HAIRSPRAYFIREANDGIRLS is an entirely new adventure for these Tucson music veterans
The operative word for HAIRSPRAYFIREANDGIRLS is different.
When the band formed two years ago—with members from well-regarded Tucson bands Red Switch, Bombs for the Bored and Chango Malo—nobody wanted a simple retread. HAIRSPRAYFIREANDGIRLS was to be an entirely new adventure.
"I didn't want it to sound like any other band any of us had been in," says singer-guitarist Josh Levine, the former front man for Red Switch. "We had the ideology of not wanting to repeat ourselves. I just didn't want it to be Part 2 of anybody's other band."
That adamant refusal to allow parallels to other bands came after Levine's hiatus from music, spurred by band breakups and general frustration with playing music.
"I'd stopped playing guitar and being in bands for a full five years. Then when I started writing songs again, it was just for my own entertainment," he says. "When I wanted to play in a band again, I called my friends, and luckily, they were all available."
Joining Levine are Noah Gabbard (Bombs for the Bored) on guitar, Justin Lillie (Chango Malo, Gentlemen of Monster Island) on bass, Ernie Gardner (Red Switch, Mala Vita) on drums, and recent addition Josh Lillie on percussion.
"Musically, we were all tired of what our old bands sounded like. We just wanted to do something we hadn't done," Levine says. "There was one time I brought an idea for a song, and Noah said it sounded like Red Switch too much, so we dropped it."
Early on, the band's songs came more or less fully formed from Levine. The first batch of songs after he started writing again stretched to 68 songs, which he gave on burned CDs to the other band members to learn.
The second batch? It had 69 songs.
"It was a deluge," Levine says. "This year, it'll be 10."
After self-releasing a debut album—I Am. And I've Been Looking for You—last year, HAIRSPRAYFIREANDGIRLS (the name is a joke on Mötley Crüe's attempted rejuvenation as a 'serious band' in the wake of grunge by abandoning the staple elements of glam-metal videos) readied new songs for a blitz of recording in February at Waterworks with Jim Waters.
"I like to keep things current. The stuff we're writing and playing now is a lot different than the stuff that I was doing on my own," Levine says.
The songwriting process has changed significantly since the band's first days. Now, Levine simply brings in skeletons of songs and ideas, and the whole crew fleshes them out.
"Musically, I've been able to do things in this band that I've always wanted to do," Gabbard says. "Having two guitarists in the band frees me up to do more of the ambient and noise stuff I've always been interested in doing. Even though it's fairly subtle, it's different. All of the bands I've played guitar and didn't sing in, the type of music we were playing wasn't my true passion; I was playing to what they wanted. In this band, I feel free."
Justin Lillie feels similarly.
"This is definitely the most-different-sounding band that I've ever been in, but it's the one that I've always wanted to be in. It's something that my other bands couldn't do. For me, it feels good reining in all the chaotic stuff that I've always written, ever since high school, when the entire time, I was listening to Tom Petty and Tori Amos."
The music is loud, fast rock 'n' roll. HAIRSPRAYFIREANDGIRLS are a little surprised to find the band being called "punk." Perhaps that is true in spirit, but the band is more accurately offering driving, melodic guitar rock, in the tradition that stretches from the Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground to bands like The Jam, The Smiths and Hüsker Dü.
"In terms of the philosophy, that's what I got out of listening to the original punk bands in the '70s, the idea of being relevant and having something to say, and not just repeating yourself and resting on your laurels," Levine says. "We all came into this knowing we were going to do something different than we had before, and we continue to do that. We have two albums now, and they sound radically different from each other. We just want to continue pushing forward creatively."
The only clear lineage HAIRSPRAYFIREANDGIRLS might take from its members' former bands is the sense of making music that doesn't quite sound like anybody else.
"The idea of having each album sound radically different from its predecessor is a big deal," Levine says about the new album. "The songs are kind of a mixed bag. Some of them are brand-new; some are older than the first album, rearranged. And originally, it wasn't intended to be a full-length album. We just want to record and release a lot more material than any other band we've been in."
Gabbard says writing and recording quickly comes from the experience and the work ethic that they all developed while pushing those other bands to local success. The band has developed a built-in sense of what works.
"Putting a standard couple-year gap between albums would be really frustrating," Gabbard says. "It's just about quality. If we all can stand by the material, that's all there is to it."
To slow the pace a bit, the band has turned to cover projects in between recordings, first a Depeche Mode set at the Great Cover-Up, and most recently a performance of the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St.
"It's gotten frustrating at points, but it is really good for us to take a break from all those songs and the recording process to work on something completely different by one of our favorite bands. It allows the new album some space to breathe a little bit more and us (to) appreciate it a bit more without having to work on any new songs," Justin Lillie says.
HAIRSPRAYFIREANDGIRLS is fun and almost effortless, Levine says. And it had better be.
"We can't not play music," Levine says. "All of us have tried to not be in bands, and it doesn't work out."Published Aug. 18, 2011 in the Tucson Weekly.