Raw Elegance

French Toast is no longer a side dish to James Canty and Jerry Busher

It would be tough to find a band with a more serious alternative and punk pedigree than the Washington, D.C.-based French Toast. The members boast experience in such pioneering outfits as Fidelity Jones, The Nation of Ulysses, The Make-Up, Cupid Car Club, The Spinanes and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists.

Both primary band members, James Canty and Jerry Busher, also have connections to the almighty Fugazi, which might be enough for most résumés. Canty is the brother of that band's bassist, Brendan Canty; Busher played drums and electronics on tour with the group for a while, and appeared on the albums The Argument and Furniture.

It should also be noted that Canty for years labored behind the charismatic front man Ian Svenonius, in The Nation of Ulysses, Cupid Car Club and The Make Up, so it's nice to see him out from behind that shadow.

Until this year, French Toast consisted only of Canty and Busher, who both sing and play guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, sampler and trumpet, among other things. Friends for almost 20 years, the two didn't play music together until Canty joined Busher's "experimental improv-electro-primal-funk" group All Scars, for a five-week tour of Europe in 2000.

From that collision grew the partnership known as French Toast, which uses bare-bones electronica and angular funk, shards of ferocious guitar noise, deep dub bass and gentle keyboard textures to emphasize the tension pulling between hypnotic structures and punky fury, between compassion and misanthropy.

The band's ever-changing musical style--which nevertheless remains consistently raw and elegant--brings to mind such acts as Gang of Four, the Raincoats, Wire, New Order, Shriekback, Mission of Burma and early Sleater-Kinney.

French Toast will play Tucson for the first time on Tuesday night, Dec. 6, at the Solar Culture Gallery. The band's current concert tour is designed to promote its new CD, In a Cave, which follows a CD single and EP into the stores.

After recording In a Cave, Canty and Busher decided to add their friend Ben Gilligan to the fold to play bass on the current tour.

Earlier releases came to the public by way French Toast's own label, Arrest Records. The independent and punk-oriented Dischord Records, in D.C., released the new album. That label is owned and operated by Fugazi's leader, Ian MacKaye.

For many alternative-music fans, being a "Dischord band" is an automatic stamp of approval.

"Dischord is great, because they do not put out anything halfway, or strictly to make a profit," Canty told the online journal Word. "That is extremely rare to find in the music world these days. Ian has been very kind to us from the very beginning, and we are psyched to be working with the label again."

In that interview, Canty also said his collaboration with Busher began in improvisation. It was a side project that became a full-time effort.

"French Toast came out of some of the musical concepts Jerry and I were working on towards the end of All Scars. We had gone on a completely improvised tour with the All Scars, and felt we wanted to harness that energy of improvisation, but put it to organized music. Less than a year later, we had quit all of our other bands and were concentrating mostly on French Toast."

The beauty of French Toast's sound is that it can be very layered and dense with samples and overdubs, or it can be stark and open, such as when the instrumentation is simply organ and drums, or piano and drum machine.

"I really love the space our sound affords, and am proud it is just the two of us because of that," Canty said in the online interview. "I guess I would hope in the end, that people are able to celebrate that, and the inherent chaos in our music. We have worked hard at representing that from the very beginning."