"So, are you intelligent?" queries the bartender, her fist curled under her chin, one eyebrow raised, and a distinct tone of playful antagonism in her voice. "No, actually, that's part of the joke," says Intelligence leader Lars Finberg, glancing down at the table and offering up his stock explanation of his band's moniker. I've taken Finberg to the Fremont Dock, one of my favorite locations for band interviews, thanks in part to the strong cocktails and the typically quiet back deck, but also because of the salty wit of employees like Saga, the randy gal currently quizzing my subject.
Finberg has no problem feigning a low IQ, but it's only because he's no dummy. There had to be some formidable gears turning upstairs for him to become the proficient, hyper-creative multi-instrumentalist that he is, despite the fact that he claims his time spent in the Art Institute of Seattle's recording program was more about socializing with other ambitious musicians than learning how to run a board. "I'm not bagging on the Art Institute; it just seemed like doing math, and that's just not interesting to me."
What is interesting to Finberg is helming his recording projects with an ambitious approach that includes playing every instrument himself, as he does on Intelligence's newest release, Deuteronomy (out next week on In the Red records). The road that led to this impressively autonomous sense of craftsmanship began in high school, when he discovered Reagan-era artists like Meat Puppets, Minutemen, fIREHOSE, and Sonic Youth via the skateboarding movies he watched with his Bakersfield, Calif., peers. "I think the first song I learned [around that time] was "Catholic Block" from Sonic Youth's Sister, recalls Finberg.
After the requisite grunge phase and some embarrassing high-school battle-of-the-bands moments, Finberg wound up in Seattle in 1993, where he began attending shows at punk clubs like Uncle Rocky's, Gibson's, and eventually, the Funhouse. In '98, he began making four-track recordings in his garage. "It was just fun to record by myself," he explains. Of course, even the most talented musician can't play too many roles in a live setting (at least not without turning into a robotic circus sideshow), so he soon connected with other musicians in a group called Bend Sinister, which later evolved into the A Frames. That band enjoyed a successful run that culminated with a Sub Pop release, but Finberg became eager to move on to new projects.
From the first 7-inch released in 2000 on the now-defunct Dragnet Records to this most recent effort, Intelligence has essentially operated as a rotating door for freakishly talented musicians drawn to Finberg's jagged and kaleidoscopic approach to hyperactive art punk. Previous incarnations of the band have included members of the Popular Shapes and the Shins, while the Deuteronomy live band lineup includes Country Teasers bassist Kaanan Tupper on drums and Finberg's girlfriend, Suzanna Welbourne, lending vocals and pounding out bass chords on a Korg keyboard. The underground community that follows Finberg's work is far-flung and wide enough that the band regularly sells out large venues throughout Europe, and indie filmmakers like Monty Buckles volunteer to make music videos for the group (check out www.myspace.com/theworldisadragto view Buckles' interpretation of the song "Dating Cops," featuring Karen O's mouth projected over lip-synching, animated crabs). That said, what Finberg is most concerned about right now is that this Saturday's record-release party at the Sunset conflicts with the release party for his friends in Coconut Coolouts (who will be celebrating over at the Funhouse). "We're competing for the same 100 local fans, so it's a bummer we couldn't play together. It's sorta like our own sad version of 50 Cent versus Kanye West," he laughs.
Competition with Sunday's Decibel Festival afterparties didn't seem to make a dent in attendance at Sonic Boom Records' 10-year anniversary blowout at the War Room. If a bomb had dropped on that Capitol Hill club, the music community as we know it would have been severely diminished, because pretty much everyone was there. From former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss spinning Clash records downstairs to the boisterous crowd on the rooftop deck (which included famous former Boom employees like Death Cab for Cutie bassist Nick Harmer), much love was shown to proprietors Nabil Ayers and Jason Hughes. Congrats, guys—give us 10 more.