Finish these statements:
Hyperbole isn't welcome in music writing because ...
a) ... it's a cheap rhetorical device to begin with. Duh.
b) ... showing your cards drains totally your hip cred, bro.
c) ... by definition, music writing is enriched by a healthy cynicism.
d) ... Christgau doesn't use it, Robert Palmer didn't, so what makes you think you can, you punk?
e) All of the above.
So what to say about "My Main Shitstain," the debut from Paris Suit Yourself?
a) "It sounds like TV on the Radio, had it not completely lost the point years ago."
b) "I thought music made by the French was supposed to suck."
c) "It's one of the most rousing, inspired, thrilling, ridiculous rock albums in a long time."
d) "It's at once one of the most divisive and most acclaimed albums of the year."
e) All of the above and more.
If writing about music, as the exhausted cliche goes, "is like dancing about architecture," then this music writer has been currently perched on the highest point of Sacré-Cœur in a full-on, spit-launching, frenetic seizure fit over "My Main Shitstain" (yes, it's a terrible title). And I'm not the only one: The better part of the European press at large, including the habitually staunch tastemakers at the BBC, have been united for months in a collectively raised fist for Paris Suit Yourself.
So imagine my surprise when, during this figurative freak-out party, the drummer responsible for so much of the album's madness strolled up and unleashed a fat "woo pig sooie!" in our direction.
Joe Heffernan, 34, was born in Fayetteville to U of A professor and celebrated poet Michael Heffernan and Fayetteville Adult Education program director Kathy Spigarelli. His scattershot, wildly diverse musical history begins there.
"I've been playing piano since I was young, but I was wild and had a ton of energy and just didn't want to keep going to the lessons," the musician recalls. "In seventh grade I wanted to do all the heavy metal bands, y'know? I was a crazy teen-ager — all kinds of nonsense and shenanigans. But I bagged all that and went into classical, started studying orchestration and playing piano again."
He enrolled in the U of A to study percussion before moving to full-time composition.
"For six years, really all I did was study orchestration and music theory. I did arrangements for a symphony and did a lot of chamber music before I moved to Chicago. Left all the crazy punk rock energy behind to combine my mental state full of music theory and harmony but, y'know, my body needed to move!
"I'm really, really hyperactive. I have to play the drums or I'll go insane," jokes Heffernan in a still-wired, restless burst of energy.
It was a chance encounter and mutual passion for classical music with the three Bordeaux-based members of Paris Suit Yourself that kicked off Heffernan's years-long frenzy around Europe.
"I met Luvinsky [Atche, frontman] in New York City and, seven months later, he called up and said, 'Hey, man — you've gotta come play in this band. Now.'
"See, I'm a double Capricorn: I only go somewhere if there's a function for me to do. A job or something, you know? So I dropped the classical stuff and moved to France."
Heffernan joined Atche and the rest of Paris Suit Yourself, Marie Boye (bass) and Victor Tricard (guitar, keys), in the south of France, and over the next months darted around the continent, evading visa laws by lily-padding back and forth across the Atlantic and establishing Paris Suit Yourself as a band to watch in musical circles. (He also met his wife, Marie, a Swede.) The band earned its reputation in large part because of Heffernan's hectic, innovative rhythms, which draw upon his background as a classical arranger.
"As a drummer, I also feel like a conductor, trying to shape things," he says.
No doubt, it's that classically-trained vantage point towards drumming that holds "My Main Shitstain" together and casts the band's perverse splatter of art-rock into an accessible, dancehall-ready album. The album draws from forebears as far flung as afro-beat inventor Fela Kuti, post-punk/dub greats New Age Steppers, French garage legend Jacques DuTronc and Wu-Tang Clan's late, great Ol' Dirty Bastard. (I think the surprise in their track "Surprise" is the "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" shout-out at 1:55.)
It's only appropriate that such an absurd, mind-blower of an album was born from such an absurd, mind-blowing inter-continental coincidence, isn't it?
"My Main Shitstain" is available for download on the iTunes store and on Amazon, among other music stores. Look for it in December 2011 in a number of year-end "best of" lists.