The Sex Kings
Although Mick Jagger, notorious connoisseur of the fairer sex, may have traded his brown sugar for a spoonful of reality with a Bush-bashing ditty called "Sweet Neo Con," rest assured that today's younger rock stars are still loving the ladies. Take the upstart San Diegans of Louis XIV: "Finding Out True Love Is Blind," the first single off their major-label debut EP The Best Little Secrets Are Kept, plays like a libidinous laundry list. "You're looking like something I want," lead singer Jason Hill proclaims to the chocolate girl. To her friend, the Asian babe, "She can come if she wants." Short girls, smart girls, self-conscious girls, redheads -- the boys of Louis XIV give every potential member of their femme fan base a shout-out.
As for the band members -- Hill, guitarist Brian Karscig, drummer Mark Maigaard, and bassist Jimmy Armbrust -- well, good thing they're actually good. So good, in fact, they opened for the Killers before they were signed to a label, convinced Atlantic Records to give them complete artistic control on Secrets, and have been seen at more major festivals than an arepa cart. This summer they've already hit Lollapalooza, the UK's T in the Park, and Summersonic in Japan. Next month's Rocky Horror Picture Show 30th Anniversary Party in LA and Voodoo Music Experience in New Orleans are on deck. Not that the band needs any help from trannies or black magic -- in the span of a couple of years, Louis XIV has turned a concept album about a boy who thought he was the fifteenth-century Sun King into a rock and roll reality of royal proportions.
Despite the band's current "it" status, the seeds of Louis XIV were planted twelve years ago, when Hill and Karscig met in grade school. "I was a new kid, and Jay came up to me and said, 'I heard you're a real funny guy. Can you tell me a joke?'" Karscig recalls. "I told him a joke or something and we started hanging out, got into music together, and have just been best friends ever since."
After seceding from Beach Boys-meet-Jayhawks outfit Convoy and taking Maigaard along with them, the three holed themselves up in a Paris flat, came up with the idea for an album based on a kid with a quixotic fixation with a dead French monarch, changed their name accordingly, brought in Armbrust, and cranked out an eponymous debut album.
By 2004 radio stations like San Diego's 91X and LA's KROQ threw "Finding Out True Love Is Blind" into the rotation and the sexed-up track became a hit with listeners. That year their formal introduction to rock and roll society came via a coveted opening slot on tour with the Killers, proving Louis XIV was ready to steal not only the airwaves but also stages across the nation. Critics have used words like electrifying, cheeky, and swaggering to describe a typical Louis XIV performance. Indeed, if you Google the last adjective with "Louis XIV," more than 3000 hits emerge, only a handful of which are devoted to the actual French monarch. (It's hard to swagger in pantaloons.) Hill has been compared to Jagger when it comes to onstage pomp and vigor. He delivers the raw, sassy "Illegal Tender" with a theatrically energized British accent, and is prone to sneer, occasionally drop to the floor, and engage in Michael Jacksonesque hip hikes.
While other stylized rock outfits have garnered flack from critics for spending more time on their image than their music (pretty much any band with the in its name, save a few, falls into this set), Louis XIV has mostly beaten the rap. "We get the whole 'sexed-up glam rocker' category," Karscig says. "We never set out to be a glam rock band, for sure, and as far as being sexed up, there's really only four songs on the album that have sexuality as a lyrical vehicle. The rest is kinda bluesy songs, a testament to music. I think people hear a song or two and make perceptions of the band that are sometimes flattering or funny, but sometimes just really far-fetched and incorrect on what we're all about." On being compared to the Stones, Karscig simply says that everyone has their own opinions about what music is. "Some people might call the Stones swaggery, sexed-up rockers, but they're also one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time."
The band has also been compared to hyperstylized performers like David Bowie and T. Rex, the latter to the point of exhaustion. Pitchforkmedia.com went so far as to claim the band was a carbon-copy rip-off of the Brit glam rockers, but Karscig says it's ridiculous to infer that their sound comes from the influence of a single band. As a kid, he says, he would buy records instead of CDs in order to stretch his allowance, which in turn exposed him to more music. "It's like if you were to throw a hundred colors in a bucket, mix it up, and then take out a brush and paint a line on a wall and go, 'That line looks like it was influenced by the color red,'" he opines. "Every song we have has a different kind of feel; you can hear some influences shine through in addition to what we do on our own."
Though some might be quick to compare and pigeonhole, no one can accuse Louis XIV of not being dedicated to its music. Most bands stock the back of their tour buses with PlayStations, flat-screens, and any other sensory-overloading diversions they can get; Louis XIV has converted its bus into a mini recording studio. "Bands we tour with will walk back and look at what we have on our bus and just kinda trip out," Karscig says. "We bring a lot of stuff on the road just to have fun, because you can't go out and party it up and drink every single night. We are musicians, so we do like to keep working. We've got every single video game company saying, 'Do you want this Electrobox or Electrocube or whatever for your bus?' and we're like, absolutely not."
Asian girls, however, are more than welcome.
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