Punk rock meets Prince

    What happens when you take two tattooed native Portlanders, both of whom have played in their fair share of first-rate hard-rocking bands, and give them laptops and goals of audience connection and playing fun infectious soul? In this case, you get something like The Beauty. They’ve been making their funky, soul-driven, distorto R&B for over four years right here in Portland. Matt “Automattic” Zimmerman and Todd “Falsetto” Fadel (who used to run the late great Meow Meow) had their first rehearsal in the summer of 2002, but long before then they had lengthy discussions about what kind of music they wanted to make.

    Two skilled musicians such as these could play (or at least experiment in) any genre they wanted, so why choose this lo-fi homegrown glitchy synth soul? Fadel says that when Gnarls Barkley hit it big this year, they were encouraged and it confirmed what Zimmerman and he have thought for years: “People want soul.”

    Listening to Prince’s song “When Doves Cry” inspired the duo. They say that to record and release a funky song like that with no bass line is so punk rock, it captured their imagination and helped guide them in the direction that they want to go. Not that many of their songs lack a bass line (Zimmerman is a terrifically talented bass player). Instead, the minimalist aesthetic is what really holds true throughout The Beauty’s songs.

    They are also interested in the contrast and interplay between synthetic and organic elements in their songs, so you might find electric bass and guitar lines played over an obviously programmed drum part, and an occasional twirping synth, layered behind the harmonized lead vocals and counter-melody, which all coincide, such as on “My Achin’ Back.”

    The Beauty collaborate on every song they do, and they write the song as they record it, using the program Fruity Loops and a home computer. They both write the songs, and they write them together. One of them might come up with a music element that they both like, then they add some drum loops behind it, then they each do a few passes of recording improvised vocals over the top of all of that.

After it’s done, they decide which vocal and musical elements they like most and are most essential to the song, and then they call it finished.

    When it comes to what sounds they use in a song, there are no rules. You might find a sample of a guitar feeding back that’s been chopped up, pitch-shifted and looped to make a melodic pattern, or you might find a sound that’s identifiable as a synth, guitar or bass. A common element is the use of circuit-bent products. This involves short-circuiting electronic devices such as toys, effects pedals and synthesizers to create often wild and bizarre sounds that those devices weren’t intended to create.

    Such effort goes into the recording of these tracks that you might think a live recreation of their songs would be impossible, but that’s not the case. The Beauty thrive on live performance, and rather than try to teach a backup band their songs, they instead employ a boom box on stage, with a mike aimed at it. This minimalist approach puts even more pressure and attention on the two singers, but they pull it off in grand fashion. Their songs are infectious and one of the goals is to get the audience involved in the show, so if they see that someone doesn’t get it, they will walk right up to them, during the song, and sing right in the person’s face.

    It may seem a little overbearing, but that’s a risk they’re willing to take. They believe that people need to be able to have fun and relax at a show, not just stand there with arms crossed, wondering what the right move is to look cool.

    When it comes to influences, the first name to both of their lips is Prince, then Money Mark, Cody Chestnut, Marvin Gaye, D’Angelo, Aphex Twin, Sam and Dave, and James Brown. Tongue-in-cheek lyrics are also part of The Beauty’s charm and appeal, as you can hear on a classic like “Dance Yourself to Death.” You’ll hear a skittering deep synth bass line, manipulated electric guitar hits akin to those in the Prince song “Kiss,” the commanding line from the song’s title sung by distorted vocals, and an engaging clap-along bridge that, in concert, makes it damn near impossible to resist clapping along.

    The Beauty, Double Dragon, and Frank Dufay play a free show tonight at The Towne Lounge.