Photo by Wayne Cable
the aluminum group
chickfactor: does it bother you that everyone thinks you’re twins? how many years apart are you?
john: do people really think we’re twins? I don’t think so, gail. but if they do, of course it doesn’t bother me. besides, frankie is younger, so that’s good for me.
frankie: john and I used to do this great parent trap thing on stage where john would come on stage, then leave, then I would come on stage. it would freak everyone out, so we had to stop doing it.
cf: what’s the best/worst thing about being in a band with your brother? could you imagine being in one without him?
john: maybe that we’re too close and sometimes that can be a problem. we really care about each other, but there are so many issues being in a band. the best of times are when we’re running on pure creative energy. there’s nothing better than that. frankie is a wonderful artist and being around him is inspiring. I couldn’t imagine being in a band with or without him. frankie: the best thing about working with john is; we both know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. we edit each other pretty well. the worst thing is that john thinks that I can do the same stuff he can do, like setting up interviews, meeting deadlines, talking to people, sending stuff out; when, in reality I have trouble coordinating garbage pickup day. I am also working with a performance artist michael k. meyers, a faculty member at the school of the art institute, on a piece of work call ragman. as for my own musical work I have about an hour of new work, which will be brought into the al grp, and subsequently become more well-rounded with john. that’s where the editing comes in. cf: are you really fans of gilbert and george or does everyone just assume so?
john: at one time, yes.
frankie: yes of course we are. you know, anything english these days; england and english things are hot hot hot. we were invited to go out to dinner with them when they came to chicago, but one of them wanted to stay in their hotel room and be entertained by room service, and the minibar. I guess john and I can’t compete with jetlag and cable tv.
cf: do you feel more attached to the chicago music scene or the chicago art + design scene?
john: I feel attached to both. I love both. the people in each scene are different so that makes it interesting.
cf: do you guys really bring your own eames stools for tour and sell records out of a prada box? are you label hos or what?
john: who told you that? it sounds kind of silly when you ask a question about it. okay, we’ll never do it again. one note though: the stools weren’t eames, they were cheapies from ikea. we fooled somebody. we haven’t sold our cds out of prada shoe boxes, but I should. you should see my closet, which I have to clean out. but I did carry my gear in one of the prada felt shoe bags. I love those little bags. they’re so handy, for so many things. I guess I’m a label ho. I love clothes, shoes, the whole works. I wear what I like, what I hope looks good. some of my stuff is label, some is not. it’s the time we live in. it’s all about label recognition. I’m very hong kong like that.
frankie: they were actually ikea stools and we were selling stuffed animals out of prada boxes. as for labels: sears, fruit of the loom, jc penney, gap, gold toe, I’m all over it (I do have some nice prada shoes though).
cf: where is the aluminum group most famous?
john: in europe, italians buy most of our cds, which is great for me, because I would rather be there than anywhere. I assume people purchase our cds in japan, because we receive royalty checks from there, and they’ve released all our work (thank you mariko mori!). in the states, maybe like chicago, new york, palm springs, san francisco. in canada, maybe montreal.
frankie: in the hearts of all of our fans.
cf: what do your fans look like?
john: nice. some are really hot. we don’t get those obese fans which belle and sebastian get. although if we did, I would gladly share my atkins success stories with them. it works. some boys are to die for. and the girls are cute, too.
frankie: our fans come in all shapes and sizes. I think they have become more well-groomed over the years, and they smoke less.
cf: what is the best fan gift you have received?
john: their love. fans send me all sorts of things. little fanzines they write, which are so fucking cute. one fan sent me a lovely burberry toiletry case, he sent one to frank, too. was that sweet or what? it was way before the burberry craze, too. fans also send cds they make, which is nice because most of our fans care about music.
frankie: a burberry attaché case, oops, I mean a beige plaid with red, black, and white stripes attaché case.
cf: burberry is so over. have you ever had a fan do something scary to you?
john: no, but I have fantasized about it. of course, it turned out fine. he was strong and big, much stronger than me. he turned out to be a pussycat and we just fooled around. it always ends with him pinning me down, like a butterfly with one hand and with the other spreading my legs apart.
frankie: we do have some fans that are kinda mean to us. they yell at us while we are on stage like “do this song!” or “do that song!” not knowing that john and I can only remember about 8 songs at a time. or they’ll scream “get out of that fucking tent so we can see you!!” stuff like that but nothing scary.
cf: would you date a fan?
john: have no problem with that, but my best friend fabio says I shouldn’t. he says it kills the fantasy. fabio is from the old bowie/lindsay kemp days. you know glam! I have dated fans before, and you know — fabio was kind of right. it’s never like the fantasy.
frankie: nooooooooooooooooooooooo! well maybe.
cf: has the ag ever done any soundtrack music or been used in films or ads?
john: yes. “chocolates” was used in a movie called cleopatra’s second husband by jon reiss. my niece, katherine, always calls me when she hears an ag song on real world. our music hasn’t hit the big-time soundtrack world yet. sometimes I wonder why. it’s kind of perfect background music. whatever. we’re like the soundtrack for shoppers, like I hear our songs in every fucking starbucks, or in banana republic, diesel, neiman marcus — we don’t see any of that money, but consumer strategists must believe that our music helps shoppers shop. I love that if it’s true. it could be since our stuff is so mellow. it makes people comfortable. someone at drag city or touch and go coined our music sangria rock. I like that.
cf: what are the top three architectural treasures of chicago?
john: come on gail! like I could decide. well, I’ll try. the mies post office at the dirksen federal center. mies’ crownhall (the school of architecture building at iit), and the mies high-rise apartment towers on lsd (where I intend on living large some day). his work makes me so happy yet peaceful, like a valium with margarita chaser. his work is/was perfect. but there are so many other treasures here. you better hurry up and come see them, because our mayor’s a fucking freak and plans on tearing them down. on the new wilco album there is a magnificent photo of the marina towers by bertrand goldberg. I love his work. remember gail, when we were cruising through chinatown? he designed a gorgeous group of low income housing, which are closed up at the moment. if daley has any intention of touching it, he will live in hell. the saarinen law school building at university of chicago is fucking fantastic. you looked like marlo thomas in that girl’s opening credits, gail. that was such a romantic afternoon we spent.
frankie: the marina towers (see wilco’s new album cover). the mies apartments and I like the wright row houses in the gap district.
cf: if I came to chicago for the day, what would you insist on showing me?
john: I think you know, gail, seeing as I forced you to go on the johnny navin joyride from hell! the day we toured around sucked, because it was so cold. I don’t know though, it was fun, too. I would take you to all the places I love, but at a slower rate. and if it were sunny, we’d stop and have a picnic lunch or something and enjoy the breeze, the flowers and just talk.
cf: do you resent being lumped in with other “queercore” bands?
john: I don’t think we are. first of all, who are the queercore bands? I don’t even know who they are. queen? new york dolls? I like them.
frankie: lumped, let them lump. it’s nice to know that we’re good enough to be lumped. I need to be lumped by someone.
cf: what is your current label situation?
john: happyness is being released in the states by wishingtree records, in europe, by marina records, and in japan by p-vine. we did it ourselves, licensing that is. frankie and I met with bettina richards, who is the most helpful person in the record biz. she thinks we could do it ourselves, but it is so much work. so maybe one day we will. right now, we’re happy using good people who we’ve had relationships with in the past. marina released a kind of greatest hits thing called introducing. they’re nice guys. kyle and david from wishingtree approached us initially to contribute a song for a charity compilation. our experience with them was so positive, I always remembered their kindness and sincerity.
cf: do you have any record industry horror stories?
john: yes, but who cares? best to forget those things, move on and learn from mistakes, of which we made so many. my advice to young bands, don’t rush it, don’t feel forced, and don’t do things you’ll regret you did in the future. I can’t say anything real nasty, because labels own your catalogs long after the bad stuff, so we must be civilized and polite. that’s another thing for young bands, your work becomes your catalog. cherish it and try to retain it. we gave ours away for a song.
cf: who is the style king/queen of chicago?
frankie: me and me.
john: I’m the queen. I know that much. no, I wish I were. daniel agne is the most beautiful boy in the world. he once was my neighbor. he’s incredible. he is beautiful nude and fully clothed. shaven, unshaven. oh my god, he is the most handsome man in the universe. chickfactor is a first, for I’ve never said that publicly before. not even to danny, although I know he knows how I feel. look for him. we took his photograph for the album art of happyness. he is the style king for sure. my cousin gloria thinks he is a little fag boy. I wish, but he isn’t. everyone thinks he’s gay, because he’s too handsome, and too into fashion, and too into his charcoal black hair with specks of gray. he told my other cousin one night that he was depressed. my cousin lent a sympathetic ear only to find out it was danny’s hair which was giving him problems. now, I thought that was so funny and sweet. I felt an even deeper love that night. gloria thinks I’m insane. blah. blah. blah. but he is the style king. frank would not agree. maybe he would. I mean he agrees that danny is the most. I always say that danny’s smart, too. danny told me he tutored elizabeth berkley, that atrocious chick from showgirls (my favorite movie) in high school. he said she was ld, supposedly daryl hannah is, too. also, he fixes cars which drives me wild.
cf: tell us some brushes with stephin merritt stories.
john: he stayed with frank once. it was during the 69 period. he likes to look at himself in the mirror. wouldn’t you with a mind like that? maybe my best brush was the first night we met, which was awesome. we raced to the club to see him and we were kind of ushered by claudia through a shitload of people to see him. he said I smelled nice, he said we (frank and I) both smelled nice. that’s important, smelling good, for men especially. I use creed and love when people notice it. anyway, he was led away by claudia, because they had to start the show. he called out to me, screamed really, to bring him 2 cape cods. he had given me his drink vouchers. so I brought him his little drinkie-poos and thought he sang the whole concert for me! imagine that. I’m such a goofball.
frankie: I went to this vintage store with stephin and he couldn’t keep his eyes off himself in the rotating vanity mirror supplied by the sunglass company. it wasn’t like he was obsessed with himself, but more concerned with some stupid wrinkle. I took my hand to his chin and turned it directly to my face and said “you have to go on.” I’m sure if you ask him, he’ll have forgotten it or completely deny it.
cf: you’re too glamorous for chicago, a town full of fleece wearers. where would you be more at home?
john: there are many nice-looking, well-mannered and -dressed folks here. I’m right at home. I’ve been coming to chicago since I was a little puppy. I like it just fine. of course, there are more glamorous places in the world, but we do okay.
frankie: where would you be more at home? chicago is far too glamorous for me, remember I wait tables for a living at a restaurant where glamorous people come, and I wallpaper peoples kitchens for extra money, and with that extra money I may buy some things that make me seem glamorous.
cf: do you use computers to make music?
john: yes, we record our work on computers. we use protools. frank bought a computer last year and he’s been recording music galore. his new songs are so utterly fantastic and strange.
frankie: yes, very much. I bought protools last year and have since racked up about and hour and a half of new work. (if you want I’ll send you some.) happyness was constructed entirely on a computer.
cf: how does the internet figure into your musical shenanigans?
john: I would ask fans of ag to go to the hefty website and see an installation we collaborated on with a young genius boy named scott schellhammer. it’s a pink birdhouse. you just have to see it. it’s so fucking sweet. that’s why I like the internet.
frankie: I’m of the old world, where shenanigans consisted of putting dog poop in snowballs and throwing them at cars.
cf: why don’t you play out more?
john: we used to play out a lot. recently, we canned our booking agent. actually, he canned us. he didn’t understand us. we’re sort of a weird band. I mean we’re not fischerspooner, all glam and stuff. it’s sort of like two unplugged brothers with little songs of show and tell. I wish we had an awesome band behind us, like john herndon (tortoise) on drums, bill loman on bass, johnny ride on guitars. I wish frank and I could just sing. sing and relate somehow with the audience. we don’t play out enough. that has to change. but seriously, we can really only play in new york, big cities out east, frisco, los angeles. I mean that’s about it. we’re not 19, and we’re pretty much lazy. who wants to see two 40-year-olds?
frankie: it’s too expensive. I can’t take the time off work and there are too many songs to remember.
cf: was your family musical?
john: my father thought he was, but he wasn’t.
frankie: I remember my sister cal took me to pembrook park to tell me that tim buckley was a better songwriter than bob dylan. my sister liz fell in love with a guy from pontiac and only listened to al green and marvin gaye. my other sister kate would hide her 8-inch platform heels in the bushes and skip out to see roxy music. my oldest brother tim played football and listened to the carpenters.
cf: did you play music together as kids?
john: not really.
frankie: oh, yes… ask john about “terra one.” I’m quite sure he will totally pretend to forget it.
cf: your promo photos stand out in a sea of mediocrity. who takes them?
john: lots of people. steven meisel. avedon. nobody you’d know. jason pickleman, our graphic designer, took the last batch. I was 25 lbs. heavier, which wll be noticeable in the next batch for happyness.
cf: your forthcoming lp, happyness, isn’t a long lost soundtrack for the todd solondz movie, is it? tell us about it.
john: are you confusing us with belle and sebastian? your favorite band, gail? happyness is a return of sorts to our roots, simple little pop songs in the classic sense. it’s like a more mature and focused plano. frank and I produced it, so it’s very us.
cf: what do you collect?
john: clothes and receipts for clothes (like andy warhol I guess).
frankie: nothing really; but I have been clipping articles about “scrap-bookin’,” it’s this new thing that’s “sweepin'” america. there are actual stores called “scrapple doodle doo”. both witty and precious! have you heard of this? I believe that one day, these people will do away with the letter “G” all together.
cf: what’s in your fridge?
john: an atkins diet bar. water. condiments galore. I do love to cook though, and people say I’m a good cook, but I’m single so what’s the point?
frankie: a lot of condiments. I know that it’s very jeffrey dahmer of me, but I think the news made a big deal about the fact that he had only condiments in his fridgerator and a human head. you see when I buy stuff to eat, I eat it. but I can’t finish an entire bottle of salad dressing on an endive salad. and, I think that that’s what happened to jeffrey dahmer, except I don’t eat human heads.
cf: what’s your poison?
john: memorial day weekend it was frozen margaritas. yummy good. otherwise, water.
frankie: alcohol and far-sighted men.
cf: who is your style/design icon/guru?
john: my best friend, fabio zambernardi. he lives in italy. he has an unbelievable color and texture sense. his combinations of different things blow my mind every time. he is my guy. I worship him, his style, his creative energy, his friendship.
frankie: not stella mccartney.
cf: if you could be commissioned by any filmmaker to write soundtracks, who would it be?
john: I hope we can work with many directors in our lifetime. but they don’t really call us. penny marshall, ron howard, gary marshall, rob reiner. does henry winkler direct? like I said, they just don’t seem to bother us, which can be a good thing.
frankie: I don’t really know film-makers right now. but if you know anyone from telemundo, univision or telefuturo, call me!
cf: please tell us funny stories about sally timms, sean o’hagan, stereolab, or any wacky chicagoans.
john: gosh, I haven’t seen sally in so long. one halloween she was princess diana, well, dead princess diana. she was smashed. we laughed. she’s awesome in the studio, very carefree and fun. like if she’s flat or something (and she never is), she says let that gadget (the computer) fix it. I mean, she’s kind of lazy like that, which is cute. sean is a dream. I always laugh when I see him. he should have played the role of shaggy in the new scooby doo movie. I mean, am I right, gail? or what? isn’t he a dead ringer for shaggy? he’s big and hairy, with hair growing everywhere, ears, nostrils, all over his head. I love laetitia’s dry sense of humor. she’s very funny in an understated kind of way. like one time, cynthia plaster caster and I were going to be stereolab groupies, follow them from chicago to detroit. the deal was that laetitia and mary would have to wear wigs that we would purchase. laetitia handed me a press photo of the band where she had black markered herself in a long wig. she looked like morticia addams with a widow’s peak. she drew tim as a clown. we laughed at tim as clown.
cf: who do you have a crush on?
john: 10 questions back. d-a-n-n-y a-g-n-e, but he doesn’t know it. he never will, because he isn’t a chickfactor kind of guy. so my secret’s safe.
frankie: johnny knoxville (I know it’s creepy, but love can’t help but be creepy sometimes). cf