- Quickly now (from left): Zenas Jackson, Justin Walker, Jamie Bernstein, Derek Szubeczak.
When the members of Hi Speed Dubbing are asked to describe their style, they take a full 41 minutes to answer — and even then they're not completely satisfied. It isn't because their music is any sort of mystery. Their blend of pulsing beats and fuzz rock is intelligent and exciting, but hardly from another planet. No, the indecision stems from the fact that the guys — frontman Justin Walker, guitarist Derek Szubeczak, bassist Jamie Burnstein and drummer Zenas Jackson — have never really considered labelling themselves and, apparently, genre defining isn't in their nature. "We don't ever listen to the same music. We don't even talk about music," Szubeczak says.
He means it too. When asked to compile a mixtape, the band members look at each other aghast at some of the songs titles being bandied around. Of course, the fact that they all come from different places musically only helps their sonic schizophrenia. It doesn't make it easy to nail them down though.
"I think our genre is 'different' with a strong basis in 'general,'" says Szubeczak.
"It's familiar territory but with enough curveballs to throw people," says Walker.
"It's not weird. It's just out of the ordinary," says Szubeczak.
What? Allow me, guys.
�In Jackson, Hi Speed Dubbing has a drummer rooted in jazz and reggae, a man-mountain whose tight chops are the frame for the oft looser sound of his bandmates. Bassist Burnstein, with his startlingly skinny frame, forms a tight rhythm section with the drummer, while Szubeczak has the freedom to riff over the top of that. Walker, meanwhile, is the first to admit that he's not the best singer in the world in any classical sense, but his yell-croon works perfectly here. With, perhaps, the exception of Jackson, there's little in each musician to suggest anything exceptional. Their strength lies in their whole. It's like a happy accident. They found each other through little more than friendship, and didn't put much thought into the idea of "compatibility." They simply enjoy playing together. The fact that the music they make is a thrill is a bonus.
Their rehearsal space, aka Jackson's basement, is much like any other, adorned with posters and fliers for local shows that they've played. Jackson straddles his drum kit, while the rest of the guys kick back on old sofas with beers and cigarettes.
Those with a penchant for all things retro will surely warm to the band's name, which of course comes from the process of recording tape-to-tape at high speed to save time. Walker, though, is keen to run with the old-school cassette theme and put their first album out on that outdated format. "I was recording on four-track, and I thought that it'd be cool to put a tape out," Walker says. "If it comes with a free MP3 download, you don't have to have a means to play the tape. That's the physical representation of the music, but, hell, you don't even have to play it. CDs are the most convenient format, but the CD isn't glamorous anymore. You rip it to your computer and then put it on the shelf. The artwork is small and it's so recent. Everyone loves the retro culture though, which is why the cassette is appealing to us."
The Hi Speed Dubbing guys have been playing together since 2006 from their Eastpointe base. They're an odd quartet in that, despite their differences of opinion, they operate almost like a single consciousness, bandying thoughts around until they're all happy with a single idea. They're like the Borg in Star Trek, or maybe like a friendly, rock 'n' roll version of the pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
These four dudes, now in their late 20s, played around the area for years in a multitude of now-forgotten bands before they found each other and brought their varied experiences to the table. "It got to a point where, in the past, I was opening shows for the Detroit Cobras, the Sights and bands like that, all from that garage rock boom," says Walker. "Hi Speed Dubbing has more of a proto-punk sound, like MC5 and the Stooges. But I didn't grow up listening to garage rock and that stuff. I got into that later. When I started playing guitar, I got into punk rock stuff because I thought it would be easy to play."
Szubeczak just wants to shred. "We want to sound sonic. Like, a full sound. We're not trying to be minimal or too crazy. We want to have a full sound. One guy at a show at the Berkley Front recently spoke to us for 20 minutes, saying, 'I'm not just some guy, I've been playing guitar for 10 years, but you guys are way too loud.' No dude, you are just some guy. It was just a funny story, because we want to be loud. I guess it's better for him to say something than not. We can only play so loud so it's not too loud. We don't have half-stacks. I shouldn't be allowed to have half-stacks."
This desire to make a racket has caused them problems in the past, not least at the Ferndale DIY Festival a couple of years ago when they managed to upset no less than three sound men by not leaving the stage when they were asked to, due to the fact that their volume meant that they couldn't hear the requests through the monitors. Hey, it's all rock 'n' roll, and it can be fun to be a weekend warrior. Let's face it — those aren't the sort of issues that arise when working their very normal day jobs as a lifeguard (Walker), social worker (Burnstein), guitar store clerk (Jackson) and bookstore clerk (Szubeczak). It's those day jobs, their anchor to the "real" world, that have stopped the band from touring thus far. Still, they've been playing regularly around metro Detroit and their appearance at Blowout 14 promises to be a goody.
Walker has one more valiant attempt at describing his band. "Rock 'n' roll is an attitude, and we tend to play loud, energetic, and we don't hold it back," says the singer with a resigned smile. "That's our attitude. As far as sound, we draw from all kinds of places. I want it to be something that's got its own energy and attitude. Our buddy Pierce [Reynolds], who plays in the Oscillating Fan Club, says that we sound like a mixtape. I made up two genres. One is schitzoid rock and the other is now-wave. You've got new wave and no wave, and we're now-wave because it's in the present. Ultimately, I want to appeal to the true eclectic. We have our attitude and aesthetic. We've been called Detroit rock, indie, lo-fi and even a jam band. Derek can blow a solo, but it's not like we noodle for 10 minutes each. That's a jam band to me. We have a large climax, but we're straight to the fucking."
Burnstein stands up to get a beer. "There's not a whole lot of masturbating going on."
Hi Speed Dubbing's ultimate mixtape
The Stooges, "Down on the Street"
The Make Up, "I Am Pentagon"
New Order, "Age of Consent"
Rod Stewart, "Young Turks"
Van Morrison, "Caravan"
Dizzy Gillespie, "Night in Tunisia"
Bob Dylan, "Buckets of Rain"
Brian Eno, "Deep Blue Day"
Billy Idol, "Eyes Without a Face"
Bob Marley, "Burnin'"