As the opening band left the stage, before the house lights had lifted, a stocky gentleman with plastic cup in hand barreled toward the bar. He pointed, snapping his fingers through the air, and yelled to his buddy, “That was the shit!”
Or did he say, “That was shit?”
* * *
“We’ve got a pretty dedicated fan base of sounds guys and drummers,” said bassist Vaughn Stokes of London-based trio Hot Head Show—the shit band in question—as the band and I discussed their singular appeal last year. Singer-guitarist and band founder Jordan Copeland echoed the sentiment. “Usually when we play the people who are most into what we’re doing are other bands and the sound guy. Usually the drummer in the other band. That’s the funny thing.”
Hot Head Show’s drummer-friendly rhythmic somersaults, in fact, landed them on the bill at the Groove Day festival in Milan in April 2009 alongside international percussion heavyweights like Terry Bozzio and his improvisational supergroup HoBoLeMa. Unfortunately—and to the visible disappointment of Hot Head Show drummer Max “Betamax” Hallett—the trio’s appearance was thwarted when the eruption of an Icelandic volcano with a decidedly unrhythmic name (Eyjafjallajökull) disrupted European air travel. Or, alternatively,
Vaughn Stokes: Terry Bozzio needed an extra hour to set up his drum kit because he’s got the world’s biggest drum kit, so us and three other bands got cut.
The Rumpus: [laughs] Got cut by the drum kit?
Stokes: Yeah, yeah. So fuck Bozzio.
From the beginning Copeland’s objective for Hot Head Show has been to make the music that he himself would want to hear. The result is a whiplash of tense, undulating, spastic precision, a chaotic, melodic, cartoonish ska-funk-jazz-rock-blues-avant-garde hybrid in the Zappa/Beefheart/Minutemen/Primus tradition that not even the band can quite define.
But outside of drummers and sound guys, the consensus on Hot Head Show is that there is no consensus. One man’s “appealingly bizarre” is another’s “utter headache,” and Hot Head Show earns its self-described reputation for clearing rooms by challenging audiences with punchy songs about sex, power, sandwiches as sex and power, and by changing directions, genres, and time signatures not only between songs but often between beats.
You can try to dance to it, but there’s no telling where your limbs will end up.
It takes precision to sound so imprecise, but Hot Head Show mask any such notion with clatter, bullet-train mumbling, and double entendres one’s little brother might invent. The band is savvier than they’ll let on, however, and their bass-solid, clever-cum-puerile style has earned them invitations to play two tours as opening band for inimitable Primus frontman Les Claypool—and, most recently, the inimitable Primus itself.
Like Uncles Les and Frank before them, Hot Head Show has a healthy sense of artifice and pop culture tropes and is not above fucking with its audience. When Copeland leads—or “attempts” to lead—a crowd in a long, unrepeatable string of “wah wah” sounds, the impossible sing-along leaves some in the audience amused, some annoyed, some lost.
With Hot Head Show, the onus is on you to keep up.
* * *
The Rumpus: When you first launched the band, what did you have in mind for it? What did you set out to do? One article suggested you started as a bad blues band.
Jordan Copeland: As a bad blues band— Uh, yes. I wanted to— I think it was important— The first kind of conversations I had about the sort of conception of what kind of band this was going to be were with me and Stan Dudley, who—who I think— We wanted a band that was very— It’s always been important to us to make something that we don’t feel like people are already making. I think I’ve always had a feeling like there’s a kind of music that I want to listen to, that I really want. So there have been a lot of times where I feel like I’ve almost found that band. And I’ll hear a couple of their tracks somewhere, and then I’ll kind of listen to— I’ll get to a whole song and realize, Oh, no, this, this is something else. I think I wanted to make that thing that I feel like already exists out there somewhere because there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. And I think that Hot Head Show has just been, has been a process of trying to figure out what that is so that we can . . . um . . . kinda figure out more precisely . . . what that . . . band sounds like so that we can . . . um . . . sound more like them . . . even though . . . this other band . . . may well . . .
Rumpus: So it was a conscious decision then.
Copeland: Yeah, kind of. I mean, I think a lot of bands want to— There’s definitely a lot to be said for being, you know, a reggae band and playing reggae music and kind of playing by all those rules. Or being a blues— Blues is a beautiful set of rules, you know? Or like chess or something. There’s kind of— It’s all laid out for you, and you just have to work within those rules, and you can make beautiful things with, kind of— It’s almost— It’s a lot easier. I think you can almost go further when there’s limitations. But I guess we always wanted to not. If we’ve got a tune that sounds too much like a ska tune, then, ‘Oh, no, no, we can’t play that; it sounds too much like a ska tune.’ If we’ve got something that’s just like a blues song, we’re like, ‘Oh, no, no, no, it’s just a blues song. We can’t—’ We’ve got to do something else with it to make it different. And maybe not all bands do that. Or maybe every band thinks that they’re doing— I mean, it’s such a cliché. You just ask a band, you know, what kind of music they make, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t know, it’s kinda this. No, you know, sorta a bit like this, and not quite like that, and it’s kind of weird, so we’re doing something totally new and original.’
Vaughn Stokes: Yeah, so we all feel a bit pretentious whenever we have to answer that question.
Copeland: Yeah, exactly.
Rumpus: Descriptions of your music vary wildly. The only thing that anyone can seem to agree on is that nobody can define it. Captain Beefheart gets mentioned a lot—
Copeland: It does, yeah.
Rumpus: Primus, Tom Waits, ska, punk, funk.
Copeland: Yeah. Sure.
Rumpus: Scatty Cat Records called it Mungrul music—
Copeland: Mungrul music, yeah.
Rumpus: My favorite review actually called it—or the favorite phrase I like: “pirate-sounding”?
Copeland: Yeah, somebody did say that.
Rumpus: But you guys go by bangbang.
Stokes: We do. Well done.
Rumpus: Can you tell me: who coined it and what— Can you define exactly what is bangbang?
Copeland: I don’t remember where the phrase first came from, but we kind of— There was a long period where we kind of wanted to have a word for what we do to try and answer this question as to what— What I mean— What I should— Actually my prepared answer, if you asked that last question again, ‘What kind of music do we make?’ I would’ve said, ‘We make bangbang music. We’re just— We’re London’s Premiere BangBang Ensemble.’ And that’s all there is to it. It really helps to have, you know, something simple that we can say. And bangbang is kind of that.
Rumpus: Has no one actually asked?
Copeland: What, about bangbang?
Rumpus: What it is?
Max Hallett: I can answer it.
Copeland: Yeah, go for it, Max. What is bangbang?
Hallett: Bangbang is— The reason why there’s two bangs is like the biggest [unintelligible] of what it is. It’s the relationship of one bang to the other bang, and their positions in regards to each other. And that— How music is a creation of, you know, the ying [sic] and yang, or the bang and the bang, as they say.
Hallett: And where you put them, you know. It’s about knowing when to bang the audience, and when to, like, not bang them, and then bang them again later.
Rumpus: So it’s strategic banging?
Copeland: It is strategic banging.
Stokes: It’s essentially an onomatopoeia derived from our music.
Hallett & Copeland: [simultaneous] Yeah.
Hallett: And also, we set out to try and create a banging—a banging sound, so that sounded a bit like bangs.
Rumpus: If you guys had to choose one of your songs to represent you, your signature sound, which one would it be?
Stokes: “Bummer.” [loud street noise]
Rumpus: I’m sorry? “Bummer”?
Copeland: Yeah, it’s probably the best example of bangbang for a start.
Rumpus: How come?
Copeland: Cuz I think a lot of— A lot of the thing about bangbang is that it’s— It’s a matter of taking quite simple elements. I’m really allergic to noodlery. I don’t like stuff that, you know—music that feels like a wank. But a lot of people will probably say our music maybe feels like a wank at times, but it’s a different kind of wank. It’s not like a display of technical mastery. It’s more, kind of— Maybe it comes from the same place as, you know, some guy who just wants to wail some glorious guitar solo for 10 minutes, but it’s— But rather than, I think— We’re much more into— Fuck, what am I trying to say here?
Stokes: What are you trying to say?
Copeland: What am I trying to say?
Hallett: Like, to create a bang, right, you need— Everyone in the band has to go bang at the same time cuz otherwise it’s not a proper bang. If you try and—[Copeland and Stokes mutter]—sonic resonance. Do you know what I’m saying?
Copeland: No, no, what are you saying?
Hallett: Like, to make a bang, we all have to play the bang at the same time, and it’s about the place we create a collision like that, of all the elements at exactly the right time. You know, the bang.
Hallett: And if we try and compare with, like, a boom-boom band, or a—
Copeland: We’re just a bang band.
Hallett: A bang band, yeah. Like a boom-boom— Like, funk music kind of has got a lot of bump. It’s a more like—
Hallett & Copeland: [simultaneous] Bump—
Copeland: Hip-hop is more about the boom-bap.
Hallett: The boom-bap.
Copeland: Know what I mean?
Hallett: But this is like— To make a bang, you need to be very forceful, and it creates kind of a quite physical impression on the audience.
Rumpus: So then the difference in some cases then is if you’re— If it’s wanking, it’s only one of you; if it’s banging, then it’s all three?
Copeland: Or is it— It’s an arra— It’s a creative arrangement of simple elements, I think, is what I would like to achieve. I’d like people to look at the music and say, ‘That is a creative arrangement of simple elements.’ Like, anyone could have played that. But nobody else did. I think that’s—
Hallett: Like Beethoven.
Copeland: Huh? [laughs] Like Beethoven!
* * *
Hot Head Show’s backstory is almost as tangled as its sound. Around 2004, upon returning to England from a one-year filmmaking intensive at the New York Film Academy, Copeland—then going by Jordan Bennett—launched a band—then known simply as Hot Head—with bassist Stan Dudley and a drummer who “was just generally being really flaky and stopped showing up to stuff. He was a great guy,” Copeland said, “We’re good friends with him still. But he was just very busy, and we were kind of coming to the conclusion that we were going to have to find another drummer.”
As luck would have it, in 2006 Copeland and Dudley found themselves in Brighton on the same bill as The Big Red Buttons and the Bitten Mittens, a rare circumstance in which their signature sound was not held against them. “We’re so used to all of the other bands having kind of nothing to do with us and the kinds of sounds that we’re making,” Copeland said. “But there was this band where both the bass player [Jonah Brody] and the drummer [Hallett] were just incredible. And this light was shining down from heaven, and I said, ‘I’ve got to have that drummer.’ And then at the end of it, I thought, ‘How am I going to convince them to break up the band and move to London?'”
But then an “alignment of the stars,” as Copeland called it, occurred. “Before the last song, Jonah, the bass player, announced, ‘This is actually the band’s last ever show because our cellist is moving to China.'” Spotting his opening, Copeland “just chatted me up basically,” Hallett said, “and he poached me.” Hallett moved to London soon after.
The next year Copeland traveled for a few months as videographer to reunited ’80s band The Police, a seeming tangent that figures into the chain of events that would eventually link Hot Head Show to Claypool by way of common crew. Jordan Copeland is also a son of Police drummer Stewart Copeland, who played in Oysterhead with Claypool (and, in full disclosure, for whose Web site I have done consulting work. I first heard of Hot Head Show through that Web site).
Some time in 2008 Hot Head became Hot Head Show and released a four-song EP titled after the breakneck track “Chopstickabean.” But soon Dudley left “because he had kinda professional commitments,” replaced by Hallett’s old band mate Jonah Brody. The arrangement was temporary, however, as “Jonah had to move to Bali to study shadow puppetry and gamelan, which sounds like it’s made up, but it’s totally true.”
Copeland was quick to differentiate, however, between Hot Head (Show) past and Hot Head Show present. “We’re still playing some of that material, [but] the band’s kind of evolved eventually over a long period of time. We were in a different state when it started . . . I wouldn’t really call that this band. This band,” Copeland said last June, “started about eight months ago, basically, when Vaughn moved to London.”
Vaughn Stokes, then 17 and living in Victoria, B.C., had been a fan of Hot Head Show for months. “I first heard Hot Head in 2008, back when it was still Hot Head,” Stokes said, “and I sent Jordan a couple of emails telling him that I liked his music.” So much so, in fact, that while he and Copeland kept in occasional contact for a year and a half, Stokes was memorizing Hot Head Show’s repertoire via Audio Hijack and YouTube. Although Brody’s move to a mango grove in 2009 left Hot Head Show without a bass player once again, “around about that time,” said Copeland, “this kid in Canada was sending us all of these messages saying, ‘You guys suck, but I think I can make you better.'”
He speaks plainly about it, but Stokes’s next move was one of which most musicians and non-musicians alike can only dream. “I found out they needed a bass player,” Stokes said. “I’d just graduated high school, and I was playing in a pretty shitty reggae band . . . I wasn’t too happy doing that, so I decided to move to London to play in a band that I wanted to play in.”
In October 2009 Stokes flew to England and crashed on Copeland’s couch. Three weeks later, he and Hallett moved into a flat together. Five months after that, Copeland, Hallett, and Stokes, together as Hot Head Show, launched into a two-week, ten-city tour of Europe, opening for Les Claypool.
When I caught up with the trio at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ, in June 2010, they were just four days into their second tour with Claypool, their first ever tour in North America, a two-and-a-half week journey traveling up and down the East Coast in a Winnebago. They’d been together for less than a year.
* * *
Rumpus: For the past couple of years, you guys have built a bit of a following around London playing clubs and house parties—
Rumpus: Roughly about how big would you say those audiences usually were?
Stokes: Not very?
Copeland: Not very.
Rumpus: Not very.
Copeland: Yeah, not—
Hallett: We had more support outside of London, I would say.
Hallett: That’s the impression we’ve had. The feedback from the Claypool tour in Europe was definitely a bit of a surprise.
Rumpus: That’s what I was wondering. Have you gone from, say, 50 people each night to a couple thousand? Numbers-wise, approximately, what does it seem like the difference is?
Hallett: Well, most gigs got about 30, 40, 50?
Copeland: Yeah, the London gigs, it varies a lot. Because in London you play little bar gigs where the only people there are people who have— None of the bands have any, like, fans, and there’s no, like, walk-through traffic. There’s no people who are just in the bar anyway, and so you’re kind of playing to just a couple of people that came down to see other bands as well as your own bands, so there’s those kinds of shows which where— They’re not— We played— We spent a couple of years playing those kinds of shows at first. We’re not really doing that any more. Thankfully. Now we’re trying to do more sort of parties and places where there are, you know, two, three hundred people there already.
Rumpus: So you’ve gone from shows ranging from 30 to a couple hundred to—
Copeland: We have— It is fair to say that we’ve recently experienced a rapid swelling in the sizes of the people that we are banging for.
Rumpus: And it’s about a couple thousand? Two? Three?
Copeland: Yeah, it’s about a thou— between one and two-and-a-half thousand.
Rumpus: So basically, in the last six, seven months, you’ve gone from 50 to a couple hundred to one to, say, three thousand—all around Europe, instead of just locally—and now you’re doing it again in the States and playing some of your own gigs. I realize it sounds like such a stupid question, but how does that feel for you guys? I mean, around this time last year, you were about to lose your bass player, you were living in Victoria, and now . . .
Copeland: Yeah. Yeah, it’s—
Hallett: It’s about fucking time.
Copeland: Yeah, about fucking time. —What’s that? How is the experience playing those shows different?
Rumpus: And in general, how does it feel to go from A to B so quickly?
Copeland: Well, touring is the big thing. Being on tour is something that I think all of us—well, that every musician wants to do. Playing shows every night and the kind of headspace that you get into when you’re playing a show in a different city every night, and then you’re doing nothing during the day except for kind of getting ready for that show every night, and backstage—
Stokes: Also the tightness, the musical tightness that—
Copeland: Comes from playing every night—
Stokes: —Yeah, is really beneficial to the general sound of the band.
Copeland: And the people— Having a thousand people out there in the dark is just a very different kind of— It’s a—in a way, sort of less personal than— It’s easi— It’s funny how you really—you don’t really have to think about performing differently. It just kind of brings a different kind of—
Rumpus: Well, you don’t have people who are literally right in your face like at a house party.
Copeland: Yeah, when you’re playing on— When we got back from the last Claypool tour in Europe, and we played this place in London, which was a little club in Dalston, and there were just, like, people. There was that guy there, and there’s that guy there. There’s his girlfriend there. There’s a few people sitting down right there, and they’re— We’re actually playing to these people. Whereas when you’re playing these bigger shows, you’re just playing to The People. And The People is just this single entity rather than a set of individuals. And what’s different about them is that the different cities are kind of individuals. You get into— It’s funny, on a tour the biggest thing that changes every day is the— Actually, no, that’s not even true. It’s funny how different cities feel different. Whereas when you’re playing a little club, it’s like— You think, ‘That guy’s really getting it, that guy’s not getting it quite so much, and she’s probably going to leave once we play this next really loud tune.’ But when you’re on the road, it’s like— Milan, they make a lot of noise. They clap in certain places. The Germans like to holler a lot. You know. The Swiss just get crazy all over the place. And here, diff— Well, we haven’t really done enough cities here to tell yet.
Stokes: It was, I’d say, maybe slightly overwhelming at first just because the sound of Hot Head Show as a trio is sort of more experienced at filling up a little club or a little bar or something like that. And our first date with Claypool in Europe was at Koko to about— What was it, 1800 people?
Copeland: Something like that, yeah.
Stokes: Yeah, and that was— That was the jump from 50 to 1800. And— Cuz just a few nights before that, we’d played at the Boogaloo, which is this little bar, and it was an acoustic set, and it was, you know, very small.
Rumpus: Do you find—The People as opposed to the individuals—do you find that you guys interact differently because of that difference? Do you feel any more together between the three of you as opposed to separate from everybody else?
Hallett: I kind of felt that the band was created in small pubs. It was designed so that, even if no one clapped, we’d feel good about what we just did.
Hallett: Because we’d, like, set ourselves little tasks during the tune, and we knew we had to nail certain things. So we could still walk away thinking, ‘Yeah, that was a good show,’ and then we could blame the audience if they didn’t get it.
Hallett: So the big shows, it was a real experiment to see if it would work—
Hallett: —and I think it did.
Rumpus: Well, actually, going on what Max just said, I was going to ask— Like Jordan said, it’s too early to really assess how American audiences are reacting; you’ve only played a couple shows. Though I understand Philadelphia the other night was less than enthusiastic, pretty small. Also, food poisoning for the two of you. [Stokes and Hallett had performed two nights earlier while ill.]
Rumpus: But you’re playing gigs in cities where you’re basically unknown. And you’re playing— Even with Claypool’s audience being bigger, they’re Claypool’s audience, as opposed to having come specifically for you guys.
Rumpus: So how do you get up there night after night, knowing that every night you’re basically starting from scratch, that you can either face an audience that might just ignore you, or they could actively disdain you. How do you put yourself out there?
Copeland: I would say— Something that we learned on the Europe tour pretty early on and what made it all a lot easier was that it seemed— We can be pretty sure that if somebody is into Les Claypool, they will dig Hot Head Show.
Stokes: Yeah, we have confidence in the crossover between Les Claypool’s audience and our potential audience.
Copeland: If you play your average place in London, there will be probably— Sixty percent of them, the people in the room, will kind of be, ‘Well, that’s kind of interesting what they’re doing. I don’t really get it, but I’m glad that somebody’s trying to push the boat out a little bit.’ And then they’ll be kind of maybe 20% of the people who just really don’t like it and leave, and then there’ll be this hardcore of guys—occasionally girls, but usually guys—who are just really, emphatically, enthusiastic about it. But on the Claypool tour, the entire crowd is populated by that little nugget of people who just kind of get turned on by a certain kind of musicality. And so— It’s a lot easier to go out to a Claypool crowd than it is to go out to just a bunch of random punters in some club in London. Basically.
Rumpus: How did you get the Claypool gig?
Copeland: I emailed him. The guy on the Police tour, [road manager] Brad Sands, was somebody who kind of works with my dad, and I became quite friendly with him. He then went on to manage Claypool. A lot of people come up to us after— Something that we’ve had over the years quite a lot is, ‘Wow, you guys must really be into Primus.’ And so I figured it would be a good— I figured I may as well, you know, see if he dug it—
Hallett: See if he’s into us.
Copeland: See if he’s into us, yeah.
Copeland: And so I just sent him a couple of tracks, and he was like, ‘Shit, I should have got you guys to come and open my New Year’s Eve show.’ I was in L.A. at the time. And so I sent him some more tracks and said, ‘Well, how about we open for you in London?’ And he said, ‘Well, I’ve one better than that. How about you just open up for me all over Europe?’ And so, we were very happy with that obviously. But between him saying yes and then all of the booking agents— All of the local promoters had to be persuaded to do that rather than get some local band who would have their own draw. So there was a long period where we didn’t know if—where it was kind of a maybe, and a really exciting maybe, but we didn’t want to go out and tell everybody that it was going to happen. And then it was only probably sort of four or five weeks before the tour that it was confirmed, and we were all allowed to get really excited.
* * *
Having upgraded recently from support band to Les Claypool to support band for Primus in toto, Hot Head Show has seen a rapid swelling in the size of their audience once again. The final stop on Primus’s nearly sold-out European tour was at Brixton Academy. Maximum capacity: 4900.
As for that nugget of people who can’t witness Hot Head Show live, the band releases audio and video on a semi-regular basis. The release schedule, however, Copeland admits, is “a subject of some confusion.”
Rumpus: At the shows you’re selling CDs.
Rumpus: In Europe you sold out halfway through.
Copeland: We did, yeah.
Rumpus: How many CDs was that?
Copeland: Well, we had 600 CDs that we went on the road with, and evidently it wasn’t enough. We just— We figured people wouldn’t buy the support band’s CD. But the support band’s CD was, at it turned out, pretty cheap and had some nifty little packaging, and so we sold lots of them. And we had to get more made in Germany. So we brought more with us this time.
Rumpus: I was going to ask how many are you starting with now.
Copeland: We’re starting with 1000 this time.
Rumpus: At the same time, though, you keep regularly releasing tracks online for free.
Rumpus: Is that most or all of what you’ve got finished?
Copeland: The release strategy is kind of complicated because none of us know what it is. It seems right to just make stuff available online because, you know, we just want lots of people to hear it. A lot of the people that express interest in Hot Head Show aren’t in London and can’t come to a show. They’re in—well, all over the place.
Copeland: In Europe or in America. And so we try to just kind of make music and videos available so that people can get into Hot Head Show without being able to actually come to a show.
Rumpus: And if you made an album— At what point does that stop? If you made an album, then what?
Copeland: Well, right now The Lemon EP we’ve got— That’s gonna come out some time soon as a physical release. It’s been available to download for a while as— What is it, six tracks? But then there’s a couple of other tracks, really good songs which we’ve been kind of saving for the physical release. And so I think that’s kind of the strategy we’re going to go with is to make stuff available online, and then the physical release has some extra shit on it, and some of the people might want to buy the physical thing.
Stokes: And we’re also thinking of maybe pressing up a few vinyls.
Stokes: Because we realize generally, these days, people who are really into music tend to buy vinyl. And people who aren’t into vinyl tend to expect music to be free. So the people that we’re catering to, our Hot Head Show demographic, we think, would probably like to buy a record. I know I would.
Rumpus: Have you guys been approached by a label at all yet?
Copeland: Mm-hm. Well, nobody that we particularly want to work with.
Rumpus: Do you want to work with a major label in general?
Copeland: No, we want somebody who is, who kind of specializes in the— I don’t know, we’re looking for— It’s a difficult thing because you want somebody who has a certain kind of—a certain amount of distribution muscle power, but also somebody who you feel is going to kind of—that you’re going to be a major item in their roster, and they’re going to kind of take you seriously and treat you—and consider you to be a big deal, rather than consider you to be just some little signing, and they’re concentrating most of their effort on bigger prospects. So finding that right balance. I think so. There are some people that we’re talking to. At Bonnaroo also. Maybe. Watch this space.
Although later than originally planned, a 7-inch (with downloadable option) double A-side of “Bummer” and “Hotel Room” was released in February, and an extended twelve-track edition of The Lemon is currently available for download with accompanying CD or on limited-edition vinyl. An EP of tracks recorded in Brighton this past spring may also appear in the future.
* * *
While we sat behind the Wellmont Theater that afternoon, Stokes rolled a cigarette. He has sharp eyes, a penchant for scaling walls, and enunciation that belies his age. Hallett, one of London’s Southbank Centre’s first Emerging Artists in Residence, draws out his words and wore a mane of wavy hair circling his face that gave him the appearance of a plush lion when he laughed. And Copeland, a conspicuous fan of visors and shirts that flaunt chest hair, has a way of spiraling into his sentences until he finds one that fits that may help explain Hot Head Show’s zigzagging sound. All spoke highly of their temporary R.V. home, in particular its spaciousness compared to its European counterpart.
Twelve months later, Hallett has tamed his hair while Stokes has untamed his; Copeland retains his unnatural affection for visors and hair shirts. As of this writing, they are back to bunking together in a European camper van, an accommodation downgrade I’d imagine brings some relief for reasons that sound made up but turn out to be true:
The American tour, emailed Copeland, “by all accounts was a successful thing, despite our van breaking down four times (twice due to tyre blow-outs on the freeway) and a near-death experience at Bonnaroo (the only one of us who happened to not have been sleeping in the van all day with the air-con on and the carbon monoxide alarms broken came back in the evening to find the other three literally convulsing in pools of vomit with glassy, unresponsive eyes and crippling headaches that lasted the next two days – had we all have slept in the van that day the outcome would have been very grizzly indeed, but having been dragged out into the evening air we recovered overnight and drove 900 miles to Philadelphia the following morning).
“The shows were great though,” he wrote, “both the Claypool shows and our own shows. American audiences have a different flavor to European ones, but the nutritional content is more or less the same. There seemed to be more people arriving at the shows knowing who we were than we found in Europe. We ate (often multiple) cheeseburgers every day, smoked an awful lot of Marlboros, met a lot of nice folks and got through about 800 CDs.”
Hot Head Show never made it back to the U.S. for a hoped-for “college tour or something” before Copeland and Hallett’s visas, “which were insanely difficult to get,” expired, but working Primus’s first European tour in more than a decade was certainly good consolation, and the repeat business is high praise indeed. Like any good Marmite band, Hot Head Show goes well with cheese and invites a thicker slathering with every bite.
* * *
Rumpus: One last question?
Rumpus: If money were no object, and you had the rights to play whatever you wanted, whose work, besides your own, would you most like to spend a concert or an album covering? Who would be your dream cover set?
Copeland: Interesting question.
Rumpus: I assume it’ll be different answers for all of you.
Copeland: Yeah. Shit. I would like to do a Raymond Scott tribute concert personally. You probably haven’t heard of Raymond Scott.
Rumpus: Scott from musical theater?
Copeland: You should look up Raymond Scott.
Rumpus: The musical theater Raymond Scott?
Copeland: No, no, Raymond Scott. He wrote music for kind of small ensemble jazz bands, in the ’40s and ’50s, and all of his music, was then bought— After he— He then gave up writing for live instruments and started writing electronic music in the ’50s. But after he made that transition, all of his earlier work for brass bands got bought up by Warner Brothers and used for all the Looney Tunes. So he basically provided the soundtrack for all the old kind of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and all that kind of stuff, but he never wrote it for that purpose. And a lot of the best music, I think, wasn’t used for those pieces. Just some of his most famous stuff is just associated with cartoons. Anyway, look into Raymond Scott. He’s very cool. That’s my answer. Vaughn?
Copeland: Vaughn will probably just do a Jaco thing.
Stokes: No, no, don’t— No, no, I wouldn’t. I’d say, it would probably either be Talking Heads, Remain in Light, because that album is so groovy, all the way through, and it would be just so fun to play, or the Mermen, Food for Other Fish, cuz it’s got a sick vibe.
Rumpus: So you’ve got whole albums already set up.
Stokes: Yeah, it’s all about the album.
Hallett: I think it’d be fun to try and perform Steve Reich’s music.
Hallett: Just cuz I reckon— I like listening to it, but I’ve never played it, and to play it must be so— It must spin you out so much. Just, like, minimalist. Just repetitive. With marimba music, just zone you out. It sounds really cool. And lots of drumming. Yeah.
Rumpus: Since Barry hasn’t come and grabbed you yet, one more quick question: What do you guys wish that people would ask you but they never think to ask you? Is there anything?
Copeland: “Hey, guys, do you want to tour Japan?”
Addendum: In August 2011, after 22 months, three international tours, innumerable club gigs and house parties, even less numerable cigarettes, and at least one near-death experience, this Hot Head Show—Copeland, Hallett, and Stokes—played their final show together in a closet of a club in South London. Stokes has returned to Canada to pursue college. He will be succeeded by his predecessor, former Hot Head Show bassist Jonah Brody.
Photo by Betsy Giuffrida