For full disclosure, I’ve known these guys for years now. I first met (from left to right) Trevor Tremaine, Robert Beatty, and Mike Connelly my freshman year in college at our campus radio station. Though I thought they were totally rad dudes, I was fairly intimidated by them at first, in part due to the fact they were older, yet certainly exacerbated by the fact they were in an absolutely terrifying band called Hair Police.
At first, I didn’t like noise music too much because I didn’t “get” it, and wasn’t sure what I thought about Hair Police. I learned later that noise is, like many forms of art, performance based – you really have to see it live to let it take hold of you. And that’s all it took for me to convert. The live show usurps all paradigms of traditional rock music. Noise itself certainly isn’t as simple as the title suggests, as noise has structure and acts as an expressive, fringe genre, much like punk circa 25 years ago. It isn’t just a complete destruction of musical norms – it’s more akin to an altering of the listener’s aural perception. Harmony and melody is simply replaced with rhythm and intensity. The typical audience reaction of swaying in unison and applauding each song is replaced with fist pumping, erratic spazzing, and sarcastic jeering. The result is powerful. Noise inverts everything about rock, which is exactly what punk did in the ’70s. Robert Beatty even told me once that Lightning Bolt is as relevant today as the Sex Pistols were in the the heyday of punk, but the world is too different now to embrace LB like they did with Johnny and Sid. I think I can agree with this sentiment.
After seeing my first noise show, I also realized that there’s nothing to “get” with noise. You either find it interesting and fun, or you don’t. No matter your opinion, its influence is undeniable. Stereolab and Broadcast were simply noise-influenced bands with a penchant for vocal pop. Sonic Youth are simply a group of noise and punk dorks who also had enough pop structure sensibility to expand their audience. To further this point, Hair Police spent their summer a couple of years ago opening for Sonic Youth throughout North America, handpicked by Thurston. And of course, noise has been a crux influence for the psychedelic movement for decades – everyone from United States of America, Silver Apples, and the Red Krayola in the ’60s; to Can, Brian Eno, and Faust in the ’70s; to Ruins, Swans, This Heat, and My Bloody Valentine in the ’80s; to the excellent, genre-pushing work of Indian Jewelry, Boredoms, No Age, Animal Collective and more today. Shoegazing owes a lot to noise, as does this blog. And, ya know, lest we forget its affect on neo-classical works by Cage, Branca, Basinski, and Reich.
But enough about the tenets of noise and avant psych – this is what you need to know. Hair Police are three righteous dudes who like to hang tough and bring the funk live. They’ve been shattering sine waves and giving sound engineers something to scratch their chin about all over the globe since 2001. Hair Police’s live show is exhilarating and otherworldly. The band and crowd shout mantras between songs. Apologies for sounding dumbtarded with what I’m about to say, but ya know, this is real rock and fucking roll. While their live show often subscribes to a certain aesthetic (*ahem* controlled insanity), Hair Police’s recorded repertoire maintains a surprising diversity – from zone out dronescapes, to full on aural assaults, to foreboding caravan treks across the astral plane. This isn’t just Merzbow bangin’ on pots and pans, Hair Police have a vision (and I totally invite you to hypothesize what that might be).
As with many experimental groups, Hair Police often mechanically alter their instruments and utilize traditionally “functional” equipment as musical divining rods. One of Robert’s weapons of choice is the Qualiton Acoustic Appraise… it’s used to test hearing. The members of Hair Police are in a zillion other projects as well, including a orchestral chamber collective, pop-rock groups, and more. The influences of the band are a lot wider than one might think, as they cite everything from jazz, to psych, to the Beach Boys, and more as co-sculptors in their face grinding canticles. Last time I spoke with Mike, during their 2006 summer tour, that he was all up all on that Sean Paul “Temperature” joint. Trevor has drummed with the Coup. Dudes love jams.
Hair Police has collaborated on record with the likes of Viki, Kites, and Wolf Eyes (of which Mike Connelly is their newest member and the first guy I know personally to be signed to Sub Pop), and have performed with countless others. They do not ask for adoration, only acknowledgement. Their Facebook fan group is, aptly, titled “Hair Police Acknowledgement Club,” wherein one anonymous person started a group under the premise that “nobody likes Hair Police” but “Mike Connelly IS in Wolf Eyes, so let’s acknowledge this band exists.” The band has since taken over this chunk of cyber snuff and welcome you to, in the non-existential sense, acknowledge their mighty presence. Trevor Tremaine, who indeed exists and can be acknowledged, was nice enough to take some time out to discuss their forthcoming release Certainty of Swarms (out Aug. 11), the recording process, and cracking skulls.
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KB: Beside slap bass and touches of Upper West Side Soweto, what can people expect with Certainty of Swarms that’s different from previous albums?
TT: It’s the only Hair Police album to start with a countoff.
It’s really varied, like ‘Obedience Cuts.’ ‘Constantly Terrified’ was more of an exercise in tedium. It was a record made out of necessity. Other than that, I think the mix on the new one makes it feel more “live.” The drums are really present and there weren’t really any overdubs or much in the way of post-production at all. Also, whenever the vocals come in, they overwhelm everything else on the track, which is a pretty hilarious effect. It’s a really garagey record.
KB: Hair Police and a few choice other acts in the genre have made the leap from playing in people’s basements to playing renowned music venues. Which do you like better?
TT: As long as it’s really loud and people are having a good time, I don’t care. Basements are good for intimacy, but a place like The Bottle can have much the same energy, with a killer PA and free beer to boot.
KB: Without bothering you with the obligatory biography, what was your entrance into both being interested in and performing such evil, scalp scalding scorchers?
TT: To be honest, Hair Police is just kinda what happens when you put the three of us together. We all have really broad tastes in music, with, of course, a lot of overlap. I personally discovered free jazz really early on, some punk rock, 60s counterculture stuff, Dada, etc. After high school I first heard noise, mainly Japanese stuff, which still slays me. Seeing the Incapacitants at No Fun Fest last year was revelatory. Mike is a noise/black metal guy, Robert’s a weird electronics guy, and I’m kind of a pop/rock guy. We all share each other’s taste, and all love psych, jazz, noise, punk, avant composition, I don’t even know. Everything rules. It all goes into the Hair Police cauldron.
KB: What’s the songwriting process like? Do songs evolve from sessions, Robert tinkering around with his toys; does one person record an idea for the group to expand on, or something else entirely?
TT: It all comes from jams, but we never say “let’s try and do that one again.” It’s more about conjuring a really specific atmosphere or emotion. Our arrangements are just sets of textures. We rarely play a song the same way twice. I take that back, “Strict” is pretty rigidly structured. It’s kind of like a folk song.
KB: What about your righteous song titles? Is it like a Joy Division thing where you keep a running list?
TT: I don’t really know how it comes about. Mike did all the song titles for the last few, going back to ‘Constantly.’ I did most of the ones on ‘Certainty.’ It’s kinda just up to whoever. If you have a good idea, throw it out there. We all know what Hair Police is about by now. Most bands operate by dictatorship or democracy, but we’re pretty anarchic. We trust each other enough to do it that way, I think.
KB: I sorta remember the origin of the “gnarly times” mantra, but pretty please recite that again for the highly literate readers of this blog dude.
TT: To be honest, I can’t remember. It stemmed from several conversations about the way civilization is headed, how things seem to be getting more and more precarious by the day. The mantra sorta summed up both the situation and how we had it in our heads. Actually, I don’t even know who came up with it. Mike, Robert, our friend Greh, who knows. Anyway, now the mantra is “Choke on your elders.” That should be pretty self-explanatory.
KB: I don’t know if people realize how many non-HP type projects you all are a part of. Let’s see, there’s the complex pop group Attempt, the chamber-oriented Eyes and Arms of Smoke… I’m probably leaving out a few… but regardless, with these projects, on top of Mike being an official member of Wolf Eyes and living hundreds of miles away, how do you all practice and stay tight?
TT: It’s not Rush. Our rehearsals aren’t very rigorous. We’re more likely to record new material than practice old shit, whenever we have a chance to play.
Other non-Hair Police projects you’re omitting are Three Legged Race, Failing Lights, Coptic Nausea, Sick Hour, S.M.E.L.L., ARA, Birth Refusal, Gate to Gate, and The Haunting. And actually I might be leaving some out. Note that if you include John Olson [of Wolf Eyes] as a member of Hair Police, which he was for much of 2006, this list would expand indefinitely like Pi.
KB: Saying noise shows are insane is both stupid and redundant. But with that said, what are the most insane show memories you have?
TT: Lots, but here’s a good one. One time at Club Seal, the hallowed, no defunct house venue in Lexington operated by Irene Moon, an audience member whose identity I shall conceal – let’s call him “Walter C” – took Mike’s guitar and commenced shredding. Mike just grabbed the mic and did his vocal thing, thrashing around. Well, at one point, Mike is bringing his head down really hard and the guy in the crowd is bringing the guitar up with the same force, and the two inevitably collide, with a tuning peg going into Mike’s nostril. In one quick yank, half of Mike’s nose is split. Mid-show, he’s rushed outta there, and I didn’t even realize what had happened, Robert and I finished the set while triage was going on in the next room. He had to go the the ER, but our van wouldn’t fit through the parking garage entrance.
Actually, there’s a good show memory from Chicago from this place called the Mutiny that involves Robert, but I’ll let him tell that one if he wants to. Gigs have been getting tamer lately. The whole crew is getting older. Now you go to noise shows and people are sitting down. Either way is cool.
July 26th–Cincinatti, OH– Art Damage Lodge w/ Wretched Worst, Wasteland Jazz Unit
July 27th–Columbus, OH– Skylab w/ Mike Shiflet, Envenomist/Jason Zeh duo.
July 28th–Cleveland, OH– Tusco Embassy w/ Aaron Dilloway, Emeralds, Tusco Terror
July 29th–Pittsburgh, PA– Belvedere’s w/ Ryan Jewell, Cock Scene Investigator
July 30th–Rochester, NY–Bug Jar w/ Pengo
July 31st–Albany, NY– UAG Gallery w/ Rise Set Twilight, Century Plants
Aug 1st–Florence, MA Florence American Legion Hall w/ Sunburned, Thurson Moore/Kate Village duo, Paul Flaherty/Jeff Hartford Duo
Aug 2nd–New York, NY– Rehab w/ Carlos Giffoni, Sixes, FFH.
Aug 3rd–New Haven, CT– BAR w/ Sickness
Aug 5th–Boston, MA– Middle East w/ Heathen Shame
Aug 6th–Montreal, QC– Zoobizarre w/ Yomul Yuk, Selfish Implosions, Antinferno
Aug 7th–Toronto, ON– Savage Garden w/ Disgues, Bottom Feeder, Flatline Construct
Aug 8th–Ypsilanti, MI– Pleasure Dome w/ Awkward Squad, Uneven Universe, Regression (Nate Young solo)