By Jeff Walsh
Songs about gay youth are nothing new. Many bands have analyzed the confusions, joys and sorrows of growing up gay. "Deep Water" by Pansy Division has always been a personal favorite of mine in this sub-genre.
But with its new album Queen City, Invaders From Another Planet have taken this category to a whole new level by releasing an entire concept album about gay youth.
Interviews with various teens from Time Out Youth, the local queer youth group, are peppered throughout the poppy punk album. The quick spoken sections are touching, funny and universal and give the album a great feel.
Recently, Oasis interviewed The Amazing Lee, the 29-year-old frontman for the group based in Charlotte, N.C., who said the songs were inspired by the interviews he did with the teens.
"The whole concept is growing up homosexual in America, it's the overall theme of the album," Lee said. "The beginning of the album is interviews with gay and lesbian teenagers who were talking about what kind of experiences they had when they were 13 or 14 or 15, and first coming to terms with how they felt about their sexuality, all the way through telling their parents and what kind of reaction their parents had. Then a song comes in, and in-between songs, the conversations continue. And all the songs are built around the conversations."
As for the music, the sound has a loose indie rock vibe. "It Hurts (When Your Mother Don't Love You)" covers the angst surrounding coming out, "The Man In Me" drifts through thoughts about relationships, and "Come A Little Bit Closer" offers a campy, electronic take on the classic Jay and the Americans' song. Some other songs are available for your listening pleasure on the band's MP3.com site at http://artists.mp3s.com/artists/9/invaders_from_a_forbidden_plan.html
"The sound is dependent on what we feel like doing at the time," said Lee. "It's usually up-tempo, quirky pop, sometimes bordering on punk. A cross between Pansy Division and Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields."
But the interviews were not just added to connect the songs, they were done beforehand and actually inspired the album.
"I didn't write the songs until after I did the interviews, so I think it's a conglomeration of thoughts, feelings and emotions brought forth from everybody," Lee said. "It's really neat to see that when you listen to the album, everything is universal. Everybody has experiences that are different but the same."
The band's biggest buzz to date, however, has been surrounding a track from its previous album, The Ups and Downs of Boyhood. Ten Good Reasons (Why we hate REM), which opens with the lyrics "Athens, Georgia can kiss my ass…" and continues to count down ten explicit reasons why Lee dislikes REM. The song's inclusion on the band's MP3.com site has prompted many angry REM fans to share their thoughts on the song with Lee, who has posted some of these "Love Letters" on the band's Web site.
"That's just the tip of the iceberg, I probably get five to ten of those a week," said Lee. "I guess people feel they need to defend their favorite artist. And I don't really hate REM, I'm just displeased with the direction in which they've taken themselves compared to how they started."
The band name of Invaders From A Forbidden Planet, according to Lee, was trying to poke fun at all the space band names, such as Supernova and Flying Saucer Attack.
"They all do this space rock sound, so we wanted to have a space rock name and not do the sound to throw people off a little bit," Lee said. "And when we first started, we had nine members, so we were kind of like an army, like an invasion force, we would march down the aisle and onto the stage."
As for his own moniker, he is unclear when and how he became The Amazing Lee.
"I don't know. I really don't. I think when we were trying to figure out what to call ourselves, somebody said 'Why don't you call yourself The Amazing Lee?', and it kind of just stuck," he said.
Lee's coming out to his own parents actually was rather amazing.
"They were just 'yeah, yeah, we know. No big deal. We're not surprised. When you have the same kid spend the night for an entire summer…,'" Lee recalls. "When you first come out to your friends, that's a lot more difficult and painful and hurtful. For some kids, though, it's more hurtful to come out to your parents."
But Lee's commitment to helping gay youth goes beyond the new album. He now volunteers with Time Out Youth, to try and help queer kids in Charlotte accept themselves.
"Doing the interviews got me involved with Time Out Youth," Lee said. "I just decided, 'This is the best thing I could possibly do with my free time.'"