Hockey
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Hockey

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"THE INLANDER"

Ben Grubin and Jeremy Reynolds talk differently these days. In separate, hurried phone calls made between breaks at their eco-friendly, sustainable restaurant jobs, the duo is quieter than they used to be. Not broken, by any means, or even resigned. Just quieter. Grubin still has his stream-of-consciousness conversation style that jumps between topics, pulling the listener along through a bright, impressionistic roller coaster of ideas. Reynolds still has a whip-smart analytical eloquence with the power to take vague guru-ish sentiments ("love attracts love") and flesh them into beautiful, holistic worldviews. It's been a long seven months, though, and they're tired. "Definitely feeling a little hemmed in," says Reynolds, "Restless." Portland's been nothing like Spokane.

The band has now spent almost as much time in the Rose City as it did in the Lilac, and the differences are stark. Spokane was a whirlwind of shows and friends and scene love. They hit the ground running. Originally a duo, they'd come to town from Los Angeles pursuing a guitarist friend (The Inlander's Joel Smith). When they got here, Smith had already worked out a few shows and found them a potential drummer in Seaweed Jack's Anthony Stassi. Arriving near the end of last January, they built enough steam by May to be voted a buzzworthy band in The Inlander's annual local music issue.

These last seven months in Portland have been the exact opposite of a whirlwind. Hockey hasn't played a single show. Apart from the members themselves — Grubin, Reynolds and Anthony Stassi —no one knows the band even exists. The guitarist they'd hoped to drop into the lineup upon hitting Portland didn't work out. Neither did a second. They've spent most of their time in studio and in their own heads. Writing, recording. Listening to them speak, 'suffering' might also be a good verb. "We'd never recorded anything [of album quality] before," says Grubin, "To make it sound good to us, we sometimes had to record things three times."

They have, though, finished a record. They're calling it Mind Chaos. Reynolds characterizes it as "totally an expression of our art and totally uncompromised." Spoken by anyone else, "uncompromised" might come off as rocker flotsam. Meaningless. A cliché. For Hockey, though, remaining uncompromised is everything.

As a two-piece in L.A., Grubin — the band's primary songwriter — and Reynolds had been all potential energy. Grubin pontificated in his casual sing-speak style and occasional croon while Reynolds spazzed around stage, using his bass like an articulate bludgeon. Their inanimate partner — an iPod — cranked out canned beats with cold precision. There was something magic there, and unformed. After showcases set up by their manager, labels expressed interest. Ben Goldman, an A&R representative with Epic Records, saw the duo as a moldable commodity. The studio wonks stepped in, signing Hockey to a development deal, then a second, then a third, eventually shuffling the band from Epic to Columbia. With no drummer and no guitarist, Grubin and Reynolds were sent to work with a handful of producers, including Talking Heads' former keyboardist Jerry Harrison. It might have been a dream come true if it hadn't been a total nightmare. It wasn't that the producers didn't have chops — Harrison was brilliant, the band says. The ringers, though, were on the label's wavelength, not Hockey's. They didn't share Grubin and Reynolds' vision.

Everything since — the spur-of-the-moment move to Spokane, the frenzy of shows here, the seclusion in Portland — has been about the vision.

Mind Chaos is a fitting name for the conditions that created the album. They'd set up the move to Portland the same way as the move to Spokane. They'd already been talking with that guitarist. They'd lined up a practice space. They planned to crash on a friend's floor until they got a place. They'd be up and gigging in no time. One friend's floor became a second, though by the time they landed their own place they'd been in town more than a month. The guitarist search was going badly. They wanted to record, but they wanted album quality sound, so they had to buy gear. Then they had to learn to use it. Scrapping songs two and three and four times, the band worked hard to not go crazy from the redundancy of it. They had to care enough to not give a shit about dumping entire songs. They had to eviscerate ideas, cut them to ribbons, repackage them, rethink them. They had nothing to lose, so they got serious. They discarded the iPod entirely, then rigged up a sampling system to Stassi's drum kit, giving him control of the samples. Grubin — who guards his voice like a cloistered nun — let it out to play one day, forcing himself to sing, "four or five" notes higher than usual. "That's like James Brown range," he says. He's worried, though, about wearing it out, "I ain't James Brown, though, so..."

The resulting record is a little darker than the things they recorded in those gilded studios of yore. Born of a process of creation and abortion that leaves the recording with a controlled freneticism, it's undeniably truer to their aesthetic. Mind Chaos captures on tape what the band unleashes live. More importantly, it's a complete recording, not a demo. Unlike the half-band that got jerked around by record labels, the Hockey that whipped through Spokane and survived Portland feels whole. Indivisible.

Though lacking a drummer and a proper lead guitarist at times in their history, lacking a home at others, Grubin, Reynolds and now Stassi have never lacked drive. It shows in what they've done with their short time in Portland. Nine songs in seven months, six written in Spokane but worked, discarded and reworked until they bear little comparison to the versions we caught live at the end of last summer. It's been hard as hell for the band members, but they're coming out the other side. They're changed people, Grubin says, but the same band.

"A different band? No," he says. "We're hopefully better. I hope we've been getting slowly better." He pauses. "As far as the live show goes, I have no idea. It could be shaky."

It'll help that they've finally found a guitarist: Brian White, Stassi's old bandmate in Seaweed Jack, will join them onstage at the Blvd and join them in Portland soon after. The pace is picking up.

"You have to create your own momentum," says Reynolds, "because that dream of being picked up and making the perfect record with the perfect producer just isn't going to happen. At least not for us." That's partially a function of the industry, and partially a function of the people Grubin and Reynolds became as a result of functioning within the industry. "We wanted something uncompromised," Reynolds reiterates.

From the five tracks available at press time, they haven't compromised at all.

Now all Reynolds wants to do is get out and play a show. "For our whole lives to have been wrapped around the art and to be totally without the other half of it — the live performance — it's weird," he says, "I got the boogie, I got the itch. If I don't get to use it, I feel all trapped up." - Got the Itch by Luke Baumgarten


"SPOKANE 7"

ID: Hockey is a new band to Spokane that moved here from Los Angeles to expand into a full band from the founding duo.

Roster: Keyboardist/guitarist/ vocalist Ben Grubin, bassist Jerm Reynolds, multi-instrumentalist Joel Smith and drummer Anthony Stassi

Style: Rock-pop-soul-folk-hip-hop

"When people ask us what kind of music we play, I say it's like Beck because Beck is the only artist I can think of as far as running the whole gamut kind of thing," Reynolds said.

Origin: Grubin and Reynolds started out as a two-piece playing to programmed beats. The two decided to uproot the band so Smith – a musician friend from college – could join, and he brought Seaweed Jack drummer Anthony Stassi with him.

In L.A. the duo had a development deal with Columbia Records and was collaborating with Beck's guitarist and Talking Heads' keyboardist.

"It was hard to be a two-piece and have any presence. Once we lost our confidence in being a two-piece, that was it. We couldn't even be on stage anymore," Grubin said.

Sound evolution: Since adding Stassi and Smith, Hockey's sound has become more organic.

"Every song had a beat element, like a dance element, even though we were doing, like, some soulful kind of things, some rap kind of things, some rock kind of things, some folk kind of things," Reynolds said. "Since we've been playing together with a band there's more of an old Motown thing, like a soul sound we've always had, but when you have a band you get to express that because soul music doesn't come from drum machines."

"The drum machine doesn't keep us together anymore in a way. We can go from being total rock band to being a total rap thing," Grubin said. - Catch Hockey's expressive rock, pop, soul


"SPOKANE 7"

This may seem backward, but it's true: After signing a development deal with Columbia records and working in the studio with Beck's guitarist and Talking Heads' keyboardist, the band Hockey relocated from Southern California to Spokane last month to improve its odds of making it in the music industry.

Founding members, bassist Jerm Reynolds and pianist/guitarist/vocalist Ben Grubin blend hip-hop, soul and rock for an eclectic sound they hope will resonate with Spokane listeners.

Hockey's main goal in moving here was to expand its membership to better pull off a full-band presence onstage. Hockey had been a two-piece for four years, playing on top of programmed beats on an iPod.

The duo got in touch with old college buddy, Spokane musician Joel Smith, and asked him to join on guitar, banjo, harmonica and keys. Smith recruited Seaweed Jack drummer Anthony Stassi and – whammo! – a band was born.

Before connecting with Smith, Grubin and Reynolds hadn't even heard of Spokane.

Reynolds and Grubin attended college near Los Angeles and had a decent following in the house party scene, but when it was time to take the act out to bars and clubs it was hard to maintain the same level of intensity, Reynolds said. - Hockey Skates into Local Scene by Isamu Jordan


"OUT THERE MONTHLY"

After many a trial and tribulation, Hockey has finally completed and birthed its very first official release. It is a credit to the band's creativity, process and character that this disc arose, not after the sessions with hot-shot producers, not on the dollar of big wig execs in Los Angeles, but, rather after a move to rainy Portland, Oregon that, among other things, has allowed the boys of Hockey some room to breathe. Like many a band with that "sumthin' special" that rises to the top in Spokane, Hockey (much like drummer Anthony Stassi's previous band, Seaweed Jack) outgrew the scene, and needed the move to properly expand. And they have. Mind Chaos is leaps and bounds beyond even what the band was playing live seven short months ago in Spokane. It's the work of a band eager for bigger and better, now with the recorded material to support them. - "Mind Chaos" review


"THE WIG FITS ALL HEADS"

Nestled deep in the woods on Bainbridge Island, away from all signs of the life of our familiar Seattle music scene, and amidst a pack of wacky-ass hippy men, women and children, we experienced Spokane’s (?) Hockey for the first time in a setting like no other (and note: not in one of those “once in a lifetime opportunity!!” sort of ways, neitha’--though perhaps it was…).

Thing is, Hockey had us from the start. The tracks currently playing at their MySpace are some of the most mood-pickin’-up we’ve heard in forever (“Half a Chance,” personal favorite). Doesn’t hurt that the band has garnered some serious media praise since their relocation from Los Angeles to Spokane earlier this year (lord knows we keep up on the serious Spokane media praise). Doesn’t hurt that their semi-recently-added drummer is none other than one of our favorite people ever, Anthony Stassi, of fellow Spokane band Seaweed Jack.

Pressure in place there amongst the trees, the mosquitoes, the frolicking forest people, Hockey surely did not disappoint. Stassi could, of course, be nothing but fantastic, while his new group of sidekicks kept attention with loveable banter, goofy goggles, sweet, sweet moves from an unlikely source (hullo, bass player who doesn’t annoy the hell out of us--check the MySpace video for proof), sliding about on the slippery ‘n’ shiny cement floor and some downright fucking GOOD music.

Hockey has a handful of dates coming up in Spokane (including July 13 at Empyrean and July 14 at the Big Easy, at which this fan will be in attendance), and hopefully making it west in the semi-near future. - Live Review - June 15, 2007


"THE INLANDER"

At the Experience Music Project Pop Conference last month, Kembrew McCloud presented a paper that detailed the fallout of a Spin magazine story that dubbed a sleepy Virginia town "the next Seattle." Within a few weeks, A&R dudes were descending like plagues of ponytailed, coked-up locusts, only to discover they'd been had. I'm sharing this cautionary tale with you, Spokanites, because I want you to be prepared when the floodgates open. Once the higher-ups get wind that a band moved to your sleepy little town from L.A. and is about to hit the big time, prepare for the assault.

The founding members of Hockey, bassist Jerm Reynolds and primary songwriter Ben Grubin, moved to Spokane from the City of Angels after a deal with Columbia collapsed. Even though their old classmate Joel Smith lives here, the move was a pretty big leap of faith for both; neither had ever been to Spokane, and Grubin, who was born and raised in Manhattan, had never been to the Pacific Northwest. After signing up Smith, the pair decided to keep expanding and recruited drummer Anthony Stassi.

"The move has really allowed us to focus on developing our live show," says Reynolds. "We were unhappy being just a duo with a drum machine. And we wanted to be a real band." Being a real band and focusing on crafting songs has always been Reynolds and Grubin's main goal -- one that often put them at odds with label execs in L.A. "The whole process of signing to a major went one for over a year, and in the end, we never finalized the deal," he says. "They would put us in the studio and tell us to do things like make the chorus sound more dancey. I could feel my soul being sucked out of my body when that happened."

Reynolds says the band is looking to sign with an indie label the next time around, although he's not ruling anything out. "There is nothing really huge on the horizon in terms of signing anything," he says. "A friend of a friend told us that someone from Sub Pop loved us, but that's as far as that went."

While a record deal might not be in cards, a quick impact in Spokane is, and the band is using that momentum to hit the road and wow other cities with their stellar four-man live show. "We've got some shows in Montana and Portland, and we're also looking to do some showcases," says Reynolds. "But our main focus is on developing our sound and show. Everything else should fall into place after that." - Buzzworthy Bands 2007 by Cortney Harding


"YRB MAGAZINE"

Real Shit: That’s what we want and hope for in music today, and it’s personified by Hockey, a two-piece based in Redlands, CA. They’re a band that can play real songs you can straight up dance to. The duo consists of Ben Grubin, who plays the piano, guitar and sings, and Jeremy Reynolds or “Jerm” on bass. Their core beats are constructed using an Akai MPC 2000XL (the b-boy instrument of choice), and when you hear Hockey, you’ll understand why.

Hailing from New York City, Ben began as a member of a hip-hop group, while Jerm was raised in San Diego where he played in a punk band. The two came together while attending the University of Redlands. Members of a special program in which hippies, artists, and all-around weirdoes got together to study their subjects of choice, Ben and Jerm soon realized there were no cool kids to make music with except each other. After forming the band, they couldn’t find a drummer who had the hustle like them – not to mention one with the grind to rehearse everyday in a dark basement. That’s when they decided to roll with the MPC drum machine; but they still weren’t sure what would work with the machine musically. So they experimented, making some bugged out David Bowie-meets-Elton John type ballads. But it soon became clear that they couldn’t bring an upright piano to every show.

Both band-mates wanted to create music that would make people dance. It was through trial and error that their music began to take on a funk/soul/dance quality that injected their songs with the influences of icons like Marvin Gaye, Al Green, and Curtis Mayfield. As a result, their sound evolved and gave them the motivation to keep digging for that real groove. Through periods of catching and missing it, they were relentless and kept their passion strong.

After about a year-and-a-half, Ben and Jerm decided to call the band Hockey, “an oddly absurd, band-name ‘no-no’ that precisely described what it was we were doing – a weird dart, like lightning,” Jerm says. While the band was finding its grooves, they were also writing both raps and Bob Dylan-type folk songs. The resulting sound is “like Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan impregnated Beck,” Ben says (quoting someone else’s description of his band).

By their senior year in college, Hockey was the “it” band in Redlands, playing house parties, frat parties, dorms and the rest. Jerm and Ben knew they needed to move beyond this territory, so they went for broke and took a shot at the Los Angeles music scene. Now, less than a year after their first L.A. show, Hockey continues to blow up every spot they play. “At the most basic level, we want to make really good sounds – sounds that are anchored somewhere way low down and also reach way up high. “We’re working on that right now,” says Ben. Live on stage, they’re just two real guys, pouring their hearts out and through beats playing straight from an iPod. Sonically, it’s a mesh of influences that you may or may not recognize; but either way, it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Ignoring the rule that a band should subscribe to one style and a single set of rules, Hockey is most definitely like a full contact sport, brimming with movement and energy. - Radar by Savage Dragon


Discography

2008 - Mind Chaos

Photos

Bio

As a 2-piece in Los Angeles, Hockey was bad.

As a 4-piece in Portland, Hockey was good.