Friday, February 28, 2003
The Hip Replacements cure baby-boomer ailment . . .
Despite a short 30-minute drive into Boston, it's easy to feel isolated in bucolic Carlisle. Wildlife contributes to the town's charm, and although you can walk along a trail without seeing a human, there are plenty of birds, rabbits and deer to keep you from feeling completely alone. For those accustomed to wild life in the city, however, the quiet can be a real culture shock. The Hip Replacements, a bona fide rock band, is working on reviving the town's night life.
"People use us as an excuse to get together and have fun," says lead guitarist Don Ryder. "We play songs that they haven't heard since high school or college and it brings them back to a different time and a different place." The band specializes in performing "covers," songs made famous by other groups.
The band has had three "gigs" or shows in the past year: a barn party on West Street, a private gathering at the Mohegan Sun, and a Thursday night in November at the Sit 'n Bull pub in Maynard.
Ted Epstein, Sit 'n Bull owner and manager, usually expects a crowd of 50 for local bands that play for free. He had a cancellation, and booked The Hip Replacements. "There were well over 100," recalls Epstein on the number of people. "I didn't know what to expect • a band of businessmen from Carlisle had never approached us before about playing at the Sit 'n Bull."
Women packed the dance floor of the club. They were 'soccer moms' you usually see around town buying Spaghetti Supper tickets at Daisy's, escorting Girl Scout contingents to Union Hall, or driving ballplayers to Kimball's. Finally there was a place for them to dance. Their husbands lined the bar with beers, watching and listening. For many, it was like going back in time.
Tomorrow night at Sit'n Bull
The Sit 'n Bull has booked The Hip Replacements for a paying show on Saturday, March 1. The band plans to donate their earnings to the Carlisle School Association (CSA), and will be offered to play an event at the CEF/CSA Auction on March 15. School families shouldn't feel guilty about spending a night away from their kids to listen to this band.
The Hip Replacements formed about two years ago, but the current roster has only played together for six months. None of them have studied music formally, and the two original members can't even read music.
Don Ryder forms the musical core of the band. He first picked up the guitar as a freshman at Middlebury College, and kept playing it every chance he got over the next 22 years. He has played in a wide variety of loosely organized bands over the years. A Lowell Street resident, he's lived in Carlisle about ten years. He loves listening to rock and guitar-based jazz. Last year he attended Tom Petty and The Who concerts.
Ryder plays everything by ear. He cannot write music in the traditional fashion, so he records it instead. Ryder also sings and can play the drums, the bass, the harmonica, and, he says, "anything that needs to be played." Using a multi-track method, the talented Ryder records songs as a complete solo artist in his recording studio at home. He even composes original songs with another musician in San Francisco.
"I have a very logical, mathematically-oriented brain," explains Ryder who runs a finance department for a large securities firm in Boston. He works 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. "A lot of people in my line of work find it easy to shift over into music because it's very structured. It has patterns and relationships that are just like spreadsheets."
Nik Langrind, the energetic drummer, complements Ryder's quiet style. He has played drums for four years, and also plays the guitar and some bass. Langrind works as a computer programmer at Equipe Communications in Acton, and has lived on Bedford Road for three years.
"You can't play the wrong note, because you have no notes," says Langrind about playing percussion. "You can play plenty of wrong meters. The biggest problem with me as drummer is getting too excited. I say, 'It sounds great!' and then I speed up. They all try to keep up at the same tempo." The drummer's rate of speaking noticeably quickens as he conveys the story.
Wives orchestrate the musicians
Ryder and Langrind would not have linked up except for a chance meeting in town between their wives, Dale Ryder and Darragh Murphy. The Ryders have two children: Peter, 8, and Lindsay, 5. Langrind and Murphy have three: Mairead, 10, Grete, 7, and Lily, 3.
"They were comparing notes, chattering about their husbands," retells Ryder, "Darragh mentioned some of the music that Nik liked, and my wife said, 'Ah, that's really interesting, because my husband likes that same music.'" The women were not talking about mainstream music, but unusual artists, like Pavement. With the ease of setting up a play date, the two decided their husbands should play together.
The two jammed together informally, and with some other temporarily available musicians, but quickly realized they needed a committed bass player. After hearing David Hart was interested in playing with a band, Ryder recalls saying, "That's great, if you play bass, you can play in our band because we're really looking for a bass player. I don't think at the time he had a bass, but he went out and bought a bass and said, 'well, I'm a bass player now.'"
Hart already played the guitar, so bass wasn't hard for him. The three played together once a week for about a year. Hart works in technology sales for USinternetworking, Inc, and with his business skills quickly emerged as the band's manager and initiated that first call to the Sit n' Bull. He has lived in Carlisle for about ten years at Fifty Acre Way. He and his wife, Sarah, have three children: Katie, 10, Campbell, 8, and Peter, 3.
Bob and Beth Clarke of Log Hill Road, town residents for 12 years, were close friends with all three families. The Clarkes have children whose ages are similar to the others, Kevin, 10, Charlotte, 8, and Meredith, 6. Four families have kids in the same Carlisle Public School 3rd grade class; three in the same 5th grade class. Clarke took up the rhythm guitar four years ago as a diversion from his job as president of BCM Controls, a heating and air-conditioning control firm with 60 employees. He completed a couple of group lessons in a community education program. Practicing alone, however, he soon lost interest.
About 18 months ago, the band invited Clarke to join them playing in the basement, and Clarke found himself hooked. He acknowledges how he has improved as a guitarist under Ryder's tutelage, but modestly adds "I have a long way to go. Don almost plays both lead and rhythm guitar when he's out there." Eventually Clarke told his musical colleagues that he also played the harmonica.
"It turned out he's this amazing harmonica player," says Hart. "I think he'd rather play more guitar than harmonica, but he's so good the other four of us gang up on him." Clarke appears intent when performing, and plays aloofly on the side of the stage.
Josh Klein joined as the band's singer over the summer. He sang in grammar school at St. Matthews in Boston, in a rock band in high school, and various groups in college. Klein, a Lowell Street resident, heard about the band almost two years ago. A reservist, he was called up for active duty in the Navy after 9/11, however, and went to marine camps in Spain and Italy. His wife, Colleen, took care of their four children: Megan, 8, Jordan, 6, Leandra, 3, and Aidan, 2. The older kids attend the Buckingham, Brown and Nichols school in Cambridge. The Kleins have lived in Carlisle for ten years. He currently works as a services executive for IBM in Westford.
Back from service, Klein was at a cookout in the center of town this past July, and asked to sing with the band members that were heading for practice. His vibrant and engaging personality subsequently turned the band from a garage band into one that could play in a public place.
"I would not take credit for being the center or focal point," says Klein, "because all I have to do is focus on the words. The other guys have a much tougher job. I can be looser, screw around, and be funny with the audience."
Practicing in the basement
Every Wednesday and every Sunday night, The Hip Replacements meet in the Langrind's basement from 8 to 10 p.m. There are no excuses, including birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays. Only floods can legitimately interrupt their schedule. Last spring, an electrical outage of the sump pump resulted in a few feet of water. Two months ago a similar incident left only six inches of water.
"Four hours a week is a lot when you think about how much time we have to sacrifice with our wives and kids," says Klein, who sometimes arrives at practice straight from the airport, "but for trying to learn new music it's not a lot of time." He considers many of the songs "obscure," and regularly uses CDs to learn the tunes and lyrics at practices to read the words. When performing he'll "mumble and improvise" if he forgets the words.
Hanging mattresses, sheets, and even an American flag encompass the band's equipment in the basement in the attempt to absorb sound. During practice, the volumes are set high. Earplugs enable band members to deal with the volume.
"If you can't hear yourself, it's really hard to play," says Klein. "We work what levels people should be at, and where speakers and monitors should be pointing so everyone can hear themselves and hear the other members."
Langrind disagrees with Klein's assessment. "These guys have these humongous amplifiers," he says, "these gigantic, expensive tube amplifiers that they are always comparing their watts numbers. It's like comparing cars. It's all their fault."
"We really get a kick out of David buying new equipment," says Clarke. "He's an equipment junkie. He keeps buying more stuff."
The Hip Replacements have learned about 80 songs. They play two sets of fifteen songs each when performing. They get through all these tunes at a practice, and also work on ten new songs (each band member selects two). After practicing a new song for a month, the band decides whether to continue or drop it. About half are lost along the way. Practices before performances focus on the pre-determined sets.
"You think you'd get sick of playing the same songs over and over," says Clarke. "Even a song that I may not like so much up front, you grow to like it by playing it so much."
"Playing together • that's how band's get good," notes Ryder. "You just play with each other over and over and over. Think about the best bands in the world. Think about the Rolling Stones and how great they sound playing 'Satisfaction.' Well, that's because they've played 'Satisfaction' ten thousand times together."
Playing at a real club
When the band played together last November at the Sit 'n Bull, the establishment did not expect the turnout they got. The service crew was understaffed, and there weren't even enough clean glasses to go around. The band's performance itself had a few glitches.
The Hip Replacements opened with "Roadhouse Blues" by the Doors. Langrind had a problem with one of his drumsticks 15 seconds into the song. Klein recalls, "Suddenly the whole sound of the song changes. I equate it to you're running and you trip. As a singer, for me, there's this moment of hesitation: `Is he doing this on purpose to change the tempo? Is doing this because he dropped a stick and screwed up? Is he doing this for some other reason? I have to immediately think about what I do.' The band just kept playing."
In a later song, the band played "Bohemian like You" by the Dandy Warhols. It's Ryder's favorite song on The Hip Replacements play list. At the time, the band had just learned the song. Although they had practiced it about 80 times, they still considered it new. Klein has a verse, an instrumental interlude follows, and then Klein sings another verse.
"We were all completely lost," recalls Klein. "I finished the first verse. We got into the instrumental part, and no one was playing in the same place. Everybody was all over the map. I was standing next to Don: he had a look of panic; I had a look of panic. We didn't know how we were going to get out of it." Klein just went into the next verse, and everyone fell right back in. He concludes, "I don't think anyone in the audience knew it."
Sit 'n Bull management didn't have an issue. "I don't want garage bands coming in," says Epstein. "I'm not a music critic. I'm not a musician. I own a night club. I want bands to come in that people want to hear and see." The Hip Replacements do that for the club.
"It's not like we have to do this for a living," says Hart. "We don't have fans; we have friends. It's a community thing. Plus our wives have been very encouraging. We couldn't do this unless our wives were totally behind us." Band members concurred about how vital family support has been to their band. The wives and children do a lot of things together: go to the pond to swim in the summer, find a hill to ski in the winter, or cook dinner together any time during the year.
After the band performs publicly, Langrind finds the agenda changes: "Don will say, `well, I think it's time to try to write some originals. We'll shift the focus temporarily
and start to work on writing some songs, and then Dave will go out and get a gig. Dave really likes audiences. Don and I, I think, just want to be able to go the basement and have some people come over and make noise."
"It can be a very intoxicating thing," says Ryder of playing to a crowded room. "I love playing out, but at the same time, my real love is just making music. If we never went out of Nik's basement, I'd be happy as a clam."
Around town there are many garages and basements. Maybe there are other bands hiding in the sand. Carlisle needed a rock band to come out of the dark, didn't it?
"I think so, yeah," says Langrind. "It still does! Severalit needs a club, too!" The Hip Replacements cannot turn back the clock for the Carlisle baby-boomer set, but it has given them a reason to dance again.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito