Mister Loveless isn't fashionable. The four dudes in the band get that. They put a lot into their sigh-heavy, Smiths-indebted post-grunge — years of hunting for the right band members, obsessive songwriting, coordinated outfits — and the finished product is promising (if restrained), crisp (if predictable), and hard not to like (unless you just hate bands that sound like they know what they're doing). The band sounds right at home on Live 105 — hell, it sounds better than a lot of bands played on Live 105. And that's the problem.
With Mister Loveless, the music is the main selling point. There isn't a new subgenre for the band to stake out, or a gimmick for bloggers to obsess over. Mister Loveless' songs are not (for the most part) soaked in tanks of reverb, sun-baked by '60s pop harmonies, or salted with the psychedelic fuzz of shoegaze. You will find no winking irony, no inside joke to get. Mister Loveless did not just arise — it has been around in various forms for seven years. None of the members are glamorous art-school girls (or any other kind of girls).
All of which makes Mister Loveless pretty darn unfashionable. "I always felt like we were a band that people weren't going to write about," singer-guitarist Rob Miller says nonchalantly over beers on a recent afternoon. "We already kind of realized that at this point we're not going to be a band that achieves overnight success."
Miller partly attributes that largely to the group's unflashy, accessible sound. Mister Loveless doesn't ape one obvious influence, instead settling on some triangulation of the Smiths, Joy Division, and the Pixies. Recorded mostly at San Francisco's Different Fur studios, the songs on its latest Three Words EP plod along at medium tempos, gaze into listless atmospheres of lonely echo, and erupt suddenly into full-blown distorted climaxes. Miller's baritone sounds like a less affected Paul Banks of Interpol — except Miller can modulate seamlessly between a confessional whisper and a thumping exclaim. With this capacity and coordination, Mister Loveless ends up sounding like the product of more restraint and planning than is cool in rock music these days. (The only exception is the slightly more raucous "Strange and Futureless," a track the band recorded in one day at Tiny Telephone Studios with the help of a recording grant from the Bay Bridged.)
But if Mister Loveless' recordings feel a bit overcautious, its members shake out every grimace of twentysomething angst in their live show. Honed over years in East Bay dive bars before the band slid into Oakland and San Francisco, Mister Loveless' performances put a fire under its practiced dynamics. An agitated presence is even considered essential for membership: It was only after guitarist Sean Gaffney kicked over a mike stand and bloodied himself on the stage of a high school talent show that Miller and bassist Charlie Koliha decided they wanted him in the band.
Sitting with the four members at an outdoor table at Bean Bag Cafe on Divisadero Street, I found it surprisingly easy to imagine them gracing a widely distributed album cover. Their pale bodies are adorned almost exclusively in black formalwear — sportcoats, slacks, and dress boots. The members thoughtlessly grab french fries off one another's plates, and snatch cigarettes out of the box of Camels on the table. They seem to agree on pretty much everything: Asked about their favorite local venues to play, they all gaze across Divisadero and point at the Independent. "Right there," they agree, remembering a sold-out gig in April opening for British indie rockers The Wedding Present. "I've sat here countless times drinking beer and being like, 'How do I fucking penetrate those walls?'" Miller says. "It was really hard to go back to being a regular person with a job and responsibilities after that."
So Mister Loveless — named after a teacher Miller had in sixth grade — is getting somewhere. The band has toured up and down the West Coast, and plans to hit SXSW next year. But even when it comes to building an audience, this band eschews the tempting trend of niche appeal. "There's no prepackaged sort of lifestyle you have to buy into when you listen to our records," Miller says. "It's not exclusive." Not exclusive? How unfashionable, indeed.