Thursday, July 26, 2007

Spotlight: Cincinnati's Harlequins

For those who have yet to read my article on the "Cincinnati Sound," check it out again. Because in every music scene, as the years go by, there are musicians who get older and stop playing and younger musicians who pick up their guitars and start something entirely new.
If you look at the British rock scene, something similar has happened. All the Oasis bands gave way to the Arctic Monkeys/Fratellis/ect. sound. It's based more on vocals, chock full of lyrics, and a lot of dynamic melodies. Dare I say: Beatlesque.
So when I relate those types of changes to Cincinnati's music scene, I mark newcomers Harlequins as the creators of a new local style. Much like other newcomers Bad Veins, both bands share a unique vocal style similar to the new British sound. But where the Harlequins differ drastically is in songwriting. The songs are incredibly direct, distinct and VERY well-written. There is no emo here.
This Saturday the band performs its first Girls and Boys DJ event at the Decibel Lounge (formerly Alchemize).
I recently asked Harlequins' front man/guitarist/singer Michael Oliva about the band's origins and how they stumbled upon their niche:

PWAH: Are all you guys from Cincy originally? If not, where? I'm getting the feeling that a new element is forming in the Cincinnati Sound these days from younger musicians. It's more of an 80s synth sound, mixed with a 90s British sound, mixed with an Interpol sound.
MO: Well I was born in Boston and moved to Cinci when I was six. I went to Boston about once a year growing up, and I've always kind of favored the blunt, brutally honest vibe of the east coast, which might come out in our music. I'm pretty sure our drummer Todd (Spice) has lived here all his life, but I know Alex (Stenard) our bass player has lived all over the place.

PWAH: What influences helped you come up with the music you guys are making now? What sound are you actually going for?
MO: Soul Coughing, Talking Heads, The Beatles, The Pixies, Frank Sinatra, & The Dissociatives. Sometimes we are compared to The Strokes (who's first two albums I loved). But honestly, the low barritone I do is more an homage to Frank and the Rat Pack style of singing. I love crooners, rather than the Lou Reed barritone that The Strokes are known for. Our sound is basically pop rock in it's truest form. We really take the time to write pop songs, but GOOD pop songs. Pop ain't a bad thing. We want to remind people that. Call us, "lounge fly, pop, grunge" I guess. Haha.

PWAH: What are some bands you guys enjoy in Cincinnati and/or the Midwest? The most unknown the better.
MO: To be honest I'm not super familiar with a lot of the Cinci bands. Basically because I live in my own head and don't get out much. I think a lot of musicians when they first start out kind of take that cynical, "There's no good bands in my town and we want to be the first" approach. I think it's neccessary to have that mindset to write creative, original music (only at first). But once we started playing around a lot I've begun to realize the talent Cinci has. I enjoy the Heartless Bastards a lot. Also, there was a really cool band we met the other week at The Madfrog when we played a show together. Their called Psylum. Good stuff.

PWAH: When you think of Cincinnati rock, what bands do you think of or what type of rock do you think of?
MO: When I think of the Cinci music scene I don't really think of one band or one definite sound. The cool thing about it, that I've seen, is how different all the bands are. You've got indie bands like Heartless Bastards and Cari Clara. You've got psychedelic bands like Buffalo Killers, and then a lot of good blues and bluegrass/jam bands like The Rumpky Mountain Boys. I think it's a very groovy eclectic scene, and so far I haven't seen another band like us which is also rad. In my opinion we're still babies on the scene, and we'll learn to change our own diapers soon enough, but for now, we're just enjoying being a part of a big, eclectic music scene.

PWAH: Any upcoming shows, or recordings you are leading up toward?
MO: Right now we're getting ready to play Girls & Boys nite at Alchemize. It should be an interesting show, our bass player is in a wedding at Cali and it will just be me and Todd. We'll probably do an acoustic set and rape the vocals with reverb, echo and the bunnymen style, and just have a ball. Then August 10th we'll be playing at the madfrog and so far thats the last show we have booked until after August. I'll be in Chicago from mid-late August for my sisters wedding. Its the summer of love, eh?

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