On their MySpace page, Hockey lists William Blake, Frank O'Hara, and M.I.A. as influences. I won't bother to identify the artist of “Paper Planes” fame, the real Slum Dog Millionaire, but to save the rest of you dear readers from the hassle of opening a new window for Wikipedia, I will identify the two former literary greats. Blake is regarded as possibly the greatest influence of the Beat movement, espoused by both Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan. Although Blake was a devout Christian, he was by no means a prude, and believed in divulging in all of the earthly passions and pleasures, even those deemed damnable by more conservative Puritanical keepers of the Church. Blake is also recognized as an intellectual forefather of modern anarchy. O'Hara was very much a proponent of living in the moment. He spent much of his early life working at the MOMA in New York City, where he was a contemporary of Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, and many other avant-garde artists of the '40s and '50s. This led to an obvious synthesis between visual art and the written word for O'Hara, as a poet.
The first thing I notice is that there, in these influences, is an English poet (Blake) and an American poet (O'Hara), just like Hockey now has an English label (Virgin) and an American label (Capitol). But beyond their newfound commercial success, which has recently landed their music on video game soundtracks and in national television advertisements, lies an undeniable sound that almost dares its listeners not to tap their feet and nod their heads, if not break out into freak-nasty jive-walking altogether. Their self-described “new wave / soul / classic rock” style was born out of a desire to get their audiences to react. “We wanted to make dance music that was infectious,” explains Jeremy 'Jerm' Reynolds, bassist and founding member, who along with lead singer and guitarist Ben Grubin, started playing together about nine years ago in Los Angeles while attending the University of the Redlands. Now hailing from the blustery indie hotbed of Portland, OR, Hockey now includes Brian White on guitar, Anthony Stassi on drums and Ryan Dolliver on the keys.
Before reading any further, I should admit that I am a Hockey fan by random chance. I won a local radio contest drawing that gave me and my significantly beautiful other access to a private studio session with some hot, new band called “Hockey” that I had never heard of. I needed an original date, so even if the music sucked, it would be a good effort romantically. I was in. We arrived on a chilly, clear night to a long, large corrugated steel building, which was basically an industrial strip mall, in the sandy eastern outskirts of San Diego. It looked completely unassuming from the exterior, but inside the Secret Cedar Studios, the oriental rugs on the floor and heavily veneered and knotted, natural wooden paneling created a warm, friendly, gather-round the campfire atmosphere. There was no rockstar, 'us-and-them' vibe as the lucky listeners packed into the sound-proofed room. Instead, the young men tuning their instruments and swigging beers had the nervous energy of a group of nerds at a science fair, excited yet unsure of the outcome of the experiment they were about to reveal to the gathered onlookers. Stassi even seemed to be bored and embarrassed at times, reduced to playing a maraca, but the sounds produced by the band as whole were rich and layered and varied, filling the odd -angled wooden chamber with organic, soulful rhythms.
The next night, at the Casbah, was quite the opposite, in both sound and energy. The reverb of the amps off the black walls were peeling the paint; Hockey, plugged in, played a raucous set that left the beer-soaked and sweaty audience yelling for more. Ben's vocals are not only harmonic, but his ability to successfully vary his delivery is perhaps his strongest suit, shifting from a didactic spitfire a la Bob Dylan's “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” to a neo-soulful crooning a la . . . like a cross between Prince and Rod Stewart. I know what you're thinking, but listen to their song “Work” and tell me I'm wrong. Not only do the vocals work musically, but the lyrics are cohesive, honest, and often smart. The sound of Hockey falls in the realm of The Strokes, The Sounds, Black Kids and The Bravery. A bit of indie rock, drum machine, 80s keys, and disco flare round out the eclectic harmonic signature that is Hockey.
What follows is an interview conducted on the sidewalk with Jeremy 'Jerm' Reynolds just before he went onstage at the Casbah on January 18, 2010 in San Diego. The band was headed to Japan the next day.
What modern artists, visual or otherwise, influence you and your music?
Jean-Michel Basquiat. I know he died in 1997, but he killed it. He was amazing. Just the energy that his work expressed. Sort of the frantic, momentary insanity that those pieces captured, is very inspiring. To think about doing that with music, to have that sort of loose aesthetic, that's just expressing a feeling, an emotion, whatever you feel passionate about. He's my big influence. I do the artwork for everything, he's been a big influence on me visually as well as musically.
I noticed you did the artwork for the album cover. Do you want to make any comment on that . . .
- (It represents) the four stages of the evolution of humanity . . . into “Mind Chaos.” The great shutting off; and then, the great turning back on.
What's the difference between your '04 album, “Smoking Weed in the President's Face,” both creatively and in post-production, as far as doing something more indie, compared to your new album, “Mind Chaos,” which has been backed by major labels on both sides of the pond?
- Yeah, “S.W.I.T.P.F.” was a concept record for the great election of 2004 wherein John Kerry was a huge disappointment. That was just us in a basement in college actually, but similar to that, with the record we just did, it's us in a basement in Portland in our house. So, one was self-released, one was released by Capital Records; but, the aesthetic is us. It's us doing our thing. There's no producer, essentially nobody else involved in the creative process, including the visual art. It's kind of a for us, by us kind of thing, for whatever that's worth. That's how its come out.
Are you guys feeling more at home, artistically, here in the US or across the pond in the UK?
- There's something to be said for being out of your element. Being over there, especially in countries where I don't speak the language, that can really open a lot of doors, creatively. Just to be uncomfortable all the time, or constantly processing new bits of information, or new experiences - seeing new places, meeting new people. But being in America is cool too, it has its own perks. And, whatever, I don't know what we're up to over here, just going around playing, seeing friends, that's always cool. Playing over there, you don't know anyone. Just show up and leave. But I've gotten to stay in touch with a lot of people that I know and love, that's kind of cool.
I got this last tidbit off of Wikipedia, so please excuse me if it's wrong. Apparently, JC Penney is using a remix of “Too Fake” in an ad campaign . . .
- Yeah, that happened for about four long and painful weeks, in the summer of 2009.
Could you walk me through the irony of creating a song like “Too Fake” and then selling rights to it for a commercial campaign?
- I suppose that was funny to us, basically. Most of it involved not really knowing what we were getting into. Not knowing it was going to be all over the TV, the movies, all those sorts of things. But to corrupt their art form with our own message of non-conformity, or whatever you want to call that, was poetic and cool, and we got paid for it, too. It's about staying on the road and being able to tour, and having people come to see you. All that takes a lot of money, and . . . so we got some money out of JC Penney. It's funny, it's very ironic, it's very interesting that it's that song, and it was used to sell clothing to teenagers. But I suppose that's the world we live in, and if we can add that bit of irony, and laugh about it later, that's cool.
How would you describe getting the opportunity to work with Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads?
- Yeah, “Song Away.” A song we did with Jerry a couple years ago. That was great. We got the opportunity through our manager at the time. Our manager knew him from years back and he liked our demo and invited us to his studio. Actually, I learned a lot from Jerry, but I learned even more from perhaps from his engineer, this guy E.T., who was like the studio guy who had done all kinds of work through the '80s. He did Bob Marley's “Legend,” he remixed and remastered all that stuff, so I would just hang out with him and I picked up a ton of really awesome information. He was just kind of spewing that (knowledge), he's been in studios for like 25 years. To see the two of them work together . . . Jerry is like a dad now, you sort of have to remind yourself that he was in the best band of all time. 'Cuz he's just having a beer on the couch, playing on his laptop. It's kind of cool and funny, but looking back on it, what an insane opportunity. And Talking Heads are one of the biggest influences on the band, easily. Just in terms of wanting to recreate that strange pop aesthetic. That this is pop music, but we've put it on its side, or put something into that's more . . . strange, or esoteric or artistic or expressive or whatever. But at the same time it's accessible and tasty. Poppy.
You guys aren't an overtly political band, but your song “Four Holy Photos” and the title of your '04 EP deal directly with the frustrations born of being an American under the Bush regime. Could you extrapolate on how the greater world of politics and international affairs can either help or hinder the creative process within the confines of living in a time of the loss of personal civil liberties, terrorism, etc?
- I could definitely speak to that, that's a great question. Certainly the years of the Bush administration were very . . . uh, very oppressive. Just in general, I don't think for us (as artists) specifically, but whatever was in the air, was so backwards and so terrible, that to be a creative person, a conscientious person during that time was very difficult. I suppose there's always something going on with our government, it doesn't just include Bush, but one thing you can do, and what historically people have done for many generations, is to channel that, that dissatisfaction into artwork. All great art comes from a sense of unease, in some form or another. “Four Holy Photos” specifically is a lot about imperialism. About people from one area of the world traveling to another area of the world, and setting up there. And what that dynamic is about and how that story is our story, and it continues to be acted out all across the world, for good or ill.
Were there actually four holy photos that inspired the song?
- You know, I think that part of the song is about a fortune teller who goes around and shows you these four pictures, and whatever picture you look at, that's supposed to tell you something about who you are, where your life is going. I'm not sure how that ties in with the imperialistic theme, but it's all floating around in there, somehow.
Could you explain the greater notion behind the song “Wanna Be Black”? In a modern context, the notion of white, middle-class kids just coming out and saying, “I want to be black.” Is it as simple as that? Or is this more of a Harlem Renaissance, black is the new blue, or what is the statement here?
- I suppose for us, it's just about honesty. Brutal honesty. I think a lot of our music, the content is about flat honesty and truth. Ben (lead singer) grew up in New York City, and that was his experience growing up. He was like a pretend thug, and got called out for it. The song is just an honest portrayal of his experiences doing that, and trying to turn that into a greater commentary on trends, and culture, and hipster-ism. As far as the race issue, it's pretty sticky. Honesty is honesty, you have to take it for what it is. Some people will appreciate it, some people might not. It's sort of at the edge there. I think a lot of our content of our music, even our band name is sort of at the edge of what people would expect or find comfortable.
I first saw you guys last night at a private acoustic session at Secret Cedars Studio, I have seen your “Bandstand Busking” videos in London, and know about your misfortunes with onstage power outages at Lollapooloza. With this experience, can fans expect any polished acoustic recordings in the future, or will it remain something that just kind of happens, and is part of the gig?
- It's something that bands do a lot. I guess I didn't know that, or some bands do a lot. Some bands flat out refuse to do it. But you end up in situations all the time where people will want you to play, they'll want you to do something that's 'their thing,' you know, one time only. It's not just pressing play on your record and having people hear it. We do it for that reason. Because people seem to appreciate it, it's fun, it's interesting. Doing the songs, and they're rock songs really, at heart. So to sit down with an acoustic guitar and trying to put 'em together, it's kind of a challenge and cool. It doesn't always go over that well. Sometimes, it really sucks. Sometimes we're like, “Why are we doing this?” I know bands, lots of bands just don't do that. The Strokes, Kings of Leon, Passion Pit, MGMT, all those bands, who have done very well, just won't . . . if you want to hear the songs, put the record on, or come to the show. There's something to that, but . . . making new friends, like the thing we did last night, and getting to hang out, that was fun. And that's not even the first time we've done that on this tour. This tour has been like five days in the making, so . . . it happens quite a bit.
For more Hockey and free streaming music, check out www.myspace.com/hockey