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Someone once asked me if I would like to be interviewed for an article about women in rock, and so, naturally, I asked them if it was something like doing an article about dogs in show business.
—Martha Johnson, lead singer of Martha and the Muffins, in Future Pop (Delilah Books, 1983)
When I originally read that quote, I scratched my head. What exactly did she mean? That all chicks in bands are ugly? Not being the brightest bulb, for nearly two decades I've been trying to figure it out. But the other day, it hit me: She meant they're both novelties.
Far be it from me to quarrel with a Canadian, since they're renowned internationally for their politeness, but I hardly consider dogs in show business novelties. Pooches are an integral component of the pop music universe. They've inspired classics including "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?," "Hound Dog," and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and prompted artists to select monikers like the Fabulous Poodles, Dogstar (apparently the more savvy "Keanu Reeves Band" was already taken), and Snoop Dogg.
U.K. duo David McSherry and Steve Cobby are part of that proud tradition, too. Back in 1991, when they needed a moniker to slap on their debut single "Mermaids," the Hull twosome selected Fila Brazillia after Cobby misheard a newscaster discussing the breed Fila Brasiliero. Over a decade later, that name is synonymous with some of the finest down-tempo, funk, and jazz-flavored grooves, as showcased on a host of albums, including their latest, Jump Leads (on 23 Records).
But the canine connection doesn't end there. Cobby is also the proud owner of a Staffordshire bull terrier named Val. "She is awesomely loyal," he reports from a tour stop in Bristol. "And amazing with my 3-year-old son. He pulls her ears and pokes her eyes, and she just walks off, nonplussed. Never snaps. She's great." As great as his partner? "No," he admits after a moment's hesitation. "I'd say the loyalty between me and Mr. McSherry run a little bit deeper."
Then again, they've been together longer, and probably will be for a while to come, as Cobby feels the past few years have been among their finest. "I've accomplished more in the last five than the previous 30, actually," he says. "My slacker years are well behind me, and the laissez-faire attitude that I had as a teenager has disappeared completely."
For certain, these dogs aren't lazy. In addition to Jump Leads, in the last couple years the duo also released two other albums: the after-hours mix CD Anotherlatenight (on Kinetic Records) as well as Brazillification: Remixes 95-99 (also on 23 Records), a two-CD set including Fila reinterpretations of tunes by Radiohead, the Orb, Black Uhuru, and 15 others. Even though most of the original source material was pretty stellar to begin with, Cobby says the duo could spin straw into gold with a crap tune if the occasion arose.
"To be honest, I find it easy to work on tracks that I don't like. When somebody presents you with a tune that you're feeling, it's difficult to find anything else you could do to improve it. Whereas, if you have something where you like 50 percent of it but you can see things you'd change immediately, that's a lot easier to remix, really."
For Anotherlatenight, one of the best-selling installments in the popular chill-out series, the duo assembled a mind-boggling array of cuts, ranging from the neo-soul of Kelis and demented rap of Infesticons to cuts by Marvin Gaye, Brian Eno, and the Beta Band. For the grand finale, they threw in the Swingle Singers' 1968 vocalese rendition of J.S. Bach's Prelude & Fugue in C minor.
"When people say 'chill-out' now, they mostly mean a very safe mix of tunes that are similar in style, very inoffensive, almost like wallpaper." Fila aimed for something more like a slightly inebriated, everybody-back-to-my-place mishmash. "We definitely wanted [selections] from all the eras that we're into and that we've grown up through. And something that presented our love of the variety in music as well, without it being difficult to listen to."
Considering the encyclopedic knowledge that informs Anotherlatenight, one can't help but ask: What's the best "dog" ditty ever written? For a moment, Cobby is stumped. "'Who Let the Dogs Out?' No, that's an awful song. Wait . . . George Clinton, 'Atomic Dog.'" Is that your final answer? "Oh yeah, that's the beast," he concludes. "That's what Fila Brazillia is, an atomic dog."
Fila Brazillia are playing at Chop Suey on Wed., April 3.