Pansy Division is widely known as "the gay pop-punk band," the one that drew national attention a few years ago when Green Day selected it to serve as an opening act for its stadium tour. Since then, Pansy Division has returned to a somewhat lower profile, independently releasing an album every year or so and touring regularly. The San Francisco group's new record, Absurd Pop Song Romance, is its best yet: Pansy Division is evolving into an exceptionally solid pop band, ironically with the assistance of maverick producer Steve Albini. Singer/guitarist Jon Ginoli recently spoke to The Onion about his group's new musical direction, working with Albini, and being gay in a straight rock world.
The Onion: It's interesting that throughout your careers, you guys have been defined by your gayness. But for the most part, the new album really moves in new directions, thematically and musically.
Jon Ginoli: Yeah, I think the new record takes us in a lot of different directions that maybe we'd thought about before, but hadn't been able to pull off as a three-piece. And, yeah, the new record does get away from the total focus on the gay issues. I mean, when we began, it seemed like you could do anything in music except be gay. You could do gangsta rap; you could do right-wing country; you could do anything but be gay. So that was our initial thrust. I think we got a lot farther with our initial concept than we ever expected to. You reach a certain point where you can either repeat yourself and become a joke act, or you can expand upon that. When we started, we kept the music really basic to go along with a more basic message. But we decided about a year and a half ago that we wanted to expand upon that; we pretty much achieved our goals from our conception. It's like, "Do we have anything more left to say?" Well, yeah, we do. We write good songs. We could write about more things that aren't so blunt, aren't so fixated on gay subject matter. But we are gay, and the songs we put out are still gay pop songs. I think when we began, we didn't think of ourselves as a punk band, but then people kept telling us we were. We thought, "Well, we're a pop band; we just play some of our songs in a punk style." But that's not really so true any more. With the new record, we've finally taken some time to relax and slow down a bit. I think it's actually helped the music a lot.
O: I was really struck by how slick and musically accomplished it is.
JG: Yeah, and there are three reasons for that. One is that we finally got the right drummer. This is the second record Luis has been on, but this is the first full album he's done. And then we got another guitar player [Patrick Goodwin], 'cause I'm just not good enough to be able to do all the things a pop guitarist should be able to do. And then there's Steve Albini. We had recorded some singles with him before, which ended up on More Lovin' From Our Oven, but we went in there with a very focused idea of what we wanted. Having worked with him before, I knew that he could do it. But I also knew that not many people he works with ask him for the kind of treatment we got.
O: Yeah, there are a lot of overdubs.
JG: He's really into organic recording—like, go in there and capture the sound rather than fussing with it to try to make it something it isn't. But he thought our overdubs were used very well, and were really thought out and planned out. It was still dubbed fairly quickly for a record that has as many intricacies as it does. And that's a new thing, too: We've never spent that much time making a record. It's still peanuts compared to a major-label record, but because Albini will work for a lot less than anybody of his stature would work for, we were able to make a record where the sound-recording quality is good enough to be on a major. Three cheers for Mr. Albini. He's really, really smart, and a really good guy.
O: There's sort of a stigma that goes along with presenting a more polished sound, where you're selling out.
JG: Yeah, that's always the thing, but I can't imagine… I think most of the people who have been Pansy Division fans are waiting for us to make some kind of move like this. But I don't think it's a slick record. I think it's slicker, but just about anything would be. It's the difference between having a three-piece band, where you're always trying to pare things down to the bare essence, and wanting to fill out the sound more. It sounds a lot richer; it sounds darker, I think, in a lot of ways. There aren't as many happy songs. This record has a much bigger focus, I think. We're really proud of it. I'm more proud of this record than anything else I've done. I didn't know if we'd ever get to the point where we'd be making records like this. We see it as the start of our second career: It doesn't leave the first career behind entirely; we still do some of those songs. But we aren't focusing on the humor or the sex angle as much. But, to be fair, that is what got us known. We don't have to spell out that we're gay all the time. So we do on some songs and not on others. In the past, we've been pretty intent on the idea that that was our credo: We are a gay band. We still are a gay band, but after you're around long enough, people know. You don't have to hound them about it all the time.