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From the odd couple, music to break up by

It was dislike at first sight for musicians Micah Calabrese and Annie Hardy, but that didn't stop them from turning shared artistic passions into the duo Giant Drag.

October 16, 2005|Susan Carpenter | Times Staff Writer

ANNIE HARDY has a sort of jaded Lolita appeal. The waiflike singer of the L.A. duo Giant Drag is 24 but could easily pass for 13 -- until she plugs in her guitar and sings jilted-love songs with titles so sensational even Liz Phair might blush.

"That's what I like -- shocking, Bill Hicks-type humor," says Hardy, whose fans adore the band as much for her unpredictable, off-the-cuff personality as for Giant Drag's artfully sludgy guitar rock.

On "Hearts and Unicorns," its debut album on Interscope, the group is definitely on to something -- something that smells a lot like the early '90s. Many of the tracks seem to subconsciously channel the best elements of the best early alt-rock acts without overtly ripping them off. On various cuts at various times, Giant Drag recalls the smothering guitar fuzz of My Bloody Valentine, the spaced-out vocals of Mazzy Star and the menacing bass of "To Bring You My Love"-era PJ Harvey. And they do it as a two-piece, a trick they achieve with a double guitar-amp setup for Hardy, and Micah Calabrese's ambidextrous playing of the drums and synthesizer.

Live, the two are impressive to watch, but for very different reasons. In the case of Calabrese, it's his technique: He plays drums with his right hand and synthesizer with his left. For Hardy's part, it's not only her singing and guitar playing, but also her oddly childlike, anything-goes personality.

During a recent in-store performance at Amoeba Music in Hollywood, the first words out of her mouth were, "Uh-oh," quickly followed by a laissez-faire introduction of her most shockingly titled song, which on the album is printed as an acronym.

Later, she launched into an angry diatribe about a former boyfriend named "Chris," accusing him of stealing the first song she ever wrote and snidely adding that the song could now be found in the used rock section. Then she tore into a hard-driving rendition of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" that made the original version sound girlish.

Hardy told the story so convincingly that you assumed it was true. But Hardy doesn't even know Isaak, and was only 8 years old when Isaak released the song.

"I've always liked to joke around and laugh," explains Hardy, who talks at length during shows so Calabrese can change his synthesizer settings between songs. "A lot of times people tell me I should be a stand-up comedian, but I don't think so."

"It wouldn't be as funny if there weren't a song to kick in right after," adds Calabrese, whose shy demeanor perfectly complements Hardy's brashness.

Off on the wrong foot

IN 2001, when Hardy and Calabrese first met, it was hardly instant chemistry. The exchange went something like this:

"Hi. I know your mom," Calabrese said.

"Great," Hardy responded. Then she kept dancing.

"Neither of us wanted to meet each other at all," says Hardy.

That's because Hardy's mom worked at the same Internet company as Calabrese and had been trying -- unsuccessfully -- to play musical matchmaker. The future members of Giant Drag resisted because L.A. stereotypes fueled their imaginations. Hardy envisioned Calabrese as a Creed wannabe, and Calabrese imagined Hardy as a prima-donna Jewel.

They only met because their respective best friends started dating. The stereotypes were quickly dispelled as they got to know each other and learned they liked a lot of the same music -- Neil Young, the Beatles, Nirvana.

It was dumbed-down versions of Beatles songs that helped Hardy learn to play guitar when she was a teenager in Orange County, and the Misfits who taught her how "simple and easy and cool" music could be. While the rest of the kids her age were out surfing and/or getting stoned, she was writing songs on an acoustic guitar in her bedroom.

The process is pretty much the same today, Hardy says. She writes the music, brings it to Calabrese and they jam for 20 minutes until it jells.

In the beginning, their jams were "just for fun on the weekends." They recorded a couple of Hardy's songs but they didn't consider themselves a band until Hardy -- without asking Calabrese -- booked a gig.

"After that, the shows just kept coming," Hardy says. "We never had to book ourselves. People always invited us."

The group's third live show, in August 2003, was at the Silverlake Lounge. The performance led to a monthlong residency there and a cut on the club's compilation CD, followed by the coveted Monday night residency at Spaceland. Just when record labels began circling, Calabrese quit the band, but he returned about a year later to record "Hearts and Unicorns." Giant Drag is currently on tour supporting up-and-coming British act Nine Black Alps in the U.K. Later this fall they'll support the Cribs.

"Everything's happened for us so quickly and so effortlessly," says Hardy. "It almost seems unfair when I look at some of our friends' bands that have been doing the same thing for seven years and are in the same place."

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