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Hardcore Crayons Return Triumphant With Zozzled

Hardcore Crayons | Triple Rock Social Club | Friday, November 21
Gimme Noise recently bro'd out with Minneapolis experimental rock trio Hardcore Crayons over some Hamms in the hopes of uncovering the secret to their staying power.

What we found was surprisingly simple: drummer Jake Kirkman, guitarist/vocalist Dan Chizek, and bassist/vocalist Dominic Hanft have built a band on a solid foundation of friendship and their shared laissez-faire, don't-give-a-fuck approach to maneuvering any aspect of being a musician -- other than actually making the music itself.

Rather than burning out on their own ambition, Hardcore Crayons has turned their band into what Jake sees as a "sanctuary." In anticipation of Friday's Zozzled release show at the Triple Rock, here's more from our conversation.

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"We've all been in bands where getting famous and trying to make it was a goal, selling tickets and selling records," Kirkman says. "This has always been the band that wasn't like that, so it's a sanctuary. There was no business attached to it. We didn't burn out, and I don't know if we ever will."

However simple their actual means of survival may be, their music does much to defy simplicity. The band hasn't been written about much in local press, and when they were, it was attached to genre-identifiers such as "post rock" and "ska." Listening to Zozzled, though, is like taking an oft-shaky ride on a tour through every genre imaginable; the album manages to encapsulate elements of jazz, dub, math and post-rock -- and those are just the obvious ones.

"The best bands are when you can't label them -- because then you're just fucking with the genres," says Chizek. Originally a drummer, Chizek relies on his percussionist instincts while playing guitar in Hardcore Crayons. "I always think about it as me drumming," he says. "I can control chords now, so it's cool. It's kind of a control issue, really."

Zozzled, which took two years of writing and problem-solving the songs by performing them live, was finally put onto a tangible recording by Adam Tucker at Signaturetone Recording in Minneapolis. The outfit were inspired to involve Tucker by recordings he had done with their friends Guzzlemug, a band born also born in Minneapolis about a decade ago. As Chizek puts it, Tucker's prowess was enough to convince them.

"We go in his studio," Chizek says, "and he's got a fucking poster with our name on it right there." He looks around the room in disbelief. "I never met the dude in my life."

When Hardcore Crayons presented Tucker with their desire to record with him, he had an immediate ideology of sound design in mind. "He told us from the start, I want people to hear your band like how I hear it at shows," says Hanft. "I want it to have as much of a live feel as possible." This automatic understanding of their aesthetic stemmed from Tucker's personal intrigue in the band. "It helps to have someone work on your music who actually likes it," Hanft continues. "He was super excited to work for us."

Zozzled is a departure from the band's previous releases in that it incorporates interludes into the album, placing them in between some of the six songs that made it onto the final cut -- "something in between those six songs that adds to it but isn't necessarily just filler," Jake concludes. The two interludes, "Completely Relevant: Part I" and "II," could be considered song-length. "Part I" opens with an off-kilter guitar riffing alongside a beautifully derailed saxophone, offering a small portrait of the many bits of jazz influence that make their way onto the album.

Zozzled includes contributions from collaborations with saxophonist-about-town Mike Lewis. Like Hardcore Crayons, Happy Apple identified as a jazz group but borrowed significantly from such unexpected genre bases as heavy metal and electronic.

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"Before we wound up playing with Mike Lewis, we were playing a show, and he was there," Hanft recalls of an early conversation between he and Lewis at Icehouse. "We were talking afterwards and I said, 'I'm glad that you got to see us play, because I thought you would appreciate it.' And he said, 'I'm sorry that it took so long for me to see you guys; people have been telling me to come out for a long time.'" He pauses for dramatic effect, as if in serious wonderment. "And I was like, who are these that are people telling you this?!"

Lewis will perform at Friday's release show also as a member of Damage Controller. "I think they've all played together in some sort of form, but I'm not sure if they've all played together as Damage Control," Hanft speculates. "I was talking to Martin Dosh for a little bit, sending him messages, but I think what did it was recording with Mike Lewis," he says. "I think he kind of gave his two cents to Dosh and said, 'We should do this.'"

The Crayons felt honored to feature Lewis on Zozzled. Their collective instrumentation cohabits organically and maintains a playful feeling while still delving into richer and more complicated territory. Lewis' spastic free jazz-style sax hangs luxuriously, often rolling over comfortably, and stretching out, in the balance of the Crayon's textbook three core rock-band instruments.

The music video for "WGYW" was released last week to a flurry of local attention. Edited and directed by Dom and shot by his friend and former classmate Alex Stevens, the video is entirely concept-driven and shows no notion of any actual musical performance. It's like Fight Club, but with hugs instead of pummeling.

Hanft initiated the concept, which began between he and a friend Kieran -- the first (substantially shorter) "hug-fighter" featured in the video. "At a party a long time ago, we were pretty drunk and we started hugging, and it became a hug fight," he explains. Thus, the "Fight Hug" aesthetic became a real music video idea, one which Hanft and Stevens crafted with subtle elegance and wit.

"WGYW," the song itself, sound triumphant at first before rewinding back into battle-mode, as the three musicians reassemble into a more math-y interlude. It lacks vocal presence until the very end of the track, which did nothing to deter us from listening and also proved not to be distracting when it did become involved in the landscape of the song.

"I was coming up with in my garage and jamming to it myself," Chizek says. "I was playing it through my pedals, and it was really this drone-y bullshit, but it was super fucking catchy and I brought it to these guys and it became this epic thing."

In the video, the deep bond between the three again becomes apparent, this time physically. (Whoa guys, your acting was really impressive, too.) "We're blood brothers, is what we are," Hanft declares. "We made a pact, and the pact said, if one of us leaves, the other two have to track them down and kill them."

"I still want to be - I don't want to sound pretentious; I still want to be taken seriously as a musician," Kirkman contemplates aloud, "but I don't want this to be taken too seriously." He collects his thoughts momentarily then just laughs. "This is just three guys getting together and dicking around. We are constantly laughing at each other."

"I want to stay that way until we die, and then I want about fifty years later for it to blow up," Hanft affirms.

Chizek cuts in loudly above the rest. "And then they can treat it like they do Nirvana. Like, oh my god, how did you do it like that? Who fucking cares? He's just yelling his balls off, doing what he does. Just let him be."

After the Nirvana reference, we're just wrapping up our chat (and collecting cans), and they're wondering in somewhat adorable awe how they've managed to collect so many fans over the years without being written about or actively seeking PR.

"I really hope it's word of mouth that helps people find out about us," Chizek says.

"If we play a cool show and people show up and like it, that's validation," Kirkman says. "It's not like... we like that. That's why we do it. It's a creative outlet, and if people like it, great. If they don't, great."

Back to that old approach. Again, after ten years, who can argue?

Hardcore Crayons release Zozzled. With Damage Controller, Czarbles, and Tender Meat18+, $5/$7, 8 p.m., Friday, November 21 at Triple Rock Social Club.

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