Hobosexual is a band that is hard not to like. Their throwback rock n roll sound is deceptively simple. I say deceptively because their main songwriter, Ben Harwood, is a classically trained composer. If you listen very closely, you can hear that training behind some of their best songs, especially on their newest record Monolith. The band serves as a conduit to that thick 70s and 80s sound for a new generation.
Hobosexual is a duo, comprised of Harwood and drummer Jeff Silva, but their sound is big… way big. Chimera recently say down with Harwood to discuss their newest record, their hometown of Seattle, their line of action figures, and his undying love of AC/DC.
How did Hobosexual form?
Ben Harwood – Jeff Silva and I were in a band years and years ago and the band broke up and we started playing out together as a duo when it got down to the worst of times. We would play 40 minutes of music with these loose riffs that we would mess around with and made up lyrics and the such. I ended up getting pulled in a band called Ice Aged Cobra and Jeff and I went our separate ways. I ended up touring with Ice Aged Cobra for almost a year and a half, spent a lot of time on the road, and played bass in that band. When I got home, I decided I wanted to start a project with one of my good friends. We really just wanted to start a band that was really trashy, garage-rock band. We started working together in his basement, at one point we came up with the name Hobosexual. Hobosexual was a name that I was just… given by my friends. I had this whole thing about being retired by the age of 32… I had the white boat shoes and the comfy pants, and the cardigan.. Which really just was comfy clothes carried over from tour to stay warm. I just loved White Russians, and Scotch and all that just fell into place. I also loved the name because I came from such a diverse family. I grew up poor and on welfare. I have several gay family members who also thought the name was great because of the poverty in my past and my environment. So we started Hobosexual. And… literally out of nowhere, we start getting gig offers. We created a Facebook page, and it was weird, people just immediately knew what we were about, and were intrigued, and excited. We got asked to open right out of the gate for a band called Japanther. We opened for Japanther and some of the cool hipster rags around town were doing recommended shows of the week, so wherever we went we were getting recommended by these magazines. We were moving right along and my friend, and band mate, had some unexpected issues crop up… so he had to pull out of the project. I already had Jeff in mind because a lot of the riffs that we were using Jeff and I had already used in the previous project. Jeff pulled in , and we started playing out together. We ended up doing this big Fall festival called Reverb Fest in Seattle where they pick a bunch of up and coming bands to play. We got stuck on this tiny stage about a mile from where all the cool bands were playing. But, everyone came to our show, all the magazines and media outlets, the place was so packed that people couldn’t move inside. There were articles about how insane it was at our show. After that, Hobosexual took off.
The band is from Seattle, which is a huge rock and roll town, how has the city influenced you?
Ben – This is kinda hard to say, but I should just tell the truth… I always remember reading about Jimi Hendrix, and when he was getting his start in Seattle, he just couldn’t get it going, no one dug what he was doing. So, you had to go out to come back in. In my case, I struggled for years as a musician. I went to school for music. My plan was to educate myself and learn composition. I had a mission, I wanted to try to succeed as an independent musician writing original works, in the rock n roll world, with the knowledge of classical works to inject those things together into a deceptively simple approach where it sound simple, but there is a lot more going on than you realize. In Seattle, there is a lot of obsession in the town with the dregs of what is happening in the New York scene. If you look at some of the communities around Seattle now, for instance, Boise and the outskirts of Portland, those are the dregs of Seattle culture. The problem is that the whole culture has always been more obsessed with fashion than it is real musicality. I think this goes for any metropolitan city, the deeper you go into the city… where things get more expensive and more cosmopolitan. The rock n roll, and the music of Seattle, where the most incredible musicians and minds came from, were the outskirts of the city, really in the suburbs. Those are where your Nirvana’s and your Sleater-Kinney’s and your ass-kicking bands came from. The downtown parts of Seattle and the parts associated with the scene…. There is more of an obsession lately with hip hop and electronic music, and easy-listening light music in Seattle as a whole. Hobosexual is one of the only examples of a band from the last 10 years in Seattle that we have straddled all of the different mediums and have been reputable within all of them. Meaning we get airplay on KISW which is the big rock station, we’ll get airplay on 107.7 the End, which is the alternative station, and then we’ll get play on KEXP which is the college super-hipster, indie station. We’ve also been featured constantly in The Stranger, and The Weekly, not-so-much anymore with the shift in music listening preferences on the mainstream, but it’s been interesting to take that ride through all of that. In retrospect, looking back on how I came into this, and how I’m coming out of it, and looking back after the release of the third LP, I think…disappointingly so…. Seattle is a little too obsessed with the current, narcissistic, wrapped up in itself culture and very obsessed with self-affirmation. The music you hear is more Kendrick Lamar and Thundercat, and understand that those guys are tremendous, but that’s not what I signed up for at the age of 14. What your hearing now is what I signed up for.
You’re newest record Monolith feels as though it is ingrained in 70s and 80s rock n roll. Was that intentional, or just an amalgamation of influences?
Ben – With rock n roll, the one thing that I have always wanted to do was preserve a conduit to whatever it is that I am learning and trying to put out. The things that I am projecting are my own riffs that are obviously saturated in some time frame. It’s not a tribute record, we aren’t trying to sound like anyone, what we are trying to do is reinvent the way people listen to rock n roll.
You’ll notice the lyrics are a bit nonsensical… as I’m writing, I’m trying to take whatever nonsense there is and write it down and I don’t want to get too literal with it, because if you do that today than you’ve stepped into cliche, which your already kind of towing. The whole goal is pure viscera, to align with that drive that you get when your writing. The tough thing, when you part of the band, there are some aspects of the record where we are just like…. ‘That’s badass’, and then your average hip-hop listener is looking back saying ‘oh that’s cute, look what those old guys did’.
Then they’re is this group of people from young kids all the way to adults that just get it. I don’t know why some people get it and some don’t. This goes to the album artwork as well. I’ve had some tell me how awful it is, and then others that are blown away and love it.
Listen to Monolith (Here)
What is your songwriting process like?
Ben – I usually hear everything all at once as its there in my brain. I’ll start taking bits and pieces of it and working on the bare bones with Jeff. We turn that into a more coherent song. Because we are a duo I have a pedal that I can do looping and structure-building on the fly. Making a four or five piece out of a two piece. For in studio stuff, usually for the big records, I track the skeleton of the idea and isolate those into a set of cans for Jeff to listen back to. He plays the drums with as big a microphone setup as we need for what he is doing. Then we just layer and build all the other stuff on top of that. With Monolith we got really nuts. We got to points with “VHS or Sharon Stone” where we were layering 5 and 6 takes overtop of each other to make these explosions when each hit happens. “Cincinnati Juggernaut” has a piano sequence that literally took a day. I cracked open a grand piano and dropped a bunch of keys and chains on the strings turning the piano into an analog synth. Just tons of crazy stuff… we were doing a bunch of overdubbing, like Phil Spector style, and getting it built up into what you hear. We are always going for something different than what we did before… we got done with this one and we thought it would be unperformable in any capacity as a duo. We could not find a way to pull it off. I called up some buddies and created a five piece “Hobo-Voltron” to get Monolith perform-able. I now have a quintet to perform the record live and get it to where it sounds more truer to the record.
I absolutely love the fact that you sold Hobosexual action figures at one point…
Ben – We did those because nobody else had done it. I got fairly confident with photoshop and ended up making these one-off Hobo-action figures and they sold out in a week. I made 10 of them at $40 a piece. They were great promotional pieces, people saw them for the first time in 2012 and they freaked. We got them finished and at our first show we had them at the merch table and people were buying them. I had this crazy idea where we made vehicles and a Series two with bad guys and we actually produced them. They sold out very quickly.
What are your main musical influences?
Ben – Both of my parents were classically trained, so growing up I had piano lessons in the background constantly. My mom and dad both taught lessons in the house. I really didn’t want anything to do with music because I was around it all the time when I was a kid. My mom played the organ for the church. I was able to get melodies and harmonies ingrained in me at an early age. It was when I was in 6th grade camp that I was listening to soundtracks like Ghostbusters. I was a little late to the game listening to a record from 1984 in the 90s, but we were private school kids. I had just discovered C&C Music Factory, so I was listening to them constantly. So I show up to 6th grade camp, and my camp counselor was named Chris. He was like this awesome, total dirtbag. He had this huge ghetto blaster in our cabin where he would blast this hard rock. I’ve never really heard anything like it in my life. I finally asked him what it was and he was like ‘this…. Is the new AC/DC, this is The Razor’s Edge the greatest album ever made’. And I’m just standing there listening to it, and kept thinking to myself ‘this is awesome…’. 6th grade camp was done, and after that I went out and bought anything with AC/DC on it. I got totally addicted to that band, like religiously. After that I got into various Hair Metal bands like Warrant, and Firehouse. Then I started branching out and got into Soundgarden. I love Filter and Everclear’s first records. Sparkle and Fade is a great record from cover to cover. I kind of circled back later and got back into classical music and got more interested in it. I decided I wanted to go to school for that and then come back and pursue rock n roll when I got older. I was in school at the apex of Soundgarden and Nirvana. I remember running around the high school in 9th grade and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on and the floor of everything that was rock n roll just fell out. After high school I to college and earned a degree in Classical Composition.
Have you ever wanted to flex those Classical Music chops at all?
Ben – I do it more than you might realize in the rock n roll music that we do. Also – a lot of live stuff with layering and modes, what’s gonna work, what’s gonna clash stuff like that. There is a lot that finds its way into this. I have, to some extent, wanted to do more with Classical Music for sure. But I haven’t found enough of an inspiration that has created any work. As I get older it may be something I find myself falling into.
What’s next for Hobosexual?
Ben – We’re doing Timber Winter Music Fest, which is probably the biggest music festival in the Pacific Northwest. It’s been going for about three years and it’s really built itself up. We’re doing a headliner there on Saturday night. After that I don’t know. We just got test pressings for a limited 7” that we are doing with Mike McCready of Pearl Jam’s label HockeyTalkter. That should be coming out in the next couple of months. The title is Tag Team Wrestling Champions. The cover looks just like that of a title belt, and I am going to put little belts in the baggie with it so you wear the 7” as a real title belt.
For more on Hobosexual check out:
Interview by Brian Furman