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When Metal Meets Disco

The guys of Static-X are hard-rockers to the core, but their willingness to draw on other styles sets them apart.

March 05, 2000|STEVE APPLEFORD | Steve Appleford is a regular contributor to Calendar

The guitars are loud. The fans are jumping. And the man with the spiky sky-high hairdo is screaming his lungs out. Which seems . . . appropriate. That's when singer Wayne Static pauses to declare: "I know you love that disco music!"

That may sound like a joke, but Static is serious. High-octane disco beats are one part of the Static-X formula, which has taken the band's punk-metal blend to MTV and pop radio, turning its year-old debut album, "Wisconsin Death Trip," into a surprise hit.

It has also meant that the band's expected demographic of males ages 18 to 24 has grown much broader. While most of the fans at a recent Palace concert fit that mold, the members of Static-X are regularly approached by older fans. At one record-store appearance, a 9-year-old boy had the band autograph a CD for his mother.

"I think they're responding to the disco beats. My mom is about 60 years old and she loves our music because she can bounce around to it," says Static. "That's what a lot of people identify with."

Backstage after the Palace show, the quartet is winding down just as headliner Powerman 5000's thunderous, sci-fi hard-rock begins shaking the dressing room walls. The night before, Static-X had suffered some technical difficulties, with recorded effects failing for much of the set, robbing the band of the electronic textures that provide a recognizable edge.

But tonight everything worked. "Last night was right at the bottom," says Static, 32, fresh from a quick shower, his jet-black hair still standing tall. "It felt good to be able to redeem ourselves tonight."

Metal fans are an intense, demanding audience. But Static is already talking about plans for the next album, which will include a song that samples mariachi music. He expects fans to come along.

"As long as we don't stray too far in one giant leap," he says. "We can't come out and do an ambient album for our second record. So the next record will still be heavy, it will still be dark, with crunching guitars and screaming. It's just going to have more electronic stuff here and there."

The band's success with mainstream audiences is part of a trend that has seen the similarly heavy likes of Korn, Limp Bizkit and System of a Down enjoy radio hits. With "Push It," Static-X has even won some airplay on modern-rock station KROQ-FM (106.7).

When Static, whose real name is Wayne Wells, and drummer Ken Jay (Kenneth Lacy) began making music together nearly a decade ago, they found some encouragement in the example of White Zombie's high-concept horror-show metal. But they never expected their blend of raging guitars and intense vocals to find a place beyond the underground metal scene.

"I remember when we were mixing our record and our manager was in there going, 'You guys need to sing more, so it can be on the radio,' " Static says with a laugh. "And we were like 'What? We're never going to get played on the radio. Who cares? What are you talking about?' "

Static and Jay first arrived on the Los Angeles club scene in 1994 from Chicago, looking to find some success with their hard-rock sound. But they quickly turned away from the lingering mainstream metal scene that Jay, 29, now describes as "cheesy." Both of them immediately shaved off their long hair and began experimenting with other hard-rock styles, from punk to Gothic to alternative.

"We noticed the only guys in Hollywood with really long hair were washed-up old glam-rocker dudes who never made it and were still hanging on to their glory days," Jay says. "And the new metal scene hadn't really taken off yet."

Adds Static, "I felt like I was moving to a new place on the other side of the country, and I had a chance to start my life over again and present myself as whoever I wanted to be. It was a very liberating experience. I firmly believe if Ken and I had not moved from Chicago, I don't think I ever would have done anything in the music business. I'd probably be working at my office job."

Two months after arriving, they were working the phones at Ticketmaster, where they met bassist Tony Campos, who was already spending his nights playing in a straight metal band. He played in both bands for two years but ultimately ditched the metal band for Static-X, he says, because he found himself more inspired by its willingness to experiment.

*

The band went through four lead guitarists before recruiting Koichi Fukuda, a recent emigre from Osaka, Japan. But Fukuda soon quit, frustrated by a punk phase Static-X was then going through, obsessively jamming through songs by Black Flag and the Circle Jerks.

Even so, Fukuda stayed in touch and still came to watch the band play. By 1997 he was back in. That's when the Static-X sound began to jell into something the band has jokingly called "evil disco."

The quartet began to wonder if it was on to something about a year later after recording a six-song demo tape that documented its meshing of metal and disco beats. At the band's first show, 40 copies of the tape were sold.

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