Published on January 1st, 2002 | by Gerry Galipault0
For your listening pleasure: The Sound of Urchin
MEMBERS: Tomato 11 (Chris Harfenist – drums, lead vocals), The Reverend B. Ill (Bill Fowler – lead guitar), Doo Doo Brown (Chris Huetz – bass), Hollywood Scotty Choc (Scott Heydt – guitars).
HOMETOWN: New Hope, Pa.
ALBUM: “You Are The Best” (RCA; release date: Jan. 22).
THE SOUND: “The Sound of Urchin are the second greatest band in rock today,” so says Dean Ween.
PRODUCER: Keith Cleversley.
TRACKS: “Zen Magic Marker,” “Rock N’ Roll Jubilee,” “Scary Skull Eyes,” “Billy the Eagle,” “Let It Rain,” “Fireflies on the 4th of July,” “Laying on Your Zeets,” “The Millipede/Who’ll Stop the Beggar,” “Alligator Swamp,” “The Clearing Hole,” “Cross the Cloud,” “Space Station on the 4, 5 & 6,” “The Alligator,” “Happy.”
WEB SITE: www.soundofurchin.com.
SOMETHING TO KNOW: Fowler was formerly in False Front and was an honorary member of Ween.
SOMEBODY’S STANDING IN A CD STORE AND COMES ACROSS YOUR ALBUM. THEY’RE CURIOUS ABOUT BUYING IT; WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO CONVINCE THEM?:
Harfenist – “OK, I’d say, ‘Hey man, take a look at all the CDs on the new release rack. Do you notice how they are all stylized to look like one of the five genres out there today (pop-punk, nu-metal, pop, etc.)? Do you notice how interchangeable they really are? Now, take a look at that brand spankin’ new Sound of Urchin CD. First, the artwork says that ‘You Are the best,’ it also says that Urchin is ‘Dean Ween’s second favorite band,’ and just by looking at it you know that you are not dealing with a cookie-cutter band, you are dealing with a band that cares about its creativity. Then you turn the CD over and you see song titles like ‘Scary Skull Eyes’ and ‘Fireflies on the 4th of July,’ and that should be the clincher, if the music is anything like the song titles and artwork, then you know you are going to be taken on a ride – it has to be refreshing for the ears. I mean, music fans these days have been looking for something new, something that doesn’t fit nicely into a genre or a retro retread, something that has its own personality – well, that’s what we are setting out to do, take us on a new ride and bring the listener along with us.’ “
Heydt – “First, I would ask the person if they are a music fan. If they say that they are, I would ask them what types of music they like now and what they have listened to over their lifetime. Hoping they have liked different styles of music, from rock, to rap, to metal, to lounge, to reggae, to pop, to thrash, I would say they get a little bit of all these things in our album. If they are looking for something interesting, which gives them a little bit of everything, for all their different moods, this is the only record to buy. If they were still unsure, I would probably just buy it for them. Don’t ever want to lose out on a new fan! Can somebody lend me 15 bucks?”
WHAT SONG DEFINES YOU?:
Harfenist – “Well, that’s a hard thing for me to answer since the record is so diverse. It’s like for us the lyrics hold the album and band’s personality together more than the music does from song to song. But I think that ‘Zen Magic Marker’ has become somewhat of a theme song for us because it’s got a lot of everything Urchin in it, this vibe that can’t really be described in words; it just sounds like Urchin, and then finishes off with this arena rock outro where the lighters go up in the crowd. Some people say that ‘Space Station on the 4, 5 & 6’ is the defining Urchin song, and I can see that as well for the same sort of reasons, and that is an Urchin classic, and I also see ‘The Millipede/Who’ll Stop the Beggar” and “Rock n’ Roll Jubilee’ as all Urchin as well. That’s a tough one, especially for a band like us where we keep redefining ourselves.”
Heydt – “In my opinion, the quintessential Sound of Urchin song is ‘Zen Magic Marker.’ This song has so many of the best elements that we enjoy in our music. This is the first song on our new album and is usually the song we open our show with on the current tour. As the opening track of the album, it puts the listener in the right mood, or the Urchin Zone, and really eases you into our very interesting yet slightly insane musical universe. And, live, it really lets the band and the audience get into the right mood, to go on a musical ride. This song really becomes the bond between the band on stage and the people in the audience. The song itself has so many great musical components. Throughout the song, there is a real chill single note musical line that is repeated over and over. This single musical phrase has a real Asian flair that in itself sucks you right in. Once you are seduced by that little melody, then you are slowly introduced to Tomato’s lyrics, which in this case are really soothing, but always with a great sense of humor. And then my favorite part, the big arena rock ending, big chords, big harmonies. If this song does not put a smile on your face, then I don’t know what will.”
WHAT WAS YOUR MANIFESTO FOR THIS ALBUM?:
Harfenist – “We wanted to make a big F.U. album to all the cookie-cutter genres. We wanted to do something different, diverse, and trust that whatever we did would be held together by our core vibe – kinda like a summer mix-tape, but all by one band. So, our motto for the recording was to take every song as far into its own world as possible. So we recorded every song separately in the studio, with different types of drums, guitars, keys, vocal effects, strings, horns, basically whatever it felt like the song needed, and just had fun with the recording process, and our producer, Keith Cleversley (Flaming Lips, Hum), was right there with us, taking each song as its own sort of mini-album. We could have simply recorded the band live in the studio and made everything sound exactly the same, but we wanted to really experiment, and give the listener a lot to listen to, I mean, you can listen to one song on this album today and then three months from now find something completely new about it. We grew up on music like this but haven’t heard anyone do it, since maybe The Clash and that’s what we wanted to give people, an album that lasts.”
Heydt – “I think our goal for this album was to make a record that we would be proud of now, as well as 10 years from now. We really wanted to make sure that all our musical styles were represented on the record. This band has a lot to say musically, and I think we really said a lot in the 14 songs on the record. I also think that we wanted the listener to walk away thinking they went on a musical ride, and make them excited or at least very curious to check out our live show. I think the scientific formula for The Sound of Urchin is Album + Live Show = Complete Understanding of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the new Millenium.”
WHAT’S YOUR GUT FEELING ON HOW YOUR ALBUM’S GOING TO DO?:
Harfenist – “Wow, that’s another tough one. It’s really hard to say, I mean, some people say that our album is real accessible in a way, and some people say it is the weirdest thing they have ever heard. Then there are the people that completely get it without question. Honestly, I think the album will do real well if the listeners have the patience for it. I take it for granted sometimes that most people can digest a full diverse Clash ‘Sandinista’-type album, a lot of people, especially these days, don’t have the attention span for that kind of thing, it’s just the way it is. But, don’t get me wrong, I am actually completely optimistic about it, I think that people are ready for it now, everyone is looking for it, it’s just not out there quite yet, and how else can people get the access to it without word of mouth or looking real hard for it? Also, look at the Beastie Boys’ ‘Check Your Head’ and the Chili’s ‘Bood Sugar Sex Magik,’ these are classic albums that will go down in history – and they are about as diverse and challenging as you can get, and everyone and their mother these days has those albums in their collections. I think it will take some time, but as long as we are spreading our vibe and love for the music, that we will do just fine.”
Heydt – “I wouldn’t even venture a guess of how many units we will sell. OK, probably like 15,000,000 copies. We really want to give Jacko’s ‘Thriller’ a run for his money. But seriously, I’ll tell you this, I think every unit sold will become a favorite of the person who bought it. I think the album gives you such a broad reach of musical styles that you can get any fix to fit your mood. I think a good amount of fans will put this record on their Desert Island Disc list. What more can you ask for?”
YOUR PERSONAL MUSICAL HERO?:
Harfenist – “I have many musical heroes. I think I will just list ’em as they pop into my head … John Bonham, the Boss, Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy, The Clash, Metallica, Aerosmith, Bob Pollard and Guided By Voices, Wayne and the Flaming Lips, Afghan Whigs, Bradley Nowell and Sublime, Jonathan Richman, Frank Black and the Pixies, Bob Marley, Max Cavalera and Soulfly, our friends in Ween, Tenacious D. That may seem like a lot of heroes, but the one thing they have in common is that they always did their own thing, with passion, and I think that passion is the key ingredient. So many bands today don’t seem to know what passion is, they have nothing to lose, they’re just making music without taking chances, there is no spontaneity, and that’s what creativity and music is all about, that’s ultimately what we are all drawn to, we are not drawn to Gap ad jingles in our CD collections.”
Heydt – “My bandmates love when this question is asked of me. The biggest running joke in The Sound of Urchin is that Hollywood Scotty Choc loves Styx. Unlike one of my more recent rock heroes, Kurt Cobain, I am not going to pretend I had cooler musical taste than I did as a kid. I actually still love Styx’s music. It still strikes a chord in me. And my greatest rock ‘n’ roll hero is Tommy Shaw from Styx. This is not a joke, and I am really singlehandedly trying to get more people to respect Styx. I actually have the support of Dave Grohl and Adam Sandler. I even think Jack Black of Tenacious D told me he liked Styx, so I am really not totally alone. Tommy Shaw, to me, is an amazing guitar player, singer and songwriter. When I was kid, he was the reason I picked up the guitar and knew what I wanted to do for a living. The man plays and sings with real soul. My first record as a kid was Styx’s ‘The Grand Illusion,’ and my first concert was in 1983, Styx’s ‘Kilroy Was Here’ tour. When I left that concert, I was totally done. The band was totally larger than life, and I was left speechless. I was pretty much on a mission to learn to play the guitar and get me a rock ‘n’ roll band. All these years later, I get to run around the stage and live out that rock ‘n’ roll fantasy. And by the way, I think Tommy Shaw was wearing jump suits on the Paradise Theater tour back in 1981, that was at least 20 years before Slipknot. Oh, yeah, we wear them on stage, too, once in a while as well. I guess it all comes full circle!”
WHAT’S THE STATE OF THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?:
Harfenist – “I may have seemed pretty down on the state of the music industry considering the answers to most of the questions so far, but I’m not really down on the industry at all. Everyone blames the industry, it’s not really their fault. It’s all in our hands, the musicians, to make the music we want to make, for better or for worse. Hopefully, the music you make will see the light of day. I mean, we’re signed to a major label and very proud of it. They give us full artistic control and back us up for what we want to do. Of course, it’s a business, but how else does anyone expect to get the music out to people? Bottom line, and most people don’t want to know this, but every CD in your collection was marketed to you somehow, you didn’t just stumble upon it from someone’s basement tapes, you read about it or heard about it from someone, no matter how indie or major the band was. I think that right now the world is wide open for people to experiment and make the music that they want to make, and that is a very good thing. Everyone is sick of the cookie-cutters, and it has gone as far as it possible can, now it is time for people to do their own thing. And I hope they try their hardest to do that. I’m very optimistic about the future, and hey, I get to do my part in some way, and turn people on.”
Heydt – “In general, I think the music industry is in a bit of trouble. Record companies are really not able to develop artists like they did 25 years ago. All these corporate conglomerates have really pressured record label executives to have quick hits, for quick returns. The business has really changed into a bottom line financial environment, instead of a creative environment.
“In the ’60s, ’70s and even the earlier part of the ’80s, record labels would take their time and really practice ‘artist Development.’ The plan was to grow a band from a 50,000 unit sales base up on the first album, up to a 1,000,000 unit sales base by the third or fourth album. It was such a gradual process that really enabled artists to grow over time. It also allowed these artists to build a real fan base. Some of these bands from back in the ’70s still have great fan bases. Take Styx, for instance. Sorry had to do it. They still play to 10,000-plus seat theaters around the world and they haven’t had a platinum album in almost 20 years. If labels could actually develop more artists over time, they would get a much higher return in the future. But this is not really what labels are doing these days.
“But, we really have been lucky to be treated by RCA as more of a ‘development’ band. With our A&R guy, or coach as we refer to him, Steve Ralbovsky, we have been given a real chance to grow and develop slowly. Instead of rushing out a full-length album right away, and spending a lot of money hoping we hit at radio, Steve and RCA have allowed us to release two EPs and tour like crazy. After two years of touring and having two EPs available to our fans, we are finally venturing out with a full-length major release. But, even with the full length out, we are starting out slowly and trying to build momentum without rushing to radio and spending too much too soon. We plan to tour as long as we can on this album, and when the time is right get radio on board to blow it up. Sounds like the old way of doing it, and we are glad to be getting this treatment. If more labels can follow RCA, and in particular Steve Ralbovsky’s lead on this style of development, the industry and the artists will be a lot better off.”