Immaculately clothed in thrift-store suits and sporting scuffed wing tips, the members of East Bay foursome the Hi-Fives shimmer with a panache that extends beyond their wardrobe and separates them from their Lookout Records peers. While Lookout mainstays like the Mr. T Experience, the Queers, Squirtgun, etc., define the pop-punk, "this is a song about a girl" formula that the label has become notorious for, the Hi-Fives distinguish themselves from their cohorts by churning out short, hyper throwbacks to the early '60s British-invasion bands. Lightly tinged with the punk charisma that comes from growing up in the Bay Area's burgeoning '80s scene that birthed Green Day, Operation Ivy and Lookout Records itself, the Hi-Fives' songs are the amalgamation of punk's manic aesthetic and the Beatles' uninhibited pop cuteness.
Co-guitarists and vocalists Chris Imlay and John Denery began collaborating in 1988 as Brent's T.V., and consequently learned to play their instruments. Between '88 and '94, the two played together in a plethora of bands, including the Ne'er-Do-Wells, Thee Shatners and the Narvel Felts (see the interview below). By 1995, Chris and John had assembled the first incarnation of the Hi-Fives and released the debut LP Welcome to My Mind. In late '96, the band released its sophomore LP, the ultrasuave and a whole lotta YOU!, showcasing its upbeat garage pop and talent for injecting new life into old formulas (including covers of the Standells' "Tainted Love" and Yazoo's "Bad Connection").
The saga of the Hi-Fives is the tale of a band fervently pursuing the pop euphoria of early rock 'n' roll despite mitigating odds; immediately after recording and a whole lotta YOU!, the band's rhythm section bailed, leaving John and Chris to either recruit a new bassist and drummer or drop the Hi-Fives and the newfound momentum provided by the album's critical acclaim. Luckily for their fans, they managed to fill the rhythm-section gap and will be headed our way soon. Chris Imlay called the Revolver offices last week to see if we're getting excited yet . . .
Revolver: I hear John's a high school teacher. Do the Hi-Fives have a big following among his students?
Chris Imlay: Some of his kids go to the shows, but he doesn't really bring it up to them. I think he tries to hide it, but when we did the West Coast dates with Green Day, we were getting played on major radio stations and they had stories about us in the weeklies, like, hey, they're playing with Green Day or whatever, and we were on the cover of the [San Francisco] Chronicle, so we had a lot of exposure or whatever, and his kids were all excited, like, "Hey, I was at that show, Mr. Denery! You guys rock!" It's pretty funny, huh? R: Tell me the Narvel Felts story.
CI: For a few minutes, we were called the Narvel Felts. We were changing our name from the Ne'er-Do-Wells and someone said, "Let's be the Narvel Felts." Band names are like the silliest thing in the world anyway. No one knew where the Narvel Felts came from; somebody subconsciously saw the name on the back of one of their Sun Records compilations, 'cause Narvel Felt was this old blues singer. The name just made us laugh, but no one knew why it was funny. Then some old people showed up at a show in Santa Rosa and were like, "Where's Narvel? You guys ain't Narvel Felt!" So we were the Narvel Felts for about a week, I think.
R: What's up with your Canada obsession?
CI: The first time we went on tour, when we were still the Ne'er-Do-Wells, we toured with the Smugglers, who we share a lot of characteristics with, but we're not as good as them. They were the beginning of our great fascination with Canada. We did this huge tour of Canada from Victoria to Halifax, Nova Scotia. We played Prince George, which is like on the 52nd parallel; we were the first American band to play there. It was like Northern Exposure, like Eskimos and stuff. One of the opening bands was this incredibly religious hard-core band; they brought a huge, like, eight-foot cross with a papier-mache Jesus on it. It was a packed house, all the kids got into every band and the city newspaper was there, asking us, "So why did you come to Prince George?" It was pretty weird.
R: What's been the highest moment in the Hi-Fives' life?
CI: I think the highest moment is and a whole lotta YOU! doing way better than we thought it would. 'Cause when we recorded the album, it was after a completely low point. We toured Canada for four weeks, and on the fifth week, when we were in New Hampshire, the rhythm section kinda exploded; they had a huge brawl.
R: They were actually pounding each other?
CI: They had to be restrained. And it was onstage, after we played, like, three songs. Then the drummer ran off to Boston and got on a plane. It was in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on the ocean right on the border with Maine, and we just got in the van and drove from there to San Francisco nonstop. Fifty-six hours. We stopped in Reno for two hours to get breakfast; it was the only time we stopped and ate. And no one in the van talked. The bass player, one of the guys who started it, just sat in back, no one wanted to say anything. It was so miserable; I mean, driving for eight hours sucks anyway, but 56 hours with everyone pissed off, trying to figure out what the hell happened, it was just terrible. We were scheduled to record two weeks after that, and we did, which is what and a whole lotta YOU! is. Those two guys couldn't be in the room at the same time, so we recorded the drums separately than the rest. Now we have a new rhythm section, which seems to be a little more stable.
R: So will the Hi-Fives ever be your career?
CI: No way. We might take a year off after the next record and just tour, 'cause we've never done that before and we figure, "Why wait?" We're not getting any younger. But it's a band, y'know? It should be fun. As soon as you make it a career, it takes a lot of the fun out of it. It's your job and you have to stress about paying the bills and rent with it. I think it would deteriorate our whole thing, 'cause we're not really talented as such, we're not like skilled musicians or anything, we don't write especially clever songs; people like us because we're appealing and fun and fast and exciting, but it's kind of silly to think about doing that as a career.
The Hi-Fives are scheduled to perform on Wednesday, July 9, at Hollywood Alley in Mesa, with Pollen, and the Medieval Knievals. Showtime is 9 p.m. (all ages).
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