Hobosexual: Cutting the Tether
Hobosexual are a band, a loud ideal, a state of mindfucking. Formed from the remnants of Iceage Cobra and Vindaloo, Hobosexual (Ben Harwood and running mate Jeff Silva) have released a self-titled album of mad, scattered, full-frontal rock attack. It's a sound with scurvy, a creaming of fuzzed amplification that builds and fans out. Way out. Think Thin Lizzie and Black Sabbath burning on a pyre of Lincoln Logs. It's a bloodletting of wattage with loping, chunked stacks of heaving guitars. Harwood and Silva are possessed by one purpose: to deliver rock. Their creed is "Fuck anything that doesn't have some good, old, sturdy wood-grain paneling." For singer/guitarist Harwood, music is the passion of his Christ. He bleeds with it, screams with it, and fires it off. The Hobosexual sound is hard to follow, and Harwood, who went to Pacific Lutheran University on full scholarship for composition and performance, wants it that way. If you're afraid of the rock, don't listen.
Why the name Hobosexual? What does it mean?
I feel like lots of music these days plays it safe. Bands lack danger—pretty much all creative media does. That's why nothing's as funny as movies like Blazing Saddles or Ghostbusters anymore. Or, say, as arena-packing charged as Kiss's Love Gun.
I toyed with cumulative, over-the-top descriptors like Chubby Bunny and Mechagodmothra. I almost went with my buddy and ex–Iceage Cobra bandmate Jordan West's suggestion to call the band Sex Destroyer.
At the time, I was working with my friend Matt Ehlers. Matt had agreed to step in and help me out on drums for a recording spot I'd reserved with producer/engineer Brian Brown [the Blakes, Natalie Portman's Shaved Head]. One night, we were sitting on his couch listening to NoMeansNo for the 400th time, and Matt said he considers me the founder of the Classic Hobo Tom Petty Motherfucker Seattle Look. Maybe it's my two-ice-cube Macallan scotch, with the boat shoes and fedora. Somewhere in there, Matt dropped the word hobosexual. We laughed pretty hard. So it came from his verbal riffery.
Matt was hesitant, as was I. We knew it could be construed as un-PC or even offensive. Then again, we knew it fit a lot of the parameters I almost subconsciously wanted, and it had happened in a creative context. We later Googled hobosexual and found it is a real, actual term used for everything from jokes to social movements.
Hobosexual, to me, doesn't really mean anything. It can be anything from funny to a literal way of living life simply. It's the kind of name that turns some people off, makes others laugh, and outright offends others. If anything, I'm making fun of myself with all this.
Describe the Hobosexual sound. Where does the magic happen?
Bearded glory. I like to get into a place with my writing where I'm slightly uncomfortable but sorta yearning to go there. I also love the idea of the 1980s. Not necessarily the actual decade or reality of the 1980s, but more the one-liners, like when Schwarzenegger throws a steam pipe through the chest of his assailant at the end of Commando and says, "Let off some steam." That whole rhetoric, over-the-top Reaganomic banter will never be seen or heard again.
In terms of the magic, I'm always thinking of the not-too-distant future, and there's this astronaut who's on one of those oxygen tethers, and he gets to the point where the tube won't let him go any further. At risk to his life, he cuts the cord so he can go a few more feet out, maybe go somewhere no one else tried to go. Yeah, he may die, but he may learn something important through his decision to push the envelope. That and they'll probably just send one of those unmanned probes out to scoop his passed-out ass up and bring him back to the station. So why not go out on a limb? That's where I like to start.
I tend to just get ideas, like riffs, and finished songs just sorta pop in there. That's usually after I've cut the aforementioned oxygen tether. And I love to write lyrics just hopping off previous syllabic cadences, trying to create an abstract, yet connected set of phrases.
All this stuff usually only happens after I've had something significant happen and/or some sort of learning experience. Most of the Hobo record came from my state of mind after being laid off from my job, staying up until four in the morning watching '70s B movies like Capricorn One and reading a lot of Dostoyevsky.
If God played a trick on you and you woke up one day as a member of the boy band *NSYNC during their prime, what would you do?
I'd buy my dad a house. Then I'd purchase every single 1984–1987 Generation 1 Transformers toy in perfect, factory-fresh condition I could find. I've had an ongoing addiction to 1980s toys and accoutrement for years. Assuming I'm not married to my beautiful wife, Bianca, who I love with all my heart, and we're in an alternate universe here, I'd also find Natalie Portman, pronto. We'd have a hot and heavy love affair, but in the end, after my inevitable addiction to crystal meth, various opiates, and a DUI, she'd have second thoughts. She'd visit me in my probational country club, and we'd both realize she's too Harvard for me, and I'm too Pabst Blue Ribbon for her.
Describe the *NSYNC video you'd direct.
Our first video would be a predictable *NSYNC choreographed dance party with one notable exception: leprechauns.
How did you put together the song "Concrete Corporate"? Those are some high vocals you hit. What's happening there?
"Concrete Corporate" began with the main riff, and I heard that high vocal in my head. I did a prerecording for it. I started by beating on a table with my hand in my office and recording the drum tracks for it that way using an old Tascam four-track cassette recorder. I used an empty glass and a spoon to create a pseudo–snare sound, and my hand bumping the table was the kick. I used a shitty battery-powered Sony mic on a three-foot cord to capture it. It sounded terrible, but without a drum machine, it got me started. I then moved the mic super close to a small practice amp and captured some low volume bass at close range—it sounded fairly clean and didn't out low-end the hand kick.
Then I moved the mic back and did two guitars on tracks three and four, getting a nice big room sound. Then I mixed everything down to an old mini-disc recorder, dumped it back onto track one of the four-tracker and used a Boss DD-6 delay pedal to lay separately tracked vocals. I wanted a doubled/simultaneous, stereo-panned effect for those. It took a few weeks to get my voice up to the right range, but I nailed it after about 10 to 12 takes. The last track I believe was just another guitar to even up the L and R sides of the sound and give the vocals something to bounce off of.
From there, Matt and I had a good template. We worked on a more live version, getting live drums and guitar, again using the Sony mic as a room mic to get everything. I did the same mix process with that, laid the vocals again, plus one recorded guitar, and we sent that version to Brian Brown for the prerecording review. Brian got a lot of good ideas from this, and we nailed the tracking in studio after several takes. Pretty much all the overdubs like vocs and guitar were single takes.
You recorded to tape right? What amps did you use?
Yeah, all drums and live guitar were recorded to one-inch tape. From there, Brian mixed it down to Pro Tools, and we got into the fun stuff. There are a ton of guitars on this tune. We used an old '70s Ampeg guitar/bass combo for one of the guitars, in conjunction with a Fulltone OCD. I believe we also used an old Sears Silvertone combo and an Orange solid state combo, and I know we ran a completely stock 1968 Dallas Arbiter Germanium Fuzz Face into a Gibson Gold Tone for the solo guitar and some fattening effects. Brian added a trigger effect to the bass drum to give it that needed bass bump. We stayed waaay the hell away from any vocal Auto-Tuning, and I followed some of the Chris Cornell school of high-pitched vocal approach you hear on earlier Soundgarden records like Ultramega OK, using a delay follower through a TC Helicon processor. That allowed me to hit the high notes and the delay to help me continually cycle my vocs on the high notes. Essentially, it gives the vocalist a way of knowing where they are range-wise, and what they need to keep hitting, without cheating by using Auto-Tune.
We had the track, along with the others, mastered by Martin Feveyear over at Jupiter, who is one of the most patient British-English-accented transplants I've ever had the pleasure of working with. I assume I about drove him nuts with my repeated requests for track order revisions, but he was amazingly calm, patient, and professional, and the end result is awesome.
Are you bitter about the state of the music business?
Basically, the man owns everything now. He's even figured out how to manipulate the driving force of rock 'n' roll from the '60s and '70s—which is basically the axis of dangerous, sexy, and unique—and rip it off and sell it as original. In my opinion, this really started to take effect with Nirvana. Before that band, people could still smell the man coming.
Hobosexual play Fri Sept 10, Columbia City Theater, 9 pm, $8, 21+. With Baltic Cousins and Hounds of the Wild Hunt (formerly the Whore Moans).