Gargamel! Unmasked

Gargamel! is a strange animal, a five-headed beast that prowls Central Florida stages like a hungry, metal-clad alley cat, pulsing with a hard-rock beat and an unquenchable thirst for the absurd. Nobody has ever accused Mandaddy (vocals), Webb (drums), Servobeonic Man (keyboards/samples), Crazy Hector (bass) and El Diablo Guapo (guitars) of being normal. They wouldn't have it any other way.

"I'm not happy all day and I'm not pissed all day," says fearless leader Mandaddy, who embodies the band's primality with his somewhat darkly imposing presence -- clever, testosterone-loaded, demonic. "So why not have music that represents all the different emotions that you feel throughout the day?"

Anyway, says Webb, "There's nothing worse than being bored shitless by a band onstage ... or being bored onstage." And from Servobeonic Man, "We're not a very happy band, although we're very funny."

So, after eight years of maturation, Gargamel! (the exclamation point has long been an official, if overlooked, part of the name) presents itself as living, breathing art, set to a macabre score. Sure, it is abrasive at times -- but so is life. Even with all of its quirky grandiosity, Gargamel! can always work up a satisfying groove, thanks to solid musicianship and creative play. The emotionally charged results are fed by a heady mix of metal, funk, alt-rock, art rock and good old-fashioned pop. And that could be in just one song.

The truth is, Gargamel! is more of a creature of habit than a freak of nature. But this month marks serious change for the band, which seemingly has been uninterested in gaining mainstream acceptance. And Mandaddy's voice is the perfect instrument to lead this post-apocalyptic creature into battle.

With the just-released "Touch My Fun," the band's second full-length, Gargamel! hopes to finally prove to mainstream audiences that they aren't just for freak breakfast anymore. Even though their music is still a bit off the beaten path, tracks like the space-funk slow-jam "Midnight Sexy" and the carnival creepiness of "Perfect Idiot" can make a Gargamel!-as-pop believer out of just about anybody. More aggressive cuts like the riff-bearing rocker "Get on Your Motorbike" rides the neo-metal groovy (or is it gravy) train.

While the band's 1998 debut disc, "Revulva," suffered from a changing lineup, as well as makeshift recording and mixing situations, "Touch My Fun" boasts a steadfast crew, superior recording and, according to the band, is "the first one that sounds like us."

So why does Gargamel! consistently fly just below the major-label radar that, 24-7, sweeps across our fair city looking for the next he-mannequin or power-chord pretty?

For sure, the masked mutants of Gargamel! stick out like a bloodied, bruised thumb against the polished pin-up pop, oxygenated jangle-rock and late-night funky breaks that make up Orlando's musical landscape. It doesn't help that mainstream public perceptions decry Gargamel! as more Ripley's Believe It or Not than Sam Goody.

But musical times have changed, and of late, there has been a commercial resurgence in harder-edged, freakish rock. And Gargamel! has a secret weapon: Mandaddy's unmistakable roar, a rollicking vocal roller coaster capable of hitting the highest of ear-piercing highs, the lowest of the demonic lows and, almost casually, everything in between. The Orlando native (raised in Altamonte Springs) has transformed his personal experiences as a social outcast as well as his natural flair for the dramatic into a tightly wound stage persona that is ready to explode -- or breakdown -- at any minute.

And then there are the lyrics. Mandaddy commands attention when he's onstage, whether singing, talking or screaming about drinking. He writes all of the lyrics, leaving the rest of the band to supply the surrounding atmosphere.

"Some of the lyrics are deeply honest ... depressing ... admitting to self-hatred and self-loathing, but at the same time laughing," says Mandaddy. "It cracks me up because the yin and yang of the fact that some of the songs like ‘Midnight Sexy' or ‘Perfect Idiot' are actually about being in an obsessive sort of love with someone where you feel like you love them completely and utterly and they don't love you, having this whole love-angst thing pouring out. And then the next song will be about killing someone.

"If you don't have the right sense of humor, it might be offensive or frightening. A lot of it is tongue-in-cheek, but people can't figure out whose cheek. And which cheek," he says.

Offstage, Mandaddy is far more supportive than self-serving. He's a chronic local-music ambassador, who is committed in his unofficial role -- whether hosting local TV show "Bootleg Television" (formerly "Bootleg Orlando") or jumping on a last-minute bill to bail out a club owner -- or just bailing somebody out in general.

The new record also marks the band's phasing out of its signature use of grotesque masks. Ironically, Gargamel! has learned that even the freakiest of freaks can get labeled a rip-off. In this case, the feedback comes as a backlash to the platinum parade generated by masked Midwest metal messengers Slipknot, who are proof that there is a viable market for Gargamel!'s natural style. Only their style developed years before the record-buying public could ever conceive of such a distorted genre.

"When you start hearing that you are ripping off a band you never heard of that's just coming up -- just getting started -- when you've been doing it for a while, it's like c'mon -- we're not the first ones to wear a mask, nor will we be the last ones," says Mandaddy. (For the record, Mandaddy claims former Genesis vocalist Peter Gabriel as his main head-gear wearing hero.)

"It's such a big detractor," he says of the pantyhose-based creations sported by Gargamel! The first question most people ask Mandaddy if they run into him before a show is, "Are you gonna wear the masks tonight?"

"They are still there," assures the frontman, whose hunting mask with orange-yarn hair has left an alarming impression on many. "We still use them occasionally. We just don't want [the masks] to be a focal point, or [take any] pictures with them."

Let's face it, not too many bands have ridden the mask thing to the top of the charts. Plus, there's also that nasty business of wearing a mask night after night on hot, sweaty stages.

To put everything into perspective, it helps to know that Gargamel! was formed on a whim, and the guys were having too much of a good time to call it quits. Things have pretty much stayed the same. "If the crowd is into [us] or not, we're gonna have fun either way," says Mandaddy.

"If we decide that [the crowd is] having no fun at all, we usually make sure that they have a hideously bad time. I want you to either be dancing your ass off, laughing your ass off, scared out of your mind or running out of the club."

Welcome to the future of mainstream freak rock.


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