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Collective Wisdom 

Margot and the Nuclear So and So's don't believe in the separation of band life and personal life

I've always thought that most rock bands are either like street gangs or political-action committees.

The members in both groups often agree to a system of common values and work together toward shared goals, always watching each other's backs. It's just that some bands operate according to a codified set of rules dictated by some greater authority, while others are outlaws who often make up their own rules as they go along.

When asked which of these entities his group Margot and the Nuclear So and So's more resembles, guitarist Andy Fry says, "I would say it's more like a street gang, but street gangs do organize into political-action committees sometimes."

Margot and the Nuclear So and So's will play at Solar Culture Gallery on Tuesday, May 27. Mike Bloom, a member of the bands Rilo Kiley and The Elected, will open the show.

The eight-piece Indianapolis-based group practices an ornately arranged and charmingly shambling version of pop-rock, alternately dubbed chamber pop and urban folk. Fans of Arcade Fire, the Decemberists, Neutral Milk Hotel and Conor Oberst are likely to find something to love in Margot's music.

The group also created one of the most striking debut albums of the last decade. The Dust of Retreat initially was issued independently in 2005, then re-sequenced and remastered for a 2006 release by Artemis Records. Now the band is preparing for the release of its second album, Animal!, by major-label Epic Records. It is expected in stores July 29, Fry says.

Ostensibly a vehicle for the pensive, playful and emotional compositions of 24-year-old singer-songwriter Richard Edwards, the band is also an ongoing, collaborative musical and social experiment.

When the group formed in 2004--following the fortuitous meeting of Edwards and Fry in a pet store--its eight members moved into the same suburban Indianapolis home where six of them still reside.

"It's just easier that way," Fry, 32, says during a recent cell-phone interview from a truck stop in Minnesota. "And it's much easier when it comes to keeping our instruments in the same place. ... Really, I think it's just always been out of necessity. But there is a philosophical aspect to it as well. It was kind of like we shared common values, musically and otherwise, and we recognized that right away when the band started coming together."

Fry, who also is a partner in an Indianapolis recording studio, says that in Margot and the Nuclear So and So's, there is no separation between personal space and band space.

"That was the weirdest thing, at first, for me. I was always such a private person when I was growing up. For a long time at the house, we didn't even have separate bedrooms. We all just slept wherever we crashed every night."

Fry found that learning his place in the band was a big part of growing up.

"But I think that is the case with a whole lot of bands, even if they don't live together like we have. It's a question of becoming part of an ensemble and finding your role. It's a question of: How do you record your songs while staying true to what you love and respecting the musicians you are working with?"

In Margot and the Nuclear So and So's, it's a constant balancing act. Arrangements are packed with odd and unusual instrumentation from cello, trumpet and lap steel to banjo and melodica. It's refreshing that the resulting sound doesn't become claustrophobic.

"We try to not all play on top of each other," Fry says. "People do have adverse reactions sometimes to what might be considered 'complicated' music. People who ought to know, I guess, are constantly telling us to be simpler. And I am a big fan of minimalism and Zen and all that kind of stuff. Those are the concepts that have guided almost every decision I make.

"But for some reason, in this band, that was not the way it wanted to go. With the instrumentation that we use, we found that it was really fun to establish this form, and we got a lot more out of the material this way than we would have just by a straight-ahead approach. Of course, there will be other people who totally disagree with that."

Working with Edwards, too, has so far been a hugely rewarding experience for Fry.

"With Richard and me, it just clicked right away. I knew right away that I loved his songs and his voice. We had a lot of the same ideas on music and things like that. It felt like I had found this long-lost little brother of my mine in him."

Margot and the Nuclear So and So's also happens to be one of the greatest band names ever, musically slipping off the tongue with a combination of seriousness and irreverence. According to reports that may be apocryphal, Edwards came up with the name while taken with Gwyneth Paltrow's character, Margot, in the movie The Royal Tenenbaums.

"Well, that's what we have decided to say," Fry says. "I think it was really one of those things that popped into our head, and we decided to find a way to explain it. ... It's true, though, that at any given time, the movie collection that Richard has going always has some themes, and when the band chose its name, I guess there was a lot of Wes Anderson going on at the time."

Fry adds that in an abstract sense, Margot and the Nuclear So and So's "is a nice grouping of words."

He admits that not everyone gets it. "It makes me a little anxious sometimes when we are on the road in truck stops in Minnesota, for instance, and someone asks, 'What band are you all in?' Sometimes, I just want to say we're called 311. We spend a lot of our time on the road in truck stops. They have everything, you know, for the road traveler."

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