' roll, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Besides, you can go to court for being too sincere.

Didn't R.E.M. used to sound like the Byrds of the '80s?

And what about this group Eleven? The first time I heard one of their songs, I thought, "Hey, it's a new Lenny Kravitz album."

Alain Johannes, who sings for Eleven, is a short, stocky white guy, and Kravitz is a black guy with dreadlocks, thus, not the same person.

Eleven is an L. A.-based rock trio touring with label mates Mary's Danish--those shrieking former Bruins who sound like two Exenes. All this will be happening at the Anaconda Theatre in Isla Vista on Friday night.

Eleven is three, which is not so much the new math, but the new music. The trio's music is not your basic eight-cylinder rock intended for two-cylinder minds. Eleven's songs are more introspective investigations of that ring of truth around the bathtub of life. Or how crummy love really is, but not always.

For this band, neatness counts--pop hooks are important. And Johannes exudes the kind of earnestness historically associated with serious people who have beards, such as Moses, Abe Lincoln, Ho Chi Minh and Wolfman Jack. He also looks like the guy who found Roger McGuinn's granny specs.

"Our music is melodic and intensely played and yet has all kinds of echoes in the past," Johannes said. "Everyone right now is at their creative peak. We're more aggressive and more focused."

An endangered species--a California native--Johannes is no stranger to the L. A. rock scene. His first band was called Anthem, then What Is This, followed by Walk the Moon, where he met songwriting cohort Natasha Shneider.

The two of them write and sing, and Jack Irons beats on those drums. Now, it's Eleven for better, for worse, for the duration. None of which includes the old label.

"We started Eleven a year and-a-half ago," Johannes said. "Both What Is This and Walk the Moon were on MCA. There was a lot of great music that just got swallowed up. It was an absolute power thing. But we finally managed to make our escape. Our album on Morgan Creek just came out in August."

Just as Ventura High seems to be the local hotbed of rock 'n' roll, it must be Fairfax High down in the 213 area code. Ventura High may have produced more bands, but the Fairfax grads have more money.

"Jack and I came out of Fairfax High, but we've been playing together since we were teen-agers," Johannes said. "The Red Hot Chili Peppers came out of there too. Jack was involved with them during their formative years. Guns N' Roses came out of Fairfax too. They were from Fairfax, but they didn't attend school much."

Johannes, apparently, majored in Rock N' Roll 101.

"I've been playing guitar since I was 5," he said. "I've had the need to create music since I was a kid singing Beatles' songs, and I've since done my best to bring that to reality. This all is a business in the end, but you can make a living off this."

But what if you have rock star dreams and you're not making a living off all this? You've got the clothes, the hair, the attitude, the tunes, but not the bank account--then what?

"You have to have the satisfaction of doing the music--everything else comes later," Johannes said. "You have to be entirely selfless, if that's really your calling."

But why Eleven? Why not 10 or 12 or 186?

"We wanted a single word, which didn't mean anything by itself," Johannes said. "Also, Jack has 11 toes."

You know what? Maybe, in fact, Kravitz sounds like Johannes. The Eleven guy has been around a lot longer.

* WHERE AND WHEN

Eleven and Mary's Danish at the Anaconda Theatre, 935 Embarcadero del Norte, Isla Vista, 8 p.m. Friday. All for a dozen bucks. For information, call 685-3112.

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