Friday, December 28, 2007
The audience-a well heeled mix of Lawrence aristocracy young and not-so-young wearing their debutante fineries-is skeptical of the cleavage-baring Marilyn Monroe impersonator belting out Janis Joplin tunes. They're just as suspicious of the man in skanky leather pants and ill-fitting wig who's prancing around before them like an epileptic mandrill.
The band-called Sellout-is a local cover band with a penchant for the flamingly theatric. They're fronted by Monroe and a Cabaret-era Liza Minnelli, with backing from Rick James, Gene Simmons and that guy from Devo.
They're two songs into this corporate gig, and have yet to convert the frosty holiday party into a booty-shakin' vortex. Once "Walk Like An Egyptian" gets into full swing, however, inhibitions jump the tracks. The once reticent socialites slough off their suit jackets and high heels, rush to the dance floor, and grind with abandon.
Maybe it's the nostalgia for crappy pop-tunes. Or the band's cornball stage presence. Or maybe it's the alcohol finally kicking in. Whatever it is, Sellout has once again found a way to force a reluctant crowd out of its shell.
Nate Holt (Rick James), Jenny Smith (Marilyn Monroe), Bob Little (John Bonham), and founding member NIck Kounas (Jim Morrison) joined lawrence.com before this show to discuss the science behind being the ultimate party band, the scorn of their peers, and why you'll probably be drunk if you see the Sellout show on New Year's Eve.
lawrence.com: How would you describe the supergroup and area phenomenon known as Sellout?
Nick Kounas: I would say it's cheese, covered in cheese, that's dipped in cheese.
Bob Little: Guilty pleasures.
Jenny Smith: We're a super-fun party band. Everything that you used to love, you get to hear all over again.
Nate Holt: Or maybe you hated it, but you still get to hear it-either way, you're drunk and you don't care.
You call yourselves Sellout-is that a preemptive "fuck you" to music snobs who may question your integrity?
Nick: I wouldn't say that. I think all of us have done original music-and some of us are still doing original music-it's just that we're basically taking the piss out of ourselves.
Experienced any guff from other Lawrence musicians?
Nate: Yeah, but it's usually good natured.
Nick: One example is that we've stopped putting fliers downtown. An unwritten rule of flyering is that you don't tear it down if it's not expired-unless it's a Sellout flier. I'm sure a lot of bands are disappointed-we only play Fridays and Saturdays, only about 24 nights a year-and I'm sure they're a little pissed off that we're taking those dates.
And do you make more money in those few dates than they make all year?
Nick: A good example-Bob and I had an original band called Puddle. Sellout made more in one night, at one show, than Puddle made in 3 years.
Bob: That's no shit, too.
Nick: And Puddle was amazing. Seriously-we sold a CD.
Bob: Somebody came to see us once.
The holidays are your busy season. Are you guys kind of like the flu, in that you arrive with a bang towards the end of the year and leave everyone feeling shitty afterwards?
Nick: That's a good way of putting it.
Jenny: If you don't have a hangover the next day, it's not worth coming-that means you probably didn't enjoy the show.
Do you guys put as much effort into your stage persona-in putting on a "show"-as you do your music?
Nick: I think it's a lot easier to actually forget about everything and have a good time if you're not worried about what people are thinking about you.
Jenny: When you wear a wig, you can be anyone you want. I tend to dance as crazy as I can because I don't have any dancing talent whatsoever. Then everybody will look better on the dance floor.
Nick: It reminds me of the nudist colony gig, when I made everyone feel better about themselves. There's actually a nudist colony in Topeka, in case you were wondering.
Jenny: It was very pale.
What's the instant booty shaker in your repertoire?
Bob: I don't know if "booty shaker" is the right word, but when we start playing "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey-the reaction is automatic.
Nick: I would say "Hey Ya!." That gets everyone going. Anything disco or funk.
Jenny: So far as a "booty shaker," "Shake Your Booty" works well. "I Will Survive" goes over well-the women rush the stage.
Nick: The goal is to make an entire set-list of nothing but those songs that go over well.
How much effort goes into making a set-list? Do you have to tailor them on a gig-by-gig basis depending on who you're playing for? Does it require surveying and field testing?
Nick: It takes far too much time. It's actually kind of a joke. There have been a few occasions where I've honestly spent more time working on the set list than the fucking show takes. It's pretty ridiculous, when you think of it. We don't do the same show twice.
Jenny: It's a younger crowd tonight, and we can cater to a younger or more mature crowd.
Nick: It's not a college crowd, though. It's actually a working crowd, but not a "one foot in the grave" crowd.
Have there ever been any horrible miscalculations in your set-lists? Ever lay a big turd on stage by misjudging the crowd?
Jenny: Last weekend, as a matter of fact.
Nick: They said, "Play 'Twist and Shout.'" We don't know that one-they weren't satisfied.
Bob: So instead we play Salt-N-Peppa's "Push It."
Nick: I think they thought we were telling them to "shove it."
What are your favorite songs to perform?
Bob: Gosh, Barry Manilow is a fun one. "Jump" by Van Halen is quite entertaining.
Nick: Probably the Led Zeppelin medley. We put a lot of time into that one. There are 14 songs and it's about 11 minutes long. Some of the songs are more obscure and people actually know that stuff-and if they don't, fuck 'em.
Jenny: My favorite is "Me and Bobby McGee." That's one I begged to do, and people said "That's not a Sellout song!" But it goes over okay. The Journey tunes, definitely, are always killer.
You have a huge number of band members that ebbs and flows at all times-how do you manage that?
Nick: It's fun. You do realize that we've played with 11 female singers, 3 keyboardists, 4 guitar players, 8 drummers, 5 horn players, 3 percussionists-our goal right now is to play with every musician in Lawrence who has just an ounce of talent.
Nate: You have to disclose that you've been in Sellout to other bands, but that you've been treated for it.
Is being in Sellout like being in a neverending karaoke party?
Nate: It's always a party, which is why it's so fun. I used to take myself too seriously, and I learned my lesson.
Nick: It's fun. We're dressed in costumes. We've got "Material Girl" being performed by Gene Simmons and I'm jumping around like a frickin' hyena. Anybody in the crowd realizes, "If these dipshits can act like this, I can let my hair down a little bit."
Bob: Going to a Sellout show is kind of like a gateway drug. You'll probably keep coming back for more.
Nick: And it may lead to bigger and better bands-which most are.