- School of rock: Interfuse singer-bassist Lisa Cardarelli teaches high school English and journalism by day.
Lisa Cardarelli has a theory about a new kind of music.
"Remember those books, the Choose Your Own Adventure books?" the Interfuse singer-bassist asks between sips of whiskey at Akron's Lime Spider. "We should make a CD that's a choose-your-own-ending-to-the-song CD. You know, pick track three if you want the angry ending, pick B if you want the mysterious ending. And then everyone can tailor their own songs."
She laughs, fixes us with a mock glare, and says, "Don't steal that one."
It's too late for that. Interfuse's hard-to-pin-down sound already boasts as many twists and turns as the books Cardarelli mentions. On the group's recently released full-length debut, Closed Doors Open Tracks, the bandmates mingle sardonic punk rock with impressionistic bursts of noise that leave ears buzzing like a wasp's nest. Like a mohawk spray-painted on the "Mona Lisa," loud blasts of metallic feedback subvert heady art rock.
"I wanted us to be able to fit in at a metal show, and at the same time, I wanted us to be able to fit in at an art gallery," says guitarist Mike Oravec, who wields his six-string like a broadsword. "We've done both."
And they've done it with a knowing wink. On wax, Interfuse's brittle, business-minded sound is leavened by a snarky sense of humor manifested in song titles like "My . . . That's a Very Nice Handbag" and "So Jesus Walks Into a Bar."
In person, the bandmates -- rounded out by singer-guitarist Sean Dujuricic and drummer Nick Cardarelli, Lisa's husband -- are just as playful. Their demeanor, as they have their drinks at the Lime Spider, suits the club's fun, quirky decor, which features, among other things, a plastic monkey in a bowling pose. They goof on each other's drinking habits, driving skills, and listening preferences with a laserlike wit that would piss off all but the tightest of friends.
"We all think the same irreverent things are funny that would not be funny to anyone else at all," says Lisa, a lively brunette who teaches English and journalism at Ravenna High School. "Hang with us one night, and you'll either laugh really hard, or you'll just leave. There's really no middle ground."
Biting humor has been a trademark of Akron bands since the late '70s, when acts like Devo, Tin Huey, and the Rubber City Rebels all had a pronounced satirical side. Nick argues that it's a product of their surroundings.
"If on a national level, Cleveland is a big joke," he begins, "then Akron's like --
"-- an even bigger joke," Lisa says, finishing the thought. "And what else can you do but laugh? I love it here, though."
Clearly, they're comfortable around each other, most likely because the bandmates have known each another for so long. Nick, Oravec, and Dujuricic all attended Green High School together, and the latter two have played in bands together since their teens.
It was when their previous band, Destro, was playing a Kent gig that Interfuse first came together. With the Cardarellis in the audience, Destro imploded onstage. The band broke up soon thereafter.
After the show, Oravec and Dujuricic hung out with the Cardarellis for the rest of the night, and soon they were all jamming together in Dujuricic's grandmother's basement.
With coed vocals and a squall of dissonant guitars, the group immediately drew comparisons to one of New York's seminal art-rock troupes -- which wasn't a coincidence.
"When I was in the eighth or ninth grade -- about the time I got my first guitar -- I was completely obsessed with Sonic Youth," Oravec says. "I knew how to play my guitar with drumsticks and screwdrivers before I could tune it."
The band dropped a bruising self-titled EP in 2001, a disc with Excedrin written all over it, and toured with Disengage a few years later. Still, the band had to weather several false starts when it came time to record its full-length debut.
"We had recorded so many different times that I can't even count how many CDs we have at our house," Lisa says. "It was always other people helping us out, and finally I think we just got tired of nothing happening with those CDs, and we just decided that if we want this to be bigger than just being a local band that plays the local circuit, we need to do something on our own."
And so the band hit the studio last August to produce Closed Doors, a big step forward for its sound.
The disc is a sharp mix of stabbing riffs and vocals that are alternately pretty and pained. Dujuricic's voice sounds strained, as does his patience, his guitar squirming and wriggling like a pit bull trying to get free of its leash. Dujuricic's bloodletting is balanced by Lisa's understated singing, which is closer to a sigh than a scream. The songs have a bipolar feel. Humor turns to anger with the stroke of a six-string.
"People aren't pissed about anything anymore," Lisa says, furrowing her brow as if scolding one of her students. "People are very go-with-the-flow, and I think that's what a lot of this town and midwestern culture is about. And so I think there's frustration that stems from that and comes out in our music."
Yet the group's repertoire remains catchy and concise. Too many acts of Interfuse's ilk get lost in their own sound, but this band never strays far from an explosive refrain. The tunes are intricate but immediate, their nuances balanced by raw power. It's music that demands a reaction.
"I think we've kind of rooted out the apathetic responses," Lisa says, sounding thoroughly bemused. "People either really like us -- or just hate us."
Count us among the former.