by Keith Pille
There are bands who approach their music and their lives very seriously, practicing a couple of times a week and never laughing; walking around all grim and generally doing the best they can to work the tortured, brilliant artist angle.
And then there are the Centurions.
Download an mp3 of the Centurion’s song Hyde’s in Guys Heads.
It’s not that The Centurions don’t care deeply about their music;
they do. They just don’t feel like practicing too often. “Unless
we’re writing new songs, we don’t practice that often,” says
Jake Wisti, the group’s lead singer and primary songwriting force. “If
we have a really horrible show, we’ll get together and practice, but otherwise
we don’t. Honestly, with one of our live shows there’s not a lot
of difference between that and a practice.”
Centurions are not a group of gentlemen who take themselves overly seriously.
And that’s putting it lightly. Meeting Wisti, guitarist Dave Hazeldine
and drummer Tim Hovanetz (the fourth Centurion, bassist Michael Van Gogh, was
busy teaching that night, a fact which is either awesome or terrifying depending
on how you approach it) for drinks at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, I was left with
the impression that we were always maybe one drink away from total anarchy.
As it was, we drew some stares as the table was subject to frequent bursts of
singing and tabletop drumming (my favorite being an attempt to recreate the
version of Canned Heat’s “Going Up Country” that they almost
recorded for their new album, Stonefaced on Mars) with Wisti belting
out the words over a table-thump drum beat and a da-da-da guitar simulation
I feel comfortable guessing would have rocked the house. Instead, they went
with a surprisingly effective cover of Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry”).
Near-chaos is as much a part of the Centurions’ music as it is of their
conversation. Wisti looks at this as a stylistic choice. “There was this
college basketball team that Clyde Drexler played on, and they called it Phi
Slamma Jamma. They played really loose basketball. And that’s kind of
how we play our rock and roll. We play it loose, we play it reckless. We’re
not the type of guys who come up and tune our guitars—well, we do tune
them. But not too much. And we’re drinking a lot, smoking a lot. We just
have a certain kind of fuck-you cockiness.”
The new album reflects this loose comfort. Simultaneously laid-back and rocking,
Stonefaced on Mars is sort of the audio equivalent of a well-broken-in
pair of boots that you’d wear for a night of ass-kicking. Actually, it
sounds exactly like what it is: four guys who really know how to play their
instruments and are very, very used to working with each other. Thinking back
to the mid-nineties, when they played together in the Cole Younger Band (later
renamed the Youngers), Wisti almost seems shocked at how far back he and his
bandmates go. “When I think about it—it’s, what, 2005 now?—it’s
probably been like nine fucking years that we’ve all been playing together
in various situations. That’s why we can do it. Live, we’ve been
through so many gigs where we’ve practiced half-assed but we’ve
put it together, it doesn’t take more than a wink or a nod for us to talk
to each other.”
There was at least one other element, in addition to longevity, at work in the
creation of Stonefaced: Jake Wisti’s cousin Mike, who “really likes
to fuck with your head and gets you all screwed up.”
“Which is why we record with him,” Hazeldine interjects (there’s
a lot of interjection when you’re talking to the Centurions; that’s
a big part of the anarchy I was talking about earlier).
Wisti continues: “Yeah. It’s a very good thing. I always tell people,
be prepared when you record with Mike because you’re getting somebody
who’s not just an engineer but will give you some kind of fucked up idea.
You work with it, and then it’s still the same song but a lot weirder.”
And, of course, the entropy extends to the stage as well as the studio. While
they’re quick to emphasize that they’re not a jam band (“Are
you shitting me?” was Hazeldine’s response when I mentioned that
I’d heard them so described), they’re more than willing to cop to
mixing it up live. “The songs actually change quite a lot. Not in structure,
but in attack and approach. We’re definitely prone to interpreting songs
a lot differently,” Hazeldine says. “But when I say that we reinterpret
things live, we’re still pretty much within the structure. Certain segments
will become elongated, and things like that. We’re not like a jam band
that doesn’t know where we started. We’re still in the song.”
And this pretty much works for them, except when the aforementioned wink-and-nod
communication system breaks down when someone gets so lost in rocking that they
miss a signal. In which case, Hazeldine says, “He’s winking, and
Well, nobody’s perfect. ||
The Centurions perform on Thu. Mar. 3 at the Triple Rock Social Club
with U-Joint, Kruddler, Plate-o-shrimp. 9 p.m. 21+. $5. 629 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls.
Download an mp3 of the Centurion’s song Hyde’s
in Guys Heads.