By Benjamin Leatherman
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In the recent past, Mill Avenue in Tempe has been reserved for the aging jangle-pop bands of '90s yore, but things have started to turn. The relatively young noise-rock outfit Hotfoughtcold has joined the storied avenue's ranks -- and they're hauling their friends with them.
The year before HFC started gigging at Long Wong's, they mostly played parties at the "Farmer house" -- a substitute scene cohabited in part by bassist and singer Chad Knapp located just north of University Drive on Farmer Street. Knapp hangs a large, framed collage of old show fliers just inside the door of the "Farmer house" to welcome all visitors, an homage to his influences and a pictogram symbolizing the house's punk rock ethos. On the television sits a log sculpture, which incorporates neon lights and a Jonny Quest-like action figure. The piece is titled "The Guy Who Won't Leave." All of this was removed for the all-night performances, though, and Knapp's deep collection of vinyl, like most aficionados', would safely be secured in his bedroom.
Guitarist and vocalist Jeff Meininger describes how an evening at the "Farmer house" would get started: "I had this friend who worked at Tops Liquor and he could get three kegs for like 50 bucks," Meininger says. "We would charge three dollars or something to drink and then play all night." The "Farmer house" would host three or four bands during a shindig, one of which would often be a touring act. "I've got a picture of Lottie Collins [a Japanese punk band] playing in my living room to a packed house, and if you look closely at the photo you can see that the clock on the wall reads something like 2 a.m.," Knapp describes. His elderly neighbors, he points out, are hard of hearing, and a few sometimes enjoy the late-night muddled rock, rarely calling the cops.
"Some dude stripped naked, climbed on the roof, cleared the gap between our house and the neighbor's and started humping the chimney," Knapp remembers fondly of one "Farmer" party.
"Yeah, and no one even knew who he was," adds Meininger.
Meininger, Knapp, drummer Jeremy Iverson and guitarist Jeremy Arp gave most of the cash they collected at those parties to the touring bands, an instance of recurring generosity that belies the ever-present disaffection the band portrays. It's almost impossible to talk to HFC without them rattling off a litany of other local hard-rock bands -- Vin-Fiz, Rum Tenor, Bella, the Winners, the Levines -- they'd like to help play better venues.
Hotfoughtcold, in its charming fervor, started playing Wong's a few months ago. Wong's, of course, is a noted dive usually reserved for alt-rock, jangle-pop and Americana bands, including the Pistoleros and Dead Hot Workshop. Robin Wilson of the Tempe standard-bearers the Gin Blossoms plays happy hours there on Fridays. This may be an accomplished bunch, but they do not represent a hard-core haven.
"I don't know what it was -- maybe I have a good personality -- but I worked on Wong's for like a year before we got a gig there," Knapp says sarcastically. "We brought in a lot of friends, and they sold a lot of liquor. We wanted to start playing Mill so we could expose people to a different type of music. If people see us play, and they like it, maybe they'll want to catch a Minibosses show or something."
HFC is keenly aware of punk-rock tradition, which distinguishes them from their jangly peers. It's as easy to track most bands' rock lineage as it is to pick out a Boston accent in an Alabama barbershop, but what separates bands that have a true affinity for punk rock such as HFC -- not just a passing fancy reflected by a band's choice to play fast and loud -- is an attitudinal devotion to playing "original" music, music arrived at through audacious experimentation.
"I think we all admire experimental bands like the Liars," says Knapp, "but we all definitely have different tastes. Iverson is way into Pavement. That's actually where the name Hotfoughtcold came from, a Pavement album cover."
HFC released its first EP, Porrasturvat, early this year. Taking the title from an esoteric video game with the deceptively benign subtitle "Stair Dismount" (check it out, the disc captures the outfit's live power and imaginative melodies), HFC's brand of noise-rock dominates a venue like television's white noise dominates our everyday, filling its every cleft with tormented screams and deafening, hard-core progressions.
Live, Knapp and Meininger badger each other onstage with an incomprehensible volley of screeches, their voices acting more like cacophonous instruments than a harbinger of metaphor and lyricism. Meininger, à la the Lizard King, occasionally will turn his back on the audience. Knapp resembles a lanky version of Bert the Turtle from the famous '50s propaganda film Duck and Cover as he slouches and slaps his bass. Iverson thrashes away at his kit with a menacing grace and skill comparable to the spastic Keith Moon and the improvisational beauty of Ginger Baker. Arp malingers somewhere in no man's land, preferring to not call much attention to his skillful guitar phrases.
"We've had some complaints about volume, but that just seems to make us play louder," Meininger boasts.
No one could anticipate the intensity HFC produces solely by their appearance. Knapp's benevolent round cheeks don't prepare you for the concentrated shrieking the skinny kid can muster. And his boyish innocence adds much humor to his antics. One time, he needled FEAR front man Lee Ving during a show in Flagstaff, angering the diminutive old-school punker enough for him to dismount the stage and threaten the much-taller college student. "He had long hair, and I was like heckling him about it because he called some kid out in The Decline of Western Civilization [an '80s punk rock documentary] because he looked like a hippie," Knapp recalls.
"He started calling me a pinko."
Hotfoughtcold have recently contributed a track to an upcoming compilation being assembled by local rock collective Theshizz.org, scheduled for release later this month. They guarantee the quality of the disc and rattle off another litany of band names that will either accompany them or are names of bands they respect. Those band names are as inspired as they are comic: Financial Panther, World Class Thugs, I Hate You When You're Pregnant . . .
In an unusual grouping, HFC found itself lumped in the Best Punk category in last month's New Times showcase with Fourbanger and Sixth Year Senior, two of the Valley's more effervescent "bubblegum" punk bands. No Gimmick and Glass Heroes, both decidedly old-school, were also nominated. (To make a suggestion, Fourbanger should rename themselves No Gimmick, injecting a bit of irony into their formulaic pop-punk, and No Gimmick should become Fourbanger, and . . . well, Sixth Year Senior should become Turk 182 or something. Nope. A Google search has just revealed that the name Turk 182 has already been taken by a "stoner rock" outfit from Italy. Sorry, fellas.)
HFC, understandably, is weary of the categorization. "If we start saying we're punk, someone is going to say something like, They're not punk -- punk died with Black Flag in '84,'" confides Knapp.
"We didn't really understand the groupings. I mean, we're louder than all those assholes," Meininger offers with a sly grin, expressing irony over the fact the band was excluded from the ambiguously titled Loud Rock category.
If anything, HFC is the antithesis of bands like Fourbanger and Sixth Year Senior, though they do admit to admiring Green Day. Hotfoughtcold plays with discordant juxtapositions and a sentiment closer to a psychological breakdown than a senior prom. By not adhering to a prescribed formula but instead an irreverent originality, however, the band may have assigned itself to relative obscurity. With the promise of a tour bus equipped with a computer to play the latest version of Porrasturvatbetween gigs in the not-too-foreseeable future, all four members of HFC have careers other than that of "punk rocker." Knapp is a high school art teacher with a degree in art education, Meininger designs Web pages, and Arp, a senior at Arizona State University, has clandestinely joined the daily grind as an intern at the state Legislature.
"Yeah, as a teacher I change minds, Arp changes laws, Jeff doesn't change anything and Iverson . . . Iverson is a repo man," Chad quips.
Anticlimactically, Fourbanger won Best Punk Band, and Iverson was five dollars richer -- Chad and he had a bet going on the eventual winner. Knapp insisted he didn't care about the loss, and he's believable -- sorta. It would've been a great big "fuck you" if HFC had won as the proverbial underdog, but it wasn't to be.
For now, the quartet will continue to play monthly shows on Mill, inviting other relatively obscure local bands to play with them, such as moody punk-rockers Vinegar Sting. But HFC only wants to play there once a month; they say they don't want to attract a reputation, in their words, as a "Mill Avenue band."
"I was watching King of the Hill the other day, and I was like, Who is that, the Pistoleros?'" Knapp says, referring to the show's theme song composed by the Refreshments. "We don't give a shit about any of that."
"We're going to put on another show at the Farmer house' in the near future," he continues. "Try to charge enough dough to set up our neighbors in a hotel for the night, so we won't have any interruptions," Meininger reports.
If it's anything like the past shows, then perhaps the "Farmer house" should apply for a liquor license, and downtown Tempe's musical center might just have to shift a few streets west.