Stuck 'out in the middle' of Maldroid and maladroit
BART and indie rock groups both represent the Bay Area I love and miss. So I smiled especially broadly when I saw a music video set entirely on BART — "He Said, She Said" by Oakland-based newcomer Maldroid — on YouTube last year.
The video takes place on a BART train, starting at Powell Street station in San Francisco and ending at 19th Street and Broadway in Oakland. I glimpsed those blue bricks and a "Cable Car Cafe" sign and felt nostalgia thick enough to spread on a slice of sourdough.
"He Said, She Said" won the YouTube Underground Contest last year. Maldroid rocketed to indie rock fame, playing the Austin South By Southwest festival this spring. I conversed with lead singer Ryan Divine, who also directed and created signature videos for the group, including "He Said, She Said." Inspirations included A-ha's "Take On Me" and the work of Michel Gondry. I asked: why BART and not, say, AC Transit or a San Francisco trolley?
"The'70s aesthetic definitely played a role;
I love the monorail look to the trains," Divine replied, "but there was certainly more to it. I think BART, more so than AC Transit or a trolley, screams "Bay Area" and not any one specific city. I've also found that more people read, draw, etc. on the train, which played into my story, and I think is more universal worldwide. Train stations and trains also gave me more locations and space to work with in shooting."
BART, however, did not prove ideal for filming. During the portion of the video where the train emerges from the Bay and passes above ground before West Oakland, the footage includes greenery that doesn't appear anywhere near that industrial area.
"I've no doubt that continuity may be a little shaky. We got kicked out of so many stations for shooting without a permit that we had to shoot wherever we could and assemble it into something that kinda made sense," said Divine.
Another Maldroid song is "Heck No! (I'll Never Listen To Techno)." It casts aspersions on electronic music. The music video (another Divine creation) features a Lite Brite. Divine agreed that, as my husband alleges, techno is just the second coming of disco. He explains the song isn't really about hating techno, which he sometimes likes, but about the growing homogenization of humanity.
"We are becoming robots; we do the same things over and over. True individualism is lacking these days and it's what makes us great. We are becoming robots, and what else would robots listen to? Electronic music, I'd guess..."
I shyly asked whether people other than me constantly compare Maldroid to OkGo, the indie pop group that broke into popular consciousness with a treadmill dance video on YouTube. They do, and Divine thinks it's more because they both gained fame via YouTube than because they sound alike. These days, using the Internet, hard work and a vision can let a band connect with people on the cheap.
"I think our two bands are testament to that," said Divine. "I always intended to break this band with homemade videos. I was about three-quarters done with 'He Said, She Said' when OkGo's treadmill video blew up. When that happened, I felt validated. I knew we were on the right track."
At the South By Southwest festival, the band enjoyed great Texas barbecue and parlayed its YouTube fame — and dashing brown suits — into media attention.
"We got a lot of press, both televised and in print just looking the way we did. We couldn't walk more than a couple feet without getting stopped for pics and questions. If you're a buzz band and you don't play SXSW, there's a stigma that you are in fact not a buzz band. We had to play it," said Divine.
The "He Said, She Said" video made me miss Bay Area friends and sourdough bread, I told
Divine. He replied he misses his gal, his cats, fresh produce, ranch dressing for pizza-dipping and culture in general.
"Except on the coasts (places like Oakland and NYC), I find it very homogeneous. ... I miss choosing between a wealth of great local offerings that aren't simplyor I like unique things, and I'm finding that harder to acquire out in the middle."
Fortunately, anyone — even in "the middle" of the United States — can get a taste of Maldroid at myspace.com/maldroid. Maldroid plays the San Francisco club Bottom Of The Hill on July 30.
Sumana Harihareswara writes for Bay Area Living each week. You can write to her at email@example.com.