- DeBoe (right) and the Stereo Workers Union finally have found some stability.
H.J. DeBoe loves rock and roll. But he's no collector nerd, rock-star wannabe, or big fish in a little pond harboring delusions of grandeur; he's just a thoroughly devoted fan and musician. Talk with him for a few minutes, and the very cadence of his speech betrays a lifetime of rock immersion: simultaneously intelligent, blunt, opinionated, enthusiastic, and slightly adolescent -- yet realistic.
More important, the guitarist, singer, and songwriter has absorbed the fundamentals that made the music great and exciting in the first place: riffs and melodies that crawl underneath your skin, emotional immediacy, heartfelt singing, thoughtful inspiration, wit, and economy sans retro affectation.
His band is the Stereo Workers Union. Remember that name; they're goin' places.
Deboe was born in Euclid -- by those not-so-crashing waves that inspired the Euclid Beach Band's 1977 hit "No Surf in Cleveland." As a teenager in the mid-'80s, he was fortunate to have a mentor, an older kid who gave him a copy of the Beatles' 1967-1970 (a.k.a. the blue album). DeBoe knew there was no going back.
"[My friends and I] were into the Beatles and the Stones during the time of hair metal and other such dude rock," he says. "Even today, most of the music I like reminds me of the Beatles and Stones." And when asked if any local talent lit a fire under him, he unreservedly responds, "The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde and the Dead Boys," adding, "I was never really a punk."
DeBoe's first serious stab at cranking out rock and roll came in the form of Cleveland's the So Long Goodbyes. In 1999, the quintet honed its craft and eventually tried its luck in the beautiful, open-air asylum known as San Francisco. But it just didn't work out. While there, bandmate Jonathan Sajetowski heeded the call of other artistic disciplines, namely video and film. (He's now working with filmmaker Morgan "Super Size Me" Spurlock.) Though DeBoe found the Bay Area's weather and culture appealing, the astronomical rents convinced him to give Mothership Cleveland another shot. But his San Fran fling proved vital in one respect: DeBoe established an enduring friendship with then-residents the Brian Jonestown Massacre.
In 2004, DeBoe and the So Long Goodbyes journeyed to Lake Hollywood, California, to record at the Committee to Keep Music Evil -- the studio, home, and headquarters of Brian Jonestown Massacre. With BJM's Rob Campanella at the helm (he's also produced the Tyde and Mia Doi Todd, among others), Deboe and company laid the foundation for a debut album titled God Bless the Stereo Workers Union. But the band splintered during those sessions, and DeBoe had to complete the project with assistance from various musicians operating within the Committee's gravitational pull.
The story might've ended there, with the recordings stuck in limbo hell. But one year later, while back in Cleveland, DeBoe met Mike Cormier of C-Town's the Volta Sound, and the wheels began turning. With Cormier on bass and drums, his bandmate Todd Vainisi on keyboards, Ben Gmetro of the Dreadful Yawns drumming and singing, and Fredo Garcia on guitar and vocals, a new band was born: the Stereo Workers Union.
"I am finally able to think about releasing the record now," DeBoe says with confidence. "I'm playing with this group of amazing musicians who share in the vision and can properly represent the material live."
That's a good thing, 'cause God Bless is one damn fine listen, with nary a duff track. While the Beatles and Stones taught DeBoe rock's boot-camp basics, Bless boasts a rich variety of influences: the theatrical glam-rock of Bowie, My Bloody Valentine's harrowing fuzziness, and the tuneful English whimsy of the Small Faces and Donovan.
But what separates the album from other product by well-meaning hep cats who churn out entertaining pastiches of classic/iconic music is this: God Bless is the work of someone who yearns to do something with his inspirations, channeling them into something personal, distinctive, and memorable. The haunting, ruminative "Jesus Digs Cash" smolders with the restless ache of primo Neil Young & Crazy Horse and the melodramatic desolation conjured by the instrumental passages of classic Black Sabbath.
In a better world, "Sadly Tonight" (co-written with Sajetowski) would sell a million copies. It's what music nerds refer to as a mini-epic: An undulating piano motif nicked from late-'50s doo-wop segues into elegant, heart-struck balladry, synthesized strings, and gauzy vocal harmonies vaguely recalling Electric Light Orchestra and the John Lennon records produced by Phil Spector.
"Don't Trip" and "Mob Rules Again" practically tear out the speaker cones like there's no tomorrow. Both tunes bubble over with fuzzed-out guitar, machine-gun drumming, and ancient garage-rock organ sustain -- all played with an urgency so palpable, you don't have to be a rock-history geek to appreciate it. Potentially leading youth down the wrong path, this truly sounds like the music parents used to fear back in the '60s and '70s.
Fortunately, DeBoe and his Stereo Workers Union aren't biding their time, sitting still. God Bless the Stereo Workers Union is slated for March release -- put it on your to-hear list -- and the current lineup is recording a follow-up album, dividing the process between DeBoe's Ohio City studio and Los Angeles. According to DeBoe, the next opus might not possess the "stylistic variety" of God Bless, but it will likely exude a seething, "revenge" kinda vibe.
Right -- don't keep that negative stuff bottled up, young fella. Let it out with those disciplined bursts of crackling rock and roll -- good for you and the band, and good for us too.