lint Asay hated Ben Lerman almost as soon as they met, waiting tables at a Southwestern place in New York City three years ago.
“He was annoying,” says Clint. With Ben’s arrival, he had a rival for the title of The Funny Waiter.
“I couldn’t wait to spend more time with him," says Ben. "I was glad that someone worked there who was less attractive than me.”
Soon enough, the two were harmonizing parodies of Wilson Philips songs: “Yes, I’ve gained weight. Why are you putting this food on my plate? / I’ve got Haagen Daas to blame for my unsightliness / Tried laxatives, but I made a lit-tle mess.”
Before long, they were playing open-mic nights. After recruiting friends from one of Manhattan’s only non-glossy gay bars (Jim Andralis, who bartends there, and Bryce Edwards, the only bandmember with actual band experience), the Isotoners were fully staffed by 2003.
Fortunately, they still have body-image issues: one of their most popular songs is “Manboobs.” At a recent show, Ben dedicated it to “all the fat people in New York City. In other words, us.” Their sometimes bratty, sometimes bitter, almost always sweetly harmonized songs are goofily honest. At that same show, occupants of the table next to me hustled themselves out of the club shortly after Jim started into his song, “I’m Sorry I Shat on Your Dick.”
Like their friend Stephen Merritt, these are not unduly optimistic or fabulous guys. Instead, they sing about the strange places longing deposits you: smoking crack in New Jersey with a semi-closeted MTV personality, for example. This September, they’ve been in weekly residence at Fez in New York City and made the Village Voice‘s Best of New York issue. On October 3rd, they will perform at Le Swimming in Montreal, as part of the PopMontreal music festival. I met them for coffee and french fries before band practice (in the same self-consciously crumbly building, they point out, where the Strokes practice). On the way, they made a pit stop at the cupcake store. — Carl Swanson Where did the name come from?
Ben: Clint was in a drama club and in one of the plays, there was a line about a woman on a train taking off her Isotoners. Where are you from?
Jim: Ben is from South Bend, Indiana and Bryce is from Milwaukee and I’m from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Clint: I’m from Wyoming, originally. And then we moved to Montana, and then I met a pharmacist, and then I moved back to Montana after my life fell apart. We were boyfriends. I took a lot of lorazipan and diazapan. Painkillers, atavan. And then we moved to Minniapolis and he stopped being a pharmacist and started working with computers so I broke up with him. And then I ran out of money and then my roommates kicked me out and then I stole their rent money and I had my friend come from Montana to pick me up. Then I moved to Oregon.
Bryce is the only one who’s been in a band before, right?
Ben: He was in a band called Boycrazy.
Bryce: But never as a drummer. I had a band called Boycrazy with this girl called Rachel, who’s now in the Decemberists, for like five years in Portland. I moved to New York and I played bass in a band called She’s a Writer for like a year. I quit to focus on my career. And then I got sucked into this!
What’s your career?
Clint: His career is working during the week and then doing cocaine on Saturdays.
Clint and Bryce — you guys know each other from Portland?
Clint: We had a lot of the same friends, but I was mostly in my house doing crystal meth.
Bryce: And I was a stoner. Our paths didn’t cross.
Clint: I was a stoner too, when I wasn’t on crystal meth.
Jim: I was a huffer.
Bryce: I decided to start playing drums in the band because Clint had a drum kit. What was the first song you wrote?
Clint: Ben and I wrote a song called "Crappin’ on the Phone," about crapping while you’re talking on the telephone, and we drank a whole bottle of Skyy vodka.
Were you unemployed?
Clint: Ben’s been employed for weeks at a time.
Jim: No, I was taking accordion lessons. Why?
Jim: I just always thought the accordion sounded beautiful. This is not ironic. I did.
Clint: At first we didn’t even realize that Jim could sing. He would just play accordion on a few songs. A lot of songs he didn’t even play on, he would just have a few accents. And then he became the lead singer!
Ben: He really has become a lot more confident in his songwriting. In fact, the unchecked hubris is sometimes a little grating.
Clint: Because of Jim, we became the Wilson Phillips of gay pop.
Ben: I thought Wilson Phillips was the Wilson Phillips of gay pop.
Clint: We’re the Wilson Phillips of gay pop punk folk funk.
Bryce: Shut up, there’s no funk.
Clint: Except when Bryce takes his shoes off.
Bryce: My feet do not stink.
Clint: Didn’t we talk about this?
Do you feel like you’re a part of a downtown community of performers?
Jim: Yeah, but it’s not a scene.
Ben: As we do this, we keep meeting more and more people. And if you like what they’re doing, and they like what you do, you want to become friends with them.
Clint: And ride their coattails to success. Is Stephin Merritt inspiring to you?
Clint: I met Stephin when I worked on a movie which really sucked called Eban and Charley, which he did the music for. I was the boom operator. I was really nervous about playing my guitar or even holding my guitar in public. I was afraid that people would think I was saying that I knew how to play even though I didn’t. And Stephin was like, "At least you’re doing something, unlike all these people who are just sitting on their asses." Plus, he didn’t get where he was by cutting this glamorous figure. Do you feel your music is driven by crankiness?
Jim: I don’t know about that.
Ben: Some of them. Like Ben’s "Oxygen."
Jim: Clint’s songs are self-deprecating.
Clint: I like making fun of people.
Do each of you have different influences?
Clint: It’s very obvious who wrote which songs. When we try to sing each other’s songs, it just doesn’t sound good. Like Ben lost his voice last week, and I tried to sing "Oxygen," and it just didn’t sound good. And now that Ben’s medicated…
Ben:: Fifty mgs of Zoloft and 150 mg of Welbutrin. . .
Clint: I think we’re going in the right direction, psychologically. Who else is medicated?
Clint: I’m off now. I was on Wellbutirn, then Neurontin, then Celexa, and then Lexipro. Has this affected his songwriting?
Ben: His Neurontin period was dark ballads. Celexa, there was a lot of klezmer.
Jim: The Lexipro period was lots of poop songs.
Is being in the band getting you laid?
All but Bryce: NO!!
Bryce: Is it what?
Clint: No! I was thinking about this today. I went and saw that Ramones documentary and Joey Ramone was getting laid left and right and he’s the ugliest person on earth. Was.
Jim: God rest his soul. [Laughs]
Ben: It’s gotten Bryce laid.
Clint: Me and Bryce had a five-way once.
Bryce: We did not.
Clint: I had a four-way, and Bryce was in the room.
Bryce: I was in the room, but I was downloading songs off the internet.
Ben: In a way, that’s creepier.
Bryce: I was like, "Why is no one talking?"
How often do people walk out of the shows?
Jim: Not too often. Usually people know what they’re getting into. Do people ever come up to you and say: "Oh, thank God you said this, I didn’t realize anyone else felt this way."
Jim: Yeah. I think we talk about things that a lot of things people are afraid to talk about. Like "Sorry I Shat on Your Dick."
Jim: Well, that happens. It’s disgusting and it’s sweet. And that, for me, is a winning combination. There’s a vulnerability there that keeps it from crossing a line. Have your parents heard your songs?
Jim: They haven’t heard that one. They ask, "Should I come see you?" And I say, "You know, there are very specific sexual acts that I sing about as if I’m participating in them." [Laughter] And I say if they can separate that from me, then they should come. And they say, "We think maybe we won’t come." And they don’t. October 3, the Isotoners play Le Swimming as part of Pop Montreal.
To visit their website go to www.theisotoners.com. n°
© 2004 Nerve.com.