Seattle’s Hobosexual is the culmination of many efforts of guitarist/vocalist Ben Harwood and drummer Jeff Silva to produce a true rock sound from a simple framework. And to put it plainly – it works. The tight-knit two piece have individual musical upbringings as varied as they come, but more on that later. Ben and Jeff began playing together in the three piece band Vindaloo. After booking a number of shows, their bassist had to back out. This left them with a curious situation; to play the shows they needed to make it work between just the two of them. After gigging as two-thirds of Vindaloo, they transitioned into the band Gozer. It was at this point that Ben and Jeff decided to only rely on each other. The two ended up splitting apart for different bands and in 2009 Hobosexual was born.
“Logistically it’s amazingly simple… we’re not a duo for any trendy reason; we’re a duo out of necessity.” – Ben
Their name alone has created quite the polarizing dialog between the band members who know what it means and some of the public who haven’t bothered to ask before interpreting it negatively. “We’ve battled with the name before. We’ve battled with the way we look before. We’ve battled with the way people think we are rather than what we actually are… all I can say is we really like to play music and have fun. And we are two of the most laid back dudes,” Ben said. They have had to make a conscious effort to promote what they call “Hobo music” because of certain bad websites that have appeared online as a result of their band name. They played for the Boise Rock School during Treefort and even then had to be introduced as “The Hobos,” because their name doesn’t vibe with those in charge of the students.
Jeff grew up a shy kid with a very talented drummer for a father. Naturally, he wanted to keep his interest in drums under wraps. Every day after school he played his dad’s kit for an hour in the basement until he saw the headlights pull into the driveway. Years later in high school his parents discovered his interest and talent and enrolled him in formal lessons. After attending U. Mass. for his Bachelor’s degree, he moved to Seattle to pursue music. I asked him about how much he personally pulled from lessons versus watching his dad and he said,
“It’s 95% feel in my case. You can only do paradiddles so many times.” – Jeff
That approach bleeds into their studio and live playing setup. He records his drums to a guitar track that was recorded to a click, but with that click removed, Jeff is able to drag and/or pull notes more naturally. This plays to his advantage on stage because while keeping up with Ben’s loops, that’s all he has to go by – no click. A recurring theme of “deceptive simplicity” was mentioned a few times in our interview by Ben and it seems to apply to Jeff’s playing equally.
“AC/DC’s up there too. And the reason I like it too is Phil Rudd: simple. I bet he can go for an entire album without doing a drum fill. But you know what, it works. You got that groove. He does what he needs to do and that’s what I do.” – Jeff on his major musical influences
Jeff went on to explain, “You know, Neil Peart’s phenomenal, but it’s not my style… I don’t want to play that. I don’t want to produce that… I admire [his abilities], but it’s just not my thing.”
Surprisingly, or perhaps not, Ben is a classically trained musician with a degree in music performance and composition from Pacific Lutheran University (PLU). His interest in pursuing an education in music came to him early. “When I was 15 years old I found out you couldn’t get into a [music] school rocking out for the faculty,” recalls Ben. PLU offered him a full ride scholarship after his composition, The Electric Betrayal of Good and Evil, was heard by the board of directors during a music composition competition. At the time he was the only electric guitarist in US history to receive a full ride to a then top 10 music program. His classical background has had a profound, yet subtle, effect on Hobosexual’s music, resulting in an underlying complexity that becomes evident with a careful listening. At the same time, there is a fondness for the beauty of simplicity. Ben praised the bare bones approach of classic rock bands like AC/DC and Led Zeppelin saying this:
“There’s a fair amount of pretension in my outlook, but at the same time I feel like no one is taking the time to be this considerate and I want to give [the music] its due consideration. That’s what I feel like guys like [guitarist/songwriter] Page in Zeppelin did.”
In order to develop a large sound, which can be difficult in a two piece band, Hobosexual employs a number of tricks to make up for the lack of extra musicians. For example, when Ben goes into a guitar solo first he uses a looping pedal, which records what he was playing and then continuously loops that track, allowing him to play his guitar solos over a rhythm track. However, the use of looping pedals does present a challenge to the band. “[The] problem is, digital sounds like shit,” jokes Ben, “so we use an analog harmonics non-quantized pedal, which means if I pull my foot off a micro-second in any direction wrong, [Jeff]’s all fucked.” Jeff has to be constantly paying attention to make sure he can catch these slight differences in timing. In order for him to better hear the guitar, Ben has two cabinets on stage run in stereo, one of which acts as a monitor for Jeff.
The band’s opinion on analog vs. digital equipment is strong not just on the front of guitar gear.
“I would like to see a return to [the analog] style [of recording]. [But], people are going to have to get more simplistic… there has to be a lot less pseudo-intellectualism out there. Because there is a lot of it.” – Ben
However, the band recognizes the difficulty of recording analog in a digital world. Recording analog is both costly, the equipment is difficult to come by, and not many recording engineers are well versed in using tape. Despite their love for tape, Ben recognizes that for some styles of music, digital is more practical. “Electronic music…[is where] the heart of music is right now, [and] a lot of that stuff is where everybody’s mindset is right now… There’s really good stuff coming out of that that’s amazing on digital because it just pumps it up into infinity. It’s like disco on steroids,” says Ben.
Back in 2011, Hobosexual released a line of pre-packaged action figures that ended up selling well to their fans. They have decided to expand upon the initial series with a new line of products. Included in the current plans are two vehicles: a Hobo I Tour Van and the Hobo II Super Jet. The Hobo II Super Jet uses an old infrared technology to interact with your VCR and TV; they plan on making a series of self-proclaimed dorky commercials to go along with them. The new products will be released early-mid Summer online and they say it’s taken enough time and effort to get them ready that they’ll make a big deal about the release. So keep your eyes and ears peeled and be patient – you won’t miss these awesome action figures because we all know from yelling at someone growing up that they’re not always “toys” and especially are never “dolls.”
Two of their songs will play in an episode of Showtime’s series Shameless airing this week. They submitted them online about a year ago and stayed off the cutting room floor (or someone’s digital trash bin, if you prefer how it actually went down) long enough to make it onto an episode with a handful of other bands’ music. So check out this week’s Shameless and listen for their signature sound.
Since their founding, Hobosexual has played hundreds of local shows in the Northwest. But starting April 4th they will be embarking on their first tour. For the first half of April they will be on tour with West Water Outlaws and in the second half of May they will be hitting the entire West coast with Seattle-based, stoner rock wizards Ancient Warlocks. For more information on tour dates, music, merchandise, and all things “Hobo,” please visit their website: www.hobosexualband.com. PS – For the love of god, someone give the money to do an all 2” tape, analog album… modern music needs it.