Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hot Action Cop: An Interview

There are a couple of main themes in this story, and it's an old story told many times. One theme involves the pitfalls of perception, while the other concerns the elusive nature of dreams. The twin morals of the story are nothing we haven't heard before (don't be quick to judge and sometimes what you think you want isn't really what you want), but the specific players and events are, as always, new.

Consider Hot Action Cop, a Nashville band who in 2003 found themselves with a hit, Fever for the Flava. By all accounts the song was a wild success. It appeared on the soundtracks to several films, including American Wedding (aka American Pie 3). As of this writing the song has over 4 million plays on the band's MySpace page. If you go to YouTube and type "Fever for the Flava" into a search, you'll find videos of people using the song to test out their car stereo, middle school girls doing dance routines to it, and multiple videos where folks lip-synch the song's unique call-and-response.

The aesthetic of Fever for the Flava was, to put it delicately, frat-boy rap-rock. The song itself featured funky rapped verses and a soaring melodic chorus with the line "what do I have to say, to get inside you girl?" The words "coochie" and "hoochie" were rhymed. The band's self-titled debut album (released that same year on Lava/Atlantic records) played up the sex, with a cover that depicts the well-toned backside of female police officer in Daisy Duke shorts.

Here's where that "quick to judge" moral comes in. It's easy enough, based on the evidence above, to write Hot Action Cop off as band for meatheads and move on, right? Not so fast. Pop music consumption is, unfortunately, often about quickly oversimplified categorization. Unless you're a huge star, there's little tolerance for being eclectic or multi-faceted. And that's not really fair, because art is rarely about formula. Some artists make it seem that way, but they're rarely the good ones.

There was some evidence on their first record that Hot Action Cop didn't exactly fit in with the Bloodhound Gangs and Limp Bizkits of the world, but it's become as clear as day with the new six song EP they've recently released. Upon first blush, the songs seem so removed from Fever for the Flava as to be the work of a completely different songwriter. The thing is, they're not. In fact, one might say that the lyrical detail and hookiness of Fever are the seeds that grew into the band's new work. The new songs are generally more serious, the vocals a bit more ragged and real, and there's barely a rap in sight (a brief interlude on Face Down is the only one). Standouts include La Dee Da, which shows off a strong falsetto, catchy chorus, and by turns invokes '70s funk, '80s pop metal, and '90s grunge. Open Your Eyes is an alt-pop kiss-off that wouldn't sound out of place on your favorite radio station. The ballad Tomorrow's Gotta Secret features slow, contemplative verses, with a powerful Beatles-on-steroids chorus. With these new songs, Hot Action Cop seem determined to follow their muse, building upon their success by tearing it down and starting fresh.

It's a good story, one with common themes that have been played out in a million different ways, but I was lucky enough in this case to get a first-hand account. As follows is an interview with Hot Action Cop singer/songwriter Rob Werthner. He talks about his influences, his success, what happens when you reach your ultimate goal and discover it wasn't quite what you expected, and the nature of his artistic process. The answers were often pleasant surprises, driving home the point once again that you just never know unless you ask. Enjoy!

Paul: How did the band form?

Rob: Hot Action Cop came together when I wrote and recorded some demos that started to turn some heads back around 2000. I put together a band from people I met by word of mouth. Tim Flaherty joined on in 2000. He's a Louisville, Kentucky native and we travel back and forth between Nashville and Louisville to rehearse the band. The rhythm section (Kory Knipp on drums and Luis Espilliat on bass) came to me via the engineer that cut my first demos. Kory and Luis are no longer part of the band. The rigors of being in a traveling rock band that can't pay well took its toll. Timmy has been, and remains, the other consistent member of the band. The current line-up includes Bardstown, Kentucky native Juan Chavolla (I was meant to work with a Latino bass player) and Nashville native Johannes Greer on drum set. Both are great performers and players.

Paul: What are your influences?

Rob:
My musical influences consist strongly of British rock from the sixties: The Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd. The music from these bands make me want to create my own music. I don't copy or recreate their sound, they are simply inspirational and a muse for the mood. I'm also constantly influenced by modern pop music, especially quirky pop that cuts into the mainsteam every now and then, e.g. How Bizzare from OMC, or Electric Avenue from Eddie Grant. Granted these fall into the novelty category, but they do something utterly unique for me as a listener.

Yellow Submarine, Sweet Virginia from the Stones, Bike from Floyd, and Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 from Dylan have a certain flippancy that I relate to. Quirky, silly moments from some of the greatest artists of all time. I am however, a sucker for the sad and somber as well (comedy/tragedy perhaps?). Songs like Yesterday from the Beatles, Angie from the Stones, Mother from Pink Floyd, Stairway to Heaven from Zep, are absolutely the ones I always come back to as a listener and fan. I guess I'm very song oriented, and have trouble packaging myself in my own sound consistently. Kind of White Album-ish in my own modern ADD sort of way. Only thing is, I'm the sole writer.

Lately I've been a bit more inspired by literary writers. Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter Thompson, for their scathing wit and dark sardonic humor, Frank Herbert for his intimate understanding of economics and ecology, and of course their uncanny abilities to tell wonderful, epic stories. I go back and forth between Lennon and McCartney in music. Still love how Dylan affected '60s rock.
I've been really listening to Robert Plant's vocalizations lately, in my opinion he is the ultimate rock benchmark. Have you ever listened to the Yardbirds before Jimmy Page brought Robert onboard? It's mind blowing what his vocals do to the music.

Paul: How did Fever for the Flava come about?

Rob: Fever for the Flava happened after a strange night out at a top 40 dance club in downtown Nashville. The club is not there any more, one of the many "ephemeral establishments" in Nashvegas that pop in and out of existence like particles in theoretical physics. I'm more of an observer than a participant in social scenes, I'm not sure how I ended up there, although I'll guarantee alcohol and some cute girl were involved.

As I watched tweens sex themselves into a drunken frenzy it set the ball in motion. I drew upon those images as the song developed. (I should mention that I also have a guilty pleasure for pop dance and rap, although it is based mostly in '70s and '80s songs of that ilk.) I was having tongue-in-cheek fun with the people that inhabit that "weekend party-dance-meat market world." The style of the music for Fever was the right cover for the book, so to speak. It was the proper vehicle to tell that story, it also inadvertently became the most identifiable part of the Hot Action Cop sound.

Paul: Describe the success of Fever for the Flava.

Rob: Fever for the Flava is one of those songs that hits people in a strange place. It's very polarizing, and very demanding right out of the box. I am often amazed at the viral spread of the song on the Internet. It keeps attracting legions of listeners day after day, year after year. It has a 2 Live Crew sort of appeal, except that I never use any profanity, it is only lyrically suggestive. It was written off by the Illuminati as a quick burn novelty, which I get, but 6 years later it still gets 6 to 8,000 spins a day on MySpace, and the demographic of the listener is from 10 years to 60 years of age. I realize that it has lyrical and melodic hooks, but the song really took on a life of its own. It flew to the top of many pop charts around the world, it was an overnight sensation in Australia when a DJ heard it and spun it. Cult status is the only way to correctly describe the song these days as it just keeps gaining fans with out promotion, it just sells itself.

Hot Action Cop's first record was released on Lava/Atlantic. There was heavy promo for it, but many different music directors in movies, and television and video games didn't have to be sold hard on it, so it was licensed heavily. The song met a lot of resistance at American radio. It was simply the wrong time for a rock/pop record with that sound and content. It was a number one hit for weeks on end in many American cities. But New York and Los Angeles wouldn't spin it. Someone at K-ROCK [a New York alternative radio station] found it offensive and shut it out.


Paul: Have there been any major changes for you or the band since Fever for the Flava?

Rob: I think I wasn't ready for what my first record did to people back in 2003. I took it very personally that people thought of me as a block-headed misogynist because my music. I remember Blender magazine referring to it as a great dick and fart joke. They obviously never listened to the whole record. Never caught its diversity, they simply got caught in the more over-the-top sexual subject matter.

People miss the whispers in today's digital explosion, but ultimately no one twisted my arm to write that album. I've learned how to deal with critical noise. We had a song on the first record called In A Little While [an acoustic ballad with contemplative lyrics]. The label tested this song on Hit Predictor or some other service like that. It tested really high and showed strong hit potential. It is so different from the sound and energy of Fever that they didn't know how to deliver it. So it, like the band, fell between the commercial cracks. I think that whole label/commercial experience messed with my head. It made me very guarded and self-concious.

I found it to be a profound and awesome experience. The personal emotional and psychological exploration it engendered were intense. I've gotten passed the negativity of it and got back to making music. I made a deliberate attempt to make a more rock-oriented record. I've got a ton of songs recorded. The 2009 EP was what I could afford to finish right now. I did what I did with the first Hot Action Cop record. I don't need to make part 2 of that record. I realize this can be disasterous from a marketing/branding perspective, but I write all over the map, I hope people can follow portions of it. Fans of the band seem to be responding well to the new music. Fans that have seen the band live know that we are a quirky rock/pop band, and they appreciate the diversity. It's tough to be well known for one song. But it's better than not being known at all.

Paul: Tell me a little bit about your musical goals.

Rob: My musical goal is to have music of my own creation be heard around the world. I've achieved that thus far, however I feel very incomplete. My new goal is to have music connect that feels closer to my heart, music that can do to others what my favorite bands have done to me. Songs and sentiments that are of a more serious nature or sound. Writing songs is a habit for me, kind of like nail biting. I can't stop doing it, so with a little luck and persistence I will be heard on the world scene again. I'm doing a rock acoustic night in Nashville, my first one ever, I can't wait to play some new material to a small crowd. It's the only way to step outside ones own head and see how a song is really hitting people. I have got to learn to awaken the P.T.Barnum within me and engage the public.

I have fans in many countries around the world. I'll try not to confuse the living shit out of them with my eclectic offerings, but I think confusion will be a part of the process, as it is a very big part of my own artistic exploration. My self definition lacks the "proper" outline. In that respect, I'm a true Hessian character. It's probably my greatest flaw as a commercial artist, but one I know myriad creative souls relate to.

Paul: Anything else you'd like to add?

Rob: I hope I remember to enjoy the artistic journey, the discovery, the occasional "Eureka!" moments. I remain humbled by the whole artistic experience.

Check out Hot Action Cop and their new songs at www.myspace.com/hotactioncopband

2 comments:

Christena said...

What a beautiful story i like these type of story thanks for presenting this...........


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Christena said...

Good interview this is the main thing ........


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