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"Ninety-nine percent of the songs are born here," says 24-year-old Jeff Rollason, mastermind of the whimsical pop collective known as the Curious Hair. He lifts and drops his arms to indicate the organized chaos that pervades his bedroom in his parents' sprawling Mediterranean-style home on a quiet street off Old Cutler Road. A collection of snow globes stands in rows on top of his television set. Toys ranging from boxed Clueless dolls to inch-tall Japanese-made Martians fill spots in his stereo cabinet.
Leaning against the walls are some of the paraphernalia that defines the Curious Hair's sound. A Korg ES-50 and Casiotone keyboard are stacked on one of four amps, and about fifteen stringed instruments (a Sixties-era twelve-string electric Bellzoukie, an eight-inch-tall plastic "Micro Jammer," a 40-year-old Kay banjo) lean in whatever space the amps allow.
Sitting cross-legged on his bed, a thick, fuzzy beard clinging to the end of his chin and dark blond hair hanging around his bespectacled face, Rollason reaches over to his stereo and flicks on a demo of his next project. As the new songs play, Rollason smiles, occasionally throwing his head back with laughter. He excuses himself and explains: "I find my music funny."
Rollason's new songs bounce along with a poppy flair. Every so often his reedy voice seeps into falsetto ooos or la-la-las. Though the moodiness of his earlier repertoire is still apparent, Rollason calls his new work "a concept album of love songs. I've made some big changes."
Rollason has been in a state of creative evolution since the dissolution of his previous band, Mr. Tasty and the Breadhealers. The Tasty sound showcased layers of guitars that droned along with nods to the then-current grunge trend, as well as to classic blues stylings. The band won a loyal local following, released the cassette Freshly Baked, and began recording a follow-up CD. "There were people coming out to the shows, and we sold a lot of tapes," Rollason says. "We had gone into the studio and started recording stuff, but there was something in me that knew our work was going to be wasted."
His premonition proved accurate. In the fall of 1995, drummer Andre Lorenz left the band to return to school; then, after a couple of quiet weeks, Rollason met with the remaining members at his house to announce that he wanted out. "I couldn't play the stuff I wanted to play," Rollason says, summing up his days as frontman and lyricist of the Breadhealers. "Instead, I was playing a lot of the same songs over and over again that I didn't want to play any more."
The split spurred an immediate creative breakthrough. "After the rest of the guys left, I literally walked into my bedroom and finished a couple of songs I hadn't been able to finish," Rollason recalls. "By the next week I had written tons of new songs."
Rollason's solo work is at once tuneful and unorthodox. Far more sophisticated than your standard rock anthems and lost-love dirges, his songs have a haunted quality. He fills lilting song lines with dreamy guitars and surging Beatle-esque melodies, and writes lyrics that manage to convey vulnerability through glancing, impressionistic details. "Martian Girl," a brooding, ethereal homage to actress Lisa Marie's role in Mars Attacks, came to Rollason after he watched her slink across the big screen. "Fun" sets his lazy croon over a collage of countrified guitar licks, while "She Floats on a Beam" leaps from a syncopated verse to a joyous thumping chorus in a single drumbeat, before giving way to a jazzy trumpet outro.
In keeping with the inimitable spirit of the music, Rollason is reluctant to categorize his songwriting, or to analyze his lyrics. "I'm not doing it to express anything to anybody," he says. "Whatever the lyrics mean to me, I don't expect them to mean the same thing to anybody else, but it's really cool when they do hit people personally. It's sort of like the words have some power that don't have anything to do with me."
Despite penning a steady stream of new songs, Rollason didn't begin thinking about forming a new band until he spent a few months as an acoustic solo artist, opening for local bands and playing at local music festivals. "Playing out, playing in a club or whatever, isn't something I enjoy," he says. "When I go somewhere and play, I like to bring other musicians just because it's more fun for me. If I play by myself, then it just becomes me, at this place, where I don't want to be."
But the prospect of recruiting a band -- of having to explain his musical ideas to half-interested musicians -- didn't hold much appeal to Rollason. So he decided to mass-produce a self-recorded cassette titled The Curious Hair Is Not a Band, on which he played all the instruments, accompanied by a drum machine. He listed his phone number on the inlay card with a simple statement: "So, you're a musician looking for a band? The Curious Hair wants to hear from you!" The tape became an audio want ad for musicians.