Long ago in a faraway place actually eight years ago in Sacramento, Calif. punk-rock pioneer Nikki Sudden watched a studded and mohawked local band called the Secretions lumber through their set.
Afterward, Sudden took the stage, mentioned the opening act and commented that punk rock was supposed to be about being different. It's a lesson Seattle's Steve E. Nix learned on his own. After seven years with the Briefs, Nix diversified his approach with the Cute Lepers.
"The Briefs had a large dose of hardcore punk going on, and that's pretty much not present with the Cute Lepers," says Nix, whose new band's debut, Can't Stand Modern Music, was released in June on Joan Jett's Blackheart label. "Instead, we've got more classic power pop and mod revival influences."
Nix spent his formative years as "one of those totally geeky, nerdy record collectors," so it's not surprising to hear echoes of the Buzzcocks, the Only Ones and even the Waitresses in hooky songs like "Prove It" and "Terminal Boredom."
As the album's title suggests, Nix isn't enamored with much of today's music.
"The whole emo thing is getting pretty tired," he says. "It takes way too long to flat-iron your hair if you're a boy, and people don't want to listen to somebody crying about their sad life every single song. I hope heavy metal and emo people hate my band."
As for the band's moniker, Nix says, "Everybody I know hated the name. Band members and friends just thought it was terrible and were like, "Man, please don't call your band that. It's a terrible, stupid name.' So I just kept it."
At the moment, the Leps are causing a stir in England, where they're signed to Buzzcocks label Damaged Goods. Even Shane McGowan debuted his reunited pre-Pogues punk band, the Nipple Erectors, to play their record release party. So who was more sober, Nix or McGowan?
"Uh, me," says Nix. "I'm 100 percent sober. I used to spend way too much time with alcohol and drugs. But it's been years and years since I was in that place. So I know where he's coming from, but I'm not there myself, fortunately."
As for tourmates the Powerchords, Nix praises their "creepy harmonies and odd chord changes; I think they're bringing something fairly new to the table."
What do the Leps bring to the table that's new?
"Well, we have three backup singers who smash tambourines and sing harmonies. Uh, we have nice smiles. And we have such a melting pot of influences," says Nix, "that we're very conscious of not sounding like just any other band."
They also have a guitar player with a mustache, unlike any musician in the history of early punk or power pop.
"Um, I don't know if that's necessarily true," says Nix, "but if it is, then that's also something new we're bringing to the table."