J ason Hill is done with “Chocolate Girl.” Now it’s time to snuggle. “Man,” explains frontman Hill with a nasal voice, “we’re like the plague here.” Whether from excessive partying, lack of sleep, making out with the wrong girl/girls, or some combination of elements unknown, the road is a hard stay healthy. “This is like the death bus. It’s disgusting,” says Hill. Though this San Diego-based quartet may be feeling a little under the weather, they’re clearly thrilled to be out supporting their new record, Slick Dogs and Ponies.
In their triumphant return to Hollywood’s Avalon nightclub this spring, they brought their disco rock, post-punk A-game, and, of course, a few lace cravats. After all, what better place is there to put on a show? “I love playing Los Angeles,” says Hill. “I’ve always loved playing Los Angeles. A lot of people have a really weird thing about LA. They say, ‘Oh, everyone crosses their arms and watches in judgment.’ I’ve never experienced that. The fans that come to watch our shows go nuts.”
It was the group’s 2005 Atlantic Records debut, The Best Little Secrets Are Kept, and the subsequent runaway modern rock single, “Finding Out True Love is Blind,” that set Louis XIV on their meteoric rise. Some call it “racy,” others call it “raunchy.” A few even went so far as to call the song’s playful references to a “Chocolate Girl” and her “Asian friend” downright racist. The group was banned from Hoover, Alabama, barred from performing at the college there—though Hill is proud to admit, “We got paid anyway.” (Of course, when Snoop Dogg came to town a few months later, no one batted an eye.) Whether people were huffing in protest or dancing with newfound abandonment, the point is, everyone knew the words. So the question begs; does Slick Dogs and Ponies pick up where The Best Little Secrets Are Kept left off? Not exactly.
If Little Secrets was the bacchanalian revelry, Slick Dogs and Ponies would be the morning after. The album’s first single, “Air Traffic Control,” finds Hill singing the song’s dramatic chorus without the sleazy affectation he’s most known for. The introspective sentiment, sung in metaphor with a beckoning operatic tone, is clearly something new for the group.
“If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels and doing the same old thing,” Hill explains, “you’d get really bored. I can’t fake things very well, you know? If I’m not feeling it, I don’t want to fake it. I’d be miserable.” With the addition of two live violin players, Louis XIV brings their new creation to amplified life. “It’s a lot of fun just to have that element in the live show,” Hill says.
Slick Dogs and Ponies is a production entirely their own. Hill and company enjoy the kind their own. Hill and company enjoy the kind of artistic freedom most major label acts only dream of. Both Hill and copilot Brian Karscig are autodidacts of a sort, having taught themselves the ins and outs of sound production. For Louis XIV, they are both producers, players, writers and collaborators. Some might say Atlantic is giving them just enough rope to hang themselves. Hill disagrees.
“Who else would produce our records?” Hill asks, laughing. “Some hack? Listen to the radio, man. Half of it’s crap. We may not get played all over the radio, but at least we’ll be unique and have the radio, but at our own sound.”