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Cruse Control

While others relive the '80s at Have A Nice Day Café, Cruse pays tribute to the decade's music with original compositions.

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Steely Dan might have ganked its name from William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch, but one area duo has one-upped the literate soft-rockers. Brad Koehler and ReGina Cruse, known collectively as Cruse, have the proud distinction of actually coming to know each other through one of Lawrence's most famous residents himself.

Koehler, the band's keyboardist and programmer, relates the events of summer 1996 that got Cruse off the ground. "I was taking care of Mr. Burroughs for about two and a half years," he recalls, "and about 10 months or so before his passing, I needed someone to help me. That's how I got to meet (ReGina). I hired her as kind of my partner in trying to get some things done for William."

Now the pair is engaged in a partnership of pursuits artistic that has grown so much that Koehler has, at least figuratively, taken Cruse's name. "It's definitely kind of a marriage situation," vocalist/guitarist Cruse explains. "Plus, I'm the last from my father's line of Cruses spelled that way, so it's kind of my progeny." She then offers another intriguing reason that her last name is also the band's: "It had a good number to it, as in numerology."

2000 is turning out to be a good number for Cruse as well; the group recently released its first album, This. It contains 16 electro-pop tunes and plays like a pastiche of all things good from the Reagan era's new-wave boom, back when there was still just cause to call alternative "alternative." "I am such a child of the '80s as far as music," Koehler says unapologetically. "That's when I really became exposed to pop music, and I was really drawn to electronic music because it seemed to me to give the most area of interpretation. You could make any sound that you want to -- any style of music -- and have it be electronic, whether it's sampled, real instruments, or completely something synthetic. To me, that seems to have a much greater field of creative potential than having the limitations of working with guitars."

Sampling actually plays a large part in the music Cruse creates, including bits lifted from The Art of Noise and such unlikely sources as Gary Wright's "Love Is Alive." The latter snippet is used on This' first track, "Your Love Is a Lie." "What we did is instead of taking one or two measures, I sort of cut in half of a measure, then looped that so it would be just a little bit different," Koehler reveals. "It was just such a great groove. I'm really surprised that somebody like Will Smith hasn't actually used it already. ReGina really did a great play on words, because the chorus for the song that he wrote was very beautiful, something like, 'Our love is alive and it will keep me on fire,' and ReGina basically turned it around."

However, when it comes to sampling, a jiggy line separates such bands as Cruse from the aforementioned Fresh Prince. "Where does the originality begin to fade? Where do you start with true originality again?" questions Koehler. "I think that's the same in any aspect of the art community in general when creating an art form that is either visual or audio. It's very difficult to decide when you are coming up with a new idea or when you're just regurgitating something that has already been done.

"There's a whole new generation of the record-buying public that has no idea who The Art of Noise is or who Gary Wright is or who, you know, Sister Sledge or anybody that Will Smith takes is," he continues. "In one instance, the argument can be that it's okay as long as the cats read the liner notes and can understand that this was actually a song and a piece of work before someone else got ahold of it. I don't know whether that actually happens or not, but I'd like to think that it does."

Cruse picked "Your Love Is a Lie" for its first video, which is now airing on the Independent Music Network, accessible at www.imntv.com. The video's story line follows the notion that two ReGinas exist, one decked out in black dominatrix wear, the other wearing white, very much the picture of innocence. "There's this battle throughout the video between both of them, one telling the other that your love is a lie. One is going to prevail, that sort of deal," Koehler says. "At the end of the video, the one that's all dressed in black, the performer, leads the innocent one in white into a crate, like a shipping crate, knocks it over, and nails her in. Then she stands up, and the one in the black outfit takes off her coat and has the white outfit on underneath, so you don't really know which one prevailed in the end."

While that video is a fine way to see Cruse, there's also the option of checking it out live, though chances to do so have been slim thus far. "We've only agreed to do a few shows, mostly because there's a heck of a lot of work that goes into it, for just the two of us," Koehler explains. "If someone cares enough about what we're doing to ask us to play a show, then we need to put together a show. In the past, we've had live dancers and choreographed routines, the whole bit." After years of keeping a low profile, however, he assures local music lovers that more opportunities are forthcoming. "We've been picking and choosing our shows pretty carefully, but we've been playing around a lot more now since the record is out. This is really the best year for Cruse so far."

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