Gathered over a kitchen table at Fuck World Headquarters (singer/guitarist Kyle Statham's Tenderloin apartment and basement recording studio), the foursome politely poke at a spaghetti dinner. Between forkfuls bassist Ted Ellison explains that the band likes the name explicitly for the contrast it pits between the actual sound and its tag.
Still, that name. The name that radio can't announce, chain stores can't sell, and some clubs can't book. It's enough to make a mother blush.
"My mother doesn't even know that I'm in a band called Fuck," says Ellison. "She knows I play music, but whenever I put it on she zones it out and talks about something else," he says.
"My mother knows," says drummer/guitarist Geoff Soule.
"His grandmother, too," Statham chimes in.
"Yeah, she came to our show in San Diego," Soule continues.
"And let us stay at her home," Statham adds.
As for Statham, his parents went into denial. "For a long time they pretended like they couldn't remember the name," he says. "Now my dad keeps ordering all of this Fuck merchandise. I thought he'd become a fan, but I found out the other day that he gives it away as jokes to people that he wants to embarrass. And my mom won't even say the name, but I can tell when she's thinking about it because she kind of giggles."
Timmy Prudhomme, who plays guitar and sings on most of Fuck's songs, says his open-minded mother approves of the handle and supports the band. But a mother's love is unconditional; acceptance isn't so easy outside of family relations. Berkeley's KALX prefers to pass the name over during calendar announcements; KUSF DJs stumble around with something like "the band whose name we can't say on the radio." And Ellison says some club owners tell the band they'd never book a dirty word. Other times the group has had to change the name to Fork for a gig.
When they do play live, Fuck turns ordinary performance into an event -- another anomaly in self-absorbed indie rock. At a recent show at Bottom of the Hill, audience members received themed raffle tickets at the door. Each numbered square featured a sex book's black-and-white photo of a young couple engaged in various coital positions. Then, while Fuck set up their instruments, a cohort read descriptive passages and handed out prizes to ticket-holders with a match. For example: "Gazelle orally stimulates Pierre against the towel rack, Number 48"; or, "Pierre enters Gazelle from behind, Number 121." Lucky winners got special Fuck prizes: an autographed baseball, a U.S. Postal Service coloring book and a dozen bottle rockets, or a T-shirt.
Working behind the distraction, the band had propped up a garrison of stuffed animals across the front of the stage and set in motion several mechanized toys from Ellison's bedroom collection. While a Jolly Ol' St. Nick held a candle in one hand and waved with the other, a mouse with enormous ears rotated its head at stage left. A couple of battery-powered plastic flowers nodded to the drum check.
One of the bonuses of being in a band, as Fuck knows, is that it provides ample ways to unleash creative juices, musical or otherwise. Besides self-recording and -releasing both CDs, Fuck silk-screens their own logos on cheap thrift-store T-shirts and hand-packages each release. The first, Pretty ... Slow, came in a painted box with a small coloring book, crayons, and a tiny baby rattle. The follow-up, Baby Loves a Funny Bunny, is ingeniously packaged in a giant matchbook. Statham says the band allows the foursome to reveal their passions in public. "If Ted asked you to come over to his house and see his 200 stuffed animals and moving toys, you'd think he was some kind of dope. But if he sets them all up onstage, you think he's a hero."
An hour and 15 minutes after the show began, each Fuck member was a hero, more for the ability to transform a typical chatty Bottom of the Hill crowd into 200 ears than for zany stage antics. "That's one of the benefits of having built some kind of following," says Statham. "You actually have some people who will be quiet. And the quieter it is, the quieter we play. [On] some songs it actually becomes a challenge to see just how quiet we can play, and if we can get all the way down there then we know people are listening."
The immediacy of Fuck's live performances belies the band's geographical predicament. In 1994, just after the group recorded its first songs, Prudhomme packed his guitar and followed a woman to New York. Now, with Statham in San Francisco, Soule and Ellison in the East Bay, and Prudhomme in the Big Apple, the quartet rarely see one another. Ellison insists the group's made lemonade from the situation. "When you practice all of the time, it's hard to keep things lively, fresh, and big," he says. "And with a lot of the things we're doing, if we get bored with the material it's going to come out. But it stays fresh because of our circumstances."
Statham adds, "All of our material is really intuitive. ... We don't have to play a song 30 times before we know it, before we play it live, before we record it. We can play it twice and tape it. Or play it four times and then play it live."
The hasty process is transparent on both Pretty ... Slow and Baby Loves a Funny Bunny. Though loose, each record feels meticulously crafted as a whole, produced with a painter's sense of knowing where to add texture and where to spread material thin and delicate. Baby feels more developed and mature than Pretty ... Slow, with bigger, more upbeat songs. Both "Rococo" and "Like You" are fantastically poppy, with sharp guitar hooks and sing-along vocals. "Loosened Mind?" eerily splices a Jack in the Box melody, distorted tape samples, and chimes over percussive oom-pah-pahs. The three singers often slur, garbling what are already obscure word choices. Ellison, who pens the tunes, doesn't mind the confusion. When asked about "Shotgun (H)ours," the last song on the first CD, Ellison wouldn't say if the ditty is about a suicide, a wedding, a junkie, or rabbit hunting. "I always get funny about lyrical content," he says. "I like to leave it open, not pin it down, because that excludes everything else."
Of course, obfuscation isn't surprising for a band that's deliberately alienated every possible commercial venue by appellation alone. But the puzzle -- that Fuck twist that never makes sense -- is that even though they've chiseled out their own expressive space, they still can't tell you what they have to say.
Fuck's name will not grace the marquee, but the band will open for Chavez Thursday, Nov. 21, at 8 p.m. at Bimbo's 365 Club, 1025 Columbus. Tickets are $7-8; call 474-0365.