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Gnarly Times: An Interview with Hair Police

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Dusted's Adam Strohm speaks with Hair Police's Robert Beatty, Mike Connelly, and Trevor Tremaine about their new album, touring with Sonic Youth, the change in group dynamics caused by Connelly's move to Michigan, among other topics.

Gnarly Times: An Interview with Hair Police

In a world where Wolf Eyes cassettes go for over $100 on eBay and harsh noise seems suddenly to be the next “it” thing, perhaps no story is more satisfying (if also somewhat perplexing) than the rise of Lexington, Kentucky’s Hair Police from basement experimenters to a level of success the band never thought possible. After only three short years since their inception, Hair Police have found themselves being a unanimous highlight of the “star”-studded No Fun fest in Brooklyn, opening for Sonic Youth, and, in a most surreal turn, slotted to play select dates at the doomed Lollapalooza 2004. Though the festival was cancelled, the tour survived, with the lads generating awe and anger amongst Sonic Youth’s dedicated fan base.

The trio Robert Beatty (electronics), Mike Connelly (guitar, vocals), and Trevor Tremaine (drums) were once a rock band. The group’s newest release, Obedience Cuts celebrates that departure. Though they’ve recorded plenty of free-form jams for limited edition cassettes and CD-Rs over the years, the album represents Hair Police’s first major music statement of autonomy outside the realm of rock ‘n’ roll. The days of more haphazard, chaotic, rock ‘n’ splatter attack aren’t done, but the new Hair Police record is one of focus and precision, even when the results are utterly tumultuous. A more abstract sound defines Obedience Cuts , and without sacrificing the energy, Hair Police place more emphasis on atmosphere than on any of the group’s previous work. The "Gnarly Times" are truly upon us.

Dusted: How did Hair Police begin, and later coalesce in the band’s present form?

Mike Connelly: Hair Police began out of necessity. There were 5 of us to begin with and we just got together one day in 2001, jammed and never looked back. Well, 2 of the members did, but there are no hard feelings and we are still very good friends with both.

Trevor Tremaine: Hair Police's origins lie in a cat piss-soaked basement adorned with piles or broken and borrowed musical equipment. Every Saturday for a year or so we would go down there and jam and record it on a 4 track with only 3 working tracks, sometimes for hours at a time. After being really scummy and chaotic for a while, we decided to work on some songs and become a "rock" band. Looking back on it, it really didn't rock and nobody could really pick out the songs from the freakouts, but it felt really tight. The sound has always been progressing towards darker, harsher, more fucked up stuff. I think we're really hitting the stride now. The focus is to play until we pretty much black out. Total destruction.

Robert Beatty: We had all been hanging out together for a year or so and Mike, Ross Compton, and Matt Minter had already played in bands together and me an Trevor had been playing together since middle school, so it was just a natural progression that we would all play together. We would just meet up on Saturday afternoons and freak out in a basement until we needed a pizza. When we started playing shows outside of Lexington we tried to get our shit together and started playing "songs". Everything has evolved from there. The 40 day tour we did summer of 2002 with Neon Hunk and Mammal pretty much honed us in on the psychedelic doom mode we are currently in.

D: What led to the choice of moniker?

MC: The name was really arbitrary. That’s what we used the first day we jammed and it just stuck. It could have been any name we came up with that day. I like the name because it doesn’t describe the music.

TT: At the time, it fit because our style was more ridiculous and random. I agree that it's cool now because it's totally disassociated from the current trajectory. When we picked it, it seemed like the most retarded name we could possibly use, but fuck changing it. It's a great name.

RB: I remember Mike telling us that name when we were walking out of a movie theater. We came up with so many ridiculous and great band names around that time, and that was the one that stuck. It has served us well thus far.

D: How has Mike’s move to Michigan changed the way the band works? Obviously, there are fewer gigs, but how has it affected the writing/recording side of things?

MC: Hair Police is a better band now than before I moved to Michigan. This is due to a number of factors. It gives us a chance to work shit out and play with different people. We are able to develop and create music outside of the band and then bring our experiences back into the band. We still practice a lot...just separately. Then when we get together, it’s a total clash of spiritual and sonic fury. The three of us have played together for a long time (pre-Hair Police) and have a full-on connection. It came to light at No Fun. It was our best set we had ever played up to that point, and we hadn't played a show together in 4 months (though we had jammed together prior to the show). Then on the tour with Prurient and Kites it only got better. I cannot see an end.

TT: It's totally cathartic when we play together now. It's easy to forget how intense and essential it is for us to do this project when we can't do it every weekend. I definitely miss having it be a part of the weekly routine, but every Hair Police practice and show now is balls-out, total destruction.

RB: Mike hasn't been gone that long, so how it really changes things with him being 6 hours away is still yet to be seen. But we have played some of ours best shows ever since he's moved away. I think the lack of shows only makes the shows we do play that much more intense and obliterating to the audience and ourselves. We also have more time to devote to other different projects, which promotes the development of ideas outside the Hair Police spectrum, but work their way into Hair Police anyhow. The only thing we've recorded since Mike moved is the Your Skull in the Gutter cassette on Gods of Tundra and it's on par with everything else. Maybe more insane in some ways.

D: Is there a difference between the ways that you approach your "bigger" CD/LP releases ( Blow Out Your Blood , Obedience Cuts ) and the various cassettes and CD-Rs you put out?

MC: The cassettes are, much of the time, live in studio jams, with very minimal editing. The albums are usually recorded basically live as well, but we have more structured ideas and something we want to flesh out. The cassettes represent free for alls. I go back and forth with which I like better, but when it comes down to it, they are both necessary and both part of who Hair Police is.

TT: I don’t know, Obedience Cuts is kind of a "best of" Hair Police 2003, trying to make a great classic rock album or something, but stuff like Probe Cutting and especially the new Your Skull in the Gutter are very fucking close to my heart. The tapes well describe a really specific point in time for me, and hopefully people can listen to it and feel the vibes we were getting at the session. We went into Blow Out Your Blood with the idea of doing a "studio album" with all our songs from the time. Me and Mike laid down the basic tracks in less than an hour, then Robert and Minter laid down their parts later that night in our apartment. I mixed and edited the whole thing in less than a week. That's kind of the style we approach our tapes with nowadays; totally stoked just doing a release, getting it done.

RB: Every release is different, but most of our releases come from some sort of live recording. Be it in the process used for recording, or the time span or the recordings. Some of our releases are recorded in an afternoon, some in an hour, and some over the course of a year. Some things are heavily edited or processed and some are straight s we recorded them to the tape. Most of the time if we have a song we want to record we will sit down with that in mind and do one or several takes, but it never takes long. For the album we recorded for Hanson, Drawn Dead , we went in knowing we were recording a full length live with no overdubs and it turned out better than we could have imagined. That album is very much the process, which was Trevor and Mike both playing guitar and doing vocals, and me processing it live. But Obedience Cuts was recorded over the course of a year and some tracks are live with no overdubs and some tracks everything was recorded separately. It all depends on the song, but most of the time the results are similar.

D: Do you try to infuse the recordings with the chaotic energy of the live show, or are the two separate entities with similar musical qualities?

MC: We approach everything with what that specific thing needs. Some songs on Obedience Cuts were recorded in a similar way to a live show...just pure "chaotic energy". But I remember recording "Forged By Wreck" and I was lying on my back letting everything happen. We don’t have strict live show/recording rules. We do what needs to be done to create the desired effect. But of course, you wont see me lying on my back at a show unless someone has knocked me down.

TT: Sure, I can black out at the session. The fact that people aren't trying to tackle us and ruin our shit when we're recording in a room tends to help us extend the focus and work on a variety of ideas. The shows are about putting it out there and seeing what happens, but the sessions are more relaxed, often involving beers and hanging out, just letting the broken shit do its thing on tape.

RB: Playing live the music emerges in a very physical way, but when we record it's more of internal psychic freakout that sometimes manifests in physicality, but not always. We just do what we do and things happen.

D: Does playing with Hair Police offer a chance for catharsis for the three of you? Being such mild-mannered young chaps in your daily lives, do you find the band offers the chance to let loose that you don’t normally have?

MC: Hair Police is really a melding of the three individuals. It’s probably rare that someone will ever call me "mild mannered" any time...and it’s evident when we play. Robert has a lot going on under his hair and in his brain and it comes out at our shows. Trevor's playing is exactly like his personality too. There is no separation from the people who play the music and the music that is being played. Playing in Hair Police, especially live -- and I know this is going to sound lame -- is a very spiritual thing for me. On our last tour, every show I would be playing then all the sudden be looking down at my hands and see them moving, but I had no control over them. I looked over at the guys and they were playing their hearts out. It was so fucking amazing...I look forward to that feeling every single show. If it doesn’t come, I am disappointed. Music with no blood and fucking guts is boring and pointless to me at this point. As a band we have developed and grown vastly since our early days. And while we don't regret shit, we have evaluated what it means to be in this band...and it means it’s your fucking world when you are on stage. No more kid shit. I mean, I think it's necessary and you have to go through it and do it...but it’s done. We are going to kill with the sound. That is the only focus -- sound. Fuck everything else. Everything else is boring. This is what the Gnarly Times is all about.

TT: A catharsis, yeah. I would like to approach life with the same vigor as Hair Police, and often I can, but, fuck, it's pretty crazy. I pretty much live to wind up at the gig later, or to hang out with amazing people and learn shit. I mean, it's very much about love and excitement for me. I'm sick of hearing kids saying that they're doing this pissed-off sounding aggressive shit and it's just so lame and transparent. I just want to freak out and destroy myself in 20 minutes. I don't want to remember details from any Hair Police gig, and I just think about the sessions as great conversations with my favorite brothers walking the earth.

RB: There is definitely something very freeing about getting up on stage and giving yourself up to something other force for twenty minutes. It's not about getting out aggression or showing people how tough we are. This is destruction for destruction's sake. A few people have told me that before they had met us they were afraid to talk to us after they saw us play because they thought we were insane nihilistic dudes who were going to punch them out or something. That makes me laugh a lot. We just become the music when we play and it shows on stage. Life is creation and destruction, and if I'm not doing one of those things I get bored.

D: How did the city of Lexington help to shape what Hair Police have become? Do you feel that you might be a different band had you formed in a bigger city?

MC: I don’t like big cities...at least, I don't want to live in a big city. Hair Police could not have happened anywhere else. You've got to understand...we knew very little. Our knowledge of noise and shit came from reading the RRR catalog, ordering from there, reading Bananafish and shit...but it was pretty much just us. There were some other fans here and there, but had no one to connect with musically in Lexington. So we just did what felt right. Looking back on some of the early stuff now, I am amazed we got ANYWHERE! But where we are at now could not be if it weren't for what we went through. At this point, this is the band I wanted to be in since I knew I wanted to be in a band. All the fat is cut. All the "fun stuff" is gone. Focus, guts and sound. This is all there is.

TT: Big cities are often pretty lame, lots of folks poisoning each other’s minds with low-class trends and bullshit competition. This city is amazing, even though the scene is pretty tiny. In Lexington, for the first year or so, we had no fans. We had to beg people to come to the gigs. Our girlfriends, Daryl (who does Walter Carson) and a few other kids would be there. There was a flourishing fucked-up music scene in Lexington way-back when, but it was like a free-jazz band, Mike doing junk noise stuff, me and Robert doing freaked-out electronics, and like some other weird shit, it wasn't a bunch of bands trying to out-garage each other. Lexington rules, and motherfuckers are supportive of one-another (even if they don't really understand it), but there was never anyone telling us that what we were doing was wrong. In Hair Police, we just influenced each other. I can't imagine it having been any other way.

RB: Lexington is a great place full of great people. It's definitely one of the reasons Hair Police is what we are. I would rather live in a town where you make your own fun instead of leaving it up to someone else. We started out pretty closed off from any sort of "scene" or outside influence save a few things that Mike mentioned. We just did what we thought would be best for what we were doing, which is what we'll always do. Hair Police has always been a pure distillation of the personalities of the members. And I think this couldn't have happened anywhere else. It still kind of freaks me out to be where we are now and think about our expectations when we started. We've surpassed anything we ever thought would come out of this band by light years.

D: The dark abstractions of Obedience Cuts show you guys taking a new direction. Have you been performing this stuff live? Is improvisation a part of the live Hair Police experience?

RB: The songs on Obedience Cuts have been around for a while, so we've had time to make them sound as totally insane as possible. "Let's See Who's Here and Who's Not" was composed and performed live when Matt Minter was still in the band in the Fall of 2002 and we brought back into the live set when we toured with Monotract and Burning Star Core in Spring of 2003. We started heading in the darker more abstract direction of Obedience Cuts on our 2002 Summer Tour with Neon Hunk and Mammal. We had a few songs that were very open-ended and allowed us to stray away from the 2-minutes-or-less songs we had done on Blow Out Your Blood and were still performing on that tour. The only song left from that tour that we still do is “Mortuary Servants,” which was probably the song that changed everything for us. Instead of everyone having strict "parts" there is an open structure that goes through three distinct sections. Other songs we did from around that same time that were more open were "Sock Touch" and "Millions" neither of which were recorded, because Matt Minter left the band. Hair Police has always been about improvisation, but there was a period where the songs would all stop and start at the same point, which I think is something we stray away from now. The music is more about communication now. Because of the way we communicate with each other live, we could be able do two songs, both recognizable as "Mortuary Servants", but one 5 minutes long the other 15. Most of the songs we do live start out as improvisation anyway, so it's just a matter of taking what we like and distilling it into something that is a pure reflection of what we want and keeping it pure in the end result. We perform about half of the songs on Obedience Cuts live: "Let's See Who's Here and Who's Not", "Obedience Cuts", "Full of Guts", and "Open Body.” The version of "Full of Guts" that is on the album is only the second time we ever played it, so it hadn't even been played live when we recorded it. "Let's See Who's Here and Who's Not" on the other hand had been played live several dozen times before we recorded it. Nothing is routine in the way we write and record our songs, they just happen the way they as they come out of the band.

MC: Robert pretty much covered it. Our live show is certainly focused on communication. At the same time, we always have songs or talk about where the set will go...we don’t ever get onstage unprepared or without any idea of direction. It may turn into something else, but there's always a plan. I still love playing "Mortuary Servants" because that song has vastly grown since we first started playing it and I think it will keep on growing. "Rattler's Echo" is another one that has continued to grow and will probably show up on our next album in a very different form than the Chondritic Sound 3".

TT: As Robert said, most of the songs grow out of improv. We have thousands of tapes of pure jams recorded where we are either hitting it or we're not, but there is some real magic in the air when we actually hit a “song,” something we may try to repeat someday. "Full of Guts" was a first taker in the strict sense; we were feeling right, and just built the song from scratch, right onto tape. Unfortunately, it didn't record the first time through, so you hear the second take on the album, but that first one was pretty furious. "Obedience Cuts" is one of the more complex Hair Police songs, with actual orchestration going on, not just waiting for "the cue." We rarely try to pull that stuff off live; it tends to stifle the energy of what we have going on when we just jam.

D: You’ve garnered tons of praise from various circles and seem, for what it’s worth, to have become one of the bigger names in the noise underground. How do you account for your rise to the point at which you currently find yourself?

RB: We were just rolling around throwing microphones at each other in a basement when we started 3 years ago and I'm amazed how far we've come in such a short time. I think touring as widely and as much as we have has helped us greatly. There have also been so many great people who have helped us get where we are today and we wouldn't be where we are without people giving us the chances they have. It is a small, but quickly growing "scene" that we exist in and we are fortunate to have met all of the amazing people we have.

MC: It would be impossible at this point to not mention many of the key people who have helped us out and really just made these past few years a total blast. 'Cause that's what it is really about...a gathering of people with compatible ideas for sound, direction and life in general. People like Wolf Eyes, Nautical Almanac, Tom Smith, Matt St. Germain all helped and inspired us very much when we first started. It was great to "come up" with people like Spencer (BXC, Death Beam) who we just connected with immediately. And I’m not going to lie...Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon have really been amazing to us recently and we can’t thank them enough. And as far as other people we've become very close with...you all know who you are and you fucking rule. It's like a huge reason to tour is to hang with all the rad dudes on the road. That list would be very long... The last tour we went on with Prurient and Kites was just a meeting of the fucking minds. Don’t be surprised to see all 3 of us on the road together again.

I would also like to talk about at this point some music that has great affected me. A little bit ago, thanks to one of my life brothers, I got deep into psych music. Real deal shit. Listening to bands such as Morly Grey, Hairy Chapter, Kak, Almendra, Color Humano, Dark, Tripsichord, Tony, Caro and John and many others has really changed much of my focus and honestly my life. This is not to say I or Hair Police will ever make music that sounds like any of these bands...ever. Instead, I choose to take the inspiration and guidance these records give me and hone it into our own distinct sounds. Retro and repetition [are] for fuckers... if you are truly inspired, you create your own thing. Aping is for posers. The best part about the current scene is that no one sounds alike. Wolf Eyes don’t sound like Hair Police, we don’t sound like Prurient, he doesn’t sound like Burning Star Core...but we are all bonded. Any great music is like that. Psych, early hardcore, noise…whatever. When you can’t tell bands apart, get rid of 'em.

TT: The new prominence of noise music and crazy bands in the indie/music nerd world is still totally baffling to me. I mean, seriously, it's fucked up. There's still this weird rift between the nights when everyone in the crowd wants to cut you after the gig, and the nights when everyone wants to hug you. People tend to react to this stuff extremely, and very deeply. Anyway, the scene is super-supportive, and full of sincere, amazing people. It's a great community and I love to see it get some respect, after years of sort of languishing in shitty opening slots for touring laptop dudes.

D: How did the Lollapalooza opportunity come about? How do you think the Hair Police experience will differ for you and/or the audience in such a different sort of venue?

MC: All thanks are due to Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon. For no reason other than they are into the jams, they got us on some shows. Wolf Eyes are doing the whole thing, we're just doing a couple...but that is great for us. We are excited about the opportunity. We don't believe in hiding this shit. When I was 14, I saw Boredoms at Lollapalooza and it changed my life. I mean...I didn't know what the fuck to think. I was at Lollapalooza...so you can see what kind of music I was into then. So I just think maybe a few kids will see us or Wolf Eyes and freak the fuck out and check out something they never even dreamed existed. I don't know...it'll probably just be people who are waiting for Mike Watt (we were on the Solar Stage) and just wanting us to leave. But it'll be a blast. We are doing some shows with Sonic Youth too and are really looking forward to those...you, Adam, get the sweet deal. Pittsburgh is the only city where it was SY, Wolf Eyes and Hair Police. Its also nice for parents, families, friends not in-the-know to be like, "See, I'm not just fucking around!!!" hahaha...

RB: The whole Lollapalooza fiasco is due to Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon coaxing the Lollapalooza management into letting us play shows on their festival. We were on tour with Kites and Prurient on a 30-hour drive from Seattle to Minneapolis and about 18 hours in we got the news that Wolf Eyes had been asked to play Lollapalooza. Immediate jokes about a Wolf Eyes/Red Hot Chili Peppers super jam were cracked. It was a total WHAT THE FUCK? moment. Then about three weeks later when I was on tour with Burning Star Core in Portland I got the news that WE had been asked to play Lollapalooza. Totally the weirdest thing ever, but I think it'll be fun. We were actually only playing 2 Lollapalooza shows and we're on the third stage which is supposed to be entirely powered by solar energy. Totally insane.

D: Now that, due to geography, Hair Police isn’t such a full-time thing when you’re not touring or recording, you’ve all kept busy. What’s everyone been up to, musically?

MC: Really, we've always been recording and working on shit separately. I've been doing a lot of solo recording and working on the new phase of Gods of Tundra...all art and very limited packaged tapes. Nothing groundbreaking in the noise world, but something for me to combine my art and my sound. People are already upset like, "why do you only do 4 copies??" And it is hard to come to terms with...but for me its like, when I do a painting, I only make 1. The label is now my art. It is much more rewarding than making 100 tapes with regular covers. That was fun for me for a time, but I got really bored with it. I am enjoying myself a lot more now.

I also play with people around MI. I've been playing with the Dead Machines (but I'm not in the Dead Machines). We just did one of my favorite sets I've been a part of (outside of Hair Police) possibly ever. (Aaron) Dilloway (Wolf Eyes) also played with us. It was amazing, look for it as "Absence of Rat Feeding."

And I am constantly playing guitar and practicing and writing for Hair Police. Expect definitely 1 and probably 2 new songs on the August tour.

RB: We have no trouble keeping busy outside of Hair Police.

Trevor and I are in a band called Eyes and Arms of Smoke with our respective others, Sara and Ellen. It's weird electro-acoustic improv classical chamber pop. Nothing like Hair Police. We're doing a record for Cenotaph Audio this year. I do a solo project called Three Legged Race. I work slow and don't have much output. I'm doing an LP for Gods of Tundra and a split 7" with Iovae soon. I play in a band called Ulysses. It's Robert Schneider from the Apples in Stereo's band. It's droney, dirgey downer pop. Lots of synths for a drugged out wall of sound. There's a record coming out sometime this fall. Me and Trevor also play with Burning Star Core whenever possible. We're on the newest record which should be out sometime soon on Thin Wrist entitled The Very Heart of the World . We did a side-long jam in Lexington in December called "Come Back Through Me". It's sick. I think that's it in terms of musical projects, but I try to keep busy doing artwork for various musical and non-musical projects on top of all the music stuff.

D: Does the band have any goals outside of making the music that your hearts and minds want you to make? Is Hair Police’s music goal-oriented in any way, or is it all about the process, with a recording almost more of just a document of that process?

RB: I think we are just in it to do this until we can't do it anymore. We just want to keep doing what we do in as many ways as possible.

MC: We don’t think about why we do this. It is inside of us. We have to do it. And if anyone doubted how we'd stay together with me living in a different state...the last tour was proof that we are a better band now. Distance cant halt us...nothing can.

TT: It's weird; we've gotten to a point where we barely even talk about the jams anymore, whereas we used to approach them as "you do this here, then we do this thing after the change, whatever." It's just ethereal. It's in the air when we get together and it just happens, and hopefully we're recording at the time. There are recordings that are less a document and more of a specific project, i.e. Straps and Straps which is coming out on LDR/HPR pretty soon, just this huge mass of weird post-prod wizardry, lots of editing and overlaying of different stuff that was really pretty smeared to begin with. We just want to have fun, do our shit, have it look great and sound great, and hang out. Really.

By Adam Strohm

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