Exploring Bob

Bob Hoag may orbit the moon, but he may just launch your band into the stratosphere

Bob Hoag loves to rip on Nickelback.

"They suck!" shouts Hoag, high-profile Valley producer, musician and Technicolor oddball. He whips off his horn-rimmed glasses, flares his nostrils and launches a dead-on impression of Chad Kroeger, the grunge band's dawn-of-man- looking lead singer.

"And this is not for real, you're wasting my time!" Hoag screeches, unmistakably imitating Kroeger for two captive audience members at Flying Blanket, his Mesa studio. "But you gotta keep your nostrils flared the whole time like this." He points his index and middle fingers to his face like an angry Mafia dad.

If a mainstream man of the moment gets such a rise out of the 29-year-old Hoag, who has crafted albums for rising Valley bands such as the Format, Before Braille, Fifteen Minutes Fast, and his own accomplished band, the Go Reflex, it's likely due to the fact that Kroeger, at least on the surface, is everything that Hoag is not. It seems like a mortal sin these days not to use editing software like Pro Tools. Hoag, though, still records everything on an automated 1970s Amek mixing console. While MTV is saturated with shizzolated rap and nefarious lip-pierced rock, the Go Reflex remains discordant, bashing out happy keyboard-heavy pop songs with choruses like, "Everybody's happy in California." And while folks like Kroeger wouldn't step out of the house without at least a one-to-one pleather-to-leather ratio, Hoag won't go anywhere without one of his signature gabardine (defined by the dictionary as "a sturdy, tightly woven fabric of cotton, wool, or rayon twill") jackets.

Hoag, a Pittsburgh native, is a preternatural character and, upon meeting him, it's tough to decide which outlandish personality makes for a better comparison. His horn-rimmed glasses look like they were stolen from Lyndon Johnson, his fedora from Indiana Jones. His sandy brown hair has Elvis' flopability. His wardrobe of mid-20th-century buttoned-down checked shirts and twill pants would make Cosmo Kramer jealous.

Yet when Hoag performs for an audience, he unquestionably plays a part unique to himself. At a CD release party for power-pop troupe Fifteen Minutes Fast at Nita's Hideaway last month, Hoag was so enraptured by his performance that his glasses flew off his face. At three separate Go Reflex shows, he blew his nose between songs.

"Wait a second, I still gotta do the other side. Honnnk!" he'd say as the befuddled crowd wondered if the guy was for real, or just a keyboard-playing Kodachrome slide come to life.

Hoag revels in the fact that seeing a Buddy Holly look-alike jump around at a punk rock show seems incongruous.

"I need to feel like a punk rocker," he says. "It gives me some satisfaction when, in a room of people with weird piercings, too-tight tee shirts, and black-dyed hair, I still look like the biggest freak."

By most accounts, Hoag likely wasn't putting on a funky song-and-dance for a video camera at the Fifteen Minutes Fast show. Associates cite his random acts of wackiness.

"If Bob sees something that's missing in a song, he'll run in [from the mixing room] and jump around and scream into the microphone. He loves to pretend he's playing the guitar," says Jason Sukut, FMF keyboardist . "He's a ball of energy... like an evil genius."

While it may be too early to classify Bob Hoag as a bona fide genius, let alone an evil one, for the time being, he certainly possesses telltale symptoms. Thomas Alva Edison, for instance, worked a 112-hour week, even at age 65. When Hoag started recording his friends' music in Pittsburgh, he would work from noon until 10 p.m. - and then work another eight hours overnight with his own band, Pollen.

Hoag continues his breakneck pace today. Oftentimes, he's fueled only by Easy Mac, SpaghettiOs and quadruple lattes.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he grew up doing spazzed-out little kid things like meticulously recreating a full Ghostbusters uniform, dressing up in it, and battling ghosts at the local grocery store. Other days, he would pretend to be Indiana Jones and "bury crap in the woods, try to forget about it for a couple a' days and go dig it up again."

As he grew older, Hoag channeled most of that fantastical creativity into music. Besides producing and playing keyboards, he also plays drums and writes music for his bands, first Pollen, which had more of a thick '80s guitar prevalence, and now the Go Reflex, which relies more on amp-filtered piano.

He began recording his own music with Pollen before the group relocated to the Valley in 1994. The band had been recording with Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton of western PA stalwarts the Descendants. They told Hoag he would be better off recording his own stuff because he had a better grasp of the desired sound than theydid. Hoag took their encouragement and ran with it.

"There was a great place in Pittsburgh where you could rent a little makeshift studio for, like, $300 a month, so we would rent it to record our demos," Hoag explains.

Eventually Hoag and fellow Pollen member Kevin Scanlon (a contributing photographer for New Times), who followed Hoag into the Go Reflex, began recording demos for their friends' bands. When Pollen moved to Phoenix in 1994, the guys brought the equipment from the Pittsburgh studio with them.

Musicians say they are drawn to Hoag's work because of his attitude toward studio time. Hoag does not charge by the hour. Rather, he charges by the recording, since he feels time limits impede creativity. Plus, Flying Blanket is like a nostalgia trip back to high school, like walking into your best friend' s basement. It features a couple of beat-up couches and a plentitude of guitar magazines and Weekly World News tabloids in scattered piles. The mixing room ceiling has wood shingles reminiscent of a tiki bar.

"Everything is organized in his own way in that place," explains Kelly Reed, the drummer for Before Braille, burgeoning Mesa faves. "If you ask Bob to find you a CD, he'll look around for two hours and finally find it underneath a couch." Despite the clutter, the environment has proven instrumental to some stellar production feats.

The EP Hoag recorded with the Format, simply titled EP, may well be one of Phoenix's greatest recent success stories. Hoag helped the pop duo arrange its harmonies, played the drums, added background vocals, and wound up producing what was originally intended to be a five-song rough edit, a first draft. The ridiculously catchy EP burned through its first 1,000 local copies and helped bandmates Nate Reuss and Sam Means land a major-label deal with Elektra Records.

"It was pretty awesome to see them do well," Hoag says. " I'm happy to hear that those guys are getting the opportunity to do things in the big leagues."

"We recorded with him as a full band and it was awesome," says Reuss. "He did his job and a very good one, at that."

Yet like other eccentric minds, Hoag can be a nonconfrontational dude, like when he wanted to watch E!'s Celebrity Datingand his live-in nephew would turn to sports instead. Hoag wouldn't fight, and would retreat to his room. Sometimes this passivity transfers into Hoag's professional life. When the Format posted the following comment on the journal section of its Web site, he hesitated at first to comment: "last nite we finished up the first single minus harmonies and some stuff in the bridge... it sounds sooo awesome... im shocked... I didn't know the song could be this good... we changed the vibe of the song and added a lot of guitar and synth layers... and a disco bass line... its really cool... to me its 10000000 times better then the original . . . Walt [Vincent, who also produced albums for Pete Yorn and Fastball] sure knows a thing or two about producing. ouch."

Reuss says "the paragraph in no way has anything to do with Bob... it's in regards to Walt, our producer, and some of the experiences he's had, as well as the other producer's perception of The First Single.'"

Still, Hoag says he feels slighted. "I wish I could believe [that it wasn't directed toward me]," he says. "If he hadn't put that ouch' in there, I might believe it... but I feel like I've been betrayed by friends."

Regardless of that touchy subject, Bob's methods continue to pay off with other bands. After he recorded an EP with Before Braille, the band signed with independent Aezra Records and negotiated for Hoag to do its full-length album.

"If he charged by the hour, he would have no business," jokes Reed. "He always spends the first couple of hours you're in there talking to you about the Beach Boys."

Hoag is notorious for diatribes. Don't even get him started on reality television.

"I really like the dating shows," he spews in an infectious, ultra-long detour. "I get really angry, like, Why is she buying his crap?!' I love Dismissed, especially when they have three dudes all on a date. I started watching Star Dates. I watched Screech and his date. They got along great. He was really nice, regular guy, genuine fella."

Another of Hoag's latest obsessions is Burt Reynolds. Yes, Burt Reynolds. Hoag recently acquired a 1970s tell-all book about the former Cosmopolitan centerfold. His favorite picture shows Burt leaning against a Corvette with a glass of champagne in hand. The caption, which Hoag finds hilarious, reads, "Burt is a class act."

"One day I'm gonna find Burt and have him autograph it," he says. "I don't know, though. I think he'll want to fight me."

Either that, or Burt'll cast him in Cannonball Run IV.

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