Dressed in a sharp suit, his cropped hair dyed a bluish purple, Craig Pearsall mugs for the camera, rocking back and forth as he plays bass. His band Critikill is taping its first video (it's for Road Runner Rocks, a website and cable-access program that's taped at the Time Warner Cable office in Akron), and Pearsall is flipping through a stack of cards with lyrics on them, just like Bob Dylan did in his well-known video for "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Singer Timmie Boose, however, doesn't look at the camera. She keeps the lip of her hat pulled down over her forehead and looks as if she's mumbling as she lip-syncs the words to "Painkiller." She doesn't like it when someone tells her to "enunciate," but after three takes, they're done, and the next band starts setting up its gear for the assembly-line production.
"I thought it was fun," Pearsall says over a midafternoon beer after the taping. "I just figured we'd clown around."
Boose is less enthusiastic about the shoot.
"It was OK," she says. "I'm not really happy with my performance. It got better, but I felt really weird. All these people were standing in a circle waiting for us, and that was weird. I didn't know where to look."
When Critikill started playing out just over a year ago, its initial live performances were rough. Technical glitches plagued shows at the Phantasy and Edison's. But recently, Boose and Pearsall have started to get the stage show down, and the band has been selected to play at North by Northeast, an annual music conference that's being held June 7 through 9 in Toronto. Even though they had lighting problems at a recent Beachland Ballroom show, they had no difficulty commanding the stage as they opened for the heavily hyped German group Chicks on Speed. Because Critikill uses samples and an assortment of other electronic gizmos, it's often hard for the band to duplicate everything it does on record (it self-released its debut last year) on the stage.
"Sometimes he keeps wanting to buy new equipment, and I keep telling him he's already got too much and too much stuff to do onstage," says Boose, referring to Pearsall as if he's her spend-happy husband.
That Pearsall and Boose would end up in a band together seems unlikely, given their different backgrounds. He went to private schools; she went to public schools, including Kent State. He likes electronic music, and she prefers punk. Pearsall was born in California and moved to the Cleveland area when he was 11. His parents sent him off to Andover Prep School in Massachusetts, where he befriended Mike Mailer, son of author Norman Mailer. Pearsall would spend time going from one women's dorm to the next on the quest for late-night frolicking. It would eventually get him kicked out, and he didn't end up graduating. But early on, he started DJing at frat parties. ("I was spinning Kraftwerk alongside [blues artists] Leadbelly and Robert Johnson -- that's why I don't like that Moby album Play. It's the same thing that I was doing years ago.") He then formed a band with Tom Geiger that covered "anything on Factory Records."
When Pearsall met Boose a couple of years ago, she was doing spoken word as the one-woman act Generic You. Having played with a Kent band called Opium and an improvisational group called the Nine Year Old Mudflesh, which played in "worst-band contests," Boose was accustomed to mixed reactions.
"I thought she was some high school dropout," Pearsall says of the first time he met her.
But Pearsall realized that Boose's spoken-word material would go well with his electronic compositions.
"I used to do the Generic You and wear the face paint and play guitar," says Boose, who still performs as the Generic You on rare occasions. "I did a lot of shows. I'd wear all this weird makeup, and I would play guitar and sing all these really depressing songs. Then I started doing it without the guitar, just singing a cappella. Then I got a band for a while to back it up. But they were musician Nazis, and they drove me crazy."
Although their tastes in music were different, Pearsall and Boose had enough in common to collaborate. As Critikill, Boose still does something that resembles the spoken-word stuff she does with the Generic You, and Pearsall is still playing Factory Records-like music (the bass riff in "Painkiller" sounds as if it could be from a Joy Division song). In addition to their self-titled debut, they've written three songs -- "Emergin Tonic," "Air Raid," and "That's No Robbery" -- that they've been working into their set. The new material veers from electronic/techno toward hip-hop, and the duo has been trying to get a show with a local hip-hop act.
"I like a lot of new rap," Boose says. "I don't necessarily like the lyrics, but I like the way a lot of it sounds. I like that Nelly guy."
The pair have been trying to get someone local to help produce their next album, and they have already approached former Dead Boy Jimmy Zero. But because Critikill's music isn't genre-specific, Pearsall feels the band could collaborate with just about anyone.
"I'd love to do something with [local jazz singer] Jimmy Scott," he says. "I know he was good friends with Doc Pomus, and I want to do a techno version of Pomus's 'Teenager in Love.'"
If Pearsall and Boose were able to make things work, there's no reason to think that collaborating with Scott is too much of a stretch.