For the former members of Ten Pound Machine, a band they joined after answering a newspaper ad around nine years ago in the East Village, the two are operating on a refreshed and refocused vision throughout the bars and clubs of Brooklyn and NYC.
Fresh out of the recording studio for their debut album Sack Lunch, they are ready to hit the road.
I met up with Chris and Ryan at the first of their three-show residency at the Trash Bar, located at 256 Grand St. in Williamsburg, last week to discuss their band and the new album.
Where are you guys from?
Howzr: I’m from Indiana, actually. A small town, like an Andy Griffith Show type of thing.
Chris: The Malachis.
Howzr: Yeah, (laughs) the Malachis, the Children of the Corn; all that’s really true.
Chris: He made corn whisky when he was eight. (laughs)
Howzr: You had to survive. It was tough out there. But I moved to New York to really pursue music and have an adventure.
Chris: I grew up in Brewster, New York, and always just loved the city. I came down to Manhattan and tried out for a bunch of bands, and one band was Ten Pound Strike, and I met Howzr through them in a small ad in the Village Voice. I just went down there and the first tryout was them, and a stripper walking around with her nipples on fire.
Howzr: Dan, the bass player of the band, was kind of casually dating this dominatrix-type of stripper and she was hanging out at our rehearsal. She had this trick where she would take those soft paper matches, tear one end, put one on her nipples and dance around with them on fire.
Chris: She’d dance around with a knife, and I was just like, “Rock and Roll is what I want to do.” I came down when I was 18. I’m 27 now, so I’ve been playing in the scene for a while.
So you came down, and you were playing with Ten Pound Strike. What happened with them?
Chris: I was playing drums with Ten Pound Strike. We would play at CBGBs all the time, we pretty much played all around the Northeast, but there were some drug issues with some members.
Howzr: The usual thing where the band breaks up and everyone had different ideas about direction and some people just got burned out. So we took a hiatus for about a year and Chris went traveling and I kind of hunkered down and did some writing. When we got back together again, we decided we would form as a two-piece.
So where did you go, and when did you come back?
Chris: I came back in 2011. But, I went away for about a year and I went backpacking through Southeast Asia on a shoestring and worked at a Cambodian hospital. Then I rode a bicycle across the United States for a children’s school and did a lot of organic farming. I just taught music over there for a bit. And then I worked on some pot farms in Northern California because I met a guy while I was working at the hostel and he said I could go out and work with him on the Golden Triangle. I made a good amount of money doing that in two months, so then I came back and gave Howzr a ring. I was like, “dude, I’m back let’s do this.”
What were you listening to?
Chris: While I was away, I was listening to a lot of blues.
And what about you, while he was away on his gypsy adventures?
Howzr: I was really just, if you use the old blues expression, just woodshedding; writing a lot and I was working on my voice. I thought that when we reformed, that it would make more sense if one of us sang because we were the creative center of the band anyway. I just really got in my head that anyone who writes the songs should sing. It makes more sense, emotionally, to sing something that you wrote.
Did you know when you broke up that you would start a band?
Howzr: Oh yeah. I think the whole idea was to just take a little hiatus and when he got back we would reform. But when he actually came back and a year had passed, our minds were in different spots. We decided that instead of getting the whole gang back together and starting where we left off, that just the two of us would get back together with a fresh view on things. It’s kind of easier to change directions when you’re a smaller group than when you are with four or five people.
Well, you’re probably the smallest possible group.
Howzr: Yeah, unless you’re like Bugs Bunny and you’re doing the stomping.
Chris: You have those cymbals in your legs (laughs).
Is it difficult being a two-piece?
Howzr: I think as a two-piece, I find it pretty easy. If you think what a song is really fundamentally, it’s really some guitar chords, vocals of course and a driving drum beat. If you have that then you have the smallest possible band you can be. That’s all you really need. I think the benefit of that is you can really focus on what the core of the song is, and I think a lot of challenges that we had in the past is that everyone gets in the studio space to practice, and everyone’s really loud and screaming.
After the fact, you say that sounds great, and then six or twelve months later you go to record it and you start listening to it a little more carefully you notice the accent marks on the drums or he’s missing the accent on guitar. You try to catch that stuff early, or maybe you catch 80 percent of it, but there are still missing pieces. So as a two-piece, what we try to do is just really take advantage of the fact that there’s a lot of air and space in between notes.
Who did you look to for inspiration for the new project?
Chris: We really just wanted to give it a try, because we like similar stuff. We’re friends first and foremost. We’re always hanging out, having a beer and we like the same kind of music. Just blues. Blues rock. Stuff that’s in your face, loud and boisterous.
Howzr: Yeah, a lot of garage rock from the 60’s, like the Sonics, the Kinks and The Kingsman.
So you are ready to release your new album, Sack Lunch. How did you record this album?
Chris: We did it at the Vault Studio with this guy Dan McLoughlin, he was in a band called The Push Stars back in the 90s. I’ve known him because I was the studio drummer at his studio, but he knows old school bands and he’s a great engineer and producer. Plus he’s a bass player, and he’s the one that laid down the tracks for the bass lines and he’s just a good friend. He has a great ear and had great suggestions. We did it through Pro Tools, but we did it all in two or three takes. If we didn’t get it in that, we just threw it away and came back another time to do it again. We really wanted it to just sound live and raw.
Howzr: We treated the computer like it was a tape machine. Most of it was live. We played live together in the studio and we didn’t layer it. We did it one track at a time.
Look for Slim Wray’s debut album, Sack Lunch, on November 20 and join the band at their CD release party at The Bowery Electric, located at 327 Bowery in Manhattan. The band plays at Trash Bar again on Aug. 22 and 29 with a show at Pianos at 158 Ludlow St. in Manhattan on Sunday Aug. 25.