SF Bay Guardian Interview w/Jimmy Draper
May 11, 2005
"The Ex-philes"
Bay Area romantics the Ex-Boyfriends have no regrets - about showing off their love for pure pop.
by Jimmy Draper

"Sometimes I feellike there's a weird shame in admitting that you really like pop music, but I love it more than anything," Colin Daly, singer-guitarist of Bay Area rock trio the Ex-Boyfriends, proudly says.

Over happy-hour drinks in the Mission District, Daly and his bandmates, bassist Peter Harb and drummer Chris Ohnesorge, have convened to discuss their recently completed debut, Dear John. And given that the album overflows with the sort of infectious energy and sky-high hooks that practically demand to be heard on the radio, it's not exactly surprising the topic of conversation quickly becomes the group's shared and entirely unapologetic appreciation for all things pop - from the importance of hand claps in a song to the small miracle that is Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone." Clearly, unlike so many underground bands, the Ex-Boyfriends don't see accessibility as something to necessarily shy away from.

"Many people have a negative connotation with the word pop because they associate it with, like, Britney Spears - as if there's something not good about that," Ohnesorge says. "But it's funny because sometimes I listen to rock stuff, and it seems like people have wanted to make it as horribly difficult to hear as possible. The whole experience seems like torture, like, 'How much can you endure?' And that has its own art to it too, but I'm more excited by people who write songs that I can't stop singing for weeks on end."

Daly agrees. "Those songs aren't hard to write, but it is hard to write them over and over and not seem repetitive and to find something new in each song," he says. "We like that challenge."

It's a challenge they've been meeting since 2003. That spring, Daly and Ohnesorge began collaborating after their former groups - San Francisco's Amscray and New York's Crowns on 45, respectively - ground to a halt. "Both our bands ended kind of not so wonderfully," Ohnesorge concedes, explaining that he and Daly originally formed the Ex-Boyfriends to help put those breakups behind them. When their original bassist quit after one rehearsal, claiming the band was too angry - "At that point, though, the only song I'd written was about dancing at a show!" Daly says, laughing - they enlisted Harb.

"My band Charmless, who I still play with, played many shows with Amscray, and I always really liked Colin's songwriting," Harb says. "When I heard that band wasn't playing anymore, I e-mailed him and said, 'Hey, if you ever need a bassist, I would love to help see that your songs get heard.' "

That's exactly what happened a few months later when the Ex-Boyfriends debuted a handful of songs at the Eagle Tavern. Even the trio's earliest material, which eventually appeared on a 2004 demo, revealed a melodic, unabashedly pop-oriented approach to songwriting: though not as great as what was to come, "Breathe Without Breaking" and "Elements of Withdrawal" obeyed the catchiest of pop-rock conventions without sounding contrived, whereas the melancholic ballad "I'm" - still one of the trio's finest moments - showcased Daly's knack for detailing, with wit and poignancy, relationships run woefully amok.

As their band name might lead you to believe, the Ex-Boyfriends wear their heartbreaks on their sleeves. But considering that Dear John (which the band is currently shopping to labels) boasts the sort of upbeat, all-killer-no-filler pop rock that's made Tartufi and Pansy Division local favorites, it's easy to initially overlook its depressing subject matter. Don't let the hummable hooks, three-person harmonies, and all-important hand claps fool you: on songs like "It's Not Me, It's You," Daly skewers noncommittal guys and cheating boyfriends with acidic barbs like "It's a pity that you really think he's changed" and "You think this battle's such a bore."

Given such biting lyrics, not to mention song titles like "Ollie" and "Well William" that reference guys' names, it's hard not to imagine there are at least a couple of real-life exes out there providing inspiration for Dear John. After all, while they could be entirely fabricated, the situations described in songs such as "Him for Me" and "Willingly" often sound too specific to not be based in reality. So has anyone figured out that he is, in fact, the subject of an Ex-Boyfriends song?

"Well, they sure would know if they paid attention to the lyrics!" Daly says, laughing as he sidesteps the question. "But the songs aren't all about real ex-boyfriends - a few of them have to do with, like, my relationship to alcohol or what's going on in my friends' lives."

He pauses and smiles, adding, "Besides, right now I'm trying to veer away from writing about bad relationships because I'm actually in a good one."

SF Bay Guardian
music player