(Photos by Dan Cohoon. Live at the Charleston, Brooklyn, NY 1.15.11)
Since 2002, the Human Adult Band has served as a vehicle of noisy, sludgy, beautiful rock'n'roll piloted by a Mr. Trevor Pennsylvania and a huge, revolving cast of local musicians. The group values spontaneity and vitality to a great degree and going off to several Human Adult Band shows always result in different, yet extremely rewarding experiences. Due to the changing line-up and gigantic amount of ideas in Mr. Pennsylvania's head, one can see the band as a giant, murky pool of ideas that always feel invigorating.
In 2009, the Human Adult Band was listed as a part of Bryon Coley and Thurston Moore's Bull Tounge Top Ten in Arthur Magazine, in which the group's music was described as making one "wanna grip some frosty skuzz lose yr brain into the amp squall." The band has a new record, Hearing Damage Sessions, which is now out on Heat Retention Records and Third Uncle. I interviewed Trevor about the new record and other aspects of the group. Check it out after the jump!
Listening to your new record, "Hearing Damage Sessions," and comparing it to past recordings and live performances, I take it that spontaneity is something the Human Adult Band finds very important. I find it that, with the group, it is impossible to find out what the next turn will be, what the next song will sound like. Is this changing crucial for you? Are there any artists who inspired the group to have such a changing personal?
As for the compositions there have been a lot of songs or jams that require the band to be on its toes; spontaneous, there can be a lot of freedom for the musicians in Human Adult Band. On the other hand, some of my songs require the musicians to be set in a very lethargic locked groove. As for spontaneity from one release to the next, or even one live show to the next, that has to do with introducing new members to the band, while others move on to other things and some even return after a lengthy absence. Human Adult Band is a revolving door of members. So spontaneity from one show or release to the next seems to be a necessity.
Hopefully people can always tell it’s Adult Band from one recording or show to the next, as it has always been my song writing, which I like to think is distinct. A lot of times the recording quality is vastly different from one release to the next as well. We have recorded with a hand held Radio Shack tape recorder, microcassette recorder, mini disc recorder, cassette 4 track and in a 24 track analog studio. I plan to continue to be spontaneous with the recording techniques as resources allow. I hope that this spontaneity is factor that keeps the audience interested. Other artists that I admire that are spontaneous with their sound live and with releases include Russian Tsarlag, Kohoutek/Kuschty Rye Ergot, Big Blood, Horse Spirit Penetrates and Sunburned Hand of the Man.
While your music goes through many changes, there is certainly a punk spirit at the heart of it. Did you go through any stages of being into things like hardcore or metal in your youth? What are your thoughts on the idea that people can turn a genre of music into a lifestyle?
Sure, I liked punk and hardcore in my youth. I spent a lot of time listening to Black Flag, Flipper, Bad Brains, Descendents, The Germs in Middle School and High School. I followed the local stuff in the 90’s as well; Blanks 77, Bouncing Souls, Inspector 7 etc. Also some of the even poppier local punk in the 90’s, like Egghead, the Hissyfits and Furious George.
One thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to play into living a certain way to play a genre of music. In other words, you don’t have to live out of a van to be a true punk.
I used to live in a van and travel around for gas money. Nothing wrong w/ that, I just chose to have a stable source of income and a place to live while still making time to tour and make records. For me, this approach has worked better. Since finding work and a place to live, I have written more songs, recorded and released more records and tapes and have had better organized tours. Being homeless is a lot of work.
I've seen some live videos online of you or the group where members will be costumed or there will be a theatrical aspect to the performance. What inspired this? Do you have any favorite masks or costume devices to wear on stage?
For me, the theatrical inspiration came from Tony Clifton, horror hosts of the 1960s and Dr. John’s ‘Gris Gris’ shtick. Sometimes I have a band big enough, where I can put down the bass or guitar and play front man. I like the band to set up and start playing. Then I make an entrance wearing a cape fit for a king, big shades and my Coast to Coast AM baseball cap. I feel like a real hero or anti-hero depending on the night.
From personal experience, it seems like the Human Adult Band is the perfect band to play in a basement setting. Have you ever played anywhere where you felt you just seemed really out of place?
Luckily through the years I have become better at setting up gigs where we fit well. Esthetically, I will admit, that we fit best at a dive bar or basement/warehouse, but that doesn’t mean I won’t play an auditorium or sterile environment where there’s a welcoming audience.
I remember you mentioning the great Florida public access program "The Uncharted Zone" with its great videos of people like Mark Gormley. What is the influence that "outsider music" has had on the Human Adult Band? Do you have any other favorites from "The Uncharted Zone" or "outsiders" in general?
I think I should start by saying; I’m definitely not an authority on outsider music. Gormley is an interesting artist. Allegedly, recording in his 20’s, then coming back, to star in music videos for the same songs in his mid life. I admire this seemingly newly found promotional approach. And of course, I like other ‘outsider’ musicians like Beefheart, R. Stevie Moore, Rudimentary Peni, Daniel Johnston etc. I read Irwin Chusid’s “Songs In the Key of Z” twice and have the comps. The book kinda served as lesson number two in rock and roll, after “This Band Can Be Your Life” by Michael Azerrad. It confirmed again, after “This Band”, that there are no rules in music. So, liberating I guess. Also, validating.
You have released a lot of physical copies of your recordings. Do you feel that it is important to keep doing this in the era where it's common for bands to exist only in the online realm? Could you see yourself making mp3 albums?
I still buy records, tapes, cds and eight tracks. So I will still put out music on all formats available to me. My main instrument is bass; every mp3 I have ever heard has compromised bass sound. No good. Will I do Mp3 albums? I’m not a complete ludite, The ‘Samantha’ 7” on Third Uncle Records is also available on itunes as is the new ‘Hearing Damage Sessions’ LP.
This album is more Rock-n-Roll for a couple reasons. One, it was recorded a lot better, so the ‘rock’ wasn’t destroyed, muffled and distorted by a cheap hand held cassette recorder and bad amps. Two, the guitarist on this album, Mike McCoskey (whom was with us for over 5 years) had been listening to a lot of Flamenco and Flamenco in a rock setting, like Love’s ‘Forever Changes’. He spent a handful of months in Spain in the last couple years as well. So our ‘sound’ became more ‘accessible’ or more ‘rock’, where as before this, he was playing more unconventionally with more feed back, a bad amp, and a lot more “out” notes. When he began to adopt more of this ‘smooth’ style, we had to adjust our playing a bit, to make it work as a band. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some feedback drones and dissonance on the new record, but also some smoother parts.
How do I feel about the “noise” label that’s sometimes put on our music?
Let them think we’re a “noise” band; it weeds out the right people.
On the new record, the song "Off" seems to have an Arabian/Egyptian influence. Am I just hearing things?
Sure. That’s possible. I would say the leads in that song have that kinda vibe. It was up to Mike to write the leads. Although, one of the guitarists I am working with now also plays an Arabian / Egyptian style lead in that song and he stated, it ‘just feels right, with the chord progression’. If you thought the vocals, especially the chorus sound Arabian/Egyptian…you’re wrong…that’s all Flipper influence there.
Are there any plans to tour the "Hearing Damage Sessions”?
We’re always looking for good shows out of state. We do a lot of ‘one-off’s’ or short trips. That’s the beauty of being in the tristate area—There are so many cities to play with in a 8 hours of our homes. We just played a really fun and diverse festival in Fairfax, Va. It’s called Avant Fairfax. Many different genres, but all the artists on the bill are at the frontlines of the progression of their genre. In the last two years playing at AF I have seen blue grass (Black Twig Pickers), heavy psych (Kohoutek and Caves Caverns), Blues (Little Howlin Wolf), Noise (Drums Like Machine Guns, Twilight Memories of the Three Suns), Folk (Michael Chapman) and us, apparently ‘Crass Core’ according to a Fairfax area blogger.
We are always looking for good tour opportunities or good one-off shows along the East Coast. With the new Human Adult Band album, ‘Hearing Damage Sessions’, out on Heat Retention Records and Third Uncle Records, this would be the perfect time to do some traveling.
Lastly, Thank you for the interview, and thanks to the WFMU blog readers for taking an interest in Human Adult Band.