Kane Hodder Make the Bridge from Bremerton All-Stars to Seattle Buzz Band, Hoping Future Success Will Be Right Around the Next Bend
The crowd cheers as the overhead lights are switched off, and with a fantastic balance of studied control and reckless abandon, drummer Charley Potter pounds out the intro to "Aboard the Leper Colony," a five-minute expedition through blazing fury and upbeat pop that boldly redraws the lines between rock and hardcore. A rhythmic guitar riff kicks in, singer Andrew Moore beguilingly struts to the edge of the stage warning, "I'm gonna give it to ya/bang, bang, bang, bang!" and the throng of teens gathered around plunge toward him in an urgent dance fit as the music explodes around his words.
The Bremerton five-piece has been playing to the same hometown crowd since their late-2002 inception, but local kids haven't grown tired of the band. Fans show up in hoards to support their hometown heroes, with upwards of 500 kids filling up venues, especially if Seattle artists like Schoolyard Heroes, Blue Sky Mile, or the Divorce make the trek across Puget Sound to round out the bill. But there's no mistake about it, the highlight for a lot of these kids is always Kane Hodder, a fact validated by the passionate audience response at every show. This particular evening is no exception.
Thirty minutes into Hodder's set, everyone in the room is soaked with sweat but all bodies appear to be intact. The band charges into "The Last of the Anti-Fascist Warriors," and fueled by the surrounding chaos, guitarists Jeremy White and Eric Christianson and bassist Nick Cates thrash around the stage, tearing through the song's climax with ardor and precision.
As they near the end, Andrew falls to the floor, knocking off his glasses and lapsing into his infamous rock-fueled convulsions. Dozens of kids pile the stage around him. The set is over and with the final notes still ringing from the guitars, the room fills with a flood of satisfied cheers. Andrew picks the microphone up off the floor and says breathlessly to anyone still unclear as to what they'd just witnessed, "Thank you; we're Kane Hodder."
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"Eric, have you seen the new Premier Magazine?"
Back at the practice space, things are a lot calmer. The focus shifts from generating a wild and wicked performance to more important matters... like Star Wars.
"No, why?" Eric answers Andy while packing up his guitar.
"They listed the top 100 movie characters of all time; guess where Darth Vader was on the list?"
This is what life is really like with Kane Hodder. Though onstage the boys may take on the persona of Bremerton rock gods, they're actually five awkward twentysomethings who still have concern for things like Darth Vader's placement on an entertainment rag's priority list.
"We're not that cool," Andrew admits with a laugh, "and we don't try to be cooler than we are. We know we're not."
For example, they're named after the stuntman made famous for playing Jason in a number of the Friday the 13th horror movies. And while their songs aren't about films like Gummo, Heathers, and Willow, the lyrics are loosely based on them (and nothing's funnier than seeing piles of kids screaming "Madmartigan"--the Val Kilmer character from Willow--as though their lives depend on it).
But that's part of Kane Hodder's charm.
In an age when mainstream music has become a gutless industry full of disingenuous cookie-cutter acts trying to cash in, it's heartening to discover artists still making ballsy, earnest music regardless of what they'll receive in return.
Individually, Kane Hodder may seem like your average music dorks, but together, they're far from ordinary. Some could even call what they do incendiary, creating a genre-defying rock/pop/hardcore hybrid that's untouched by anything else, and is getting fervent attention from radio tastemakers from here to New York. And they started it all out in one of the unlikeliest of nonmusic meccas: Bremerton, WA.
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When traveling from Seattle, the 70-or-so-mile drive to Bremerton can feel like an eternity. Highway 16, which takes you west into Kitsap County via Southbound I-5, offers very few attractions. There's a cemetery, a women's correctional facility, and the road sign wisely advising drivers not to pick up hitchhikers. Or you can take the hour-long ferry ride across the Sound, where you'll rely on views of sunbathing sea lions and Bainbridge Island mansions to pass the time.
No matter how you travel, downtown Bremerton offers more of the same small-town blandness--the naval base, the ferry dock, and a smattering of modest businesses. It's no wonder that for years Bremerton teens have had to rely on themselves for entertainment. The result is a tight-knit music community, sprouting local bands and enthusiastic music fans who are desperate to escape the doldrums of movies, computers, and video games.
The most famous Bremerton export is probably MxPx, a pop punk trio who put their hometown on the map with their 1996 radio hit "Move to Bremerton." More recently, though, there's Kane Hodder, who rose from the ashes of the notorious Sorority House Rejects, a hardcore band who were better known for their onstage fire and fake-blood antics than their music, and who combusted in 2001. After almost a year apart, the members reformed as Kane Hodder, adding Charley on drums.
With the support of their hometown at their back, Hodder rallied to infiltrate Seattle, which, at the time, was a big city that appeared almost untouchable from their side of the Sound.
"Seattle was where most everyone we were looking up to at the time was playing and making a name for themselves," explains Eric. "The Murder City Devils, Botch, Sicko, Sub Pop, RKCNDY, the Rocket, 10 Things, The Stranger... it was all happening there. We had attempted shows in Seattle before with Sorority House, and they went poorly, partly because the shows were awful and partly because we weren't good. With Kane Hodder, it was like, 'Well, are we good enough now? Let's try it out!'"
They expected to be the smallest fish in the biggest pond, but that was hardly the case. Their Bremerton fans didn't let them make the jump alone.
"When we started playing our first Seattle shows, we already had a fan base because of Bremerton people," Andrew confirms. "The kids in Bremerton don't care if they look dumb, they're up front singing along. When we first started playing shows, the Bremerton kids were the only kids who did that."
With the fans' support, the band self-released a six-song EP in Spring 2003. That CD, A Frank Exploration of Voyeurism and Violence, paired with rumors of an unrivaled live performance, earned the band the attention of some pretty weighty names in the local music community.
KEXP DJ John Richards frequently featured them on his radio shows, including an in-studio performance on Audio Oasis. Their song "Aboard the Leper Colony" was featured on MTV's Viva la Bam. They played the 2003 and 2004 Capitol Hill Block Party and 107.7 the End's 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show. And through an endless list of local club shows with bands like Pretty Girls Make Graves, These Arms Are Snakes, and the Divorce, the band sold out of the 1,000 copies of the EP they had pressed.
Still, without a full-length release or much touring experience, Kane Hodder seemed to only exist as Bremerton and Seattle's all-ages music scene's little secret. To the kids who were on to them though, they meant the world.
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"At this point, the five of you could take turns farting on a snare drum and all these kids would still be like, 'Hodder rocks!'" --An excited fan to the band outside a packed Bremerton show
Kyle Paris, an 18-year-old from Orting, WA, has a Kane Hodder tattoo. He got the band logo permanently inked on his arm this past January, shortly after his 18th birthday. Other fans have made their own T-shirts, done paintings, and created music videos for the band, and for Halloween last year, one admirer even dressed up as Andrew, donning a familiar outfit of black-framed glasses and a striped sweater.
"The kids in Bremerton are just... they're so dedicated," says Andrew. "They're like that with a lot of bands, but I think they're like that with Kane Hodder even more so because we're from there and they're proud of us."
Despite literally hundreds of fans giving the band rock-star treatment in their hometown and the increasingly secure spot Hodder was gaining in Seattle's music community, until recently the band had yet to release a full-length record. In the fall of 2003, Tom Ackerman, cofounder of the small California record label Cowboy Versus Sailor, approached the boys for just that reason. Impressed by the EP and more-recently recorded demos, Ackerman flew up to catch the band's live performance. Afterward, he offered to rerelease both the sold-out EP with updated art and Kane Hodder's first full-length recording.
The band was ecstatic about the deal. Ackerman's offer gave Hodder the financial and artistic freedom to finally create what had been stewing in them for months. Armed with that confidence, they went into the studio with Tony Reed, the man who recorded A Frank Exploration....
Hodder spent two-and-a-half weeks locked away in Reed's Temple Sound studio. Existing on Fig Newtons, bad jokes, and adrenaline, they walked away with The Pleasure to Remain So Heartless.
The disc is as schizophrenic as they come. Powered by a frenzied combination of upbeat pop enthusiasm and audacious hardcore attitude, Heartless doesn't settle in any one genre. It doesn't settle at all. Andrew's vocals fluctuate between throat-shredding screams and Freddie Mercury-inspired falsettos while the band whips up a furious pit of blood-boiling aggression--and then 30 seconds later, they're supplying the soundtrack for an enthusiastic and sweaty dance party. The song "I Think Patrick Swayze Is Sexy" starts with a catchy pop rock intro, with Moore's chorus of high-pitched "Oh-oh-oooohs" leading into animated guitars and upbeat drumming. Things get melodious for a minute, and then after a chorus of gang vocals, Andrew unleashes the most blistering and badass yowl you've ever heard, thrashing the song into the opposite direction with nothing upbeat or pretty about the furious drumming, screaming, and quick-moving guitars that follow. The entire record is filled with seemingly nonsensical compositions and insane vocal juxtapositions like this.
"Personality-wise, everyone in the band is totally different, and I think that came out in the songwriting," says Jeremy. "Everyone has their own musical influences, so we were just throwing out ideas. I think that's why the results came out as erratic as they did."
"The EP was kind of like an experiment," adds Andrew. "It was 100 percent the best we could do at that point and I feel the same way about the full-length. And now, I hope, the next step will just be a continued evolution."
With Heartless releasing this week (Oct 19), all Kane Hodder can do is wait to see what happens next, to see how far that Bremerton talent and enthusiasm can take them.
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When advanced copies of the record were sent out to the press, the anticipation began building, and Kane Hodder has already started to garner attention on the imperative national level.
Christian McKnight is the host of Domestic Disturbance, a local music show on KROQ in New York. He caught Kane Hodder's set last summer at the Capitol Hill Block Party after a friend recommended he check them out.
"I was totally into how energetic and tight they were," effuses McKnight. "It's crazy how aggressive they were, but it wasn't like a moshing aggressive; everyone was dancing. All I kept thinking was, 'Why the hell doesn't anyone outside of Seattle know about this?'"
The borders of Bremerton no longer confine Kane Hodder, and the world is slowly catching on. But despite their outstanding efforts (and overzealous Bremerton fans), they're still a small part of a very big picture. There are literally hundreds of bands in Seattle, and of those, only a few have successfully broken out onto the nation's radar in recent years--Death Cab for Cutie, Pretty Girls Make Graves, and the Blood Brothers, for example. Kane Hodder may be in prime position to become the "next best thing," but money and fame isn't what they're after either way.
"The reason I joined this band was the way it felt onstage," says Nick. "I've played with different bands and it's all right, but it's not explosive. It's rare to find the four guys who you actually want to play music with. I think for some people it's more like, 'I guess I'll work with what I have.' It's not like that with us. What I have right now is great, I know that."
"This is all I want to do," says Charley. "I wouldn't be happy working at McDonald's for the rest of my life, you know?"
Between the five of them, they have everything. When it comes to the rest of the world, they know they have nothing to lose. "All success is, is just keeping it going and letting more and more people hear our music," says Charley. "As long as we can keep writing songs and putting out albums and going on tour, that's success right there."
"And at least make some money to pay our rent," Jeremy adds with a laugh.
"Yeah," Charley grins, "that'd be really nice."
Kane Hodder's CD release shows are at Graceland on Fri Oct 22 with Himsa, Claymore, Black Heart Eulogy, and Still Life Projector and at the Roxy in Bremerton on Sat Oct 23 with Schoolyard Heroes, the Divorce, Still Life Projector, and the Catch.