Nic Offer is one of the guiding spirits in !!!, a New York band that does well by the twitchy, itchy sound of disco-rock. The group made its name (pronounced "chk chk chk") at loft parties and in small clubs, but !!! lore has expanded to include a recent U.K. tour opening for Red Hot Chili Peppers and an album, Myth Takes, that has garnered good reviews across the board. Another glimmer of the story comes from a night last summer, when Offer threw a piano into the river from Williamsburg and then followed it with a guerilla-style dance party where DJs played disco outside an empty warehouse. He talked with The A.V. Club in the midst of !!!'s current U.S. tour.
The A.V. Club: How's the tour going?
Nic Offer: I'm into it so far. We already had to give some of the hits a break. You still want to like the music you're playing, which is why you get into this in the first place. But if the crowds are good, it makes everything all right.
AVC: Are the crowds good?
NO: When we first started out as a band, we definitely had to yell at people to dance, like it was a totally unheard-of notion. But now everybody comes expecting to dance, which takes some of the weight off our shoulders.
AVC: What's the most interesting thing you've seen on tour in the last three weeks?
NO: Probably Allan's nuts. [Allan Wilson—percussion, sax, drums, keys.] We've been a band for a long time, so we can do that and it feels completely normal. But they're his own nuts, so I don't want to go into detail.
AVC: Is it harder or easier to dance to songs you've played hundreds of times?
NO: After touring this much, it's impossible not to work out "dance moves." It's not like they're choreographed, but they almost become part of the song—if I do this or that during one part of a song when it kicks in, it makes the song kick in harder because it makes everybody pay attention. It gets to the point when you almost feel sort of "pro," but what are you going to do?
AVC: Do you have names for any of your moves?
NO: I made one up the other night that I called "Running On Ecstasy." It looks like what it sounds like. A few years back, I perfected "The Prance," where you're almost skipping in place and you have a look on your face that says "Nobody's business, ain't nobody's business if I do!"
AVC: How was it touring with Red Hot Chili Peppers?
NO: The first night we played, we came on and I threw water on the audience, which I sometimes do. As soon as I did that we started getting bottles thrown at us, so we were like, Oh shit, is this what the whole tour is going to be like? But after that I just didn't throw water on anyone and we didn't have any problems. It was interesting to try to make 50,000 people who don't give a fuck about you give a fuck about you.
AVC: Did you hang out with them much?
NO: Yeah, they were all really welcoming and supportive. By the end of the tour we were thinking we should have hung out with them more, but we were a little shy.
AVC: Did you hang out backstage with socks on your dicks?
NO: Not really. We kept expecting big Chili Pepper moments. But their dirty little secret is the same as everybody else's dirty little secret: They're pretty normal.
AVC: Especially in the beginning, you guys were hated as much as liked. Why do you think that was?
NO: I really don't know. It's one of those things that, you know—it hurts. So you try to stay away from it. Especially because we've never done anything but be what I would want out of an artist: We've always tried to be forward-thinking and challenging, and we've always stayed like crazy kids doing exactly what we want to do. Some of the stuff that was leveled at the last record [Louden Up Now] said it had a snotty attitude, but what I was trying to do was to wake people up to the life we're living and to take advantage of the moment. I really wanted to cut through the shit. But this record is a better record in some ways because everything is more focused.
AVC: You've spoken about tribute songs like The Replacements' "Alex Chilton" and a Camera Obscura song about Lloyd Cole. Who would you write one for?
NO: Hmm. That's like people, around Myth Takes, asking what myths we grew up with. The myths I grew up were the rock 'n' roll myths: the Beatles story, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, listening every Sunday to the Top 40 with Casey Kasem and all the little insights and stories he would give me. Everything we've tried to do is our attempt to play a part in that. I don't know that I could pick just one hero because they're all gods to me. But I have been kicking around this line in my head forever—about how Stevie makes me wonder how people could be so blind—so maybe I'd write it about Stevie Wonder.
AVC: Tell us about throwing a piano into the East River.
NO: I had this old piano to get rid of in my room and I wanted to just leave it on a street corner—it was such a beautiful thing that I wanted it to affect someone else somehow. Then I got this idea to drop it into the water. I was thinking about how people talk about political change as just a drop of water in the ocean, and I wanted to make more than a drop—I wanted to make a big splash. Basically, I went to a friend and said I wanted to do this piece and I would sell it to him for the price of taking care of me if I got busted, lawyer fees and whatever else. If nothing happened, it would be free. I would call it "What The World Needs Now Is A White Piano In The East River." He was into it, and then it just started taking on so much meaning. It felt like if the point of what I had tried to say on Louden Up Now was missed, this could be me making that point again. And part of it was still about rebelliousness, even as a 34-year-old, doing what wasn't expected. I didn't have anything prepared beforehand, but at the moment I just honestly said I thought the world would be a better place if everybody followed their crazy dreams. That's all it had been up until that point: a crazy dream. Then I played a few bars of "What The World Needs Now Is Love," the Burt Bacharach and Hal David song, and pushed it in. It was one of the most incredible feelings I've ever had.