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Dance Class: An Interview with Out Hud

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Michael Crumsho interviews Nic Offer and Molly Schnick of Brooklyn's Out Hud.

Dance Class: An Interview with Out Hud

I’ll dispense with the poetics here and just tell you what you need to know: Out Hud are an amazing band from Brooklyn. Together now for a little over six years, the quintet manages to pull together so many disparate elements of music from styles as varied as punk, funk, dub, noise, and electronic that it comes together in their own unique voice. In addition to releasing their years-in-the-making debut (S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D., out on Kranky), their live set has been generating converts left and right. A few weeks ago I sat with Molly Schnick and Nic Offer (whom you may know as the vocalist for !!! as well) in one of the many Starbucks on Astor Place in Manhattan to talk about records, dancing, Jay-Z, and New York rock, among other things.

Crumsho: Tell me a little bit about how the band started. Was !!! first? Were they independent of each other?

Nic: !!! was first by about two months. They were independent, yeah.

Molly: We were all living in Sacramento. !!! was a band at that time but they didn’t have a name yet.

Nic: We named them both in pretty much the same week.

Molly: They were called the Funk Band [laughter]. I think we played our first shows around the same time.

Nic: Out Hud’s second show was with !!!’s first show.

Crumsho: Just out of curiousity, where did the name “Out Hud” come from?

Nic: It kind of doesn’t look good in print. It basically just means us and who we are.

Molly: It’s just kind of like an inside thing that stuck after we played a show with it.

Crumsho: It’s hard to adequately describe your sound. With other New York bands it’s sort of easier to just pick a couple of names that give a good idea of the sound. You’re not so cut and dry. Since it’s obvious that you’re into a whole lot of different stuff, tell me some of the things that you guys are into right now, musically.

Nic: I like to talk about this stuff. We keep lists like these on the website, but mine’s out of date. I just got the new Thomas Fehlman CD…

Molly: Who’s that?

Nic: He’s, uh…

Crumsho: Electronic

Nic: Yeah, yeah. I always just go into Other Music and have them hook me up with the latest tech house stuff. I try to stay up on stuff like that. I really like it. I just got the new Jay-Z…

Molly: You did?

Crumsho: What did you think of it?

Nic: I kind of thought, “How is Jay-Z going to fail?” But, you really just cannot follow up The Blueprint.

Crumsho: Yeah, you also can’t really make a double album.

Nic: Yeah, when I heard that I just thought, “Well there you go. He’s gonna fuck it up ‘cause it’s a double album.” And that’s kind of what happened. It’d make a great single album. It’s not as good as The Blueprint. There’s just a lot of bullshit on there.

Crumsho: Like a collab with Lenny Kravitz.

Nic: You know there’s a Cake sample on that, and Tyler [Pope, also in Out Hud and !!!] did session work for them? His part is the next part right after the sample ends.

Molly: Yeah, he’s not actually on that one. That’s really sad.

Crumsho: Yeah, he could’ve made millions off that.

Molly: If it was a big hit.

Nic: I don’t think it’s going to be a monster. But still, when we heard that debuted on Hot97 there was chaos in the house. But anyway, back to the question, we listen to a lot of hiphop. We always have the radio on in the house. I try to listen to jazz, especially in the mornings to set a more abstract tone for the day.

Molly: I just kind of recently got out of it a little bit, but I was heavily into Echo & the Bunnymen’s “Ocean Rain”. Someone was just singing it the other day and it got back into my head. It’s one of those song’s like “Happy Birthday” that you just know but don’t really remember learning. I think that one will help on our next record. It’s got beautiful strings. I got the new Gogol Bordello today. It’s not something I normally listen to but I really like it.

Nic: Have you ever seen them live?

Crumsho: Yeah. They’re just crazy. Did you ever go to one of Eugene’s DJ sets?

Nic: Yeah, we were like quasi-regulars at those things.

Molly: That was one of the great things about being in New York. Every time I went I just couldn’t believe that something like that existed. It was so amazing.

Nic: I feel like people are going to write about that like it was legendary now that’s it over. And it was. It was just the craziest party. If someone knows of a crazier party, please contact us. It was just awesome. And we were there on the last night to when it went down. I took a punch that night.

Molly: Tyler and Justin just bring home really great disco singles almost every day. I don’t even know what they all are.

Nic: I don’t even try. I just listen to ‘em and soak it all in. It’s always emanating from the basement floor. It’s kind of like always having the smell of fresh baked bread in your house. We just got a whole bunch of Sun City Girls stuff from the two shows we did with them. [To Molly] Did you get the Wah album? They have an album named Wah.

Molly: [laughing] They stole our name! I was in a band with Phyllis and the drummer from !!! for like two practices. We were called Wah. It was way out there and awesome. It’s probably in my top three band experiences.

Crumsho: Out Hud has opened for bands as diverse as Sun City Girls and ESG. I can hear bits of both in your music, but how do audiences in general react? I figure ESG was more of a fit for you guys, in terms of trying to get the crowd into it and moving around.

Nic: It was weird. Saturday [the first night of their two with Sun City Girls] was more hostile, but there were more people there to dance. And Sunday everyone was a lot friendlier but no one really danced. With the Sun City Girls we just didn’t really even try to pull the crowd. They just kind of had a strong hold on the place. If you don’t dance at that point you’re probably not going to anyway. But at our other shows we normally get a lot of other dancers.

Molly: Both of those shows also had kind of an older crowd. Kind of a really big record geek crowd and I guess a lot of them don’t like to dance. Although they were all really into ESG.

Crumsho: Do you find that you have to work pretty hard at getting the crowd into it? It seems kind of odd to have to tell people to have fun.

Nic: It’s gotten a lot better. It depends on who we play with. If we play with someone like the Faint, you get a younger crowd and a lot more dancers. The more people hear about it, the more they hear that this is something you’re supposed to show up and dance to, then we get a better crowd. With every tour and show it gets better. Now all we have to do is just clear the non-dancers off the floor.

Molly: When we first started doing this, indie kids just didn’t really seem to dance. Now people really do. It’s not our doing or anything, it’s just like this zeitgeist. Even kids I know who listen to Modest Mouse or stuff that you would just think of as really indie rock, they really like to dance.

Crumsho: Was it harder when you were coming more out of hardcore bands? Did you kind of leave a lot of people behind?

Nic: There were definitely those people that we lost along the way, but those were the ones that were right about to square out and drop out of the scene anyway. But a lot of people who were still just into punk not just for the sound were willing to make that leap. I remember people not being into it…like the first and only time !!! played Gilman we just killed it. The audience was into it, but at the end of the show some kid just yelled “It’s not as good as the Yah Mos!” I felt kind of like he was yelling Minor Threat covers at Fugazi. But that’s just one incident I can remember.

Molly: Mostly I just remember people being pleasantly surprised.

Crumsho: The impression that a lot of your music gives off is that you really don’t believe in setting any real boundaries for the music. How does it feel when you’re all just kind of lumped together with every other New York band regardless of sound?

Molly: I just really love being a part of this group of bands and all this music that I think is really just great. Even though so many of the band’s don’t sound anything I like, I like a lot of them. It’s just an exciting time to be in New York playing music.

Nic: It’s great being in a town where the majority of the bands I want to see are local. But yeah, I mean now it’s like “dance rock.” For one, it’s kind of a lame name. I don’t feel too much like the rock thing is true. I feel like rock is something I was involved in ten years ago. This is just something else. It’s almost as if rock really isn’t in the same ballpark. We don’t like being limited like that and just thrown in a category, but the Sex Pistols hated being called punk. And they personified it. [laughing] Maybe we’ll be the flagship band of dance-rock.

Crumsho: With the whole post-punk thing, it’s always used in this context that makes it a far off thing. Sort of like this trend that happened just came back again.

Nic: The problem is that not enough people have taken it to the next level. A lot of post-punk now sounds like post-punk from twenty years ago. That’s why it keeps popping up. But I think a lot of great stuff will emerge. This isn’t really finished yet. A lot of people are going to keep pushing it.

Molly: We’re certainly not done. From what I’ve heard, no one else really is either.

Nic: New York magazine had a little piece in there that said we sounded like Black Ark meets U2

Molly: A lot of people think we’ll get mad when they say we sound like U2, but I really like them.

Nic: Yeah, but they say that with bands like us around something new will come out of it. That was a really nice thing to say.

Crumsho: I read this great thing in an interview with !!! that said something to the effect of you guys using punk rock to play dance music. Is that a fairly good way of describing your approach with Out Hud?

Nic: The thing I always say is that we don’t listen to those post-punk bands a whole lot anymore. We definitely used to, but now I feel like we use some of the ideas they had. Like Gang of Four was trying to approach funk and disco. I feel like we try to approach the black music of our times. As for the punk rock thing, I guess we just kind of let it flow freely from us. We are punk. We identify with that and came from that.

Molly: I feel like punk is not just Black Flag in a musical sense. It’s more of an ideology. People kind of laugh when I say that I’m punk even though I don’t look like I’m into it. But it was definitely what I was into at a point. All it really means is that there are no rules.

Nic: Punk happened because of three chords and all of sudden everyone realized it was that simple. And when we started !!! and Out Hud I started realizing that these James Brown parts I really liked were just three notes. I was really into reggae which is also not a whole lot of notes. And stuff like Stereolab too, with just like one drony chord. It felt like the next step after punk. You know, stop playing chords, play less notes.

Molly: Yeah, and then we got into Pan Sonic and they have no notes.

Crumsho: How did you hook up with Kranky for this record? They seem kind of like a random choice because a lot of their bands are more esoteric or quiet.

Molly: It was random, like all things in Out Hud. That’s how we came together, because Phyllis and I were driving around looking for someone to buy us beer. We ran into a couple people from Sacramento who we became friends with, and that’s how we met everyone. A chance meeting. Kranky heard us on the radio. On Steve Silverstein’s radio show in Chicago. He played it, and Bruce from Kranky was in his car and he stayed in there see who we were and then he emailed us. They’ve been great to us.

Crumsho: How do you think the band has evolved from those first things you did on GSL?

Nic: I really feel like the sound now is not that far from the GSL stuff. It was complex before but you just couldn’t tell because of the low volume. When we moved to New York we started jamming with drum machines. With that, the vibe just doesn’t drop so you write way longer songs. We just keep jamming, and then when it comes time to edit it down we have all these different parts to it. We’ve just kept getting into different types of music, kept getting better at communicating and making things happen.

Crumsho: What is your relationship to the whole idea of “black music”? Do you think it’s even a valid term, or is it still kind of an anomaly to see a white band working through funk and dub?

Nic: When I was a kid, I used to go to my friend Billy’s house and we’d listen to Kiss and the Bee Gees. I was going to move, so he was going to make me a tape. And my mom said I couldn’t listen to Kiss. So he made me a Bee Gees tape. So to me, it’s always been music, there’s never been any real differentiation.

Molly: But the Bee Gees were white.

Nic: That’s the whole point – they were white guys playing black music and it was never strange. And we were talking about when Jam Master Jay died, when hip hop first hit for me, I heard Raising Hell and Licensed to Ill and that was rap music for me. You know, I knew that one group was white and the other black, but they were the kings of hip hop and didn’t make any difference. I was really into Nation of Ulysses too, and they had the whole Motown sound in America, and then from there it went into Motown and funk, which brings us to here.

Crumsho: So it comes from an undifferentiated love of the music, not out of some sense of irony.

Nic: When we get criticism like that, it doesn’t even matter because we have a lot of people who feel the way we do. We’re not being ironic. We’re serious.

By Michael Crumsho

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