Q&A with Ryan Mcryhew and Kristi Schaefer of Hideous Men
Although only technically together for a few months, Hideous Men has garnered interest well outside of Denver and even as far as England. The duo's experimental pop songs incorporate samples and loops within larger arcs of songwriting that have a gently expansive emotional colorings and soothing rhythmic textures.
Although the project is entirely electronic, the member's approach to composition and performance is informed by the DIY ethic of punk rock -- the notion that you don't have to be a technical wizard to make worthwhile music, as long as what you're making is coming from an honest place. With a tour with Pictureplane under its belt within its first month of existence, Hideous Men is releasing a split cassette with Boulder-based, avant-garde electronic artist Via. The cassette includes all of the recently released music from the Laserpalace imprint as well as two new songs.
In advance of their show tonight at Rhino with Via, Hollagramz, Iuengliss and Alphabets, we had a conversation with Ryan Mcryhew and Kristi Schaefer about the origins of Hideous Men, Riot Grrrl and the role of politics in the band's songwriting.
Westword (Tom Murphy): When did you start this project, what was the concept behind it, and what is the significance of the name?
Ryan Mcryhew: We started in September 2009. Really, we started it because BDRMPPL had booked a tour with Pictureplane, but Nick Houde had moved to Baltimore. So it was possibly just going to be me putting something together. Kristi Schaefer and I had been playing music together, but it was mostly ambient noise at that time.
Kristi Schaefer: We were using a lot of acoustic sounds and looping and layering them -- just playing with noises. It was already booked so we thought we should just do it.
RM: We've made music off and on together, and I've been making music my entire life. I think the concept started formulating around our obsession with pop music, noise and psychedelic stuff -- and my love of old synth music and Kristi's background in punk.
KS: I wanted it to be something that was pretty sincere. Something not commodified easily but wanting to make it poppy. We were intentionally trying to make it accessible. I wanted to make music with verses and choruses.
RM: With BDRMPPL, I thought it was accessible to a degree, but you had to be open to the idea. So taking some of the concepts of that project, we tied them together and made them accessible. It's kind of a deranged pop sound.
KS: The name is from a David Foster Wallace book called Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. We were playing with pairing words together, and those words already worked really well together. It has a weird tension. In visual art we've been really interested in ugliness -- what is ugly. We're also interested in issues of gender because we're not both male.
RM: Definitely taking on challenging ideas of gender in a lot of ways. We're both very influenced by the Riot Grrrl movement. I think that played into it. Initially the name just sounded cool. But it took on this whole new context.
I think at first a lot of people would find a lot of ugliness in the music, but to me it's just pop. It's just our honest attempt to make pop music. Brent Smith of Pina Chulada said it best when he said something like, "I don't know how you call this weird at all, this is like a 107.5 jammer. People just need to get hip to the fact that this is new music and it's what's happening right now."
KS: A lot of male bands use female names so why not do the opposite?
WW: Ryan, you're from Denver, and you grew up in what I have come to understand was kind of a rough area. Can you tell me about your upbringing and what role music played in your youth? And Kristi, can you tell me about your own background and younger days?
RM: It wasn't really rough. My grandmother lived on First and Federal, and I lived with her for a while. But when I was younger my parents moved to Thornton, and I went to high school there. When I stayed with my grandparents that area was pretty gnarly. My cousin was in all these gangs and stuff.
The first music that I remembered really loving was riding in my grandmother's car and going to City Park and listening to UGK; it was the Ridin' Dirty album. I'm obsessed with that first song. It really changed my life. It was really foreign and frightening sounding. It was raw.
My dad listened to reggae and bass test tapes -- which is really weird, but he was really into building stereo systems. My mom listened to Joy Division, the Cure and hair metal. Hearing UGK opened a whole new spectrum. I just wanted to make hip-hop, and I wanted to embed myself in that culture, but I was way too dorky and too into the Internet.
KS: I also grew up in Thornton - Ryan and I met in high school. When I was really little, we lived off of 42nd and Federal. It was not a good neighborhood at that time, but I was totally oblivious to that fact.
My first exposure to music was Paula Abdul and making dance routines - which I think most girls my age did at some point. I moved to Thornton when I was still pretty young, and I was pretty much the opposite of Ryan: I thought rap sucked, and I was really into punk and grunge.
We would watch Punk TV on Channel 12 and record it all the time. Every band they would talk about we would make special trips with our parents to Wax Trax. Bands like Red Aunts, Reel Big Fish, The Descendents and NOFX.
RM: I think ska was formative for our age group. It even transcended my dark, industrial thing. I think it was the Aquabats for me. The theatrical thing, and I was into GWAR. They were both in the same vein. I think all of our first bands were ska bands. Mine was.
KS: There weren't a lot of girl bands, and I don't think I really realized that there was this lack of women being in the forefront. But then one of my good friends back in the day showed me Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland, L7, Tribe 8 and all of that amazing stuff.
We got really into that and made 'zines together. We never made music, but we loved it and felt connected to it. I didn't get to see any of those bands because I was really young, so it was up to my parents and finding kids who could drive. But I loved it so much and I played bass and worked at Angelo's in Thornton.
WW: Why was Riot Grrrl so significant for the both of you?
KS: It's really relevant still because, even in 2010, the scene is so male-dominated, and I get really worried thinking we're past that -- or guys in the scene not being self-reflective. I think it's still valid that not all music speaks to women's experiences.
Riot Grrrl was imperfect; there's a lot wrong with third wave feminism -- it's very white, it's very middle class. I don't know if, politically, that's where I was at, but I needed Riot Grrrl just to feel I could do music. I think for a long time, until the last few years, other people made music, and I just appreciated it, and that's just how it is.
I was feeling like I shouldn't have a voice -- that I wasn't smart enough or talented enough to make music. So it encouraged me to make music, and it could have female vocals as a core part or it could be grating. I don't have Brittany Gould's voice -- my voice can be a little shrill. It helped me to rethink what music should sound like and what talent is and empowering myself.
RM: I think at the crux of this band is that we want to influence people to make things and challenge themselves. We come from this very cerebral way of making music, or maybe it sounds that way, so it's hard to be outwardly politically. That's one thing we struggle with: Being outwardly political but not necessarily have our music be so topical. We wanted it to exist outside this political realm but we are political people, specifically the politics of gender.
KS: I'm really passionate about issues of race and class. I work with the homeless for my day job. Gender is a huge part of that, and so is race. I'm really amazed by Le Tigre and Bikini Kill because they made music that was good and you can't ignore it, but it's political. It's hard. Every time I try to write a song and decide I'm not going to compromise it or make it poetic, it sounds awful. So that's somewhere we really want to grow.
What it has turned into for us is being pretty positive in our music. I can get burned out, hate the world and get angry at all the awful shit I see. But in that song "Talons," it could be cheesy -- that part about how we all have this gem of self worth -- but we forget that because we think we're not good enough.
That can't be changed because you're human. Your self worth isn't dependent on outside things like if you're doing well at your job. Just because you're human, you're important. You're good enough to be alive, don't over think it.
RM: It may not be obvious, but in the design of our music, it carries those ideas of feminism and politics. It's pop to us, and I'm not ignorant what pop is to people, but I think we try to make somewhat challenging music. Music doesn't have to be just one thing, and life isn't just one thing. It should be challenging. Your foundations should be shook a little bit in order to become a more well-rounded person.