Ho-Ag
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Ho-Ag

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The best kept secret in music

Press


"Weekly Dig 2.9.05"

Last Halloween, Ho-Ag dressed up and performed as Devo. They learned the songs, bought bright yellow jumpsuits (the letters HOAG replacing the more traditional DEVO on the breast) and kicked out the spastic jams. Tyler Derryberry, Ho-Ag’s vocalist and keyboardist, explains how this decision partly stemmed from his youth, when he would sit in his room listening to Devo’s music and studying their lyrics, which, he says, “open up into their own world.” There are plenty of connectable dots from Ho-Ag back to Devo: Both bands share high-art production values that violently collide with their mutual taste for the degeneration of modern man. Devo did this by mixing the brash energy and analog warmth of punk rock with the sterilized calm and synthesized serenity of new wave. Ho-Ag takes another step after that and smashes Tom Waits’ bohemian Americana into punk’s dangerous anarchy—and, you know, sometimes a theremin and a Moog sneak their way into the mix.

If this sounds a bit confusing, it’s because it is. Ho-Ag’s songs are, on first listen, musically confounding. I saw Ho-Ag at one of Mass Art’s Iron Pour events not too far back. Outside, amidst faulty microphones; cold, glowing statues; and showers of raining ash and fire (it was an “iron pour,” after all), the boys played a spectacular set of songs filled with covert changes nestled in between noisy improvised ambience, sci-fi B-movie breakdowns, danceable thrash, pure gold punk pop, quiet chimes, fleeting bells and untold numbers of adjectives without nouns. My explanation to those who have not seen the band always ends in “enjoyment…confused enjoyment.”

When I ask Matt Parish, vocals and guitars, about the role of confusion in Ho-Ag’s music, he says he doesn’t really know if confusion is “a valid goal in art.” “There are certain responses,” he continues, “that I think are fun and notable to cause through art—like confusion and feeling like you don't know what’s going on in the song—but eventually someone will figure you out, and once they do, there better be something else that can tie the song down as meaningful and useful.” Parish is right, of course. A confusing work of art is only powerful when there’s a utility to the confusion.

This isn’t to say that Ho-Ag’s songs end in confusion—only that their mashup of sounds begins as such. Eric Meyer, Ho-Ag’s drummer, points to their new EP to show how their songs have become more concrete, both for them and their audience. Titled Pray for the Worms, the EP was recorded and produced by the band in what could be called an additive process. While some members were away, others worked; parts of formerly excluded songs were assigned new purposes to help unify the album; and as personal ideas became more apparent, the rest of the band shifted in accordance. (Patrick Kim, lead guitarist, remembers that as he recorded his part, the other members gasped and exclaimed, “That’s what you’re playing?!”) And then, of course, there was the wall of lyrics.

Derryberry tells me of walking into Parish’s bedroom and seeing the wall covered in sheets of paper and Post-It notes with scribbles of lyrics on them. And as the music began to take shape, the scribbles turned into pictures—Derryberry, who painted the EP’s cover, describes the eventual finalization of the lyrics in terms of visual art: “While you’re painting, you see that you have red in one corner, so you have to put red in another [corner] for balance; in the lyrics, we would look and say, ‘Oh! Here’s something about cars. We need something about cars in this corner, too.’”

The EP, Parish says, is lyrically “about things being destroyed and some people using the destruction as a means of exercising power over other people or things.” In various songs, we see a man frightened to leave his burning building, technology unable to keep folks from killing each other, and the end of the world and how humans weren’t even there to cause it. All this imagery disturbs, but, delivered in almost nursery rhyme meter, ends up calming the listener.

It’s here where I begin to see the subtlety in Ho-Ag’s puzzling music. As their quick left turns from Waits-esque storytelling to Brainiac-style barn-burners and becomes more familiar, a huge and stylized world opens up within their music and the lyrics. In Parish’s words, “I feel like a lot of the art is in the process and results of the process; kind of like architecture, no matter how much you know about how they did it, sometimes you just stare at some ridiculous achievement over and over again.” Ho-Ag stared at Devo, and we get to stare at Ho-Ag.
- Devin King


"Northeast Performer 5/05"

Boston’s Ho-Ag returns to town, this time with new member Tyler Derryberry, formerly of the Rancid Yak Butter Tea Party (and a Columbus resident), and with a new record, the seven-song Pray for Worms EP (Hive 35). The EP shows the band has continued to warp and mutate the off-kilter rock found on their previous release, 2003’s Ho-Ag Equals Go At. With Derryberry’s keyboards (and vocals) added to the mix, the now five-piece band drafts strange frameworks for their music. The aural space of cuts like “I Can Hear the Planets” will be at turns sparsely populated by rumbling bass undercurrents and intermittent guitar squawks before being filled with keyboard bleating. Equally informed by latter-day Pere Ubu and newer wave fare like Enon, Ho-Ag blends artful execution with vitriolic get-go. The end result is both arched and playful, capable of summoning both exaltation and confusion, or something somewhere in between. - C.D. Di Guardia


"Boston Phoenix 11.04"

On the Friday before Halloween, the Providence electro duo Mahi Mahi were the second act to squish onto a tiny plywood platform flanked by buckets of fire in the courtyard of Massachusetts College of Art. As the group's robotic tummy rumbles echoed through the square, a lava-like liquid poured down chutes that ended in jack-o'-lanterns, creating the spectacle of carved pumpkins spitting liquid flame. By that pint, the courtyard resembled an infernal apocalypse: flames shot up from a handful of furnaces stationed around the grassy quad, and students dressed as skeletons scurried about in shielded helmets, safety gloves, and protective suits tending to each blaze. Inside, Robert Pinsky and friends were to read from his translation of Dante's Inferno, but this was MassArt's annual Iron Pour, a student-run spectacle in which art-school metalsmiths cast molten metal into sculptures while local bands provide the background noise.

"There's no adult supervision here," noted one adult spectator who seemed more amused than concerned as sparks rained down on Mahi Mahi keyboardist/vocalist Josh Kemp's white spacesuit. But two firemen materialized during Ho-Ag's set when a cylindrical cupola's bottom collapsed; molten liquid dribbled onto the ground and a thick cloud of white smoke engulfed the band. Fighting not only steam but sound problems, the local art punks covered Devo's "Girl U Want and "Uncontrollable Urge." (The following night, their full-on Devo tribute set sold out O'Brien's in Allston). Just as headliners Fat Day climged onto the makeshift stage, the flames were extinguished--suddenly, everyone smelled like a campfire, and there was barely time left for the band to play. - Camille Dodero


"Tastes Like Chicken 5.05"

Our good friend Tyler Derryberry-- formerly of the Rancid Yak Butter Tea Party (RYBTP)-- has moved on to the wild world of the Massachusetts-based Ho-Ag, a slightly more subdued, yet tighter band. Ho-Ag is a multi-layered wall of a billion sounds, crashing and colliding until they crescendo into one huge, sheet-stained, audible orgasm. Every track on this seven-song EP pushes the vibe of the disc into a new realm, taking advantage of every creative opportunity it can. THE GRADE: A - Wayne Chinsang


"Boston Phoenix 2.10.05"

ROCK. Sinister Allston art-rockers Ho-Ag are throwing a release party for their seven-song EP Pray for the Worms (Hive 35), which sorta sounds like them but sorta doesn’t. Last spring, the five-piece freaked out after committing to a string of shows that bassist David Dines and drummer Eric Meyer couldn’t play, so the remaining three members wrote a handful of stripped-down songs that’d work as a trio. The hot-off-the-burner disc is the frenzied product of what they’re calling their "Ho-Ag Panic Band" era: falling somewhere between a grave robber’s internal monologue and a 20-minute car chase, Pray stars a murderously spooky Moog, racing guitars, and hella-nervous vocals. Ho-Ag’s shindig also promises a band-mate handoff, with departing four-stringer Dines passing the long-neck baton to replacement Nicholas Ward. Big Bear, New York’s Parts and Labor, and Shore Leave round out the bill. - Camille Dodero


"The Noise Boston 3.05"

When a band can reference so many influences, yet make something original and unique, it's an accomplishment and a testimony to the vision of its members. The sound of Ho-Ag's February-released CD EP is undeniably their own; it also feels like a sonic love-letter to a slew of experimental music spanning the last four decades and beyond. "Pray for the Worms" opens with an ominous guitar riff that slinks into a devolved keyboard, then opens up into flat-out aggro pulse on "Invitation to a Beheading." An eerie melodica-based instrumental follows, leading into "Bat-Man v. Dracula," a candidate for the "horror-folk" genre, if such exists. "Golden All Night," the most immediately "catchy" song and perhaps the highlight of the CD, is a warped, cacophonous sing-along that breaks down joyously into red-line distortion. The off-kilter opus "I Can Hear the Planets" recalls the best of the mid-'70s Ohio underground scene, while the last two songs are driving, angular rave-ups leaving you wanting more. Skewed, clever wordplay winds throughout Pray..., a conundrum of songs both tight and falling apart wonderfully in all the right places. These are five people who know what they're doing, and this CD is the kind of fractured, maniacal freak-skree that makes taking psychiatric medication a moot point. Ho-Ag's latest is a multi-platinum masterpiece in an alternate universe USA where Thomas Pynchon is an omniscient, benevolent despot, and entropy is a virtue.

**

Ho-Ag are celebrating three milestones tonight: the release of their new EP, their last show with Dave Dines as their bassist, and their first show with a new bassist, Nicholas Ward. Any one of these would suffice to draw the Ho-Ag faithful; together, they have the room sold out full of screaming lunatics. The band were apparently born to deal with superstardom, as they seem entirely unfazed by the now-familiar chanting of the crowd, by the enthusiastic moshers knocking over pieces of equipment on the stage, by the blood streaming down Matt's face at the end of the set. They synthesize all the elements of all the bands that played tonight: the tunefulness and weirdness, the virtuoso guitars and freaky electronic bleeps and blips, the pretty and the pummeling, the singing and the screaming. The new bassist plays the first half of the set, and then Dave comes on to finish up with them. Both of them are phenomenal, but then everyone in this band is, and needs to be. The music, as written, is so close to being a mess that it wouldn't work if it were performed less than perfectly. It works. (Steve Gisselbrecht) - Chris Pearson/Steve Gisselbrecht


"Columbus Alive 4.05.05"

Boston’s Ho-Ag returns to town, this time with new member Tyler Derryberry, formerly of the Rancid Yak Butter Tea Party (and a Columbus resident), and with a new record, the seven-song Pray for Worms EP (Hive 35). The EP shows the band has continued to warp and mutate the off-kilter rock found on their previous release, 2003’s Ho-Ag Equals Go At. With Derryberry’s keyboards (and vocals) added to the mix, the now five-piece band drafts strange frameworks for their music. The aural space of cuts like “I Can Hear the Planets” will be at turns sparsely populated by rumbling bass undercurrents and intermittent guitar squawks before being filled with keyboard bleating. Equally informed by latter-day Pere Ubu and newer wave fare like Enon, Ho-Ag blends artful execution with vitriolic get-go. The end result is both arched and playful, capable of summoning both exaltation and confusion, or something somewhere in between. - Stephen Slaybaugh


"Boston Herald"

In music, noise can be a double-edged sword. It can charge you up or it can drive you right out the door of the club. Within the world of noise-rock, local grinders Ho Ag and now-defunct Pink And Brown have found a way to balance aggression and emotion by thrashing away with purpose.

Like sonic brothers Lightning Bolt, Pink And Brown forgoes any decipherable vocals on driving compositions with such names as ``Messy Bessy, Get Undressy'' and ``Prison In My Eye.'' The songs barrel straight at you and grab hold as tight as a python. Rarely have guitar and drums packed such a sonic punch.

Ho Ag sculpts and harnesses its sound a bit more, employing a guitar attack reminiscent of the Dead Kennedys' unjustly forgotten axman East Bay Ray. The band is loud as hell, too, but there's a back-and-forth between intense peaks and tension-building valleys.

Lyrically, abstraction wins over linear thought. All the better for Ho Ag. Normalcy is overrated anyway. Ho Ag plays Tuesday at the Middle East, Cambridge. (BRIAN COLEMAN) - Brian Coleman


"The Nashville Scene"

Nashville Scene April 7, 2005
Few songs out there right now deliver the ominous and giddy thrills of Bostonian collective Ho-Ag's "Bat-Man vs. Dracula," with its jump-rope-chant-by-way-of-The Cramps vibe. Their expansive sound, in full effect on their recent Pray for the Worms EP, is a gleeful mesh of fuzzy rock, catchy lyrics and dark intent. With Eric Meyer from national treasure The Stairs on drums, the live Ho-Ag experience is brilliance thrashing frenzily on the edge of chaos, one that's been racking up accolades and confounding the unadventurous throughout the country. - Jason Shawhan


"Denver Westword"

Denver Westword April 28, 2005
"How many sparrows are inside a cat?/How many cats in a man?/How long can you keep your eyes shut on the interstate?" Boston's adventurous art-punk outfit Ho-Ag asks plenty of screwball questions on its latest EP, Pray for the Worms, but offers little in the way of easy answers (not that there ever were any). Balancing out the eternal mysteries of food chains and reckless driving, however, is the band's tastefully dissonant approach to danceable trash and abstract noise. With diverse instrumentation that squeezes saw blades, mallets, wind chimes and megaphones into a tightly wound panic attack of jostling guitars and sinister Moog, Ho-Ag recalls the herky-jerky spazz of the early B-52's or Brainiacs -- that is, when they're not scoring the quiet soundtrack of a low-budget horror flick. Extending an open invitation to the earth's beheading, Ho-Ag seems as comfortable gigging in a backyard tool shed as at a Christmas-tree farm in the middle of nowhere. This Thursday they invade the 15th Street Tavern, amps blazing, ready to interrogate lovers and fighters alike in the pursuit of life's little imponderables. --John La Briola - John La Briola


Discography

Pray for the Worms EP (Hive 35/Self Released) 2005
--Played on WZBC, WMBR, WMFO, WERS, WBCN, WFNX, WMCN, Brave New Waves Toronto, WRUR, KCPR, KXLU
Man the Dam 7" (Mister Records) 2005
--Played on WZBC, WMBR, WMFO, WERS, WBCN
Ho Ag Equals Go At LP CD(Mister Records) 2003
--107.3 WAAF Boston, MA
88.7 KSPC Claremont, CA
90.3 FM WZBC (Boston College) Boston, MA
91.5 WMFO (Tufts University) Medford, MA
90.1 KZSU (Stanford University) Palo Alto, CA
91.3 KCPR San Luis Obispo, CA
88.1 WMBR (MIT) Cambridge, MA
89.1 WTBU (Boston University) Boston, MA
104.1 WBCN Boston, MA
91.1 WRUR Cleveland, OH
CBC Radio Two Brave New Waves Montreal, Canada

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Ho-Ag hails from Boston, MA and has been playing shows for nearly three years at rock clubs, converted industrial warehouses, dank basements, wine-drinking art parties, middle-of-nowhere Christmas tree farms and woodsy backyard tool sheds.

Begun as a streamlined four-piece by vocalist/guitarist Matt Parish, bassist Dave Dines, and guitarist Patrick Kim, Ho-Ag released its first album, Ho Ag Equals Go At, in 2003. Declared both a “primal and modernly demented” and “an off-balance charge of invigorated rock” and “a frightwig cacophony of art-skronk murder ballad” by The Boston Phoenix, Ho-Ag has spent the last year mutating and growing new limbs. This is a group that teams up to balances Braniac-like Moog and guitar freakouts with more deliberately paced horror movie melodies that could be at home alongside sinister mood pieces by Tom Waits or a really depressed Raymond Scott. They’ve added a second “front man” (Tyler Derryberry), who Parish grew up with in Ohio along with Kim, watching Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and reading comics. Eric Meyer replaced Jonathan Ruhe on drums in February of 2004 and brought a ton of tricks, experience (pop rock bands, jazz combos, drum line instruction), and gadgets (saw blades, mallets, bells…).

Ho-Ag then began experimenting at shows, in front of their Boston audience, learning new songs for every show and never playing anything the same way twice. They’ve spent lots of time onstage growing into the feeling of having a Tyler as a keyboard/theremin/second vocalist, which resulted in a lot of unplanned call-and-response tradeoffs and sixth-sense communication. The constant shifting of the band's focus has kept every show unpredictable and it’s resulted in some of the most spontaneous and frenzied live situations imaginable.

The Pray for the Worms EP is the culmination of this year’s efforts and is kind of a modest recording done on the fly on 8-track and 4-track machines while we were figuring all this out. Somewhere in the middle of it, the thing coalesced into a pretty uniform statement based on lots of heads getting banged against walls and ecstatic viewings of The Seventh Seal in the group’s shared apartment, despite the album’s apparent schizophrenia.