Perfect Sound Forever

Shirley Temple of Doom:

Photo by Craig Wallace Dale

Name That Tune
By Andy Kaufmann (January 2003)

Names often create first impressions. For better or worse, those impressions can last a very long time. Nobody knows this better than New York trio Shirley Temple of Doom. The title, inspired by the drink of the same name, conjures a myriad of images. "Shirley Temple" makes one think of old movies. "Temple of Doom" is a direct reference to the comic misadventures of Indiana Jones. "Temple" brings to mind religion, while the word "Doom" conjures a heavy metal vibe that implies nuclear war. Even the acronym, STD, simultaneously invokes disease and sexuality. It seems there are dissertations to be written on the band's name alone and most music journalists appear to find it worthwhile to make a big deal over their chosen title.

But to assume that the band's name deserves more attention than its sound is a mistake: a mistake with which they are clearly familiar. "At least you know how to spell it," jibes vocalist / guitarist and Brooklyn-born Jeff Perez, the band's main catalyst. "It's not like Blink-182 where you don't even know how to pronounce it. Is it Blink-One-Hundred-and-Eighty-Two? Blink-One-Eight-Two? Blink-One-Eighty-Two?" Touché, Jeff.

But one can't ignore the fact that loads of curiosity has been generated by the name, a handle that is both original and as appropriately multi-dimensional as the band itself. While many believe that the word "Doom" necessitates the band's being a typical Goth or industrial purist's outfit, these guys are anything but a one-genre trip.

Their first album, Incrediheadultraspread, released in 1997 and produced by Devin Emke at Sound On Sound Studios, was a straightforward rock 'n roll affair, focusing largely on Jeff's chunky guitar riffs and attack vocals (drummer Tom Dietz appeared in place of current player Billy Atwell.) They were, for all intents and purposes, a heavy metal band, though a few alert listeners must have noted their underground vision bubbling beneath the surface. After all, it was this sound (and NOT their name) that made them regulars at popular haunts such as Arlene's Grocery and the storied CBGB's.

Diligent touring eventually paid off in the form of an unexpected opportunity: a three-month run with an off-Broadway version of Godspell, a unique job for any hard rock band. In 2001, Universal even released an album version of their work with the production. "We did the whole Godspell thing, which definitely gave a new slant on everything," reflects Perez. "It was a regular gig, which is good for any rock band. We've also done commercials and promo music for HBO. We're not afraid to do those sorts of things."

But their artistic maturity would seriously come to fruition with their newest studio release, Notification of Termination, produced by Martin Bisi at his private B.C. Studios in Brooklyn. The prolific and respected producer, whose resume includes work with dozens of influential artists such as Herbie Hancock, Sonic Youth, Bootsy Collins, Cibo Matto, Helmet and White Zombie, fell in love with the band's sound and made them his pet project, assisting them in seriously developing their style. Perez: "Yeah, Martin's a good friend of ours. We have a really good relationship with him. He'd seen us live a bunch of times actually, before he produced our album and he kind of really got the vibe of what we were doing and really liked us." Likewise, the band was familiar with his work, so they simply "looked him up." "He made it pretty clear that he was enthusiastic (about our sound) and that kind of sealed it." What transpired was a grueling four-month-long session that resulted in considerably more work for Jeff than it did for the band's other two members. "I ended up going there every day after work and then on weekends for like two and a half months straight, doing the vocals and the guitars, all that stuff. (Martin) made my jaw drop a couple of times, in terms of the studio tricks he was able to pull off." The result is a mature album that successfully straddles the line between commercial, accessible grunge and a deeply intricate, eclectic sound. Blending elements of alternative hardcore, jazz and acoustic rock, it's a sound that is truly all their own.

However, mixing musical genres is nothing new to STD. When Jeff originally formed the band after graduating from high school in 1990, they were a four-member outfit doing just another metal act. After suffering through multitudes of personnel changes, there was even a time when Jeff remained the band's only surviving member, so he plugged the band's moniker as an acoustic solo act. But creative sparks really began to fly when Jeff connected with his current band mates: West Virginian drummer Billy Atwell and bassist Matthew M. Volpe. Even though the act's many incarnations were a direct result of artistic growing pains, the trio makes a regular practice of shifting its style; indeed, they are as comfortable grooving in smoky jazz clubs as they are at creating chaos in sweaty punk dives. Atwell, who made his mark with acts like False Prophets and Th' Inbred, has long since proven himself to be a seriously diverse talent. His 1988 solo album, Ferret in a China Shop, includes elements of rock, jazz, mood music and even classical. Despite the fact that they constantly shift styles, they plan on remaining a trio. And this time it's for real; when they started playing together, they felt a special connection that only happens when a band capable of great things becomes a reality. Shirley Temple of Doom is blazing a trail in uncharted territory.

Still, it could take a while for the rest of the world to catch on, so don't think they're on an egotistical superstar jag quite yet. They may be rock stars at night, but by day they're regular working stiffs. In fact, their label, Watergate Records, doesn't even really exist; it's just a front for whatever Jeff and his pals dream up. Matt is a film editor, who has utilized his talents to create an on-line documentary about their life in the recording studio. Jeff, an art director, designed their website and creates their album covers.

Yet they've shared the stage with notable bands such as Goldfinger, D-Generation, Sexpod and Mary Me Jane. They've appeared on TNN and live on MTV's Oddville. Despite it all, their latest album, an EP titled The Mad Hatter, will be available only over the Internet. It remains perplexing that they lack support from a major label, considering their list of accomplishments. Maybe they'd simply rather not get bogged down in label politics. Maybe it's just a sad commentary on the industry's fear of anything too new or different. Or maybe it's something about the name...

See the official STOD website

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER