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The clothes made the band
The story behind the kid-friendly rock of The Final Hurrahs and Numero One
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Rock n’ rollers place a premium on authenticity, the sense that our musical heroes are the real deal. But the “fake band” is also a respectable rock n’ roll tradition. The most obvious recent example is Gorillaz, a collaboration between Blur’s Damon Albarn and graphic designer Jamie Hewlett that invented a band of cartoon characters complete with distinct personalities and an entire mythology. And of course there’s the granddaddy of all “fake bands,” The Monkees — essentially cartoon characters played by real people — created to capitalize on the success of The Beatles.
But no one really cared that behind the scenes Gorillaz was an aging Britpop star indulging his hip-hop(ish) jones, and over 40 years on, no one really cares how The Monkees were packaged and presented. In both cases, the tunes were good, the musicianship solid, and the end result sounded… well, sincere.
And sincerity, musicianship, and good tunes is what you’ll find on The Final Hurrahs’ album Numero One, a solid collection of kid-friendly rock from a fictional band that sprang from a clothing line for boys.
The name of the clothing line is The Good Ones, and it was launched by One Lucky Guitar design company and Mathilda Jane clothing. One Lucky Guitar head honcho Matt Kelley says they were trying to think of a promotional campaign that might tie the pieces of clothing together and create a narrative to make it a little something more than “just a bunch of cool t-shirts.” They came up with the idea of a fictional band. “The band could have all these natural extensions,” Kelley says. “We could create fictional events we could design around. Like the band could play an in-store somewhere. We’ll make up a venue, we’ll do a logo for it, and then it becomes a sweatshirt or t-shirt.”
“Designing posters, making the music, creating the narrative… It’s all stuff we can do well, and stuff we like to do,” Kelley adds.
The project grew from there. They created characters — cartoon dogs — with names, distinctive looks, and extensive profiles. OLG’er Jake Sauer pens a tour blog that, for those following it closely, sort of connects all the pieces together. There were photo shoots, and then talk of a video… “And I thought, ‘well, if we’re going to do a video, we’re going to need a song, too’,” Kelley says.
With a young son at home, Kelley initially thought he might tackle the music part of the project himself. Back when Kelley was part of Go Dog Go, he and bandmate Chris Dodds (who also had a young son) talked about doing an album of kid-friendly rock. The project never took off due to the demands of work, family, and (at the time) The Legendary Trainhoppers, and some of those same constraints played a part in Kelley deciding to hand the music for The Final Hurrahs over to someone else.
And his choice might initially seem a bold one for anyone familiar with local music — Josh Hall of Thunderhawk. While not based in Fort Wayne, Hall has played in our city many, many times, championed by local music scribes Greg Locke and our own Sean Smith. Though some of the subject matter of Hall’s music is decidedly not for kids, Hall had the sound Kelley wanted. “I thought it should sound like The Replacements or Guided By Voices, but be kid-friendly,” Kelley says.
Also, Kelley knew Hall as a pretty prolific writer — in addition to putting out albums as Thunderhawk, Hall also has a number of side projects, including Black Label Summer and Stun Guzzler.
Hall readily took to the challenge. In fact, to hear Hall tell it, it wasn’t even that much of a challenge. “It wasn’t a whole lot different than what I normally do,” he says. “You just write a good song and keep the subject matter kid friendly, more related to kids and stuff they would think about. The songwriting was still the same.”
Hall says Kelley floated a few specific ideas for songs his way, like the track “Don’t Don’t Don’t,” about all the things parents tell there kids not to do, and offered a few tweaks on lyrics here and there. Hall says he enjoyed writing and recording “in character,” that the whole process came pretty easily to him. “We wanted it to sound kinda like fun garage pop, and that’s what we did,” Hall says.
And of course, parents had to like the music, too. “Basically, it’s the moms who buy the clothes, so if they don’t like the music, it wouldn’t work,” says Hall.
That last point is important. The demographic for The Good Ones is basically Gen X parents. “Our buyers are people in their 30s, who were probably in high school when Nevermind came out,” Kelley says. “The sound of this had to appeal to them.” Kelley points to Dan Zanes, formerly of The Del Fuegos, who also made what he called “family-friendly” music that bridges the gap between baby/toddler music and top 40 pop.
“I don’t want to sound like a fuddy-duddy, but I’m not sure I’m ready for an 8 or 9 year old to be watching the VMAs,” laughs Kelley (and anyone who has realized their kid knows all the words to the latest hit by Rhianna can probably agree with him).
Plus… well, there’s just not enough guitar in the current Top 40. And if there’s a “secret agenda” to The Final Hurrahs, that might be it — to maybe inspire kids to put down Guitar Hero and pick up the real deal. Numero One kicks off with the track “Lose Your Delusion” (another musical reference for the Class of ’91), a song about getting away from the electronics and going outside. “To me, that’s part of it,” Kelley says. “Inspiring some kid to get into music, art, to take the time to look at the world around you.”
Numero One is available at iTunes and Wooden Nickel.
For more on The Good Ones and The Final Hurrahs, visit thegoodones.com