James Greer under the magnifying glass in new band DétectiveBy John Wenzel | April 4th, 2013 | 1 Comment »
James Greer is rarely the most recognizable name on his collaborative projects.
When he is mentioned, it’s usually followed by a helpful explanation of his role: senior editor for Spin magazine in the early 1990s, bassist for indie rock legends Guided by Voices, screenwriter for Steven Soderbergh, Lindsay Lohan and others.
But Greer has also drawn acclaim as a novelist and, most recently, guitarist and singer for the band Détective, a girl-guy trio that tends to tread the same varied melodic ground as Yo La Tengo, albeit with a stronger pop-rock compass.
And for once, he’s the first and most recognizable name involved.
“It’s a young band, because in a sense we’ve only been playing as this unit since last fall,” Greer said of Détective, which takes its name from the 1985 Jean-Luc Godard film. “But the tour has been pretty much as expected — by which I mean it was a lot of fun, and we got better as we progressed.”
Détective’s 20-city, month-long road trip, which included stops at festivals such as South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and Middle of the Map in Kansas City, will finish with a show at the Lion’s Lair on Saturday, April 6.
As much as Greer has enjoyed it, he’s itching to return to Los Angeles and tackle the mountain of writing and recording projects beckoning him there, particularly since the tour included two solid weeks of shows without a day off.
“I started to hallucinate by the end of it,” said Greer, who found a brief respite on Easter. “What did I do? I slept.”
Along with singer-bassist Guylaine Vivarat and drummer Chris Dunn, Greer has shepherded Détective through a 2012 full-length (“However Strange” on VivaRock Records) and is preparing a double-album for a May release, recorded with Dead Meadow bassist and producer Steve Kille.
“We wanted to get a heavier sound that’s more reflective of the way we sound live,” said Greer, whose band has drawn comparisons to the Velvet Underground. “That (comparison) never bothered me so much, but everybody also says we sound like the ’90s, and I’m like, ‘There’s a lot of bands in the ’90s, so what does that mean?’ Pavement didn’t sound anything like Smashing Pumpkins, which didn’t sound anything like Stereolab. So you might as well just call it rock music.”
Greer was attracted to producer Kille and his ’70s recording aesthetic — think compressed, warm tones courtesy of analog tape machines — as well as Kille’s attention to detail, which would make notorious Chicago engineer Steve Albini proud. Greer, incidentally, recorded at Albini’s Electrical Audio when he was in Guided by Voices in the mid-’90s.
“One of the lessons of playing in Guided By Voices is to basically not give a fuck about making a fool of yourself on stage,” said Greer, who had just gotten off the phone with GBV singer Robert Pollard prior to his Denver Post interview. “Bob and I were just talking about how certain songwriters start to suck as they get older because they worry about appearing immature. He taught me how to not care about looking like an idiot or looking insane, because it inhibits what you’d otherwise do. That, and how to hold my liquor.”
Painful self-consciousness is practically part of the job in many indie rock bands. But for Greer the best and worst experiences of Détective’s month-long whirlwind hinged on the band’s connections with the audience, not the import of the people in it.
“I don’t really care if the guy from Red Bull or Dorito’s Cool Ranch tacos saw our sets,” Greer said of Détective’s trio of South by Southwest shows. “We’re not in the business of licensing our stuff for commercials, even though that’s the only place there is money in the music business these days.”
Détective’s set at the South Park Tavern in Dayton, Ohio, however, was the tour’s high point. Greer lived there for a half dozen years when he was in GBV and engaged to Pixies/Breeders musician Kim Deal, and it’s the closest thing he has to a hometown.
“It was a smaller venue, and there were people that I knew, so there was this extra layer of emotion. It made me feel pretty good, like, ‘We deserve the $86 we made!’”
Greer hopes to balance his future projects — such as the upcoming musical he wrote with Soderbergh starring Catherine Zeta-Jones as Cleopatra (with music from GBV’s Pollard) — with his continuing musical ambitions, even if they can be exhausting at times.
“I’ll work on all the stuff I’ve been putting off in L.A., and then I’ll want to go on tour again, because I always look forward to playing shows,” Greer said. “And I don’t look forward to anything!”