"A slurpee? Those are those things that you buy in the petrol stations? I donít know, coke. Cause itís the flavor that never goes away. Are you going to print that? I have many choices and I always get coke cause itís really sweet and I like tons of sugar in my drinks." Ian Webber, vocalist for Atlanta-based band the Tender Idols, ponders the intricacy of 7-11 beverages. He shifts uneasily in his seat and comments, "I thought when I woke up this morning that everyone was going to be here but it turns out that Guy is working, and Scott and Danny couldnít be here." He seems mildly embarrassed that we have suggested a photo shoot that is not only in a public place, but also doesnít involve the other three members of the band. "When Iím not on stage, Iíd rather hide in the shadows," he tells us. This quiet, almost shy demeanor seems very different from his energetic, self-assured stage presence. Perhaps, like he insists to us repeatedly, this is a band that is more than the sum of its parts. Certainly when altogether, this foursome have been turning heads in Atlanta for the last year with their powerful, emotional pop-music.
The framework for the band became possible when Webber, a native of England, having abandoned his life as a cruise ship photographer, relocated in Georgia and answered an ad placed in a local paper placed by Atlanta guitarist Danny Howes. The two wrote songs together for about a year and a half until, as Webber told Leaking, "we found the other guys." The two "guys" he refers to are Miami native, Guy Strauss, the Idolsí drummer, and Bostonian Scott Collins, the bassist. Webber explains that he is reluctant to be photographed alone because it gives an improper image of him as being more important than the rest of the band. He remarks "We kind of each have a role and mine is to get everybody looking sharp and to make sure the posters all follow a good theme and the same with the CD, and whatever we put out I want it to be identified with a certain image that people will think ĎOh its the Tender Idols!í Scottís the big business person. He does all the books and the E-mail, writing to people and telling them where weíre playing. Danny is more of, well, he talks to all the clubs and the managers and heís like a liaison type of person, the negotiator. And Guy...is the drummer (Laughs). No, Guy helps me do the posters and stuff.">
The band got off to a brilliant start by playing some early shows with notable "Britpop" bands such as Sleeper, which is where I first encountered them. It was quite shocking to see a local band playing such clean, melodic, pop; and quite delightful to note that Webber was clearly drawing on the stage persona of Morrissey as a framework for his own dancing. Despite the audience being sparse, the band performed with a high level of enthusiasm and departed the stage to a flutter of applause, encouraging people to sign their mailing list. They seem to have maintained that excitement about their performances over the course of the last year, during which period they also recorded and released their first full length CD. Webber states very assertively that he feels their live performances are an important avenue for the band in their mission as entertainers, and to get across their music and build a fanbase. Hailed in the music press as "Britpop" because of Webberís accent and their adherence to a melodic new-wave influenced pop formula, the local music press have often lumped the Tender Idols in with other Brit-band wanna beís; but Webber insists that the band have not set out to create a formulaic "British" sound. He asserts, "No. No I donít think weíre...thatís the other thing that a lot of interviews, that people have said about us, that weíre a Britpop band. But Iím the only English person in the band. I suppose thatís a big influence because Iím the singer, but weíre influenced by that music, but not from the current stuff, from the old stuff. If it sounds like that, itís fine by me, but itís a little bit hard right now because thereís so many 'Britpop' bands that labels are looking for something a little bit different just in case its a phase or a fad. So we might sound like that but I think we are a bit heavier and a lot more rocking than most of the Britpop stuff." He explains that the bandís influences are mainly 1980's "retro" bands, noting his early and long-standing love for The Smiths and Duran Duran. He elaborates by saying "I donít like thrashy stuff, I like melodic music. Have you heard Shed Seven? Theyíre one of my favorite bands. And theyíre not thrashy, theyíre kind of heavy melodic." Webber goes on to tell us that the first items purchased for his record collection were ABCís "All Of My Heart" and Duran Duranís "Save a Prayer." He says his first gig was Madness. Webber does say, however, that no band has had a huge impact on him in a while. He tells us, "Iím constantly buying new CDís by tons of different people. I listen to them for a month, and then I move on to the next one. So I donít really have anybody that I think is just a huge influence or that has made a difference." As for the rest of the band, Webber smiles as he tells us that "itís good that Iím here, I can speak for everybody," listing his bandmatesí main influences as everything from Peter Gabriel to XTC to Madness. Despite the bandís heavy English influences, Webber says that it is important to them not to become so "influenced by the English rock scene" that the band deny their American roots as well. Nevertheless, he also admits, "I really I like playing with the English bands, itís really good fun. And it really is our audience. Every time we play one of those shows we get a whole load of people signed up on our mailing list and we gain a whole load of people that have heard of us. So itís really really good and weíre going to continue to do that, to play with as many bands as we can from England."
So where does a melodic pop band who do not disavow their love of Duran Duran fit into the local indie rock scene in a city whose bands are known for their southern flare and R.E.M-influences? Webber says he does not feel that any musical "scene" exists in Atlanta anymore. He explains, "Thereís tons of bands, thereís tons of places to see bands, but I donít think thereís a scene. Everybody is just all over the place. But yeah, I donít feel that thereís any groups or styles of bands that play together or fit together very well. Everybodyís all over the place, everybody likes different types of music. A lot of the time you play with bands that are completely different in music style. I donít really like that very much, but you have to do it cause thatís the way it is here." He suggests that this lack of coherence has helped the Tender Idols rapidly gain a reputation as one of the cityís foremost live acts.
But if the shoddy nature of the Atlanta scene has helped the band, their approach to their stage act has, and will continue to have, the greatest effect on their success in the future. Webber talks about his idea of a good show, "[We like it] when we get a lot of audience participation. I like people to throw things or shout out, or be rude or obnoxious or just anything. Like create some kind of I dunno, reaction. I hate it when people just sit there and say Ďyeah theyíre good.í Thatís what everybody wants, for the crowd to be wild and crazy, I suppose." How do the band cultivate this emotional reaction from their fans? "As far as us playing, I like us to jump around and still sing in tune," he declares. "We want to be very visual. I hate going to see bands where they all just stand there and thatís it cause I can listen to that on CD. When I go to see a show I want to be entertained. And I want to entertain people. And Iím learning. Every show we play I have some kind of criticism and stuff, but itís getting better. Some shows are better than others. I can tell straight away if its a good show or not. And the other guys try to move around, be more movement orientated." And certainly the Tender Idols are still refining their stage act. When asked, Webber disclosed that the one thing about their performances he most wants to retract at the end of a show is usually "things I say in between songs. Cause itís not rehearsed and we finish a song and I say something stupid and itís being taped and I listen to it later and say ĎOh great, did I really say that?í Itís horrible. Although I want to talk a little bit between songs, I have to be careful not to say stupid things. I get a bit self-conscious. I donít know, I havenít fallen off the stage or anything like that yet, although Iíve come close. Iíve fallen over on stage, or tripped over, but that wasnít too bad."
Webber shifts uneasily again. A waiter has come to the table, for the third time, asking to take our order. Nobody intends to eat, but out of politeness the singer takes a menu and orders himself a glass of tea, sweetened, of course. He smiles as he shifts gears and begins talking about the bandís self-titled CD, which they recorded during the last year and released independently in June of 1996. He suggests that their motivation was "Because we had most of the equipment available to us to record pretty cheaply. That doesnít mean that we recorded it on cheap equipment or anything, itís all dubbed, pretty hi-tech, but we were lucky that we had friends with good equipment who let us use it for free. I dunno, we just wanted to put out our own CD and do it all ourselves, and let the people come to us and create some interest by doing it all ourselves." For a band, putting out a full-length CD on its own during itís first year of existence should be considered quite an achievement. The production on the album sounds very polished and professional and it is clear that these men know their way around the studio. But where their stage performance is very polished and mature, their recorded material shows the ways in which they are still developing their sound as a band.
Overall a fine effort for a first album, their self-titled debut consists of 10 catchy, songs on which the band attempt, not without some rather impressive results, to merge both a harder rock ní roll sound with some very heartfelt lyrics and thoughtful pop melodies. The result is a glam-tinged, and highly enjoyable guitar-driven rock record. The single failing of the album, which, when one considers that this band have not been together long, seems fairly minor and certainly forgivable, is its often more than blatant display of influences. Listening to the album, one can hear Shed Seven, Marion, Gene, and the Smiths lilting around in guitar refrains and vocal choruses. "For Love I'd Die" is as good a tribute to the importance of the Smiths to pop music as Iíve heard. The band combine a catchy guitar riff with a driving bass line and Webber wistfully singing such sentiments as, "Doesnít alcohol agree with me/ Well I would have sworn it made it easier to see/ But I know youíre out there somewhere, somehow/ But I donít want anyone, yet/ But itís for love, Iíd die." Morrissey would certainly be applauding loudly were he to receive a copy of this in the post tomorrow. At times, though, the band tend to become a bit too flagrant in their borrowing, such as on "Sunlover," in which Webber sweetly croons "Thank you, youíre the world in my eyes, and thank you, Iíve got stars in my eyes...." But these are not the problems of a band lacking in creative juices. They merely reflect the struggles of a talented group of musicians who are still working out their own distinct vibrations from the mass of confused sounds and images in their heads. Watching them figure themselves out will certainly be a fun ride. Almost as fun as watching Webber spend the last year cultivating the perfect visual image for himself and for the band.
Today Webber is dressed down from the suit in which he typically struts about the stage. Instead, he wears a rather retro-looking cream colored leather jacket and corduroys which go nicely with his royal blue nail polish and recently highlighted hair. He points out to us that had he known photos would be involved, he would have brought his makeup. Nevertheless, he grins when asked about his "image." He emphasizes the importance of a coherent visual image for the band in their cover art and publicity posters and says flat out that he makes sure that everybody in the band is "looking sharp." But as far as the bandís "mod" look? Webber shakes his head. "Iím not a big mod. I like a lot of the 60's styles and I donít like any of the Ď90's styles, I mean maybe thatís why I dress more retro than 90's."
Webber may disavow any links to that Ď60's subculture, but he certainly gets excited when talking about his scooter, a Ď71 Lambretta Jet 200, which, he informs us, he has to go fetch from bassist Collinsí garage now that he has moved into a place where he can provide shelter from the elements for his prized possession. As we go in search of a suitable, yet unpopulated, location for a photo shoot, he looks around, taking in the 60 temperatures and commenting how nice a day it would be for a scooter ride. We finally settle upon an abandoned construction site, and Webber, standing amidst the gravel and mud, finally seems to warm to the idea of having his picture taken, and begins giving photography tips, reminding us that he once made a living behind the shooting end of a camera. He jokes that it would be funny to wrap him up in some of that police tape that seems to be lying around everywhere. So we take him up on it. And standing covered head to toe in yellow "CAUTION" tape, he wiggles around a bit, trying to pose for the camera. A few short minutes later, film exhausted, he tells that we must hurry up and develop the photos so he can see how they look. Then, clutching the yellow police tape in one hand, he smiles again, shakes our hands, and heads off to the studio, where the rest of the band awaits.
The Official Tender Idols Homepage, complete with soundbites of some songs.