There wasn't a conscious decision to make a record about high school," admits Arzu D2 Gokcen, the beehived vocalist/guitarist from St. Paul, Minn., punk-poppers Selby Tigers. "But I guess there is a lot of high school in there."
Indeed there is. On the winsome Tigers' debut full-length, "Charm City," Gokcen, her husband, Nathan Grumdahl (guitar), Dave Gardner (bass) and Dave Gatchell (drums) deftly recall the kind of slamming-locker abandon that used to make you clench your fists and scream in your post-pube years. It's a pep rally for those smelling of teen spirit.
"Don't we all want to be young together," D2 howls in the song "Queen of the Bonfire." "Don't we all want to be so young together!"
"Most people bring it up," she says of the teen dream. "We're like ... oh, yeah!"
The rallying energy behind "Charm City" certainly suggests a visceral overthrow. Spouting childhood throwbacks to geeky disenfranchisement with the regrets that come with aging, the record brims with a forthright edge and almost manic urgency. And clocking in at just under 30 minutes, it rattles like it might just change the world.
But it's more the sound of a charged camaraderie and its celebratory release. The band members alternate vocals, interweaving Gokcen's tantrums with the Weezer-like growls of Grumdahl and Gardner -- all dressed up in jumpsuits and spectacles. You know, to make a spectacle.
Likewise, Selby Tigers share songwriting duties, usually leaving the singing to the songwriter who crafted it. According to Gokcen, the multitasking has its benefits on the road."It's nice, because if someone's really sick, then we can tweak the set list," she says.
Selby Tigers were born in 1998 out of the diverse Minneapolis/St. Paul rock scene -- where Prince purple reigned, and Hüsker Dü did -- when indie hopefuls Lucky Lucy (with Gatchell and Gokcen) fizzled out. Naturally, D2 turned to her husband, Grumdahl, then playing in the early emo act Arm, for assistance.
"It's good, because we're really open," she says of her spousal use. "We communicate really well with each other."
The band recorded and toured for eight months, culminating in a debut EP and the departure of their original bassist. They met Gardner (Creepers, El Vado), and after just one show the band found its collaborative fit. They signed to the legendary punk label Hopeless Records, following a fluke industry back-scratch, when Grumdahl, day-jobbing at a small indie label, included the band's EP with some requested Melvins' footage for a label comp. Liking Selby's tape and positive word-of-mouth, Hopeless signed the group.
It also allowed them to further a geek-rock evolution that stretched back to their early years of new wave and punk influence (mostly archival, seeing as the band wobbles around the mid-20s) and through their later years of low-rent legwork.
The results rock with a quirk and pop that often recalls The B-52's first record, accessing the garage/surf-rock paranoia that screamed liberally about Limburger cheese, while maintaining its hair-sprayed charm ("We ended up listening to that record a lot on the road," confesses D2).
On "Charm City's" punchy centerpiece "Flashbars," Gokcen slide-shows a high-school-love timeline, with short, starry-eyed codas like, "stairwell/ hiding out/ no one likes us/ anyhow." Although, surely now they do.
"High school was kind of traumatic for all of us," says Gokcen. "It shaped who I am a little bit -- because I was such a freak."