End Of Fashion out from Down Under

-- For JAM! Music

, Last Updated: 4:50 PM ET

TORONTO -- Depending on which band member you ask, "Grendel" – the long-running series from writer/artist Matt Wagner – may or may not be the best comic book ever produced.

In town for a show with Snow Patrol earlier this spring, Australian heat seekers, End Of Fashion, were using their downtime in Hogtown to chat about their self-titled debut (out today), and empty the city’s fabled record and collectables shops.

Citing Gorillaz animator Jamie Hewlett as a collective influence on the Perth-based quartet, guitarist Rodney Aravena, who is nestled in a coffee shop on Queen East, says the band was taking advantage of the unseasonably warm late-March weather to troll for hard-to-find CDs and books.

"I was in Sam The Record Man, buying up everything I could find from Death From Above 1979," he says about the Toronto-based duo.

Hearing the conversation bounce from talk about the record, which was released in their home country last year, debuted at number one, went gold, took home a couple of ARIAs (the Aussie version of the Junos), and was nominated for an Australian MTV Award, singer/songwriter Justin Burford, seated at the next table, takes an opportunity to praise the city’s "cool comic book shops," rages on about DC’s recent "Infinite Crisis" serial, then extols the long-running "Grendel."

"Write down ‘Grendel,’" he says, turning away from his companions. "Make sure you check it out."

Drummer Nick Jonsson looks on skeptically, but agrees that "Infinite Crisis" "is worth the hype."

When I tell them that my superhero readings all mostly bear the stamp of ‘80s king, Frank Miller, Burford looks at me dismissively. "Miller’s fallen by the wayside. The whole Frank Miller/Jim Lee Batman series that’s out right now…I don’t know. I’m not sure I like it."

"(Batman) Year 100 (written and drawn by cult icon Paul Pope) is pretty cool though."

Comics talk now on the backburner, Aravena quietly recounts the band’s short history. After leaving minor-league indie wonders, the Sleepy Jackson, in 2003, Burford and Aravena invited some friends to join End Of Fashion, recording their first EP with Midnight Oil’s Jim Moginie.

"Sleepy Jackson was very esoteric," Aravena says. "You could take it anywhere. When we worked on a song, any idea could be thrown in and we were looking for something with a bit more structure, a bit more melody."

A few line-up changes later, the band found itself cemented as one of Australia’s best live acts. (They’ve played Homebake – an annual Australian music festival – and appeared at this year’s Big Day Out). Backed by non-stop radio play from Triple J (the country’s leading alternative music station) and countless overseas industry showcases, the major labels took notice and the band found themselves in quiet Oxford, Mississippi, with not-so quiet producer, Dennis Herring (Modest Mouse, Counting Crows, Elvis Costello).

"It was totally, and purely, a political decision to record in the States," Aravena says. "It had nothing to do with the fact that we couldn’t do this in Australia. But at the end of the day, it was a great decision for us. We were at Dennis’ personal studio, on our own, completely away from any kind of record company influence, and it gave us time to nurture ourselves and be responsible for ourselves."

Arriving at Herring’s Sweet Tea Studios in the spring of last year, the band came fully loaded. "We had about 30 songs," Aravena says, explaining the group’s enthusiasm when they landed in Mississippi. "I suppose we were going in a lot of different directions and taking on many identities, but Dennis selected the songs he felt met his definition of an End Of Fashion sound.

"Then, we argued with him," he tacks on, with a bellowing laugh.

"There are songs like 'In Denial' [a straight-ahead rocker] that he felt didn’t fit with who we are. But it’s a track we really love, and a lot of people we’ve played for really like. So, it’s those bits of friction that often allow for these kinds of wildly creative scenarios."

Since Herring had made a name for himself as a songwriter-friendly producer, the boys ended up feeling more relaxed stripping things down. Past offenders of using Pro Tools to layer their songs, Aravena says their American sojourn helped capture "the essence of their songs."

Burford’s lyrics carry satirical messages: he sings, Ed Roland-style, "Badly trained and nothing more…/With a tail like a dinosaur…/Strange attitude to match," on the guitar-laced, "Too Careful" and the stringy-haired, thinly built singer has answered critics, who claim the band lifted a guitar riff from the Pixies’ "Where Is My Mind?" for the track, "O Yeah," by inserting all or part of the Frank Black-penned classic into their live set.

Evoking the same infectious sense of melody that threaded its way through Modest Mouse’s 2004 release, "Good News for People Who Love Bad News," End Of Fashion’s songs touch on failed love (the "Picture"-like ballad Burford sings with Katy Steele on "Oh Strain," and the moody, "Anymore," capture those feelings in anguished detail) and dealing with a quarter-life crisis (on the bouncy track "The Game").

But Aravena says there’s no shortage of songs that simply sport the jangly guitar and swooping choruses to which North American audiences seem to gravitate.

"We made our reputation in Australia through our touring," he says unabashedly. And as the boys ready themselves for a proper North American trek, Aravena boasts that the live show is the best way to sample the group’s music.

"We just want to go out and play our shows and let people judge us that way. If they hear us on Canadian radio, great. But we’re not going to go out and erect a giant billboard announcing, ‘End Of Fashion: Coming This June.’ It’d just be a case of the emperor’s new clothes. For us, it wouldn’t be realistic to who or what we are."

Burford, who has spent the past 20 minutes in deep conversation with Jonsson (bassist Thom King is at another table picking through one of the city’s free weeklies), is mulling over where to eat prior to the band’s set. But before they leave, he lists off the comic book shops they’ve visited, wondering if there’s any he still needs to hit before they head back to Australia.

As I rhyme off stores like Silver Snail and 1,000,000 Comics, I ask Aravena, who was conspiciously quiet as Burford flagerantly flogged his best-of-the-best, to share his favourite hero sagas. The bearded bandmate looks at me like a deer caught in headlights and laughs sheeplessly. "Aw man. I don’t know…The last comic I bought was Judge Dredd."


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