Euros Childs has proof that he and his school friends had no plans for a career in music when they began playing together as high-schoolers a decade ago: his band's name.
"I don't think we would have named ourselves Gorky's Zygotic Mynci if we'd started off with a serious career in mind," the singer-guitarist says. "We were in a bit of a hurry to make up the name. I think we had to send off a tape to someone. It doesn't have any meaning; it's just three words stuck together."
"Mynci" is how "monkey" is spelled in Welsh, the language Childs and bandmates Richard James, Euros Rowlands and Megan Childs (Euros's older sister) grew up speaking in rural Pembrokeshire. The band's sixth and latest album, "Spanish Dance Troupe," is the first one without Welsh lyrics. Ironically, the album was recorded when the group was free from record-label pressure to make a more English-friendly album. Gorky's was dismissed by Polygram after last year's "Gorky 5," which was not released in the United States. The band recorded the new disc before signing with Mantra/Beggar's Banquet.
"We never planned the album at all," explains Childs by phone from Cardiff, where the band is now based. "We just went every couple of weeks to record tracks. At the end we realized there's no Welsh songs on it. But sitting down to write Welsh songs to go on the album was against the whole idea of the record. The idea was to play music regardless of expectations, to enjoy ourselves.
"The next album might have half Welsh, half English," says Childs, the principal Gorky's songwriter. "We haven't changed policy. We haven't got any policy. It just felt right for us."
This free-form approach has always guided the band, so perhaps it makes sense that its music is strongly influenced by late-'60s psychedelia recorded before the 24-year-old Childs and his colleagues were born. The group's brand of skewed, unpredictable folk-rock has been compared to the work of the Beach Boys, Incredible String Band and the Soft Machine. The band has even recorded a song called "Kevin Ayers," after a member of the latter group.
"We listened every night to John Peel, who's a famous DJ over here," Childs says. "He had this thing where he'd play one old track every two nights. And we have very good secondhand record shops down where we lived. If Peel played a track by Robert Wyatt, we'd buy a Robert Wyatt record. Then we'd find out he was in Soft Machine, and buy a Soft Machine record. Then buy a Kevin Ayers record. And we'd buy one Byrds record and then 20 records by people who were in the Byrds."
This eclectic roundelay continues on the band's albums, which mix buzzing analog synthesizers with blaring brass-band instruments, raucous electric guitars with lyrical dulcimers. "We used medieval instruments on `Barafundle,' " the group's 1997 release, Childs says, "because my dad's in a medieval band. We thought it would be good to have a medieval break, so my dad's band came in and played it. And John, our old guitarist, was one of those people who could pick up an instrument and play it. He could play a bit of brass -- not very well -- and recorder and flute."
John Lawrence left the band after recording "Spanish Dance Troupe," saying he didn't want to sign another record contract. He's been replaced by Rhodri Puw, who is also a multi- instrumentalist. "We swap around quite a lot," Childs says. "Except poor Richard, who just plays drums. We used to stick to one instrument when we played live, but it felt a bit weird because in the studio we always switched around. It's a bit awkward on stage, because you trip over [wires], but it makes sense for us."
This loose, playful approach has won Gorky's a loyal following in Europe, but the group is almost unknown in the United States, where such Welsh-bred, British chart-toppers as Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia and Stereophonics have made little impact. Tonight's 9:30 club gig is the band's Washington debut, which comes several years after its trip to Moscow.
That expedition, Childs says, came after he jokingly claimed that the band was named for Maxim Gorky. So a British music weekly flew the musicians to Russia, where they posed in Red Square wearing fur hats. They didn't even need to take their instruments. "We just went there and took some pictures, got drunk and came back again," he recalls.
The quintet hasn't spent much more time in the United States than in Russia, having played only a few promotional shows in New York. "I have no idea what American tastes are," says Childs of Welsh rock's low stateside profile. "But it is odd. I would have thought Manic Street Preachers would have done all right there."
One obstacle to reaching the states was the band's previous label. "They dropped us, and we're happier without them," says Childs, who thinks that being cut loose inspired the relaxed vibe of the new album, the band's gentlest. Aside from the exuberantly jumpy "Poodle Rockin', " the disc consists mostly of delicate tunes like "Hallway" and "Faraway Eyes."
"It's not like people sitting down to record an album," says Childs of the disc's sound. "It's just like people sitting down to play music. We never went far from that idea, really."
GORKY'S ZYGOTIC MYNCI -- Appearing Friday with Luna at the 9:30 club. n To hear a free SoundBite from Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8114. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)