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Superhorse on the record

WHAT HAPPENS when you wait 12 long years for something? A high school education, perhaps, or a fine Bordeaux to mature?

What’s it like when that thing you’ve waited for finally happens?

Superhorse is dealing with that question as we speak. The popular local garage/retro/glam band is known for their chunky multiple-guitar attack, their chaotic and intense stage show -- and their near-total lack of recorded product to show for their twelve years together.

But at long last, the enigmatic band of brothers will release their first-ever full-length CD, The “High Impedance” Majesty of Superhorse, this weekend. They mark the historic occasion with a concert at the American Legion downtown this Saturday night.

With the collective euphoria that can only come from a large group of like-minded people -- in this case, seven -- the band is not only stoked at the prospect of finally having a CD to call their own, but are already making plans for an EP, a second full-length release, and a tour of Europe and Japan.

As for the new record, High Impedance -- the culmination of five years of recording sessions, dozens of coffee and cigarette-fueled internecine debates, one awkwardly-timed switch from Mac OS9 to OSX, and untold cases of beer -- is a tour de force through virtually the complete rock vocabulary, a veritable Platonic ideal of the “School of Rock” Jack Black was shooting for in the movie of the same name.

Beginning with the loud, two-chord basher “Like My Shit” (I like my shit/ I like it loud), reaching a psychedelic peak with the haunting “Tattoo” and ending with one of the band’s oldest tunes, “Superchick,” it is neither a deliberate attempt to clone the band’s fabled live show nor a batch of disconnected would-be radio singles.

Rather, High Impedance is a by-God album -- an ordered, wholistic, near-life form, mimicking the ups, downs, highs, lows, quiet pauses and loud crescendos of life itself.

(In another nod to Superhorse’s deeply analog sensibilities, High Impedance is divided into two “sides,” a la the days of vinyl, with a long pause between the two.)

Superhorse’s lineup consists of moonlighting members of such seminal regional groups as City of Lindas, GAM, Redneck Greece Delux, The Stretch Marks, The Judge & The Jury and Splitfinger.

Keith Kozel is the band’s lead vocalist, main songwriter, and sometime rhythm guitarist.

Superhorse’s three, count ‘em, three lead guitarists are Bob Holmen, Sebastian Edwards and Kevin Rose.

Rose and Superhorse keyboardist Jason Anderson own Elevated Basement Studios, where the pair produced the album, and where Rose mixed 11 of the CD’s 13 tracks (two were mixed by Barrett Nichols; High Impedance itself was mastered by the highly regarded Brad Blackwood of Euphonic Masters studio in Memphis).

Gene Lyons and Jim Reed (whose day gig is Connect Savannah music editor) play bass and drums respectively.

Following is a compressed, composite interview of my three-hour conversation with all seven band members over beers in various locales within the American Legion post downtown.

Connect Savannah: I had a strong sense of deja vu listening to this album. I’m constantly hearing things that remind me of another song or another sound from another time.

Jim Reed: We wanted to touch on all the sounds of the band. It’s all over the map. Some of it’s twangy, some of it’s almost Southern rock, some of it’s gritty urban New York City rock. We wanted to make the most cohesive album we could. We wanted to streamline it down to the absolute best songs we had to offer.

Bob Holmen: You have to punch people in the face. People don’t have the attention span anymore.

Jim Reed: We had to take out some songs that stylistically didn’t fit, the ones that are really country and twangy sounding. Those are in the can, and we’re going to put them out on a five-or-six song EP soon.
Connect Savannah: But this album’s not just loud all the time.

Kevin Rose: Most bands today are mixed with all the knobs up to 12. You look at the LEDs and they’re all up to here (holds the edge of his hand to the top of an imaginary sound level readout). Everything’s just so saturated. But if you saw Led Zeppelin on the same LED, it would look like this (waves hand gently up and down the full range).

Gene Lyons: Kevin does this thing we call “the vacuum.” It’s when he makes the sound go from being really little to really huge just like that. He knows how to throw in all these strange sounds to kind of bridge the gap in the dynamics.

Kevin Rose: I posted a track on this web forum I’m a part of. Some people started writing, “what’s wrong with the mix, where are the drums?” And this one older guy replied to everybody, saying, “Look, assholes. This is how this kind of music is supposed to be mixed. The drums are in the background, the guitars are up, and the vocals are way out front.” He was like, have you people never heard a Jimi Hendrix record? That’s how this kind of music should sound.

Connect Savannah: In releasing this CD did you give much thought to the current garage rock revival? You guys have been doing garage rock for years.

Keith Kozel: See, that’s sometimes just how things happen in Savannah.

Connect Savannah: It’s so far behind it comes out ahead. Like the snake eating its tail.

Bob Holmen: That’s exactly what Savannah’s like. I don’t think what Superhorse does goes out of style.

Keith Kozel: For whatever reason, Superhorse has always appealed to a huge variety of people. We’ve got punks, metalheads, old hippies. It’s like the president says: We’re a uniter, not a divider.

Bob Holmen: I mean, it’s not like it’s rocket surgery.

(much laughter around the table)

Bob Holmen: It’s not rocket surgery, man. You haven’t seen that T-shirt, with Bush on the back saying “it’s not rocket surgery?”

Keith Kozel: Oh, we thought you just came up with that one.

Bob Holmen: People look at Superhorse and see what they want to. They project it onto us.

Keith Kozel: It’s funny, because this band started out as a side project to all the other bands we were all in. We wanted this band to sort of be the place where we’d get the things right that we were trying to get right in the other bands. When we started out rehearsing in the old Lamas building -- which was pretty much where everybody in town rehearsed at the time -- we tried to draw from a lot of different things musically, on purpose. We owe a serious debt to all those old sounds.

Sebastian Edwards: Behind us there’s the Woggles. And behind the Woggles there’s Iggy Pop. And you go back from there. It’s a tradition.

Jim Reed: There is a tradition of work we’re drawing from. If you listen, you’ll notice references. I think in every Superhorse song there are four or five moments where something will click like that. We have elements of glam, elements of ‘70s cock rock, elements of soul. We’ve got the screaming guitars and the pounding drums, but on top we’ve got what are sometimes some sweet and actually very pretty vocal harmonies.

Bob Holmen: It’s like when we were playing with (former Velvet Underground drummer) Moe Tucker that time. We took some great things from the gigs we played with her. When you’re around a talent that serious, it kind of scares you into doing things better.

Keith Kozel: She’s responsible for our name, actually. I remember it was sort of up in the air between Power Trip and Superhorse, and when we pitched it to Moe Tucker, she was like, “Oh, yeah, you’ve got to go with Superhorse.”

Connect Savannah: Speaking of VU: Keith, do you ever get tired of the Lou Reed comparisons?

Keith Kozel: I didn’t know I got a lot of those. But to tell you the truth, if people like what I’m doing I’m not sick of any comparisons.

Sebastian Edwards: Except maybe when they call him “Savannah’s Mick Jagger.” People get stuck on Keith’s stage presence, but you have to remember that most all these songs Superhorse plays Keith wrote on the back of Vinnie’s tickets. He’s the one that comes in with the lyrics and the concept. (Editor’s Note: Kozel is a longtime employee of Vinnie Van Go-Go’s in City Market.)

Keith Kozel: I play guitar on some songs, and sometimes people assume I’m playing lead because I’m the one jumping around. Meanwhile the guy actually playing the solo is off to the side with a real serious expression on his face. I only play rhythm, believe me.

Connect Savannah: I’ve always admired how Superhorse manages that whole wall-of-sound thing with the three and four guitars.

Sebastian Edwards: We all have very distinct, different ways of playing. That’s the magic of it. That’s the whole idea -- getting three distinct guitar sounds playing together.

Keith Kozel: Seb is more the chicken-picker, with kind of a country style. Bob has the sort of ‘70s rock lead style. Kevin comes from a very ‘70s kind of punk style.

Connect Savannah: You guys have another distinctive quality, like putting a finger lightly on a spinning turntable. Everything’s a split second slower than other musicians might play it.

Keith Kozel: It leads to that property of Superhorse that Bob calls “the blur.”

Kevin Rose: It’s the grease, you know?

Jason Anderson: It’s also Jim playing on the back of the beat. You know, you can play the beat but not play on the beat. You can play a funk groove, right on top of it, or you can play like Jim does, right behind the beat.

Connect Savannah: Jason, your keyboard work on this album is not like anything I’ve heard from you with any of your other projects. But it’s just as tasteful.

Jason Anderson: I try just to compliment what the guitars are doing. The thing is to not get in their way. With that many guitars, you have to let them do most of it. I mostly try to help out with the rhythm.

Connect Savannah: My favorite song on this album is “Tattoo.” Who solos?

Bob Holmen: Kevin’s the first one.

Kevin Rose: Bob did the second one.

Connect Savannah: It’s hard to describe what’s so affecting about it. Kevin’s solo is almost painfully slow, but it works.

Jim Reed: You know how they call Eric Clapton “Slowhand?” We call Kevin “Slower Hand.”

Kevin Rose: Well, the day we recorded it I had really bashed the shit out of my finger, the middle finger on my left hand. Barrett was coming over to mix that day, and -- well, he doesn’t always show up. So I figured, Barrett’s here, he actually showed up, so I’ll go ahead and play anyway. The funny thing about that solo is the first take sounded like shit. The second one, I said, that’s awful, too. So I played it a third time and hated it again. But Barrett said, “You’re gonna come back tomorrow and love that one. We’ll leave it in.” And he was right. So it was one of those happy accidents. w

Superhorse plays Saturday, April 23, in the ballroom of American Legion Post #135 (1108 Bull St.). Doors open at 9 p.m. Opening band Jimmy & The Teasers starts at 10 p.m. Superhorse starts at 11:15 p.m. Advance tickets on sale at The Legion Lounge for $8. If it does not sell out, there will be $10 tickets at the door. 21+ only. Copies of The “High Impedance” Majesty of Superhorse will be available for purchase.