Many more years ago than I care to think about, Norfolk’s musical landscape proliferated hundreds of hellspawned pit bars outfitted with bottom of the line sound systems on stages constructed out of stolen pallet crates in venues run by swarthy men usually named Phil. Or Sammy. Or Vernon.
image | Jeff Hewitt
While economic downturns, zealous enforcement of liquor licensing laws, and in a few cases – massive drug busts obliterated most of the little guys, you used to be able to catch some truly great music in the kind of place your mother would warn you about. The sorta bar your father would caution you against. “Um.. Don’t get caught in there, son. And, uh.. You know. Use a condom..”
Having been to Charlie’s American Cafe in Riverview just this once (I sometimes catch breakfast at the Ghent location), I cannot truly attest as to whether it’s a proper dive or not. But to my senses it captures the feeling of some of my favorite all time music venues. The kind of place where you instinctually ponder whether you have any business being there until the next thing you know you’ve been stopping in for years and the staff knows your middle name.
In short? Charlie’s Cafe is an excellent spot to catch a small band. Get there early enough and you’ll see ’em set up. Have an opportunity to chat with the lead guitarist. Check out their pedal setup. There’s no stage. No super duper fancy lighting. The drinks are reasonably priced. The staff is pleasantly friendly and down to earth. And you’re right up on the band with no real separation. It’s just that kind of awesome. I swung through a few weeks ago to review a couple of small town bands after local promoter Tyler Warnalis reached out to me.
I was immediately surprised to discover that I know two thirds of this group. The brainchild of local teacher, poet, guitarist, and all around instigator – Will Huberdeau: Honorary Girl – backed up on drums by Norfolk music scene mainstay Logan Laurent, whom I primarily know from her electronic music project (Karacell,) and on the bass by Sean Collins – pieces together a nicely alt rock sound.
The music is densely layered for a three piece, upbeat, and rarely enough these days – funny. The group reminds me of the late eighties / early nineties Quirk Rock stylings of King Missile, even if they sonically veer closer to the Pixies, Weezer, or little bits and pieces of Link Wray.
There’s a deeply ingrained sense of “this is not my beautiful house” that courses through Huberdeau’s work and general persona that I can’t help but connect with. The group has been sort of on again / off again, but it looks like they’re gearing up for new efforts.
AltDaily: How’d you guys get going?
Will Huberdeau: It started off with my old college band, and when I moved to Norfolk I had a bunch of new songs. I thought I would maybe do with just percussion and acoustic.. But then I decided, No. This is gonna be a band. I’d wanted to work with Logan for awhile, met Sean at Fairgrounds Coffee and was like, ‘You’re cool. Want to start a band?’ We started about three years ago, around New Years. Played for about a year. Had to take a long term, year and a half hiatus, and have been back since school started. Which is great, cause I really missed it.
How often do you play?
We try to play once a month. We don’t play more than once a month because we’re pressed for time…
Well, you have day jobs, right?
I teach. Logan does hair. And Sean does.. Some medical thing.. I.. I’ve.. never really been clear on what he does exactly.
How would you describe your sound?
Somewhere in the middle of a long continuum between Weezer and the Pixies. I like the melody, structure, and simplicity of the Weezer thing. I like the weird abrasion of the Pixies.
Where do you hope to go with this?
It would… It would be nice to take.. maybe during Summers – do a week or two week long tour up the coast. Something like that. But otherwise.. I mean. That’s it. That’s all I really see us…
Just playing cause you want to play?
I mean. If something happens that would be really cool. But my passion is teaching. Um.. I don’t know. It would really rock my world to have make a decision between music and that.. I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope I can do both. Not have to have a sudden change in identity from teacher to musician.
J Flax & The Heart Attacks
Before I get too far into it with these guys.. Let me be clear. They could be a national act. They’ve the chops for it. They’ve got the magical whatever happy juice that goes into transitioning local heroes to a name that draws thousands anytime they show up to shred. They’re that good. Seriously. For real.
But right now? The night I saw them they played in front of maybe a hundred people. They’re not a household name opening up at the Grammys. And the only reason that this isn’t the case, so far as I can tell, is because that’s not what they want at this point in life. They want to rock it the fuck out in a small venue show. Pack their gear. And then go home and do other stuff.
Maybe that will change someday. For the sake of music fans everywhere who have yet to hear them, I sorta hope it does.
The band draws inescapable comparisons to the White Stripes upon first listen. But a different Jack White. A less prickly Jack. A Jack that decided to add a few more band members. Throw an organ into the mix. Notch things a smidgen further away from the Delta and closer to some unholy amalgamation of Surf Rock Soul.
While they’ve done a bit of recording, this is a band that really needs to be experienced live. The group works together in a hard rocking manner that’s seamless, but there’s little doubt that bandleader Jeremy Flax is in the driver’s seat.
AltDaily: Obviously there’s a Jack White influence here. But there’s definitely something different going on with you. Where’s that coming from?
Jeremy Flax: Well.. Yeah. I started playing guitar in high school, and that’s when the Stripes were happening. But in college I was in a power trio that played.. similar music. Based in blues. But with this band I wanted it to sound different than power chords and solos.
There’s a lot of guitar / organ interplay. A lot of riffs that the guitar and the organ play together instead of me just playing thick heavy chords that really gives things a different texture. Jack White.. for me, was a huge influence as a guitar player. That being said, though, for this band I was moving away from that raw style that the Stripes had. I’m really influenced by Surf bands like the Ventures. Dick Dale. I went to school in Fredericksburg where Link Wray was rumored to have invented the power chord.
Any blues influence?
I have tremendous respect for those guys. But would I call any of them a direct influence on the way I play guitar? I wouldn’t say that. I mean, I know where Rock & Roll came from. I owe those guys. But I wouldn’t say I listened to Blind Lemon Jefferson and wrote an album. I did listen to ‘White Blood Cells’ and learned every song on it and then started a band.
How long have you been a band?
Um. That’s.. hard to say. The band, I started it like three years ago, while I was living in Spain. I had a band there. We played some shows. And then I moved back to the States, to Norfolk. I wanted to keep the band going. I liked the songs I had, so I found some new musicians. I’m the only permanent member. It kind of moves with me. And I moved back to DC last year..
Hence the, ‘and the Heart Attacks?‘
Yeah. That being said, the core group I have now is awesome. They’ve been with me awhile now. Matt and Guy and Josh.. They’ve put a lot of time and energy in the band and if possible I’d like them to continue to be the ‘Heart Attacks.’ But if I.. You know. Move to California or something.. I’ve always been in a band, and while I was in Madrid and I got the equipment and instruments and that’s how the ‘Heart Attacks’ started.
What do you see as the future of the band? What do you want to do with this?
Um.. I really.. This is what I want to do with this. Honestly? This. Play gigs when I can. Make records when I can.
It sounds like you have a lot going on?
I’m moving all over the place. I just spent three months in South America. I’m going back for another six. So.. doing a tour isn’t going to happen. Recording a full length album isn’t going to happen. But before I left for Columbia we went into the studio and recorded songs for a seven inch single we’re hopefully going to press in the next few months.
For someone who has never heard you before? What do you want them to take away from tonight?
I.. Just want them to have fun. Take away from it? I don’t know. That’s a hard question to answer. Everyone takes away something a little different. I want people to, regardless of what they listen to? Have a good time, feel the energy of the show, and have a good time listening to us play.
MAS Y MAS
These blue collar heroes of Hard-Core have run around the block a few times. A low-key, long time staple of the Norfolk Punk scene, the group has been in place since 2003. Twelve years is an age and a half insofar as local bands are concerned – especially when talking about Punk Rock.
MAS Y MAS is interesting to me in the dichotomy between what I’ve heard recorded, and what I heard seeing them live. Their latest (so far as I know) release recalls strains of the Dead Kennedy’s if they had been fronted not by Jello Biafra but rather an alternate universe version of James Murphy wherein he had picked up a guitar instead of a circuit board. This is the second time is as many months that I find myself referencing LCD Soundsystem to describe a band’s vibe, and I’m starting to wonder if those guys had more of an influence than I was previously aware of.
Onstage they rock quite a bit harder, reminding me more of T.S.O.L.. Their songs include melodic components and harmonies that you don’t often find in Hard-Core Punk, and occasionally I hear the influence of something resembling the Beatles, or even Talking Heads.
Alt Daily: Twelve years is a long time. What’s your secret to lasting?
Vinny Mas: I do medium voltage electrical splicing as my day job.. I think of it as.. I mean, I was playing way before that, but it’s taught me.. you’ve got to have this level of professionalism if you don’t want to just be every negative stereotype about a hipster or something. You need to move beyond the potential of being just some.. Cool looking indie rock band. Be able to actually entertain people. Do something that’s good.
You guys are little harder edged than these other bands tonight. How’d you end up sharing the bill with them?
Oh, yeah.. We’re quite a bit harder. We’re a punk band. They throw us in.. I live across the street. These are all our friends and stuff. It’s a small scene. Everyone knows each other. Supports each other. MAS Y MAS has been around since like, 2003. It’s had a lot of different lineups. Josiah, the bass player has been in it for a couple of years now. My little sister has just started playing drums now. She goes to TCC. Lives with me. She did drum line in high school. I thought that would be a cool kind of thing to bring into the mix. She’s doin’ good. I’m not looking for Dream Theater technicality, I’m looking for pocket intensity in terms of the drum stuff and she brings that.
As far as Punk influences..?
I’d say, like Howling Wolf is my biggest Punk influence, for real.
Oh yeah, absolutely, all day.
Sure. Okay. Those guys were all beasts. I get that.
If you.. In terms of.. Not like I’ve got some religious message, but like I was saying about being a professional. Doing something worthwhile that your friends can be like, ‘Cool. You got a real thing going on. This is good stuff.” I think you have to have.. A little bit of that Howling Wolf thing goin on. You know, we’re the travel soccer team? His guitarist, Hubert Sumlin, is my biggest influence on guitar. Those guys.. You listen to their recordings. The B sides. They just belt it out.
What’s next for you? What.. What do you want to do with this?
Just this. Like.. We know we’re not going to be one of the Taylor Swifts in this world. Just.. Give them something. Do your best. We’ve been keeping it up. We’ve got a new record coming out that we’re working on. At this point as far as shows go on, my friends just text me and we show up when we’re supposed to. And try to do good.
Rock and Roll, from its very roots, doesn’t need to be about reaching for the holy grail of record contracts, of multi-platinum success, of night after night of Holiday Johnsons or repurposed Red Roofs, legions of groupies snorting coke from out of your naked belly button – desperate to brag to all their friends that they made a one night only direct to video porno with you.
You can do this without a 10 point branding plan or mission statement. You can do it without any of that bullshit (okay.. If you can pull it off I highly recommend trying to bag the porno.)
At its purest, most base level, Rock and Roll can simply be about shedding the primal urge to scream at the top of your fucking lungs in front of 30 or 40 of your friends and then waking up the next day to drag your hungover carcass into work.
The bands I saw that night embody this ideal. And in so doing distill the raw need to rock into its purest essence. For this, I am compelled to salute all of you. Honorary Girl. J Flax & The Heart Attacks. MAS Y MAS.
Rock the fuck out with your bad-ass selves. Take two aspirin, and good luck in the morning.