Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How Dare You

On the occasion that the stars stumble into some sort of alignment and the four dudes in Orlando, FL's How Dare You are offered an opportunity to tour and perform with one another every night to audiences across the country—the assumed minimal aspirations of most musicians—guitarist and singer Elliot Meyer would have to carefully consider the offer.

“I think you might get a different answer from some of the other guys,” he explains, “but, for me, it's hard to answer that. Obviously, if everything falls into place and we could make it work, it's something to at least consider. But it's hard for me to see that happening.”

It's not that the band isn't capable of achieving such a level of success. In fact, the band's second full-length The King, The Clown and the Colonel could be one of the best punk-rock albums of the year. Released on Anchorless Records, it includes ten anthemic, sing-along songs, each of which sounds the way an old bottle cap looks: sharp and shiny, but with a little rust around the edges. Considering their knack for crafting songs that balance bristle with brilliance, if its members were willing to sacrifice their comfort and financial stability, How Dare You could easily become one of those lucky bands that “make it”—or at least make enough money to keep recording records and continue touring.

But How Dare You isn't as interested in “making it” or making these sorts of sacrifices. They are happy playing a handful of shows each year, trekking out of town for the occasional festival or weekend tour, and releasing records as they are able. This may make them a bit unconventional as rock 'n' roll goes, but Meyer sees more pros about being in a part-time punk-rock band than cons. “When you're out on the road, if you're touring,” he explains, “[money] doesn't just come to you. You don't know if you're going to get screwed at the show, or if anyone's even going to show up, or if you're going to get paid. Anything can happen.”

Stability is important to Meyer, a father of two who places his family as a priority above his band and manages his brother's bar full-time to provide for them. “It's not as glamorous as it sounds,” he laughs. “I know everyone thinks it's great to be a bartender and work at a bar. It kind of sucks, but it pays the bills. People are always going to want to get drunk.” Still, he prefers bar-tending to playing punk-rock, at least when it comes to the stability it provides “Granted, I don't have the best job in the world, and I don't really like it,” he concedes, “but at least I don't have to worry about eating, or providing for my family.”

How Dare You's purpose as a band, then, isn't to provide any semblance of stability for its members; Meyer and his bandmates have accepted that. Instead, the band's existence serves a separate, yet unsurprising purpose.

A single listen to The King, The Clown and the Colonel establishes that purpose instantly. The record starts with a guitar lead that rolls like a tumbleweed into the foreground; it's met by a deep, tom-driven drum part punctuated by the splash and spray of cymbals, and long, growled chords before falling into a fiery, instrumental intro that sets the tone for the rest of the record. Despite its buoyant melody and momentum, the lyrics of “Hardship”, this opening song, seem pessimistic. Meyer, with bandmate Justin Goldman, sings, “Hey, you've got your head in your hands / Beat down and unrested,” a line reflected in the album's bleak artwork by illustrator Keith Rosson. Suddenly, the song lunges into its more optimistic and uplifting chorus; Goldman and Meyer switch off as they sing, “Here's to a start of better ways / to a paradise inside us all, the perfect place / We want what's ours, prepared to fight / No weapons for this hardship life.”

Before “Hardship” concludes or even climaxes, it breaks down into a tense, slowly swelling bridge propelled by both Zach Swain's percussive kick drum and Seth Dufalla's chunky bass; guitars twinkle and whine and Meyer's muddied voice wanders behind it all. “It's not like a history lesson,” Meyer says of his words in this section, “but I started with the beginning of settlers moving to the West and having to deal with all the hardships that come along with life, and also the hardships people are dealing with now, and trying to incorporate and equate the two.”

“Hardship” isn't a song about being down and out; it's a song about doing something about it.

It's a theme that's reflected directly and indirectly throughout the rest of the record. Even “Cold Shoulders”, the song immediately following “Hardship”, describes two girls left alone to sleep in a car because “Mommy's a drunk, daddy's a renegade” and the heat in their house has been shut off. In the second verse, listeners hear the effect of this scenario: these two girls become as shallow and self-centered as their own parents. As the song scrambles through its conclusion, seconds before the screeches to a halt, Goldman suggests, “We've got to look out outside / We've got to think about someone besides ourselves.” Though it's maybe more allegoric, “Cold Shoulders” speaks similarly about doing something to better one's situation, in this case by asking its audience to consider the consequences one's actions has on others.

“Service With a Smile” speaks more directly about being down and out. Fast and fuming, this third track seethes musically—Swain's drumbeat charges like rabid doberman, and the guitars it chases growl and grunt as aggressively—and lyrically, as Meyer barks about the customers and coworkers that infuriate him at work. “Anxious all the time, but I try to do what's right,” he explains but, as the song starts to smolder, he shouts, “To tell the truth I hope you choke on it / But to your face its just service with a smile / Oh what I'd give to see you lose your breath and turning red / But you're still here and all I can do is tell you to go fuck yourself.”

What's absent from “Service With a Smile”, though, is that tint of optimism, that “take the reigns” moment engrained into so many of the songs on The King, The Clown and the Colonel. It takes a while to realize, though, that How Dare You is the “something” that Meyer is doing about the conflict presented on this track.

Because he works at an uncomfortable, somewhat unsatisfying job, Meyer uses his music as a means of expression and escape. It's ultimately the purpose of How Dare You. “I don't like to complain,” Meyer says, “but, when you've had a bad day and you feel like you just got the shit kicked out of you, music works as an outlet.” Though someone might argue that this makes their music come across as “whiny,” the effect feels far more genuine; it's a real response to real life. How Dare You's music is also uplifting and empowering, though, since it suggests that, regardless of whatever frustrating situation one finds him or herself in, there's a way to escape if one does something about it.

Of course, Meyer says that How Dare You's music isn't intentionally existential, that this thematic thread isn't something that he and his bandmates planned out when they sat down to write The King, the Clown and the Colonel, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that Meyer and How Dare You continue to make the decisions that are best for them and to make meaningful music that responds to the real world around them whether or not the stars ever actually align.

Meyer recorded these tracks on an evening late in the spring from the phone line used to run credit cards at the bar at which he works, since it was the only landline to which he had access.

"Service With a Smile" appears on How Dare You's 2011 record titled The King, The Clown and the Colonel. "Shield Your Eyes" is a Jawbreaker cover; the song originally appeared on the 1991 album Bivouac.

Visit the band's Facebook page for more music.

Sorry, but these songs were taken down due to space constraints. Please download The Switchboard Sessions, Volume Two for a track from this and other sessions recorded in 2011. If you're desperate for a copy of these tracks, please see the "About the Switchboard Sessions" page for info on how to contact the author.

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