Sunday, November 5, 2017

e.g., URBAN VERBS: D.C. City Sound [1980]

Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen fanzine, 1980
Introduction text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2017
Images from the Internet

This article was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #5, dated August / September 1980, by Managing Editor Julia Masi.

The Urban Verbs released two albums on Warner Bros., and then broke up about a year after this was published. With a cult status and fans, they continue to occasionally get together for reunion gigs, mostly in D.C. – Robert Barry Francos, 2017.

On their recent East Coast tour, Roddy Franz, lyricist and singer of the Urban Verbs, sat in his room at New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel smoking cigarettes and talking about the band’s music.

“I don’t mean this in an egotistical way,” he apologizes as he cites their music as “a little more thoughtful. It has a lot of integrity. We haven’t tried to deliberately commercialize.” Instead, the Urban Verbs have worked at presenting something that is artistically successful as well as entertaining. They strive for a “certain level of sophistication embodied in our music.”

But Franz is quick to shy away from descriptions that might label their music. “It’s rock’n’roll,” he explained, “Most of the other terms are just so nebulous at this point. I think at one point New Wave was distinguishable from punk, perhaps it still is, but New Wave itself has just become such a nebulous sort of journalistic handle, as ‘hippies’ was; it is no longer that clear. I would just like people to think of us as a rock’n’roll band.”

But the Urban Verbs is more than just an ordinary band. Although they’re not yet an overnight success, their career has taken off at a rather rapid pace. They have the rare distinction of originating in Washington, D.C., where Franz and composer-guitarist Robert Goldstein [d. 2016 – RBF], both natives of Pittsburgh, had been working in bands. Franz was with a group called the Controls and Goldstein was in the Look. Both bands broke up around the same time, so Franz and Goldstein teamed up to form a band that would eventually record. They picked up their drummer, Danny Frankel, bass player Linda France, and Robin Rose on synthesizer from a cover band that played at local parties. For a while, they billed themselves as the Special Guest Band before they changed their name to Urban Verbs.

In the summer of 1978, they came to New York to do a gig at CBGB. There they met Brian Eno, who produced their two-song demo. Their debut album, Urban Verbs, on Warner Bros. Records, is being well-received in Italy, London and Paris. It’s expected to do just as well here.

Lately, the band has been touring. They had the option of going out with another, possibly bigger name band, but prefer to go it alone on small regional tours. “We work better with a more intimate setting of 150 to 300 people. You get more than that and it just changes the nature of the performance.”

The group’s primary concern is their music. Franz stated, “I don’t think performers should necessarily be politicians or Bible thumpers. I think we, rather than trying to proselytize, create and give enough of an impression for people to make their own decisions. We don’t really have a single message we want to convey.”

Inspiration for songs “comes in different forms. Sometimes,” says Franz, “I’ll write simply because I think we need a new song. If you don’t always have something that you’re working on, you get stale. Other times people or situations will inspire me. ‘Tina Gray’ was written for my sister-in-law. Different things at different times. Being in love is good to write about.”

But on the opposite side of the coin, Franz has written “Luca Brasi,” for a character from the movie The Godfather, who “sleeps with the fishes,” Granz explained. “Luca was the Godfather’s personal bodyguard for 20 years. He got a knife through his hand and was dumped in the East River.” After recalling the scene in the film where a dead fish wrapped in newspaper was dropped off on the Corleone steps, Franz smiled with ha twinkle in his blue eyes and said, “I just thought it was a neat image.”

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