What the hell is NO-FI SOUL REBELLION? I can honestly state, completely free of all hyperbole and rhetoric, that this genre-defying two-man show from the weird side of the Missoula tracks is unlike anything you've ever experienced before. Although it is a little like something you've probably done yourself at home when you thought no one was watching. (Find out what I mean this Saturday night at the B-Side.)
Mark Heimer (aka Chocolate Powder) is the man behind the No-Fi Soul Rebellion's gleeful assault on the twin evils of boredom and pretense. A Fairbanks, Alaska native deposited in Missoula to attend college, he has been playing bass since he was 15 and was in numerous bands before hatching the idea for No-Fi.
"I never felt like I got to express myself creatively to the fullest extent," he says of his collaborative musical ventures. "And so when I was about 18, I started writing my own music using two stereo tape decks, doing shoddy multi-tracking and just kind of writing songs as I went along. Then in 2001, the opportunity arose for me to record my own CD [now known as The Chocolate Demos] and so I did that but I really wanted to figure out some way to perform it. I enjoy songwriting, but I really enjoy performing, too."
He considered getting yet another band together but recoiled at the thought of the inevitable personality and schedule conflicts, artistic differences and other associated hassles. Then he hit upon the notion of performing to pre-recorded music, karaoke-style -- only with his own music backing him up. Writing a boom box off as way too normal, Heimer conceived the Soul System.
"I thought about what I do when I'm listening to songs in my room, you know, when you're rocking out and dancing around and playing air guitar. And I though about how I could make that air guitar thing realized."
Though you really have to see a No-Fi Soul Rebellion performance to believe it (seriously), it basically goes down like this. The music you hear is mostly pre-recorded original mutant soul/funk/hip-hop played through a Discman encased within the hollowed out, stringless bass worn and "fake-played" by Heimer's co-conspirator and hype machine, Chris Baumann. The lead vocals emanate from the bespeckled, sweaty, contorted head of Heimer himself -- yes, the young man flailing his arms and bruising the crap out of his knees before you. Striking an alarmingly schizo pose in green basketball jersey, tie, sensible slacks and sweat bands, Heimer whoops, hollers, sings and works the crowd like a tent revival evangelist, sacrificing body and soul for the greater glory of your entertainment and sound salvation. Sometimes, without warning, he'll pick up another, traditionally functional bass guitar and rip the bejeezus out of the proceedings with a live P-funk-inspired lead bass attack.
"I've been in lots of other bands and have seen lots of bands play," he says, "and the thing that strikes me most is how so many bands will sacrifice performance for musicality, which can be really boring, in my opinion. I decided to reverse that, to sacrifice musicality -- the option of having a live band -- for the performance aspect."
And so Heimer completely spazzed out.
"Yeah, exactly. I knew it would look ridiculous, but that's all part of our thing. I get really involved with the crowd. I yell out. I'm dancing and putting my all into it, really putting on the show. I mean, it's neat to see people playing instruments, but you can imagine that. I want something that people aren't expecting."
Can't you just imagine the mental confusion and attitudinal anguish of an audience the first time they are confronted by the tender mercies and whacked musical and performance sensibilities of Heimer and his Soul Rebellion storm troopers? Missoula nightlifers have succumbed to the seduction. But what about a new audience in a strange new land?
"They kind of go -- 'huh?' But I respect that. The first time I'm playing for a crowd, they can be that way. I'm not going to get on them about not dancing or whatever. I'm just going to keep on with it, giving them the performance they've never seen, that element that they've missed out on. At first they don't really know what to make of it, but by the end, they're pretty receptive. And I love playing for new audiences. It gives me lots of nervous energy, which helps me do my thing."
Heimer laughs when I ask him if they ever have problems with the CD player skipping.
"Oh, heck yeah. All the time. But it always makes it feel more like a real band. You run the risk of malfunctions anytime you play live. An amp will blow up or a string will break or a guitar will break in half. So it's just like any other band. We play it off. Sometimes we just keep going. I'll just belt it out a cappella and Chris will maybe come in and back me up with something. We just keep the energy going, you know? That's pretty much it. I don't mind the mistakes. It shows we're human."
At home, Heimer continues to write new material (the EP Like Pushing Rope Up a Wall is out now and a new full-length is on track for a June release) and work on improving the Soul System.
"We're actually upgrading from CD player to mini-disc so that should basically be skip-proof," he enthuses. "Like indestructible."
He's also involved with booking a series of two-week tours for No-Fi throughout the region with the intention of winning over followers to the cause. Though they've played a number of times in Great Falls and Bozeman (and landed a spot at last year's Musicfest Northwest festival in Portland), the group has made few other Northwest inroads. Heimer says that's about to change.
"The name of this tour is the Magic Grow Tour. It's named after those little capsules that you put in water to make foam monsters and stuff. This is our first tour, and right now we're this untested thing. We don't know what we're gonna get once we put it into the tepid waters of the outside world. We'll see what we get. Maybe it will blossom into a dinosaur. Or maybe it'll just be a chicken."
Back from Japan -- Singer/songwriter/guitarist TAMARAS calls Hollywood, Calif., home. But her restless feet and desire to meet new people through the conduit of song keeps her very much on the move, pounding the concrete of the Northwest and finding her way into coffeehouses, colleges and small clubs, happy to show up somewhere she's never been with an opportunity to reach someone new. She makes her way into Spokane's Tryst coffeehouse for a free, all-ages show this Saturday night.
Tamaras describes the music she performs as "funk/rock/soul aggressive acoustic." Basically, you've got a young woman with a guitar, a microphone, a rich, penetrating voice and a head full of deeply personal rhymes set to music. She spent nearly two months this winter touring Japan with a three-piece guitar-bass-drum combo ("It was a big, beautiful experience," she says) but is back in the States once again, setting up solo in just about every remembered and forgotten corner of Washington and Oregon. A live album of her final Japan show (called Ichi Go Ichi E) should be ready by showtime. Ask her about it.
Poison Fingers -- THESE ARMS ARE SNAKES -- guitarist Ryan Fredericksen, bassist Brian Cook, vocalist Steve Snere and drummer Joe Preston -- call Seattle home (though Preston originally hails from Spokane). The quartet is currently in the early ascension phase of its collective musical career, although most of the members have done significant time on the Seattle scene as components of other noteworthy underground bands such as Botch, Kill Sadie and Nine Iron Spitfire. Between gigs at Chop Suey and Graceland, the band is recording tunes from its intense, aggressive yet melodic repertoire (to my ears, they sound reminiscent of Sparta or ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead) while plotting to take their frenetic live show further and further out on the road.
Led by charismatic frontman Snere, These Arms Are Snakes fairly explode onstage, descending ultimately into a chaotic maelstrom of sound, perspiration and inertia. They've got an all-ages date in Spokane at Sol & eacute; this Saturday night with a bevy of fine local acts, a show most definitely worth checking into.