Sweet Dreamers

Bedroom Walls’ “romanticore” evokes classic-rock eccentrics without the insanity
~ By RON GARMON ~

Let your mind play upon the conceit of the L.A. rock scene as a giant house party. There are the loud boneheads crowding the keg, smooth slickster boyz dipping deft fingers into panties, stoned-out spastics staring the walls into ooze, artist-manques posing in elegant little clusters, fuckers-up on a half-hundred exotic drugs, movers of heavy feet, shakers of provocative asses, and individuals of a punkish cast setting fire to the curtains. Bedroom Walls is the small group of cuties who hours earlier commandeered a neglected room to get wiggy on green cigarettes and old Raspberries LPs. It was inevitable I’d push THIS door open.

In a town top-heavy with genius it seldom fails to neglect, Bedroom Walls is worthy of giddy note for many reasons, not least of which is a group normality that seems almost perverse. Individually, as in the aggregate, the act is as precious and arty as you please: Co-vocalist Melissa Thorne is a well-regarded painter who’s taught the subject at USC and CalArts; drummer Vanessa Kaufman’s sideline is standup comedy; occasional clarinetist Emily Cummins works in a non-performing capacity at the L.A. Opera; and Donna Coppola also takes keyboard chores for dream populists the Faraway Places. (Bassist Jeff Kwong cops only to being “sexy and Chinese.”) When they took the stage at El Cid last month before an audience of scene dandies and their sweet ones, an atmosphere of coziness set palpably in before the band switched on and began playing. Guitarist/songwriter Adam Goldman, slender with a pretty face veiled by a scruffy beard, coughed apologetically into the mike and breathed, tender as Bobbie Gentry, “We’re Bedroom Walls, and we’re going to gently rock you.”

And so, for an hour, we were diverted with variant versions of the group’s catalog and other soft and purple meanderings. One song wiped into another like a parti-colored Etch-a-Sketch, with the performance leaning heavily on BW’s magnificent second album, “All Good Dreamers Pass This Way.” A collection of delicate, sloe-eyed, intensely hallucinogenic mood pieces cut into lengths of popsong with titles like “In Anticipation of Your Suicide” and “Then the Narrator Smiles,” this recording moves the bent-genius hermetics of such classic-rock alt-canon as Skip Spence’s “Oar” and Syd Barrett’s “The Madcap Laughs” sideways into pinker, saner realms.

A sort of Pete Ham in bunny slippers, Goldman labels his sound as “romanticore,” which he defines as “sighing too loudly and too often; knowing your ex-girlfriend is happier now; minimalist posturing undercut by epic gestures; eating stale cake for breakfast (and lunch); sedatives.” What all this means, among other happy things, is that American indie music is learning to love its battered heart, and Goldman is rubbing in the first layer of balm.

We hit it off at once, as Goldman regards my pink sunglasses with amused interest, remarking that there ought to be a club for people cool enough to wear indoor tint. I assure him there is; it’s called “the Bastard Sons of James Coburn,” and I am its founder. Meeting a few days later in the air-conditioned gloom of Mr. T’s Bowl in Highland Park, Goldman is no less bantering, remarking blandly that “Lou Reed once said something obnoxious to the effect of ‘Faulkner had the South, James Joyce had Dublin, I have New York City’ [that] I would revise to read “and Bedroom Walls has the suburbs.’ I feel like we wanna document the inner life of growing up in the suburbs.”

While I’m still blinking at this bit of audacity, Goldman spins off another. “What I was thinking, and you might hate this idea, did you hear there is a new Justin Timberlake record comin? out?” “Yes,” I allow, dubiously. “I was thinkin’, like, why not make a really, really smart party album?” he chimes excitedly. “Make it like a dance album, but not like punk-pop, electro-punk, dance-punk.” He suggests a party record something like Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall,” with “three really kickass ballads and the rest just total dance workouts. Somehow, there’s content,” he muses, “but I don’t know how to get to that yet, ’cause I’m awkward starting out with, ‘OK, I’m writing a song about trees now,’ but I think I can get to it. We?re setting the bar high to make a party album that?s intelligent, totally ridiculous, and fun.”

A most atypical rocker, Goldman is from Syosset in the Long Island suburbs, a onetime documentary filmmaker who would occasionally support himself scoring porno movies under the name “Chuck Bronco.”

“I was teaching private school in the Valley, and I got a call for part time,” he says. “Believe it or not, teaching at a school where the parents pay $14,000 for ninth grade still doesn’t pay enough to live on. [Porno scoring] is one of those things that makes great cocktail party conversation, but the reality is totally boring. I’d get an e-mail for a track, and they’d tell me how long they wanted it: four minutes, 15 minutes.”

The composer drifted into the scene from the DIY aesthetic of home taping. “Like a lot of people in the ’90s, I had a four-track [tape machine], and I used to stay home and make what I thought was finished songs,” he recalls. “Then I’d make cassette albums with artwork and give them to my friends. His roommate at that time was Julian Gross, who’s now in the synth-punk band Liars. “He was the drummer for our first record; he heard all my mealy-mouthed little indie guitar songs and said, ‘Dood, you need a drummer!’ He really just wanted to be in a band.”

Gross ran into Thorne, who could play gamelan, in a grocery-store parking lot, and Goldman had a glockenspiel, so the trio started a project “that was all instrumental and repetitive, and we were really into Steve Reich, really pretentious and arty,” Goldman says. “I really didn’t want to be in a rock band. That was not the life for me. I was also very mod at that point and thought anything that involved sweating was basically undignified.”

Thus hauled out of the bedroom to spritz in Silver Lake’s low-wattage limelight, the band?s first album, 2003’s “I Saw You Comin? Back at Me,” was well reviewed, leading to a deal with indie-upstart Baria Records for “Dreamers.”

Our talk ranges over the likes of Arthur Lee (“Whatever else anyone might say about him, and they do say it, he made “Forever Changes” and brought a lot of joy in the world, and that counts for a lot”) and Mott the Hoople (“They were the only band that could write songs about touring in a rock band and not come off sounding like total douchebags”) before settling back onto ambition and vistas new.

“Well, I think melancholia is an ineffectual response to right now, to this age,” Goldman allows. “It’s a little indulgent right now to make sad, pretty music. I won’t regulate the art I try to make by what is politically upright, but I’m starting to think that, rather than just creating a beautiful, insular world, while valuable, it may make better sense for me to say something right now.?

(Bedroom Walls performs Tue. at The Fold at Tangier, 2138 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz, at 9 p.m. $8. Info: (323) 666-8666 or Foldsilverlake.com. I’ll be there)

Run in LA CITY BEAT 07-27-06

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