Nothing Iffy about Him: Iffy Bassist Tom Merkl Talks about His Dutch Boyfriend, the Influence of Leif Garrett, and Being Asked to Judge Wet T-Shirt Contests. (the Music Issue)

Article excerpt

Call it an Almost Famous moment. A few months back, a Savannah, Ga., rock station asked Tom Merkl and his cohorts in the band Iffy to play their soulful hard-edged pop at a, promotional But the station didn't mention the amateur boxing match, the wet T-shirt contest, or me "P.A. that blew up after we played three songs," says Merkl with a wry laugh. In the midst of all the straight testosterone--included among the revelers was a slew of servicemen--the the members of Iffy were asked if they'd like to officially judge that battle of the damply dressed ladies. Merkl had a quick response: uh, no. Luckily, the group was united in that no; his bandmates may be straight, but "they're not cheesy," notes the openly gay Merkl.

There are, after all, other ways of getting attention. And the Minneapolis-based Iffy's way seems to be working. The band--boasting stocky, sad-eyed bassist Merkl along with drummer Peter Anderson, guitarist Kraig Johnson, and his brother, the WB-worthy lead singer Kirk Johnson--morphed from longtime friendships just two years ago and quickly landed a major label deal. With Merkl and Anderson cowriting most of the melodies, Iffy's debut album, Biota Bondo (on Warner-distributed Foodchain), began winning raves last year from the likes of the Los Angeles Times and its hometown Minneapolis Star Tribune, which hailed the recording as 2001's Local Album of the Year. Its first single, "Double Dutch," has since become a thumping hit that got a boost after airing in an episode of Dawson's

Creek in January. Also helping is a tour that's stopped in such diverse spots as Oklahoma City, Los Angeles's notorious Viper Room, and just-peachy Georgia.

Despite the Savannah incident, Merkl, 34, is out--and accustomed to crowds. As he's the youngest of 11 Catholic-raised kids of John, a retired postal worker, and Elaine, a housewife, odds were perhaps better than iffy that one of his brothers would be a serious music collector; "He had thousands of records, so I was exposed to everything," says Merkl. …


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