"I come from Des Moines," travel writer Bill Bryson famously wrote almost 20 years ago. "Somebody has to."
Bryson, of course, unwittingly put his Iowa hometown squarely on the map as the absolute middle of nowhere, a slice of smalltown America where events of note rarely occur. And, despite the best efforts of at least one Killer, to whom we will in time come, Des Moines has rarely failed to boast a band of global interest. Until now. The Envy Corps, soon to be hailed the first great new discovery of 2008, may well emanate from the nearby town of Ames, but Des Moines is where they have settled, the place they consider home. What's more, they are proud of it.
"And why shouldn't we be?" ponders hirsute singer Luke Pettipoole, 24. "We never felt any pressure to relocate to some place like New York or Los Angeles. I mean, who wants to become a small fish in a big pond, right?"
"Certain people expected us to escape at the first opportunity," adds drummer Scott Yoshimura, 22, "but why? Iowa is home, it's where we have family, where we belong."
"That said, we have been living in London pretty much all this past year," points out guitarist Brandon Darner, 30, "so we can't be that loyal, can we?"
"We're from Streatham now," says Scott's brother, bassist David Yoshimura. He says this, bless him, with as much enthusiasm as anyone could ever possibly muster for such an inglorious London suburb. "It's a long way from home."
Well, wherever their hearts may truly lie, the band's debut album Dwell is about to place them at the very epicentre of the musical map. If Arcade Fire were this year's best North American act, then next year it will be this four piece from Iowa.
Streatham will be proud to have them.
The Envy Corps first got together six years ago now, around the nucleus of Luke and David. The former had been a web developer, the latter studying English at the local university, and they came together through a mutual love of music, much of it British. The next couple of years were spent playing with a constantly revolving selection of local musicians. Occasionally they would play live, sometimes attracting a paying audience, other times not. But they were learning and growing and developing all the while. Then, in 2004, David's brother Scott became a full-time member, and they subsequently poached Brandon from another band, To My Surprise. "Was I happy to be poached?" Brandon says now of the experimental rock act he was involved with, an outfit fronted by Slipknot's Shaun Crahan. He smiles enigmatically, and what he doesn't say speaks volumes. "You could say that, yes..."
Brandon not only brought his guitar, but also a vision that would help coalesce the band's ambition, and quickly they became a viable proposition with a tangible future. Initially, their inspiration came from across the Atlantic, specifically the shoegazing bands of the early 1990s. No, wait - come back, because they were also inspired by good British bands, bands like New Order, The Verve and Radiohead. Within weeks of Brandon's appointment, they wrote a wonderfully vigorous song called Rhinemaidens, their imminent first single, its four-to-the-floor beat coming to Luke, as all things inevitably do, while in the shower. "The lyrics just came to me in a rush," he says now. "I took them to Brandon and we ran with it. The moment the song was finished, we knew we were on to something."
The guitarist also just happened to be on nodding terms with another Iowa musician, Dave Keuning, lead guitarist of Las Vegas' The Killers, who heard early demos and became a very vocal supporter. "I first met him before Hot Fuss came out," Brandon says, "and he was great, really encouraging to us. The next time I saw him to catch up, like a year later, he'd sold 5 million albums. But what's great about Dave is that even though massive success happened for him, he hadn't changed a bit. The guy's an inspiration."
Posting songs on MySpace and continuing to play live locally, they developed a loyal cult following, and later released several self-funded EPs. Of all the record companies that subsequently showed interest, it was Vertigo, here in London, that were most keen, dispatching an A&R man all the way to Des Moines. He came back with their signatures and now, like The Killers before them, they aim to break a continent 3000 miles from home before they break their own.
"This is like an honour for us," Luke says. "We're all pretty much Anglophiles, so to get to play here - and, now, pretty much live here - well, let's just say we're happy about it, very."
Dwell is an intensely affecting record, full of tightly coiled melodies that kaleidoscopically unfurl in all directions, Luke's voice imbued with the swoop and sway of confused passions and tortured sentiments. The opening Wires And Wool sets the tone perfectly. It starts like something out of a Tim Burton movie, its whispering intro stalking through ominous shadows before bursting into suddenly sinuous life. By its conclusion, it's climbing the walls.
"When we first started out, our songs were depressing, I admit it," Luke says now. "I guess that was our shoegazing phase. But we got rid of all that early on. Our songs now have a lot more energy to them."
They do indeed. Before The Gold Rush is alive and vivid, like Mercury Rev in a hall of mirrors, while 99, 100 manages to cram more emotion into its four-syllabled refrain "for shame/for shame" than most other songs manage in an entire four minutes. Sylvia (The Beekeeper), meanwhile, is an urgent, if unlikely, celebration of Ted Hughes' suicidal lover.
"That song is based on some adolescent girls I knew who became enamoured with her overnight, almost as if Sylvia Plath were a trend, or something," he says. "I couldn't help sense that they never really quite *got* her."
Many Envy Corps songs, he will concede, come from dark places (the opening line of Rooftop, for example, is "I need a rooftop/I can look from or jump off"), and in quieter moments the singer will even admit that he only "approaches stability on occasion". But then it is this very dark characteristic that makes them so endlessly fascinating. If you read between the lines of many of the tracks here, you can go really very deep indeed.
"Music, for me, is therapy, it always has been. I know that's a terrible cliche, but it's true. It releases something from within me that nothing else could. Often, when a lyric comes out, I'm not even sure where it's come from. I just know that it's definitely better out than in."
One of the best songs on the album is Story Problem, a joyful, clattering celebration that builds into the kind of chaotic singalong chorus that Glastonbury was made for. "I actually wrote that one in jail," he murmurs. "And again, the lyrics just came out of nowhere. I wanted to make a song that was plainly optimistic, that had as many melodies in it as possible, a trumpet, a huge climax, the whole lot. It worked, pretty much."
Ask why, precisely, this mild-mannered man was imprisoned, and his face will fold into an embarrassed smile, and his cheeks will redden. "No comment," he says, "but I will tell you this: it was a one-off, and for one night only. I am not generally a deviant."
While they anticipate launching themselves on to the great British public, the quartet are still coming to terms with their adjustments in geography. Streatham may be no more scintillating a locale than Des Moines, but it is still alien ground for them.
"It's funny telling people we live in Streatham because it always prompts a reaction, usually a negative one," Brandon says, laughing. "But we're okay there. We've got a big house, six bedrooms, enough space for us all, our partners, a couple of techs. The house may be falling down a little bit [*a ceiling collapsed during the summer floods*], but it's definitely brought us together and helped focus us on what we want to do here."
Ultimately, these men are humble types, not the kind to trumpet their own talent when, in the case of Story Problem in particular, they can quite literally get a trumpet to do that for them, but they do possess an underlying determination that will soon come to define them. It's all in the music, the twisted verses, the euphoric choruses, Luke's impassioned voice. Dwell is a great rock record, and The Envy Corps are a great rock band.
Soon this will become entirely evident to all.