There was a time in the early 1980’s when I loved MTV and the videos they played, an era when it seemed rock music was still moving in new and exciting directions. The pop and new wave bands then had the ability to echo our own wide-eyed enthusiasm for the times and of the heartbreaking losses in love we went through and put it to terrific pop tunes. Well many listened but few learned, 1-800-BAND are some of the ones that took really good notes. They learned to channel a similar romanticism and inject it into fun and undeniably catchy songs similar to the Pretenders and The Cars. 1-800-BAND do what so many rock n’ roll bands wish they could accomplish: they make something old sound new again!
Interview by J Castro
Ok Al, let’s start off by telling me who’s all in the band and what you all do to earn your place?
AL: Al Huckabee on guitar and vocals, Polly Watson on keyboards, Robbie Kongress on bass and Aaron Carroll on Drums – all positions formed by the cooling of molten lava, no one earned a thing.
Now a bit about your musical careers, I know you were all in other musical endeavors prior (and maybe you’re in other bands now) so can you give us a brief rock n’ roll resume?
AL: Sure, 1-800-BAND is made up of former members of the Hong Kong, a great new-wave-y Brooklyn band, Crimson Sweet which was a scrappy art-damaged punk band which toured incessantly for about eight years and Another Saturday Night which was a raucous rock n’ roll outfit. Somehow out of the murky overlap of these progenitors emerged the clear pop stylings of 1-800-BAND.
The band is based in Brooklyn NY. Based on your experiences, what are the best and worst parts about being in a band in a HUGE city like New York?
AL: Best part – there are countless clubs, countless bands and endless opportunities.
Worst part – there are countless clubs, countless bands and endless opportunities.
You guys did a great video for the song “Diver Blue” off of your EP of the same name (Almost Ready Records). Have you seen the comment on Youtube by the guy that said you were “careless” about the senseless violence in it? What do you think of that comment? Do you think any band or public figure has any kind obligation to try and steer things away from that sort of thing?
AL: Thanks, I’m glad you like the video. It was collaboration between the band and the extremely talented David Cavallo. Dave not only made the Diver Blue video but also the video for Would You Believe It from our debut LP. He’s also the cinematographer for Jodoroski’s Dune, which is an amazing documentary I can highly recommend for anyone who enjoys movies, stories or life. I’ve not seen the comment you refer to but I suppose the idea is that violence in a work of fiction is somehow a causal link to violence in real life. I reject this idea. I think fiction, fantasy and art are the safest ways known to mankind to explore, understand and form opinions about very difficult real-life problems.
If the commenter is looking for ‘careless’ decisions that give rise to Americans shooting each other dead in the street s/he should check out District of Columbia v. Heller 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and other similar lower court decisions. You bring up a great question about the obligation of bands and public figures. I think if 1-800-BAND were writing school curricula or crafting public policy we would all be in a lot of trouble but we aren’t; we write pop songs and make rock videos. We’re artists, we make art.
What sorts of things typically inspire 1-800-BAND songs? Can you remember the most unusual person or place that inspired you to want to write about?
AL: We’re inspired by the same things that everyone else is: romance and having a great time! One thing I love about songwriting is how small, strange, disparate ideas can all coalesce and work together to form a song. In the song “Diver Blue,” Rob came up with that idea and the rhyming line “Change for a two, Diver Blue” as in change for a two-dollar bill. I love that because everyone knows what a two-dollar bill looks like but no one has one in their wallet right now. Two-dollar bills are cool but why? Our protagonist wants the girl but she’s with another guy so he has to break them up: change for a two. So the chorus is about this specific mundane piece of currency which by itself is perhaps nothing to sing about but in the context of the song its catchy, it rhymes and you can feel the heat of the underlying desire.
Or check out Polly’s lyrics in “Many Happy Returns”
“Sky and city receding
Curs whipped and bleeding
I’ll never tell you goodbye
I’ll never tell you goodbye
So watch the city burn
And many happy returns”
This is the complete opposite, this is not about a piece of paper in your wallet, this is like the end of the word! But if you can sing along with it and you can feel passion in it then it can rock.
You guys did a tour of the East Coast/Mid West earlier this year. How did you feel that went? If you could do it over again is there anything you would do different?
AL: The tour went really well, thanks for asking. Touring is always an adventure, it’s serendipitous and no matter what happens you know the day is going to end in a party so it’s pretty great. The shows were really well attended which helps a lot. The only things I would do differently is tour more.
What are some of the things people do at your shows that aggravate/distract you the most while you’re playing? (example: texting, or taking pictures, stuff like that)
AL: Ha, that’s a great question – yeah the taking pictures or video thing is pretty funny because it sort of postpones life right? Wouldn’t people rather enjoy hearing and seeing the show in real time instead of recording it for…for what? Do they go home and watch it? I have no idea.
If a year from now 1-800-BAND were celebrating the best year the band has ever had, what particular achievements would you be celebrating?
AL: There is a kind of diversification of roles that comes with increasing success; when you first start a band you do everything yourselves (xerox the flyers, silk screen the T-shirts, change the oil in the van) but as things progress and move forward you can hand off some of those projects to people who specialize in those fields, so your T-shirts look better and the band can concentrate more time and energy on musicianship and songwriting. That’s the achievement I’m hoping 1-800-BAND can celebrate soon.
If you could experience the feelings of hearing your favorite band for the first time, what band would it be and what about the experience changed you forever?
AL: For me I think that would be hearing the Los Angeles band X for the first time.
I’d never heard anything that was so passionate, nuanced, and hard driving at the same time. They really rock but the music works at a lot of levels, it’s hook-y like pop music but the songs are about desperation and just barely getting by it’s incredibly creative and expressive but very accessible at the same time and it also serves as a great document of the time and place it was created. It really blew my mind.
Where can one go to hear the band or to purchase some of your tunes?
AL: Your local record store or your favorite digital music source.
What lies ahead in the near future for 1-800-BAND?
AL: Mitch Easter is producing our next effort so we’re really excited to work hard to bring our best in terms of songwriting, and musicianship. With each of our records, we’re reaching wider and wider audiences and that’s a really good feeling – we just want to continue to make records that mean something to us and that people can connect with.