London Calling 

How did a band of Oaktown underdogs so quickly become fashionable overseas?

The Pattern is now officially BIE (Big in England). This was blaringly obvious when the East Bay five-piece showed up for an appearance at the Virgin Megastore in London a few weeks ago to discover hundreds of fans lined up around the block. "Weird" is all most of the bandmembers have to say about it. "People like Nelly or Aaliyah have fans," says Pattern frontman Chris Appelgren, ex-Pee Chees dude and Lookout Records owner. "It doesn't seem like people like us would have fans."

He's making the distinction between folks who simply like music versus those who breathe it, tack it up on their walls, fantasize about bandmembers, and collect set lists. "It's really not an attitude I can relate to," the singer says with a chuckle.

Not to say that the band didn't soak it up, enthusiastically hitting the record-store stage with a short set for its fawning admirers. "I thought it sounded good in spite of knocking into the guy filming us again and again for the weird Jumbotron screen inside the store," says Appelgren.

The singer was in his usual form, dancing around like a horny little baby with itching powder in his didie, alternately licking his lips and sticking his thumb in his mouth. Appelgren's stage antics are a cross between overt sexuality and inane retardation; he humps mike stands and throws exaggerated tantrums with his ass out.

"Art is about exposure, I think," he says. "It's about putting an aspect of yourself that's pretty personal on display, so that's what I decided to do. I'm kind of foolish at times, and I am kind of dismissably silly in a way that seems embarrassing. I turn myself inside out and become as embarrassing as I can be, which certainly is a reaction to the most base, fundamental thing inside myself. ... It's about a lot of things, but basically it's about finding something in myself that's kind of precious -- and cheapening it."

His lyrics are equally simplistic yet somehow evocative: "Come on, don't you believe that I'm fully grown?/I'll just make a mess of you and then I'll move along" and "When you said call me, did you mean the phone?/I started yellin,' yellin' out when I was alone."

Still, for those of us back home the Pattern's overseas success is a bit puzzling. No, they don't suck, not by a long shot. It's just that there are plenty of great East Bay bands -- like Drunk Horse and the Cuts -- that are plenty deserving of accolades, and they sure aren't selling out any British clubs.

Even the Pattern -- Appelgren, guitarists Jason Rosenberg and Andy Asp, bassist Carson Bell, and drummer Scott Batiste -- is a bit surprised at its own rapid rise. "At the time I thought we were getting a lot of attention because what we were doing was different and refreshing," says Appelgren. "I don't know if I have that same attitude now. There's an awareness in England of other bands that are similar, and they are trying to put us in context of other bands that are playing modern but classically inspired rock 'n' roll."

The point he's prancing around is that the Pattern's trash-boogie sound is being swept up in the recent garage frenzy that's embracing everyone from the White Stripes to the Hives. The Pattern's music is stripped down to the basic building blocks of blues-based rock 'n' roll, but with a poppy sing-along-and-clap aesthetic that people associate with garage these days. "When I think of garage," says Rosenberg, who is the group's main songwriter, "I think of Thee Headcoats, bands on the Estrus label. I have to face the reality that people are looking at 'neo-garage' -- the Hives, the Strokes -- the same way. That's just like the way that people think of Weezer as an emo band, or Blink 182 as a punk band. I'm not embracing the idea, but I understand it."

But if the band happens to be in the right place at the right time, that shouldn't detract from its sound or authenticity -- the Pattern, after all, started more or less as a way to entertain its members during the summer and grew into an act that has toured for most of this year. "We just wanted to play some parties," says Rosenberg. "That was the whole intent. Get drunk, hang out with our friends, and play music for like three or four months."

The music was bratty punk-boogie party music, but more and more people began coming to their shows, a manager approached, and before long the friends found themselves playing the Reading Festival in England, and had landed a UK deal with Wichita Records, cofounded by Dick Green, one of Creation Records' masterminds.

But it definitely doesn't hurt that the band has an unusual business savvy. It is composed of established Bay Area musicians and employees of both Lookout and Alternative Tentacles. The Pattern's combined underground connections allowed it to put out EPs on three disparate labels -- AT, GSL (Gold Standard Laboratories), and Gearhead -- each influential in its own way. "They all had very built-in audiences," says Rosenberg. "It was our way to get our music out and to a certain extent not pigeonhole us to a certain sound."

This was in fact a brilliant move: Had the band gone solely with AT, it might have been seen as one of Jello Biafra's babies; an exclusive deal with San Diego's GSL would've pegged the Pattern as some indie-noise offshoot; and had they stuck with Alameda's Gearhead, a spin-off of Mike LaVella's urban-greaser zine, people might've assumed they were vintage-car-drivin' fans of the Mono Men.

Yet after all that, the bandmates settled on Appelgren's Lookout label as its home in the States. Such nepotism was risky, rep-wise, and has prompted the band to prove itself all the more. "It's tricky to be on Lookout," Rosenberg acknowledges. "The reality is that we got a lot of other offers from other cool labels, but Lookout made the best offer. There are other people who co-own and work at the label, and they've all been really supportive. It's not like [Appelgren] is calling the shots. If people are going to be critical, 'Oh, Chris is putting out his own band,' that's fine. It doesn't really bother us."

Yet it has to grate on the band that Appelgren gets so much attention, even if his bandmates deny it. Singers always get the spotlight anyway, and if you throw in his ownership of Lookout and his ex-Pee Chees status you've got a bona-fide frontman. "I'm sure that to a certain extent if someone looks to me to be the spokesperson of our band, then [the band] is probably a little bummed out," says Appelgren. "But by the same token, I'm also a little bit freaked out, because that's not the way we work internally. I'm certainly not our leader, and certainly the fact that I write the lyrics to our songs doesn't mean that I make the definitive statements about what our songs are."

And what, then, are the songs? "What we are going for is taking elements of classic rock 'n' roll and putting a really contemporary spin on it," says Rosenberg.

As for its potential as an international band of mystery, the Pattern still identifies most closely with its gritty home base. "Oakland has a lot of character," says Rosenberg. "It's a little bit more run-down ... sort of the underdog, and I think that we kind of think of ourselves as the underdog; the rootsiness, the fact that we rehearse right in downtown Oakland. There's a blood bank downstairs."

"There's something special about Oakland that describes us," Appelgren agrees. "You see it in other bands, too. The One-Time Angels have the Oakland skyline on the cover of their record, stuff like that. One band getting a bit of attention in England does not constitute a 'scene,' but I still believe that there is something special here that deserves examination. It has been that way for some time."

Perhaps in the wake of the Pattern's current whirlwind, other local bands will finally start reaping their due.

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