Street Hassle: Ten years is about four months of actual practice

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Things get better with time, and so has Minneapolis band Street Hassle. The group has been together for ten-plus years, but are just now releasing their debut album. How do they describe their sound? Rock, indie, garage? No need to categorize the band, but their new album Feeling Machine creates a sense of freedom. Their stripped-back sound that punctuates the album, along with  the band's razor-edged flavor that resonates of bands from decades past.

Gimme Noise spoke with lead singer James Ho and guitarist Tony Nelson, whose photos often grace Gimme Noise and City Pages, about the long road that went into making their first album.

Band Members:
Buck Doss, James Ho, Mitch Leppicello, Tony Nelson, Mike Zeis

Gimme Noise: You all have been playing together for ten years. Why do you feel now was the right time to release an album?

Tony Nelson: It probably was the right time a while ago. I think we just got to the point after various stops and starts where we finally had enough material that we thought was good enough to warrant it. That, and the fact that we're all kind of plowing through our 40s says there's really no time like the present. I don't imagine better opportunities aren't coming our way in the future. Given where we all are in our lives with jobs and families and such, we couldn't always give it the time and attention we wanted, but over time I think the songs got pretty good and needed to be recorded. After a little forced hiatus when we finished recording (when one of the guys became a dad for the second time, putting gigging on the back burner for a bit), we're theoretically back to full strength here in the new year here and are geared up for the release show ans hopefully more after that.

Jim Ho: Ten years of Hassle translates to about four and a half months of actual practice. We're actually quite prolific.

GN: What are the ambitions with this band? Is it just a hobby or something serious?

TN: Something serious? Well, it is, and it isn't. I mean, given the times, the state of the music industry, and where we're all at in our lives, none of us are under any delusion that we're going to "make it" or have any big time success with it.

We all have real lives and work and commitments, but, at least for me, making music is something I do because it's something I just need to do, regardless of what happens with it. At first we weren't really taking it too seriously. It was pretty much a Tuesday night, boys-night-out kind of thing but we were always working on improving the songs and, once there was all this material, we felt it couldn't just exist in a vacuum. It needed to be played out in front of people and it needs to be recorded. We'd play shows sporadically, but eventually you've gotta make something real and throw your hat into the ring and see if the music can stand up to all the scrutiny that everyone else goes through. I've been lucky enough to get to play with some other people these last few year too and that's just fueled the need to do more of it now, while we can.

My ambition has always been to simply write and play music that's good enough that, if heard it somewhere, I'd want to buy it or go see it live and then, hopefully, some other people would be into it too.

JH: Hobby versus serious? We are serious about our hobbies and our seriousness.

GN: The band's sound recalls influences from the '90s grunge era. Do you find this to be accurate? What artists does Street Hassle's sound takes after?

TN: Hmm, not sure I hear grunge in there but I'm not sure you mean the same thing I do when I think of that sound. I always think of that sort of turgid, pseudo-retro-metal that Alice in Chains and their ilk did back in the day, which I hope we don't resemble! I do think it's pretty consciously devoid of current trendiness in production and sounds, so maybe there's a retro element that you're responding to.

The hope is that it's pretty straight ahead rock and roll in a fairly timeless style but I suppose it's inevitable that it sounds like something else at times. I'm a pretty big Guided by Voices fan so that's a '90s sound I can sure get behind. You'd probably get a little different answer on the influences question from each of us, but I'd say anything from stuff like the the Who, Stooges, the Stones through Neil Young & Crazy Horse and on to early punk like X, Replacements or Husker Du and some more recent faves of mine like Supergrass, the Wrens, Secret Machines...

JH: Grunge. Hey, who doesn't like Soundgarden?

GN: What's the meaning behind the name Feeling Machine?

TN: That comes from a track that didn't actually make the final cut for the disc, because we keep re-doing it in different ways and still weren't quite happy with it at the time we were recording. It's still a favorite though -- of Jim's especially -- and, lyrically/thematically, it still fit with a lot of the other songs. It'll probably make it onto the next recoding we do, which will probably be titled after some other song we don't record!

JH: The song which didn't make the cut for this record was incidentally one that I wrote the lyrics for called "I Am A Feeling Machine." It's about the current state of being, from my perspective of feeling half human, half automaton -- a thinking and feeling, loving and hating robotic computer machine. That song and the Feeling Machine EP reflects the technologic tyranny of our times.

GN: Any favorite tracks off the album?

TN: Definitely "Pussy Nation," also "Theoretical Man," and "More Data, More Data."
 

GN: What can we expect to see at the album release show?


TN: Well, we've got a bunch of friends to play with us. Steve McClellan books the Wild Tymes and wants music pretty much from 8 p.m. til closing so it's a full five-band night. Joe Fahey is gonna start it out -- he does this really clever rootsy-rock that I wish more people could hear. Maria Isa is gonna break up all the old guy rock and roll with some as-yet-to-be-determined grooviness. She's a good friend so, when we needed one more band, I asked her on kind of a whim and was pretty surprised and honored she said she was up for it. Then Pill Hill, who's from a similar vein of guitar rock that we like to claim will play. We go on fourth, and then our old friends That's What You Get are going to close it out. They're really great -- really fun punky stuff with dual male and female lead vocals a la X.

Street Hassle will release Feeling Machine at Wild Tymes on Saturday, January 26, 2013 with Joe Fahey & the Bottom 40, Maria Isa, Pill Hill, and That's What You Get.
21+, Free, 8 pm



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