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Scarlet: Heavy-metal concept.


I was told math would not be involved: Like those bands, Scarlet lets the tempos and time signatures fly when firing up its frenetic metal formulas. Beats change midsong, often more than once, as does their source, alternating between drummer Andreas Magnusson’s sturdy kit and a sequencer. The music-nerd term for this is math-rock, and it does mean you’ll need a cheat sheet to bang your head appropriately.

Signature lyric: “Looking into her shadowed eyes. Looking into her shadowed skies. Dead America” — from “Dead America™.”

Did they just say dead America? From the trademark notations and not-so-patriotic lyrics, you might guess Scarlet has something to say about its country and government. Well, you’re wrong. Sort of. Lead singer and songwriter Jon Spencer claims to be writing about the world in general. From the vantage point of his lyrics, the world (of the young) is stuck in the muck of mental decay. “Nymphoteens” on the silver screen encourage date rape. Parents define themselves by net worth. Suicide becomes a cliche. “Cult Classic™” has the feel of a concept album, with its overarching parody of the audience that will ultimately buy it. “We had very definitive goals,” explains Spencer from a phone in Florida in early May. “When you get done listening to it, you should feel really shitty about yourself.”

So, why all the screaming?: “I’d be lying,” Spencer admits, “if I said I didn’t listen to any music besides this.” The vocally shredding frontman says he’s more a fan of playing the screaming math metal than listening to it, and cites Slower, the Mars Volta and Radiohead as some of his favorite bands. “I can’t imagine any more fun way to perform,” he says. “For me and the majority of the people it’s just fun.”

The other Jon Spencer: It must be fun for friends to see such a self-described private person gaining fame. “It’s definitely weird turning on MTV and seeing my friends on there,” he says. “It was weird to see myself on MTV the other day.” (During an interview on MTV2’s “Headbanger’s Ball.”) A video for a new single from “Cult Classic™” will air later this summer, Spencer says. Though he spends much of his time screaming choruses over throngs of sweaty fans, Spencer calls himself “an escapist” who shuns not only the limelight but even local bars where people might know him. A former model who turned down work with Calvin Klein and Donna Karan to pursue Scarlet, he makes public appearances and agrees to be the band spokesman, but only begrudgingly. “I have to be this social fella,” he says, “even though it’s the total antithesis of what I am. It’s not hard to put up a random facade. The hard thing is having six smelly dudes in the van with you all the time. Even your best friends get old.”

Scarlet’s “Cult Classic™” is available in record stores or from Ferret Music,

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