House Phone plays Thursday at midnight at the Polish National Alliance Hall Lounge with
Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, Passalacqua and Le Ren.
The first time House Phone singer James Linck played us the song "1,000 Years," we thought of Hamtown's Blowout.
It's a truly moving tune, a kind of a rocker with a buoyant synth intro and roaring guitar. But, there's this breakdown in the middle where Linck's high croon is singled out and he specifically addresses an imagined crowd: "To those who are still standing ..."
And we pictured this Blowout crowd: huddled humans spinning like tops, some bouncing off each other, their thoughts already curling out toward the 100 other bands they want to rush out and see ...
Could Linck's line be potent enough to stop the people from leaving? Would his strange soulful voice carry over?
Yes and yes. This spirited quintet would stop you. Their sound shows an elevated musical sensibility — four of the five are students of Wayne State University's jazz program, after all — so they can manhandle jazz as much as hip hop or anything else.
It started at a Halloween House Party in a Woodbridge basement three years ago, when 26-year-old guitarist Matt Callaway, (who's now finishing his senior recital at Wayne State), first spotted Linck performing an impassioned set with his first real band, James & the Rainbros, a blend of funk, reggae and Motown sucked through an indie filter.
Those were the kinds of guys Callaway knew that he would want to be in a band with ... the singer's voice was like nothing he'd ever heard, the bassist (fellow music student Ben Sturley) stayed steady, in the groove.
Callaway wanted a band that "gigs" and doesn't play music from a sheet or improvisational jazz in a lounge — but he wanted serious musicians.
So he joined up with the Rainbros' Sturley and Linck.
Soon after that Halloween party, the Rainbros broke up, and Sturley went around the Wayne State campus and recruited a squad of other comparably "serious" players to back up these new, R&B-inflected songs Linck had been writing. He assembled a dream team — with Callaway, he found Boegehold, still only 20, and pianist-keyboardist Taylor Pierson, 21 — guys who had discipline from the academic atmosphere, but also an inherent hunger, still yet unseasoned, making them ready to cut loose in the clubs. Enter House Phone.
"Ben, where's your bed?" drummer Stephen Boegehold asks Sturley at a House Phone rehearsal, up in the bare-bones attic in Linck's old Hamtramck duplex.
Ben gestures at their feet, the wooden floorboards in front of the drum kit. No mattress. A few instruments, some gear. Not much else. "Right here," Sturley says.
"You mean," Callaway says, "right where you and James have been ashing your cigarettes all this time?"
Callaway knew what he wanted: serious musicians; he just didn't know it'd look something like that. But Sturley and Linck brought him into what's become a seriously stacked band — able to effect a mellow, minimalist jazz-lounge sound as much as a fired-up fusion of space-rock, psych-pop and hip hop.
"I really didn't know what I was doing at first," Callaway says. "I had played the rock thing a little, but never in any 'rock bands.' I guess sometimes you're better at something when you don't know you can do it ... somehow."
"In school, you have specific goals, different goals than we would in this band," Pierson says. "At school, you have to use all the tools you have all the time, constantly exercising them, but at this point, [the band's] just a chance to finally apply what you have — it's just second nature at this point; a total release."
House Phone next recorded an EP in 2010 only to see Sturley leave for a house-band gig aboard a cruise ship. (He's now playing with Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas.) So the band got bassist Jeff Cuny, who played with Pierson in some funk-reggae quartet.
Sturley "was such an idea person," Callaway says. "But Jeff's greatest quality is he can hear something, latch onto it really fast" — he snaps his fingers — "and play something interesting off of it."
"It was my first day at Wayne, actually," says 22-year-old Cuny, when Taylor mentioned House Phone needed a bass player.
Sturley's departure led Linck to step up as, essentially, a bandleader, something that "was kind of surreal, at first, having 20-year-olds look up to you, for what to do," Callaway says.
In three years, everyone in the band has grown considerably. What kicked it all off was last year's Blowout, when they played the Belmont with hip-hop quartet Cold Men Young, galvanizing the group's hip-hop sensibility (a direction they haven't shied from since, much to the delight of Cuny, probably the group's heaviest hip-hop head).
"I loved that show," Cuny says. "It put us right into the hip-hop scene in Detroit. It became a collaboration."
House Phone went on to back up and blend in with Cold Men Young at a packed Majestic Theatre show and 2011's Dally in the Alley.
"Playing with CMY is a blast — nobody brings that kind of energy," Boegehold says. "And as the drummer, if I'm not ready, willing and able to bring the same or more energy, I'm screwed. I'm gonna get left behind. I'm hitting the drums hard with those guys."
Their collective excitement to be playing out as a group was dialed-up after that summer.
"Playing with [these guys] and studying [at Wayne] has helped me grow as a musician," Pierson says. "I'm more conscious of what songs need to sound complete ..."
Boegehold: "As we've continued playing we've all evolved into a more streamlined, sexy sound that I think is a little more intelligent maybe? A definite maturity."
Singer Linck, meanwhile, has established his own recording and media production studio inside the Russell Industrial Center (Throwback Media) with longtime friend and videographer Raymond Grubb, where he's cut his teeth recording various local acts in the humble (but effectively equipped) area.
Settling into that rehearsal space solidified the band's rapport, Callaway says, a clubhouse vibe helped them lock in, focus, jam and just chill together. Oh, and record their own stuff too.
Having a solid foundation built on music students behind Linck — this half-Michigander, half-Brazilian falsetto-crooner with an Afro — is a formula to stop any Blowout crowd from leaving.
"I don't wanna say we have a grasp on what we're doing, and I'm not trying to have a grasp," Linck says. "On the group's latest [Gift Catalog EP/Cassette], I wanted the songs to be ... shocking? Maybe? To sing in that really high falsetto almost the whole time and have a lot of space around it. I was thinking, while writing that breakdown [on "1,000 Years"] about doing it live. You see so many cool bands, but you might be standing in a bar, distracted, drinking, talking. If the band isn't doing something that makes you stop and say, 'What the fuck is going on?' Then whole sets can go by."
Albums that changed band members' lives
Albert King — The Very Best Of: "I used to listen to Albert before we played shows to try and tap into that soulful element that blues players always have ..."
Sly & the Family Stone — Fresh: "That bass player holds it down ..."
Steely Dan — The Royal Scam: "Especially in the studio with HP, I'm influenced largely by Steely Dan ..."
Modest Mouse — Lonesome Crowded West
Radiohead — In Rainbows: Too hard to choose!