Meet Harrison Hufman, Phoenix's 13-Year-Old Experimental Musician
Conductor of the symphony of butter knives
With a giant red sock pulled over his face, Harrison Hufman pounds a cheap, red electric guitar with two butter knives, occasionally smacking a crash cymbal. He softly groans threats to call the cops into a mic awash in reverb. The kind of bizarre extended technique applied here makes Hufman one of the most avant-garde artists in town, and he's also prolific. Not only does he have two albums coming out this summer, he's also working on a full-length movie.
Oh, and he just had his 13th birthday.
Yes, even though he is only in seventh grade (soon to be eighth), Hufman is one of the most ambitious and outlandish musicians performing in Phoenix today. He scratches out half-screeched lyrics about bears and dead dogs and eating soup on his echoey, droning songs, which might remind you of the Shaggs meets John Cage.
"I like loud shows and loud performances. That's what the Harrison Hufman Experience is based on. Recording really loud industrial music," Hufman says excitedly. "I'm going to try stuff like taking a broken cymbal and take a brick and do some recordings with that and sample from it for a beat."
Earlier this year, a giant stuffed teddy bear appeared at the Trunk Space, as the place tends to attract weird, unsourced objects. (Anyone remember the Teletubby head that appeared in the trees for a few weeks before getting smashed?) Anyway, Hufman briefly used the white bear as part of his drum kit, then he and his friends tore the bear's insides into confetti during someone's set and took turns wearing him as a suit.
"Harrison is a really good drummer, too — very experimental, even though he's just learning," says local musician Andy Warpigs. Hufman sometimes plays drums for the faux-punk (Warpig's term)
singer. "He made friends with James Majors and that Solomon [Bobinac] kid right off the bat. It seems like Trunk Space has always been the kind of place where people can connect over their creative passions, but the place is definitely more inclusive [now] than it ever has been."Indeed, it wasn't long after seeing his first show at Trunk Space (local thrashers Fathers Day and Big Bill, a punk band from Texas) that Hufman decided to start his own band. He came up with Butter Knifes (yes, the spelling is intentional, but Hufman says most people haven't realized that) in which he played music using actual margarine knives.
However, after he smashed his guitar in the middle of a set, he started a new project called the Harrison Hufman Experience. This incarnation features two drummers, Solomon Bobinac and Jack Zubia, with Hufman on a Casio keyboard.
"I play my Casio with the cheesy, pre-recorded beats on there," Hufman says. "I speed it up and do really fast songs and really slow songs. I'm thinking about adding a guitar player, but I'm still thinking of doing the Casio and double drum setup for now."Local DIY imprint Rubber Brother Records is releasing the band's first recording, called Such Music, this summer. Hufman also is creating a full-length film called The Harrison Hufman Experience: The Movie, which will combine live performances with animation and other weird stuff.
"I think it's awesome he's creating so much stuff at such a young age," says Robbie Pfeffer of Rubber Brother and garage punk outfit Playboy Manbaby. "He's a rad dude. I hope he stays as weird and enthusiastic about music."
Hufman has a lot of influences, from Thee Oh Sees to Adult Swim cartoons to krautrock (his favorite album right now is Can's Monster Movie), but first and foremost on his list of role models is his father, Jay Hufman. It was when Harrison was playing with his dad that he began improvising with butter knives. Jay long has been a Valley staple, performing in bands like Rum Tenor, Towncraft, Cherie Cherie, Happy Plaza, and others. But from there, little Hufman's musical influences only spread.
"I think my favorite all-time band is Treasure MammaL, because they're just so fun and energetic. They just make you feel good about yourself," Hufman says. "The last Treasure MammaL show, it was close to my birthday and they put me in a chair and started singing 'Dream Girl.' Abe [Gil, singer] said I was his dream bro, and then he said, 'Let's all lift up Harrison Hufman for his birthday.' So they grabbed my legs, and they were lifting me in the air, and there's a part of the song and everyone was moshing to it, and it was really fun and energetic. Their shows are always fun, with two drummers, and this time they had four dancers with weird costumes and spandex, and it's amazing. Everything is so on sync and beautiful, it makes you wanna cry."
Another of Hufman's biggest inspirations was the late Space-Alien Donald, who returned to the stars on April 20 at age 79. The gay Canadian rapper's life motto was "must be funny," something Hufman has obviously taken to heart.
"I'm trying to do more techno stuff, and he's part of the reason," Hufman says. "I really miss him, and everybody in the Phoenix community pretty much misses him a lot, too."
There aren't many all-ages venues in Phoenix to begin with (don't expect to see Hufman playing bars any time soon), but Hufman often frequents the beloved Trunk Space venue on Grand Avenue. In fact, Hufman's other cassette coming out this summer, a selection of old Butter Knifes recordings, is called Live at the Trunk Space, to be released on Tucson-based Diet Pop Records.
UPDATED MOVIE TRAILER: BY DRUMMER 1/2 SOLOMON COMING SOONPosted by The Harrison Hufman Experience on Monday, 1 June 2015
"I love Trunk Space," Hufman says. "It's so nice to have something that is a community where everyone knows each other, makes a bunch of art and music, and everyone supports it and you don't get judged. You just have a good time. It's a good home for me. It's a great place."
While Hufman is thrilled to have fans, he never expected anyone to respond to his art.
"I'm actually really surprised that everyone likes my projects in Phoenix," Hufman says. "I was just doing it for fun. I wasn't doing it to have a real career as a musician. I just wanted to share my music with the world and be a part of something for once."
When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, Hufman just laughs and says "happy."
"I don't know what I want to be. I just want to live a simple life . . . I definitely want to play more music, that's for sure," Hufman says. "I don't want to be some rock star and tour everywhere and have a billion fans, you know? I just want to stay in Phoenix and keep playing music where I am."
Harrison Hufman Experience is scheduled to perform Friday, June 5, at Trunk Space.
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