Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Static" Reverberates Within The Brotherhood of flanelhed

Novato, California is an unassuming little suburb north of San Francisco. Filled with marshes, oaks and grassy valleys, Novato also displays the occasional cow pasture that is broken up by strip malls and storage facilities.

When one drives on Highway 101 North through the rolling hills of Marin County and passes through Novato, one may not understand nor know that behind the hotels and dead trees, beyond the suburban crawl of look alike housing and day laborers waiting for work in parking lots, there is a seething, rumbling force that is fast being felt among the population of this hamlet.

This fiery force has a powerful hunger for loud amplifiers filled with grungy guitars and flaming vocals, an added throb of drums and bass fueling this fire. The force is a band called flanelhed and it slams itself out of Novato, California and blows the minds of suburbia in order to let loose the power of it’s searing, edgy and wickedly original hard rock & roll....

flanelhed’s history is not unlike other bands. Guitarist John Murphy and vocalist Chris Matthews met well over 25 years ago and established a strong musical connection within their friendship. In 1994 both men created a band called flanelhed. The band gigged, put out albums and changed various members throughout the years but persevered with a lot of hard work, a fine tuning their sound and a refining their chops.

With the additions of bassist Terry Bardoul in 2001 and drummer Evan Frank, who returned to the band in 2008 after originally joining in 1998, flanelhed solidified its lineup as well as the explosive sound they have become renowned for.
flanelhed is a band committed to their music as much as they are committed to each other in creating the music as a whole. All four members, singer/guitarist John Murphy (AKA Murf), singer Chris Matthews, bassist Terry Bardoul and drummer Evan Frank have entered into a brotherhood of a band, creating a cohesive dynamic that combines the equal efforts of all players.

Explains singer and lyricist Chris Matthews, “For a long time Murf and I wrote most of tunes. With this band it is collaboration. In any band most members do some sort of contribution. But in ours we have the drummer writing bass and guitar riffs, guitarist & bassist suggesting cymbal arrangements or all three suggesting vocal melodies. We all contribute to the song arrangements. It’s really cool. It really feels like true collaboration and that derives from respect. We respect each other as musicians so our opinions and suggestions are real, precise and usually spot on.”

Drummer Evan Frank feels that his role in flanelhed is unlike other bands, “We truly write well together. We communicate well and seem to have the same idea as to what the songs should sound like. I like the fact that as a drummer they listen to and respect my ideas and inputs. If I come up with a break or time change or think we should lengthen or shorten a part, the other guys are all in for trying it.”

The band’s 4th disk “Static” (2012) has been recently released on Global Recording Artists, a small record label based in Petaluma, California. The album, recorded at HitWall Studios in San Francisco, CA. took three years to make, as it was completely financed by the band itself.  Says Evan, “We would play gigs for a year, and record with the money we made that year.”

Mat Strickland, producer at HitWall, and the band chose to use analog equipment for the recording of “Static”, adding depth and feeling that digital recording techniques often lose.

“The recording process was great. We had already worked with Mat Strickland on the previous 2008 release of “Amnesia” and he’s very easy to work with. We recorded it in 3 sessions. The final session consisting of not only recording the last 3 songs for the CD, but also the editing & mixing.” Says Murf, “There’s no doubt that analog has a warmer sound with a-lot more low end and that digital sounds brighter and more sterile.”

Terry Bardoul, who has been playing bass since he was 15, has strong opinions about the recording process, “A bass guitar should only be recorded analog as far as I’m concerned, there is something about the analog tape compression that just makes a bass guitar fat and juicy! As long as Mat Strickland has Hitwall, I will insist on recording there.”

“We recorded on Chris Isaak's old board, which is a cool MoJo thing”, says Evan Frank, whose drumming technique can only be called “BIG”. “I think the recording speaks for itself, as far as fat sound. Murf's guitars are huge. The whole digital thing is really killing music, in a way. People are churning out records from their basement, recorded in their pajamas. It totally lacks feeling and human emotion.”

With 4 other disks in the flanelhed back catalogue, the self-titled “flanelhed” (1996),  the not-yet-released "Chameleon" (2001), the acoustic album “Little Black Dog” (2003) and “Amnesia” (2008), Static itself is pure flanelhed; crashing drums, searing guitars, deep bass lines and soaring vocals all moshed into intelligent and deep hard rock and roll. It proves that the sound of flanelhed can still rearrange your brain's neural pathways.

“Fungus” opens the disk with at first lone bass lines that lead us into crashing and fast paced sonic insanity. “Fall To Earth” brings to mind Alice In Chains with the growling smoothness of Chris Matthews’ vocals and the slithering crawl of Murf’s guitar that spins up our spines. “Tornado Woman” funks it up and catwalks into our ears only to purr a heavy riff to our eardrums. “Done” seduces use with gentle acoustic strings then slams us with electric fury. The title track “Static” makes us anticipate the notes as they slowly begin revving the engines of the song, only to be slammed into high gear like a fiery arrow. “Bedrock” (one of my favorites on the disk) is wild ride of throbbing bass and drums with Chris’s voice dipping and raising amid the joyous cacophony that is flanelhed.

Every song on “Static” is chock filled with progressive heaviness of sound. Evan Frank takes his drumming seriously, filling every space of air with an all-encompassing solidity while in tandem with Terry Bardoul’s heavy and thick basslines.  Chris Matthews soars and flies with a voice that is soothing as well as darkly mesmerizing. John Murphy using his guitars as razors, slicing into the songs with a vicious force that relieves the chaos inside the music.

“It’s definitely a band collaboration. I come in with a large percentage of the ideas. When I say ideas, I mean, I usually have the parts of the song together, main riff, chorus, verse, bridge, etc…Sometimes the vocal melody line, but not always. I don’t have it arranged though. I present it to the band and we arrange it together, make any necessary changes and then refine it over the course of a few months. Says Murf, whose song contributions make up a lot of flanelhed’s body of work. 

“Chris & I have always been a great writing team no matter what. Being friends now for over 28 years and being in this band together for over 20 years helps. It always seems like things come together quickly and easily no matter what era of flanelhed.” Says Murf of the band connection  “What it boils down to is not just the friendships we’ve had for many years now, but the respect I have for everyone as a musician."

Continues Murf, "I don’t get too involved in lyric writing, my focus is always on riff & music writing. I almost never write while playing guitar. I write while I’m hiking in the hills, then I come back & work it out on guitar. I guess my inspiration comes from all the music I’ve loved growing up & continue to be exposed to."

Says Chris of his songwriting style, "I can be pretty even keeled and extremely moody at the same time. Putting on socks can sometimes dictate my mood for the day. But usually it’s just trying to survive life, adjusting to shortcomings and dealing with highs, and dodging flaming arrows. I generally write about relationships because I spend so much damn time trying to figure them out...and I’m still learning! You don’t hear too many hard rock songs about how good your love life is, unless you’re Journey and write an entire album of ballads. So, relationships and drug addicts are my favorite topics.”

With over 20 years as a band, creating a marriage of music and a deep friendship with all four players, flanelhed keeps the music real and true. Making music is not necessarily about “making it”, but about solid musical relationships and happiness with the creative process. If a band does make it, it should be because they have dedicated themselves to their art form, and the end result of that dedication should be a great product that can be respected. Says Evan, “I think we are all proud of the fact that none of us sold out to play in a Cover or Tribute band. That’s the easy way out. It's a shame that the biggest draws are these types of bands, but that still doesn't stop us. If we get any sort of recognition, it will be all the sweeter.”

“For me it is twice a week an escape,” says Terry of his love of flanelhed. “I still look at our band as four 40+ guys that need to unwind, lose the frustration of every day life. I think part of the energy is from the fact that we all feel every member is an integral part of the whole; no one is easily replaceable. As for Chris and Murf, what can I say it’s an honor to play with them in the same band, they also like to write a song and not a “look what I can do” piece. I think after playing our instruments, we don’t have to show off our skills anymore, we just want to write a great song that we all enjoy, and hopefully you too.”

John Murphy thinks the future plan of flanelhed is to just keep playing good music. “I’d like to see flanelhed go as far as possible. I think exposure in Europe & Japan would be key. Those areas love our kind of music, a lot more than in the US. Either way, we need to keep writing and continue moving forward, always progressing and staying true to ourselves.”

All photos and text copyright 2012, Carolyn McCoy

Moonmama says, " Heavy metal soothes my inner savage beast."

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