By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
A year later Rollason is still searching for a permanent lineup. His collaborators are acquaintances who are available to play on particular nights. The band's only regular member besides Rollason is former Breadhealer bassist/drummer Mitch Gurdjian, who reunited with Rollason to help him refine his musical ideas, as well as to play bass and drums. The duo has performed recent shows at Tobacco Road and Rose's, with Gurdjian whacking a beat-up toy snare drum or electric bass and Rollason playing either an acoustic guitar or a plastic Italian guitar called a Macaferri. On other occasions the Curious Hair's lineup consists of any combination of the following: local sitar hero Stephan Mikes on lap steel, Rey "Conga" Diaz on congas and percussion, Gus Mayorga on trumpet, Timothy Clo on drums, and Michella Maiorana on cello. Rollason says he'd like to have a steady lineup someday, but for the moment he seems content with the ad hoc approach.
During the release extravaganza for the Curious Hair's Phaser this past July at Tobacco Road, the musicians connected as if fused at the soul. The set was filled with surprises and epiphanies. Rollason stood straight as a stalk throughout most of the night, singing in his dreamy tenor and alternating between acoustic and electric guitars. Opening "Blue Sky Fool," the rhythm section provided a hushed backdrop for the chemistry of Mikes's weeping lap steel and Maiorana's lamenting cello, resulting in a ballad of graceful power, at once sad and beautiful. For the finale, an eerie version of "Martian Girl," Rollason set up a theremin on-stage. The small, boxlike instrument reacts with a range of tones when the electric field that it generates is interrupted. As the song drew to a close, with his band pounding out a lush refrain, Rollason began dipping the neck of his electric guitar into the theremin's field while soloing, resulting in a surreal duel of quavering notes.
Conga player Diaz says Rollason's freeform conception of the band creates a unique, improvisational vibe: "The thing I like best about the work that I do with Jeff, on the tape and live, is that he gives me the freedom to actually express myself on the congas. A lot of times, on the other projects that I do, I sit there and I go through the motions. I'm basically doing it to be on the album or to get paid. With Jeff there's none of that."
Creativity is not limited to the Curious Hair's music. Rollason also takes pride in the packaging of his cassettes. For the release party, which featured a toy raffle and a blue cake with silver icing, Rollason introduced the "Limited Edition Deluxe Gift Box" version of Phaser. Priced at eight bucks, the ingenious package was adorned with a sparking plastic gun, a two-inch-tall plastic moon man, a sticker, a lyric sheet, and contained two cassettes (Phaser and a companion tape of demos and experiments titled A Little Jeff for Ya, which was recorded in one night). The gift box sold out in less than a week.
Rollason says he prefers to work with cassettes because he thinks they are the cheapest and most practical way to get his music to people. He records at Gurdjian's house in southwest Dade, on an eight-track reel to reel, utilizing an eight-track mixing board with a DAT recorder.
Before they began the recording for Phaser, Rollason lent Gurdjian some records, which included such lo-fi standouts as the Flaming Lips, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and Sparklehorse. "There are no technical skills involved in my being in the band," Gurdjian says, "just a little bit of listening skills, and playing bass. Jeff writes the songs on guitar, brings them over, and then we decide what I should do. I write the bass line, play the drums, and sometimes play a little guitar and some type of percussion."
Rollason doesn't see his devotion to cassette releases as a handicap. He's happy simply to have the resources to record. "The only reason I would want to establish myself at all is so I can make records," he says. "Well, I can already do that."
Rollason does, however, harbor an interest in signing with one label in particular: New York-based Matador Records, home of Liz Phair, Yo La Tengo, and Guided by Voices. "I didn't send Phaser to any other label, but they're cool," he says. "It's not like I'm seriously looking to work with any label right now. It's just that [Matador] has got a lot of cool bands, and the bands put out records a lot and tour a lot. Consistently."
Steve "The Beast" Alvin, who cohosts the Saturday night Beast and Baker Show with Greg Baker on WAXY-AM (790), has had Rollason on the show more than any other local artist and believes Rollason could some day be a contender for a major-label contract. "Jeff understands development," Alvin notes. "You have to be patient, and you have to develop the songs real well, and that's what he's doing. A lot of these artists, they release a CD and milk it for a year, or two or three. But Jeff goes by the premise that the songs are there, in his mind, and he creates them, and the band plays them, and he records them continuously. He's got the attitude, and he's all about the music. That's the most important thing."