By Mike Faloon | Photos by Michael Bogdanffy-Kriegh / Studio MBK
By Mike Faloon | Photos by Michael Bogdanffy-Kriegh / Studio MBK
Last summer I appeared on the Rich Kimball show--Downtown with Rich Kimball, a sports show in Bangor--while touring for Fan Interference. I returned a couple more times and earned "friend of the show" status. Rich is great. Should be fun. 6:00 tonight.
by Mike Faloon
I think Late Republic could be a great Hot Topic record.
I think Future Virgins could make an excellent commercial record.
I probably lost some ground with those two statements, so let’s clear this up—Late Republic is excellent—and then back up.
Future Virgins—a band name I won’t pretend to understand—are a remarkably good band. They’re a punk rock band first and foremost. They may weave in power pop and classic rock, but punk rock is their calling. There’s nothing deceitful or disingenuous in their sound. To the contrary, they radiate more heart than everyone else, regardless of genre.
To my mind (and ears and soul—these guys appeal on so many levels) they’re somewhere between the Clash and the Replacements. Not so much in terms of sound, but attitude (though there are certainly Strummer-like phrases and Stinson-like lead guitar licks). I characterize the Clash as a global band—politics across borders, mate! I characterize the Replacements as a personal band—man, why does life have to ache like this? Future Virgins have bits of both, dip their lyrical paddles in both waters. They’re rich in the kind of authenticity marketing creeps are forever trying to decode—how can we manufacture a band the kids will accept as real? Wait, what is real? Call the sixth floor. Have them send up any metrics they have on ‘real.’
Focus groups will only get you so far. If those dweebs would ever ditch their spread sheets, they’d be buying up boxes of Late Republic. Listen to that rhythm guitar that pulsates through the verses of “Breaking Bread.” Man, how much better my teenage years would have been with that echoing in my head during chemistry class. And that’s not to risk another back handed compliment. I may be geezer age but killer guitar riffs still ease the day.
I used to think Future Virgins were an EP band, best experienced in short, brilliant bursts. That’s probably a function of how I first heard them—a live set at The Fest then a series of EPs of three-to-six songs. It took me awhile to adjust to their full-length debut (Western Problems, Starcleaner, 2011). I came around in time, embraced that record with school boy enthusiasm. Now with Late Republic I’ve done a one eighty. This is an album band, they work best with the bigger canvas.
And I think they’d possibly benefit from an even larger canvas, or more accurately a different kind of canvas. By that I mean I think they’re one of the few bands that could successfully handle a more lavish production sound. Most bands—punk or otherwise—wilt when given slicker production. Their ideas get lost in a whirlpool of excessive overdubbing and dopey suggestions from the herd of crazed chefs cramming their way into the proverbial kitchen. But a few bands take that plunge and break through (artistically, quality-wise; I’m not talking about sales figures). Much as I dig the first Clash record, Give ‘em Enough Rope is even better. Who’d have guessed that Sandy “Blue Oyster Cult” Pearlman and the Clash would have yielded such an amazing album. (Well, the first seven tracks, anyway.) The Breeders’ Last Splash. Green Day’s Dookie. Black Wine’s Hollow Earth. Each one has top notch, radio ready production that elevates the material. Of course, for every one of those successes there are hundreds of Don’t Tell a Souls, the Replacements gooey, what-were-they-thinking-were-they-even-listening? record from 1989.
But that’s looking past Late Republic. That’s speculating what Future Virgins might be capable of. (Maybe. It could be argued that Late Republic is that record; it sounds spectacular.) That’s also my way of saying this record is more mature than the band’s previous records. This record is better produced and easier to digest. I also think it’s Future Virgins’ best. The hooks are sharper, more immediate. There’s more space between the guitar lines, more contrast. And the band’s passion burns as bright as ever, maybe brighter because maintaining an outlook such as theirs—yep, it’s hard, dude; press on—becomes more challenging with age.
Best of all, I’m just scratching the surface. I’ve barely spent any time with the lyrics. Late Republic is probably just going to get better.
There are records you like and there are records that matter. With Late Republic I vote for that latter.
By Mike Faloon
Fact #1: Hussalonia is a one-man power pop band.
Evidence-based conclusion #1: Hussalonia is one of the best power pop bands. Home Taping Is Killing Me ranks with his/their best.
Facts #2: There is no specific personal information about the member(s) of Hussalonia. Just Jandek-like references to “The Hussalonia Founder.”
Rumor #1: Hussalonia is the brainchild of a mild-mannered white-collar professional residing somewhere in the Midwest. Canton, Ohio, I believe.
Evidence-based conclusions #2: Hussalonia is a genius.
Speculation #1: He’s the sort of person who excels at whatever creative endeavor he places in his creative field of view.
Evidence-based conclusions #3: His melodies consistently hit the mark. Likewise for his guitar tone.
Speculation #2: His record collection is pretty great. He prefers McCartney to Lennon when it comes to music. The opposite is true for lyrics. He understands my inclination to compare him to Robert Pollard—hyper prolific, willing to let a song stand at 25 seconds or four minutes. He’d probably hear me out were I to compare Hussalonia’s river of short songs to those of the Minutemen.
Evidence-based conclusions #4: Hussalonia can turn a phrase with the best of them, perhaps more so now than ever.
Take this one, from the opening song, “Keeping the Company of the Dead” – “In this world there is more bad than good/But the good is f*&# great” You have to believe that if you’re going to embark in any creative endeavor. Hussalonia’s inner optimist gets the first word on this record. He has the last word, too, as we’ll soon see.
Here’s another from “No to Some”: “I went from no to some idea of what I’m doing” That’s the best summation of the past 10-15 years of my life, personally, creatively, professionally.
I think the last song, “Time Will Measure Me,” might prove to be the tape’s crown jewel. It’s slower and noisier and longer than the rest of the cuts. It’s probably the most difficult. I’m still adjusting to it a dozen listens in. It’s the most compelling, too. The title alone is the perfect distillation of the Hussalonia statement / slogan: “Pop does not mean popular.” It’s like he’s saying if people aren’t getting the Hussalonia founder now, that’s there loss. Perhaps future generations will. Yet he has to recognize the longshot nature of this scenario.
Interpretation #1 :The satirical concept that loosely runs through Home Taping is a swell topper for the proceedings. According to the liner notes, Hussalonia was bought out by Nefarico Industries. Subsequently there were internal conflicts between the Hussalonia founder and his corporate backers. Several recording projects were shelved. One of which, Home Taping Is Killing Me, started surfacing on the Eastern European bootleg market. Nefarico saw potential profits flying out the window and green lighted an official release. Interspersed among the songs are three PSAs.
PSA #1: Never purchase a Hussalonia product not encased in a Nefarico security hologram sticker. “Only Nefarico can save you from your own dishonesty and filth.”
PSA #2: Bootleg Amnesty Day. Bonfire at Nefarico Square starts at 6 PM.
PSA #3: “Listening to pirated Hussalonia cassettes is a criminal activity and criminals are worthless, vile scum undeserving of the Earth’s bounty.”
Summary #1: Home Taping Is Killing Me = Vintage Elvis Costello crossed with SCTV. Treat yourself.
By Mike Faloon
Main Street was quiet as I stepped to the sidewalk. Residual salt crunched underfoot. Banners at the gas station flapped in the breeze. I stuffed my hands in my coat pockets and picked up the pace. The sooner I got to my car the better. I’d stayed later than I expected and I didn’t want to risk regretting that decision. Seeing my breath hang in the cold night air didn’t help.
Even though it was early in the week, a Monday night, I was tired when I arrived at Quinn’s. I figured I’d stay for the first set then cut out. I arrived early. I wanted to get a table up front, upgrade from the counter seat I had last time. I was too late. The prime turf had already been claimed. My quest would have to continue next time.
The Mike Dopazo Trio was playing—Dopazo on sax, Scott Fragala on bass, and Jon Doty on drums. They had a soulful, expressive take on jazz—clear demarcations between solos and support, verses and choruses. Dopazo was a confident leader with a bright, equally confident sound. As the night moved along he named the legends whose songs they were interpreting: Sonny Rollins, Billy Strayhorn, Wayne Shorter. Small wonder I took to their set so quickly.
When my friend Brendan read my last piece about Monday night jazz at Quinn’s (Joe McPhee and Dominic Duval) he suggested that I turn around more, include more atmospheric details to fill out the setting. It was good advice. I intended to heed it, but I didn’t. I forgot. I got distracted by other things, like the quote posted behind the bar:
“The haves and have nots
Are bleeding in the tub
That’s New York’s future
3/2/42 – 10/27/13
The second line reminded me too much of The Godfather, Frankie Five Angels’ final scene, in the bathtub. I didn’t want that image to stick. The band bailed me out. So did the patrons at Quinn’s.
In relatively quick succession I heard not one, not two, but three people order cans of Genny Cream Ale. It wasn’t the choice itself that drew my attention. It was the tone in their voices, a gleeful “You have that?!” sound, a cheap beer joy that goes beyond Rolling Rock or Pabst. When my dad went to college in Maine his buddies counted on him to stock up on the stuff whenever he came home on break.
Before I could delve too deep into the mystique of Genny Cream Ale I also heard this: “Do you know why Jack Grace moved out of that house?”
No, I thought, I don’t. I couldn’t see the source of this quote but wish I’d been privy to more of the conversation. I didn’t expect to hear a familiar name. I became a Jack Grace fan last spring at the Odeon Theater’s Skunk Fest. Grace’s stage banter was engaging as his band. After the show his wife, bassist Daria Grace, played with our kids on the lawn outside of the venue. Last fall we tried to hire them for our annual party. Grace and I played phone tag for a couple of days. By the time we caught up with each other he said they had to turn down our offer because his wife had a gig opening for Willie Nelson and Neil Young (at Farm Aid). Grace actually apologized and started to explain why this was a big show for her and, by extension, him. He could have told me they had tickets to a Willie or Neil show and I’d have understood. Moments like that make me feel a bit more connected to the area. I can’t convey how grateful I am to have events like this just down the road. Much as I love living close to NYC the trek in and back takes its toll.
I drifted back to the quote behind the bar. I still couldn’t place it. I asked the bartender. Lou Reed, he said. Then I noticed the dates beneath the quote. The band carried on throughout, pouring out a sound I conjured when I reread On the Road recently, especially Dean Moriarty’s monologue about a bandleader who clearly knows “it.” Dopazo and company hit full stride with a Thelonious Monk tune, pushing the tempo just right. (Was that “Rhythm-A-Ning”?) Only later did it dawn on me how Dopazo mixed sax-oriented songs (Rollins, Shorter) with piano-based tunes (Strayhorn, Monk). There was at least one original, “One, Two.” It’d be nice to hear more.
The audience was pretty consistently with the band. When the trio dropped down, we followed suit. There were exceptions, sure, like the dude in the Giants sweatshirt, but it was momentary. (And, in all fairness, it was easily forgiven. He was probably still recovering from the 27 picks Eli threw this season. Or worse, that Swiss cheese offensive line.)
There was a lot to enjoy that night, but my decision to stick around for the second set came down to a look, a look from Dopazo between songs. From the start I was struck by his ability to be so expressive and yet so tuneful, emotional and melodic. And as I said before I think we did well as an audience. I’d score us a B in terms of keeping up and voicing our collective appreciation. But we had our lapses. It was during one such lapse that Dopazo acknowledged the crowd. He said thanks, added a word or two about one of the songs. As he scanned the room, preparing for the next tune, a look flashed across his face. A look that I’m still decoding. He seemed to be seeking something we weren’t providing, at least in that moment. But it didn’t anger him, didn’t wilt him. It spurred him on. I thought of the crummy ratio that any worthwhile artist endures. For every moment of satisfaction or connectedness, there are hours of practice and heartache, travel and trial and error. Maybe I misread his expression, but it’s why I stayed.
Fan Interference: A Collection of Baseball Rants and Reflections, an anthology from the pages of Zisk edited by Mike Faloon and Steve Reynolds