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Music Interview: Ambulance Ltd.

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arcus Congleton, the lanky singer-songwriter for Ambulance Ltd., has a talent for appropriation. First, there was his roommate’s sister. Then, when the roommate threw a fit over the affair and quit his band, Congleton took that, too. Even the name Ambulance belonged to some L.A. band. (Hence the “Ltd.”) The band’s dreamy, almost psychedelic rock is similary cribbed from sources ranging from White Album-era Beatles to The Smiths, with a good dose of the nineties Northwest explosion. Though often compared to shoegazers, Congleton lays down lyrics like, “Relax, don’t think about the way I treat you” with his head up. The roommate’s sister was ripe, the band name wasn’t his idea, and the self-titled debut album—featuring long-time Belfast-born drummer Darren Beckett, relatively new bassist Matt Dublin, and lead guitarist Benji Lysaght—is a tight, refreshing alternative to the glut of post-punk. When Congleton and Lysaght show up at the chrome-clad Brooklyn diner Relish — of Kelis’s “Milkshake” video fame — wearing sweaters and smelling good, they exude the allure of those dark, thoughtful boys that girls daydream of ravishing in the stacks of their college libraries. — Jada Yuan

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Rumor has it that when you toured England, you got pretty rambunctious.
Marcus: Yeah, Ecstasy and Viagra. You get real randy. You know, setting off fire extinguishers and running naked down hotel corridors. But the law is a lot more chill there. They’re not so quick to bust you.
Benji: It’s just a drunk town. Everyone’s cockeyed by two in the afternoon.

Did you find yourselves drinking more there?
Marcus: We set the studio lounge on fire because we were trying to make absinthe drinks. We were pouring it over flame.
Benji: This huge fireball shot out of this absinthe.
Marcus: Darren’s leg was on fire. He was shrieking like an Irish chick.

You must have experience with Irish chicks shrieking.
Marcus: Exactly. I doused him with water, and he was doing the Riverdance trying to put it out.
Benji: When we were over there, the label people really encouraged the bad behavior. They think it’s part of the goal. Then you realized afterwards that you just acted like an idiot for some schmuck’s amusement.
Marcus: That’s what we’re doing now, man! You know, he set his pubes on fire in a bar when the label people introduced us.
Benji: That’s not true!
Marcus: You were like, ‘Does this look infected?’ and then you fuckin’ lit ‘em.
Benji: There was one incident that involved two people urinating on each other in a crowded bar…
Marcus: … that may or may not have involved Darren and Matt.
Benji: It was in the middle of one of the most crowded bars in England. This was our first night out with the marketing people from Island. They really loved us. It’s like going to SXSW, all these people that kind of live vicariously through musicians.
Marcus: They want to see nothing less than a train wreck. So you give it to them.

People were actually disappointed with Courtney Love’s last show because she didn’t hit anyone with a mic stand. So you went to SXSW. Did you like it?
Marcus: I thought it was great, but it was really depressing, too, because you’re also seeing thousands of people who have the same haircut and the same clothes and the same exact aspirations as you do.

Isn’t that like living in Williamsburg?
But it’s like Mardi Gras in Williamsburg.

Did you come to Williamsburg in its sort of heyday as a scene a couple of years ago?
Marcus: I’ve been living here since 1999, so I don’t know if that qualifies. If that was the heyday, I don’t know if I was part of it.

Didn’t you feel that there was a point when magazines were writing about it and suddenly you’d get off the subway with hundreds of kids from Manhattan who all dressed the same?
Benji: Oh, the electroclash explosion.
Marcus: Ask Larry Tee all about it. Remember those girls… W.I.T.? They were fuckin’ awesome. What happened? Where’s the follow-up?

Didn’t you hear? The media declared electroclash dead.
Marcus: They had the cell phone song. Did you ever see them play when they were pretending they were lipsyncing lyrics into their cell phones? It was pretty hot.
Benji: There was so much musical promise in that movement, and then….
Marcus: I guess it was the star that burns too brightly. How does the adage go? Icarus just flew a little too close to the sun.
Benji: Wasn’t it Daedalus? In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the character is Steven Daedalus, which is a reference to the Icarus myth. And Daedalus was the son of Icarus.

[Note: In a hearty debate during and after the interview, we established that Icarus was the son of Daedalus and flew too close to the sun. Then Benji made this reporter, who got Icarus confused with Phaeton, son of Apollo, admit she was wrong. Twice.]

A powerful metaphor. Did you guys have similar record collections? Guns n’ Roses?
Marcus: Who wasn’t into Guns n’ Roses?
Benji: Anyone born between ’75 and ’82, I think Guns n’ Roses played a pivotal role in their upbringing.

But I don’t think I could find their influence in your music. Have you done other things Axl and Slash would be proud of?
Benji: I think Slash would think I’m the most miserable guitar player on the face of the earth. Axl would probably share that opinion.

There’s no ripping off your shirts, licking supermodels?
Marcus: Benji hooked up with a supermodel the other day.
Benji: I did hook up with a supermodel. His name was Marcus Schenkenberg. He was really romantic, actually. And gentle. And well-groomed, but not porno-guy groomed. Just a bit of peach fuzz.
Marcus: I have a girlfriend.

How do you manage to keep things going on the road?
Marcus: I’m a great liar. Wait, do I have to give a real answer?

Seriously, are the songs about her?
Marcus: No. They’re not about any girl in particular. Hypothetical girls.

I do get a romantic sense from the album. Have you ever made a grand gesture, a Lloyd Dobler move?
Benji: It’s not really my style. Can a grand gesture be not emasculating? I just think there are cooler ways to woo girls than that. That’s a little too dramatic.

What’s a cooler way?
Benji: Ruffies.
Marcus: Man! You beat me to it. I was like, what’s the drug, what’s the drug.

Speaking of drugs, are you big on pot?
Benji: Yeah, Marcus and Darren especially.
Marcus: I smoke lots of it. Usually I’m kind of stoned writing. I like Vicodin, allergy medication, whatever you’ve got.

What’s the best cocktail you’ve ever taken?
Marcus: Ruffies and Viagra. You can’t miss. I like to think of our music as Ruffie Rock.

Have you ever had sex to your own album?
Marcus: Yeah. It feels gooood.
Benji: [spits out his drink] You made me choke! Have you really smashed to our album?
Marcus: I think I have. I just hit the remote on the stereo.
Benji: Is that when the fireplace video comes on?
Marcus: I used to have one of those, actually. My ex-girlfriend had it, and we’d watch it some time. She had a TV next to the bed.

Is there a certain look you’re going for?
Benji: Scumbag Chic. Do we have a look?
Marcus: We have sweaters. We have button-down shirts. We have T-shirts.
Benji: We’ve got pants.
Marcus: We’ve got corduroys. We’ve got jeans.
Benji: We have shoes. Leather shoes.
Marcus: A hat.
Benji: We have leather shoes and sneakers.

That you wear all at the same time?
Benji: No, but we have them at our disposal, should we care to deploy them.
Marcus: We have suitcases for them. We actually have outfits.

Whenever I talk to bands, they always seem reluctant to talk about groupies. What really happens?
Benji: It’s like "groupie" has a specific connotation. Someone’s coming out to see you. Mostly it’s just girls who are out looking to get laid.
Marcus: Who don’t necessarily know or like your music, but you’re there with forty-eight hours and a little bit of money to burn, so you’re a good bet. They know they’re not going to have to deal with you in a week. You’re cool and good-looking, so it’s easy.
Benji: And talented and athletic.
Marcus: Smart.
Benji: And Jewish!

Doesn’t the girl have to be somewhat smart to get backstage to see you?
Benji: See, that’s the groupie fallacy. There’s not usually a backstage. They kind of walk through the audience to the stage and grab you. It’s not like you get offstage and there’s the twenty-one-year-old blonde triplets from Wisconsin sitting in your dressing room. It’s more like, around 4 a.m. you pick up the stragglers still out on the sidewalk.
Marcus: And you’ve got to convince them that the Marriott Courtyard is a decent hotel. And they all know it’s not, but some of them want to believe it is.

Would you ever smash your equipment?
Benji: What’s the point? I read some interview with B.B. King where he said that he it was really hard for him to watch musicians destroy their instruments. You get so attached.
Marcus: I like the way Hendrix did it when he put the lighter fluid on and the fluid would burn, but the guitar wouldn’t burn. I think he actually called it a sacrifice. He was like, "I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love them."
Benji: But you know, it’s one thing to sacrifice your guitar if you transcend the instrument. It’s another thing if you’re like, the Star Spangles. Oh, I don’t mean to talk shit about them. They’re just the first band that came to mind. Now they’re going to jump me. They’re big and vicious, man.
Marcus: Yeah, they’re mean little fuckers. I’m not sure they bathe. They definitely smell.
Benji: All the good ones do. But I couldn’t do that. I’m really hygienic. I like to stay pretty.
 

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© 2004 Jada Yuan and Nerve.com.