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Angry Salad

By Dan Katz

StafF Writer

It’s always nice to see a hard-working local band that starts getting some serious national attention. Boston’s latest success story, Angry Salad, broke big this summer with “The Milkshake Song,” an instantly loveable track that’s been added to playlists across the country. The band’s most recent local appearance was a gig opening for Vertical Horizon; before the show, I had the pleasure of chatting with lead singer Bob Whelan about success, the Boston music scene, and why MIT students love to party

The Tech: I’ll begin with the obvious question, which you probably hear all the time: where does a name like Angry Salad come from?

Bob Whelan: Well, when I started high school, I was in a band and we needed a name. So I was taking a vacation in the Virgin Islands, and I was sitting in a hotel bar talking to my older brother, and I said, “Bill, we need a name for a band,” and we couldn’t think of anything. Then the guy at the end of the bar yells out, “Call it Angry Salad!” I looked over to see where the voice came from, and I recognized the unmistakable overbite of the late great Queen frontman, Freddie Mercury. So then when we started the band in college, obviously we had to come up with a name again, and we decided, we’re not going to get a better name than that, it came from the Mount Olympus of rock and roll. So we went with it and it’s been good to us. People have a tendency to remember it. True, some people tend to confuse us with militant vegetarians, but it brings them out to the shows.

The Tech: “The Milkshake Song” is now sweeping the nation, and it fits all the general criteria for a hit pop song; when you write music, do you try to come up with songs that are likely to be popular, or do you focus more on playing the music you want to play?

Whelan: It winds up working out all right, in that I was weaned on my parents’ record collection and my older brother’s record collection, so my earliest influences were The Beatles and The Mamas and the Papas. I like pop music and stuff that’s catchy. So I guess it just happens naturally; my instinct is to go down the happy road. Plus we worked with a mix engineer, Tom Lord-Alge, who’s the kind of guy who knows how to bring out the guitar bits and the little vocal things so those two together just worked out.

The Tech: There’s also a great cover on the album of Nena’s “99 Red Balloons.” Why did you decide to record it?

Whelan: It had really just been a late night studio thing. We just started playing around, and we sort of had a soft spot in our hearts for the song. Sometimes you just start playing a song and say, hey, this feels pretty good. We just liked the energy, and when we play it live, people really react to it, so we kept it around.

The Tech: The most memorable part of that track is probably the lines of nonsense German. [The last verse includes lyrics like guten tag, Boris Becker, and Duncan Sheik.]

Whelan: The inside story on that is that we were at A&M Studios in Los Angeles, and all these great artists have recorded there U2, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Motley CrÜe, you name it. And The Scorpions were recording nearby, so I throw in the names of some of the guys in the Scorpions: Rudolf Schenker and Klaus Meine. So from there we just said, throw out your German, let’s go for it.

The Tech: You’re in the middle of a nationwide tour right now, but in the last month, you’ve played three shows in the Boston area. What’s special to the band about playing here?

Whelan: One of the nice things about being a band from Boston is you have this college population that turns over every four years and you have people who’ll stick around and support a band. It’s also nice that in a city that tends to favor darker punk rock, we’ve had a lot of support and people who embrace the band. It’s very gratifying to come back and have people who come out and sing the words. We played Mixfest last weekend, and we got to get in front of a few thousand people. But the thing about Boston is that, as puritanical as it is, all the shows are usually 18+ and a lot of times we don’t get to play for people in high school that might want to see the band.

The Tech: How do you feel about that standard?

Whelan: I think it’s terrible; it’s really prohibitive. The first club show I ever saw was here at the Paradise, when I was a freshman in high school. I came to see Seven Seconds and a local band called the F.U.s, and it was great -- I loved it. But at Mixfest it was nice because we got to play for everybody.

The Tech: And two years ago, you played Steer Roast at MIT.

Whelan: That show was insane. It was outside and raining and there were people hanging out of windows and on balconies. You guys really know how to turn it up there. We’ve always been fans of the MIT folks, because we talked to somebody after the show and they said, “We work our asses off all week, drink our asses off on the weekend.” It was a lot of fun to play there.

The Tech: What kind of bands have you played with on this tour?

Whelan: We’re doing a lot of bouncing around now. Last week we did a couple of shows with Sugar Ray, next week we’re doing one with Train, and tonight it’s Vertical Horizon. One thing about touring with other bands is that timing is everything. We were offered the Verve Pipe tour, but we were here when they were going to be out west. We were also offered -- and this one breaks my heart -- the Men at Work tour. We got to do one show with them in Chicago. We always welcome the opening slot thing, and it’s very often that people come and they don’t have any expectations, they’re there to see the main act. And if you go out there and you don’t suck, now you’re sort of blending bands. We like the idea of giving people their ten or twelve bucks’ worth. We just love touring. I think that hour or so we spend on stage is the only time we’re productive members of society.

The Tech: Speaking of Men At Work, there’s a lot of songs on the album with a strong ’80s influence. Where does that come from?

Whelan: It was sort of the story of our youth. The Men At Work thing meant a lot to Hale. [Against all odds, drummer Hale Pulsifer conveniently walks by.] Actually, Hale can probably answer that, because we just did an interview with a Swedish magazine that asked us to name our five favorite albums from the ’80s. Hale, what were they?

Hale Pulsifer: Men at Work, Business As Usual, so to play with them was one of the best nights ever, The Police’s Synchronicity, a great album, Def Leppard, Power Mania, Pink Floyd, The Wall, and U2, The Joshua Tree.

Whelan: And what he’s not telling you about is all the Abba albums. (Laughs)

The Tech: So to finish things off, what have you been listening to recently?

Alex Grossi: (enthusiastically) Kid Rock!

Whelan: Actually we’ve been listening to Vertical Horizon a lot. We’ve got Ani DiFranco’s Living In Clip. She’s one of those songwriters that I just sit down to and she’s very genuine and very honest, which is sort of something we try to capture. Like Alex said, Kid Rock Also the Samples, after we just toured with them. And Lou Bega’s Greatest Hits. (Laughs)