by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & B & lt;/span & en Grubin and Jeremy Reynolds talk differently these days. In separate, hurried phone calls made between breaks at their eco-friendly, sustainable restaurant jobs, the duo is quieter than they used to be. Not broken, by any means, or even resigned. Just quieter. Grubin still has his stream-of-consciousness conversation style that jumps between topics, pulling the listener along through a bright, impressionistic roller coaster of ideas. Reynolds still has a whip-smart analytical eloquence with the power to take vague guru-ish sentiments ("love attracts love") and flesh them into beautiful, holistic worldviews. It's been a long seven months, though, and they're tired. "Definitely feeling a little hemmed in," says Reynolds, "Restless." Portland's been nothing like Spokane.
The band has now spent almost as much time in the Rose City as it did in the Lilac, and the differences are stark. Spokane was a whirlwind of shows and friends and scene love. They hit the ground running. Originally a duo, they'd come to town from Los Angeles pursuing a guitarist friend (The Inlander's Joel Smith). When they got here, Smith had already worked out a few shows and found them a potential drummer in Seaweed Jack's Anthony Stassi. Arriving near the end of last January, they built enough steam by May to be voted a buzzworthy band in The Inlander's annual local music issue.
These last seven months in Portland have been the exact opposite of a whirlwind. Hockey hasn't played a single show. Apart from the members themselves -- Grubin, Reynolds and Anthony Stassi --no one knows the band even exists. The guitarist they'd hoped to drop into the lineup upon hitting Portland didn't work out. Neither did a second. They've spent most of their time in studio and in their own heads. Writing, recording. Listening to them speak, 'suffering' might also be a good verb. "We'd never recorded anything [of album quality] before," says Grubin, "To make it sound good to us, we sometimes had to record things three times."
They have, though, finished a record. They're calling it Mind Chaos. Reynolds characterizes it as "totally an expression of our art and totally uncompromised." Spoken by anyone else, "uncompromised" might come off as rocker flotsam. Meaningless. A clich & eacute;. For Hockey, though, remaining uncompromised is everything.
As a two-piece in L.A., Grubin -- the band's primary songwriter -- and Reynolds had been all potential energy. Grubin pontificated in his casual sing-speak style and occasional croon while Reynolds spazzed around stage, using his bass like an articulate bludgeon. Their inanimate partner -- an iPod -- cranked out canned beats with cold precision. There was something magic there, and unformed. After showcases set up by their manager, labels expressed interest. Ben Goldman, an A & amp;R representative with Epic Records, saw the duo as a moldable commodity. The studio wonks stepped in, signing Hockey to a development deal, then a second, then a third, eventually shuffling the band from Epic to Columbia. With no drummer and no guitarist, Grubin and Reynolds were sent to work with a handful of producers, including Talking Heads' former keyboardist Jerry Harrison. It might have been a dream come true if it hadn't been a total nightmare. It wasn't that the producers didn't have chops -- Harrison was brilliant, the band says. The ringers, though, were on the label's wavelength, not Hockey's. They didn't share Grubin and Reynolds' vision.
Everything since -- the spur-of-the-moment move to Spokane, the frenzy of shows here, the seclusion in Portland -- has been about the vision.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & M & lt;/span & ind Chaos is a fitting name for the conditions that created the album. They'd set up the move to Portland the same way as the move to Spokane. They'd already been talking with that guitarist. They'd lined up a practice space. They planned to crash on a friend's floor until they got a place. They'd be up and gigging in no time. One friend's floor became a second, though by the time they landed their own place they'd been in town more than a month. The guitarist search was going badly. They wanted to record, but they wanted album quality sound, so they had to buy gear. Then they had to learn to use it. Scrapping songs two and three and four times, the band worked hard to not go crazy from the redundancy of it. They had to care enough to not give a shit about dumping entire songs. They had to eviscerate ideas, cut them to ribbons, repackage them, rethink them. They had nothing to lose, so they got serious. They discarded the iPod entirely, then rigged up a sampling system to Stassi's drum kit, giving him control of the samples. Grubin -- who guards his voice like a cloistered nun -- let it out to play one day, forcing himself to sing, "four or five" notes higher than usual. "That's like James Brown range," he says. He's worried, though, about wearing it out, "I ain't James Brown, though, so..."
The resulting record is a little darker than the things they recorded in those gilded studios of yore. Born of a process of creation and abortion that leaves the recording with a controlled freneticism, it's undeniably truer to their aesthetic. Mind Chaos captures on tape what the band unleashes live. More importantly, it's a complete recording, not a demo. Unlike the half-band that got jerked around by record labels, the Hockey that whipped through Spokane and survived Portland feels whole. Indivisible.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & hough lacking a drummer and a proper lead guitarist at times in their history, lacking a home at others, Grubin, Reynolds and now Stassi have never lacked drive. It shows in what they've done with their short time in Portland. Nine songs in seven months, six written in Spokane but worked, discarded and reworked until they bear little comparison to the versions we caught live at the end of last summer. It's been hard as hell for the band members, but they're coming out the other side. They're changed people, Grubin says, but the same band.
"A different band? No," he says. "We're hopefully better. I hope we've been getting slowly better." He pauses. "As far as the live show goes, I have no idea. It could be shaky."
It'll help that they've finally found a guitarist: Brian White, Stassi's old bandmate in Seaweed Jack, will join them onstage at the Blvd and join them in Portland soon after. The pace is picking up.
"You have to create your own momentum," says Reynolds, "because that dream of being picked up and making the perfect record with the perfect producer just isn't going to happen. At least not for us." That's partially a function of the industry, and partially a function of the people Grubin and Reynolds became as a result of functioning within the industry. "We wanted something uncompromised," Reynolds reiterates.
From the five tracks available at press time, they haven't compromised at all.
Now all Reynolds wants to do is get out and play a show. "For our whole lives to have been wrapped around the art and to be totally without the other half of it -- the live performance -- it's weird," he says, "I got the boogie, I got the itch. If I don't get to use it, I feel all trapped up."
Hockey at Wig Bash with Shim, Das Llamas and Birdmonster at the Blvd. on Saturday, March 29, at 9 pm. $6. Call 455-7826.