What do we like most about Hockey? Quite simply, they’re blessed with that elusive knack of moulding a variety of familiar touchstones into something wholly fresh, distinct and exciting.
Bassist Jerm, lining up alongside Ben (vocals), Brian (guitars) and anthony (drums) is chatting from their basement HQ beneath their shared house State-side and cites Bowie, The Beatles and Springsteen as influences in the same breath as Santogold and M.I.A., describing their infec-tious indie-dance sound succinctly as “a fusion of new elements against a kind of classic backdrop”.
Not for Hockey, then, the devilishly obscure post-punk reference points and hipster staples beloved by the majority of indie-dance protagonists. They instead draw inspiration from altogether less pretentious quarters like their adopted hometown’s thriving, ultra-collaborative house party scene and the fallen king of pop himself, none other than Michael Jackson.
High brow it may not be, but it’s certainly high concept, and Jerm describes how new material is constructed from intense inter-band discussions, mapping out what they want to do with the song before starting work on the music proper. it could be the idea of a self-referential and unashamedly populist anthem like ‘Song away’ or simply dreaming up a whole new kind of groove: “maybe like an urban, rappy kind of song where it has that kind of electro-disco element to it,” says Jerm. “We throw around those ideas and then try to write in that direction and see what we come up with. conceptually, we hash it out.”
Whatever the method is, they’ve struck gold. and amongst the six or so tracks on their MySpace there’s the slinky, soulful strains of ‘Work’, with its lazy acoustic chops, soft pattering bongos and wheezing rhodes organs; the bumpy drug funk of ‘3am Spanish’, which invokes the spirit of !!! at their most pulsating; or comedown lullaby ‘Everybody’s The Same age’, probably the sweetest scuffed and woozy ballad you’ll hear all year. But where other bands might blunder inelegantly into pastiche or tokenistic style-surfing, Hockey’s intelligence and gift of the groove wins out and, on the strength of these tracks alone, you’d be forgiven for thinking they could turn their hands to anything. That the whole shebang is topped off with singer Ben’s ragged vocals that straddle James Murphy’s righteous half-sung testifying, Julian Casablancas’ languid drawl and The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser’s tortured hound howl, is merely the cherry on an already ravishing pop-funk fairy cake.
And did we mention they’re from portland, oregan? How do they feel about portland’s lineage of credible exports stretching from the city’s much mythologised punk rock roots to alt.rock giants like The Shins, Gossip and Dandy Warhols through to latter day luminaries menomena and Viva Voce? What is it about portland that produces or attracts so many great bands? “It’s one of the best cities in the country,” says Jerm. “It’s progressive, very green-orientated, a cool place in a lot of ways, so it’s good to kinda soak up the energy of the place and try and channel that into what we’re doing. Or maybe it’s the weather? It’s really cold and grey here for half a year so people end up in their basements just working on music or being poets or painters or whatever. If you’re in L.A., maybe you’re inclined to sit on a beach or work on your abs or something, but if in portland you’re just gonna go and drink a beer and hide somewhere cos it’s raining. Maybe in that way it’s a bit like England?”
So far, so boho then. But the DiY/indie/call-it-whatyou-will spirit of the city has served them well. Not only is their artwork wholly commissioned, conceived and created by Jerm, who often sketches away whilst the rest of the band thrash out ideas, but the boys worked dead-end jobs rolling burritos and washing dishes to scrape enough money together to buy a decent mic and compressor to record nine-track debut album ‘Mind Chaos’ for an underground US release. Self-produced, self-financed (for a measly $3000) and recorded overnight in their basement studio it may have been, but it was more than enough to stir up a massive label buzz with EMI across the pond, and Virgin over here, eventually winning their signatures.
Clearly then, expectations are high, and with three of the four members already co-habiting, what does Jerm make of the van-bound globe-trotting existence that so many are tipping them for them over the next couple of years? Are they fully prepared for the trials of endless touring and promo? “That actually is the most exciting thing i could possibly think of,” Jerm replies. “To have the opportunity to be out and about in the world, playing our songs to people. That’s something that all of us agree is the most amazing opportunity that anyone could possibly hope for, and we’ve got to do everything we can to make sure that continues. Trying to be really grateful and appreciative and never lose sight of the fact that we’re only here cos we worked really hard and got lucky. You could be back washing dishes downtown at any time and that’s definitely not the life we wanna lead!”
Passionate, intelligent, refreshingly ego-free and already packing a deadly arsenal of hook heavy floor fillers and radio slaying anthems, Hockey ought to be some way from those kitchen sinks for a good time yet.