- Kristen Black
They spill out onto the sidewalk in clumps of twos and threes, clutching ears, yelling to be heard. Shell-shocked, the crowd nevertheless seems to agree that whatever it was they just witnessed was something special. It’s an otherwise typical Saturday night in downtown Spokane, but experimental instrumental band Hooves has just made one hell of an impression.
Like any heavy band worth their wattage, Hooves’ sound moves beyond volume into the tangible, material realm, bending the air and physically affecting the audience. Looking across the crowd you see a lot of rapt, thousand-yard stares and an equal number of ear-to-ear grins.
When pressed to describe the band’s sound, drummer Joe Preston (full disclosure: he’s married to Inlander music editor Leah Sottile) mentions “Doomgaze, drone — we could fit into a lot of genres, but I usually just say ‘heavy music.’ Nothing’s off the table.”
It does feel a bit futile trying to define the band’s sound. Like many instrumental bands, they draw from a number of genres and styles, but one gets the impression that most of the creative process comes from experimentation rather than sticking to one thing at a time.
Heavy they most certainly are, but not without subtlety. Their songs tend to revolve around the interplay between Preston’s drums and guitarist Tony Brown’s intricate figures, with bassist Alex Moe and keyboardist/sampler Sean Glasow — both of whom having joined in the last year — adding a depth of sound and motion that was, according to Preston, a missing element on the low end.
Brown, an idiosyncratic guitarist with a vast array of effects at his disposal, utilizes a Hawaiian-inspired open tuning that lends itself to compelling melodies and circular patterns, often times to cinematic effect.
Their reliance on seat-of-the-pants communication is especially evident in a live setting, where during their set, the band effectively never stops playing. It’s basically one 45-minute song with different movements, a rolling drone that flows along continuously.
So it must be improvised, right?
“Actually, the song structure is mostly fleshed-out. If there’s ever a question about where we are, I’ll just take cues from Joe,” says Brown.
Indeed, you can’t help get the impression that Preston is steering the ship. Not exactly from a band-leader standpoint, but by the way in which he varies his playing. The songs wax and wane with his attack, making his drum kit a secondary lead instrument.
Before bringing Sean Glasow aboard in earlier this year, Preston had been adding samples via a pad near his drum kit, but was finding the process limiting. On stage, Glasow — who moonlights as electronica wizard Sales Wagon — crouches intently over a mixer and a small synthesizer that appears to operate on some kind of techno witchcraft. (“It pretty much does anything.”) He brings both added melody and texture to Hooves’ sound, either doubling Browns lines with the synth or inserting samples from myriad sources, including the films Misery and the Coen Brothers Barton Fink.
Hooves’ reputation as a live band has drawn a number of great metal and psych bands to Spokane including Red Fang, Black Tusk, Witch Mountain and Japanese legends Acid Mother’s Temple. Hooves has made a number of trips west across the mountains and are planning on doing some smaller, regional tours in the future, but for now, they’re just pleased to have put together such a cohesive group of guys.
“This is one of the only bands I’ve been in where everyone gets along great. We’ve got similar personalities, and clashing styles have never been an issue,” says Preston
One hopes that chemistry will make its way onto record, as well. The band currently has a three-song EP available online, featuring the earlier lineup of simply Brown on guitar and Preston on drums. They plan on recording soon, ideally doing it themselves. “It would allow for more experimentation rather than going in with a timeframe in mind and the songs all planned out,” adds Brown.
In the meantime, Hooves will continue to carry the flag as one of Spokane’s best live bands, bringing their singular mix of volume, tone and communication.
“While we play, I always imagine that it’s Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii,” Preston says with a grin.
Hooves plays Volume on Saturday, June 1 at 10 pm at Carr’s Corner • 230 S. Washington St. • 21+