The Lonely H Can't Stand Still
(l to r) Mark Fredson, Johnny Whitman, Ben Eyestone, & Eric Whitman. Photo by April Brimer.
The last time I saw The Lonely H, they were playing Rudyard's on a weeknight, capping an entertaining-yet-oddball bill of local bands that sounded nothing like 'em and pretty much playing to a quarter-packed house at best. And while I'd heard and been pretty impressed by the Washington State band's 2009 release, Concrete Class, with its rootsy, '70s-tinged California country-rock, I'll admit that I was skeptical. Some days it seems like retro-influenced rock bands are lurking on every damn corner, so what's so special about this one?
And then they started to play. In spite of the smallish, weekday crowd, few of whom were there to actually see the H play, the band played like they were playing to a SXSW showcase and several dozen high-profile label reps. They utterly roared, blasting out their earth-toned brand of throwback rock at full volume like they didn't care who the hell heard it. The Lonely H boys were ridiculously tight, in spite of guitarist Eric Whitman having his jaw mysteriously wired shut and not being able to sing all that well, and more than that, they looked like they were honest-to-God enjoying themselves.
Frankly, they were far, far better than I'd expected, even given the recorded stuff. Music-wise, they're not any kind of a "retro" band, not really, aping the classics 'cause they know it'll sell, but instead more a band that looks backwards for inspiration, grabs the best parts, and makes it into something surprisingly new. The songs were warm, endearingly rough around the edges, and soulful as hell, propelled along by Whitman and his brother Johnny on bass, monster drummer Ben Eyestone, and lead singer/keyboardist Mark Fredson's Joplin-esque howl. Beyond just my expectations, The Lonely H were better than the measly crowd they were stuck with that night, too; I halfway figured they'd never be back.
Happily, I was wrong. The band's come right back to Rudyard's, right where I saw them last time -- hopefully this time around there'll be more people watching and listening.
Before they made their way into town, though, Fredson was kind enough to answer a handful of quick questions about he and his bandmates; here goes...
The Lonely H plays Wednesday, February 17th, at Rudyard's.
SCR: First off, I'm curious where the title for _Concrete Class_ came from -- what's this I hear about the Eagles?
Mark: I wrote a song called "Concrete Classroom" right when we made the decision to leave college that consisted of me making amends to my mom for dropping out of college. It talked about how the road was just a grittier, different type of schooling that nonetheless was just as educational.
Though we never worked the song up as a band, the title stuck around, and when we started brainstorming album titles, we thought that Concrete Classroom was good but Concrete Class held more meaning, 'cause it can be thought of as our own type of education, our own rough version of classiness, or our own type of class not included in the upper class or lower class.
The last time you guys came through town, Eric [Whitman, guitarist] had his jaw wired shut and couldn't sing very well. What the hell happened? Is he better now, I hope?
His brother [bassist Johnny Whitman] suplexed him at a BBQ in Milwaukee as a party trick, but it backfired, and Eric landed on his face. He has been unwired for a while and he has learned how to sing again, for the most part.
How did a group of relative youngsters end up playing music that's so, well, "classic"-sounding? Where does that come from? You guys didn't always sound quite like you do now, right?
Natural progression, I guess. It's just the stuff we love, and it seeps in to our bloodstream and into our music. We pee classic.
Who does the songwriting for the band? Is it a group thing?
Eric and I usually write the songs together -- him and I on chords and melodies, and myself doing the lyrics. But it ain't an H song without all the rhythm section juice added in.
(Music courtesy of The Control Group and The Lonely H.)
The Lonely H
The Control Group
I love the harmonies, by the way, and was impressed to hear you guys do 'em live, even without Eric; do you have to really work on that part of the songs? It sounds pretty damn difficult to pull off...
The harmonies always start off pretty shaky, but after a certain number of shows, they progress to the level of mediocrity. I love harmonization, though, and hopefully we'll get to the point where they come naturally.
It feels like you guys have been through Houston quite a bit in the last year or so -- I think this is your third show here in about that time. Which is very cool, obviously, but man, it sounds like you're pretty much constantly touring. Is that the case? How do you guys stay sane doing that?
It's become so commonplace to us that we go more insane when we're not touring. They call it "post-tour depression," and I've come darn close to getting on Xanax because of it. Mostly 'cause you can sell that shit for top dollar.
Where's your favorite place to play, so far? Had any truly memorable shows in the recent past?
Nashville, baby. We've played two shows there in the past few days and we're playing a killer one tonight. It's the best scene in the country, regardless. If I wanted to describe it to you, I'd at least have to write a short story.
What's the scene in Port Angeles like? I'll confess that I know next to nothing about the town, so...
No one does. The scene is small and consists of mostly cover bands, so you can imagine why we wouldn't play there that often.
I know Concrete Class hasn't been out that long, but I have to ask: what's next? Any plans?
Another record in the next year, maybe some more country influences. But all in all, more of the same. Rocking the country hard and fast, and hard and fast, then faster, then harder. Then maybe slow for a second, but mostly hard and fast.
I seem to remember something about Lonely H Christmas music; did that end up happening?
We made and recorded a Christmas song called "Candy Canes and Sugarplums," which was really fun, and we're really proud of it. But it was mostly 'cause we had it hanging around and we wanted to have a final product in our hands. Who knows? It might be on the next holiday movie starring Jim Carrey. END