Curiouser and Curiouser
Jeff Rollason, lead singer and guitarist of Miami's experimental rock outfit the Curious Hair, is not at all interested in the music industry. "That's not what I think about every day," the 29-year-old professes before a late-night performance on the patio of a Coral Gables bookstore. Behind his small black-framed glasses and underneath his chopped-to-the-shoulder dirty-blond hair, his face is stern. "It's not part of my world," he plainly states and turns to more pressing (and less boring) matters. Rollason and the evening's soundman, Chris DeAngelis, the lanky, long-haired bassist/vocalist for local funsters the Avenging Lawnmowers of Justice, are more interested in playing a practical joke than musing about the business of music.
While setting up for the Curious Hair's performance, they conspire to raise a microphone onstage to towering proportions. Their gag is aimed at six-foot-tall (with heels), 30-year-old Curious Hair vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Maria Marocka. Rollason lets out a laugh, his thinly bearded face relaxing, lightening up. This is maybe the fiftieth time he has played the joke on Marocka during her three-year career as a Hair club member. But for Rollason, that's exactly what doesn't get old and tiring about playing in a band: the fun.
He says he got bored with the fantasies of being a rock star "a long fuckin' time ago. I probably cared about that when I was just starting. When I was sixteen and naíve," he admits. Besides, if he had waited for a major label to release his first work, the music world would probably not be flooded by the multitude of releases Rollason has put out on his personal record label, Evol Egg Nart.
Rollason issued number 32 in his catalog when he released the Curious Hair's seventh recording this past January. Rollason named the EP Strokes Is for Dopes in response to the popularity of the famed wannabe Brit-pop group. "Strokes Is for Dopes was released the night the Strokes played here in Miami," Rollason explains. "We passed out about 100 outside Billboardlive after their show, even got the band to autograph one, then gave it to them as a token of our gratitude for them saving rock and roll for all of us. The title is a reference to the know-it-all hipsters being duped by an RCA band in 'indie' clothing. Plus it kind of rhymes and sounds funny too."
Rollason's sense of humor is sharp, cynical, and often driven by bitterness. Dopes' opening cut, "Fly Bye," bounds along on a heaving organ melody and layers of buzzing, rhythmic guitar. The band fills the song with feedback and echo, and even the cymbal crashes resonate profoundly. "When you were young/You had your fun," sings Rollason, with Marocka's voice just behind his. "Now time's gone by/How it flies/What have you done?" Squawks of feedback answer each line. Rollason's deep, raspy voice is distinct from his speaking voice. He drags his words out slowly, almost exhaustedly -- like a beat-up Neil Young.
"Hole" carries on with a lethargic, noisy slow-core sound, riding the lush hum of an organ. Rollason and Marocka introduce the song suitably: "Take it slow." This track reveals the dichotomy in the pairing of Rollason's voice with Marocka's. She soars above him with a smooth, easy-going sound, swooping away with the waves of her keyboards, while his voice hides nestled in his rumbling guitar licks. "Breakthru" ends the EP on a more upbeat, symphonic note. Marocka noodles on the piano with the usual cacophony stirring around her like a tornado. The song rides a roaring, repetitive refrain as the duo intones, "I'm gonna break through, I'm gonna break through." Bassist Mario Padrón and drummer Mitchel Gurdjian provide the rhythmic racket that keeps the song from exploding. Some might compare the Curious Hair's sound with the barely controlled noise of early Mercury Rev or Flaming Lips.
As complex as the band's music can be, Padrón explains that it comes from a simple place. "It's not about being sloppy," he explains. "It's just about playing." His eyebrows drop to either corner of his face as he offers a soft, humble smile and a shrug. The big, hairy-armed 27-year-old has a demeanor quite like that of the clichéd gentle giant.
Padrón says he hasn't been happier with any other group of musicians since he began playing in bands in his high school years. His contentment is probably a testament to Rollason's lack of interest in the pressures of the music industry. "What I like about the band is that you come in and you play," Padrón comments. "Recording is just recording. You're just playing what you're playing. It's less of a band than it is a group of friends. There's nobody I'd rather be playing with than who I am already playing with. [Jeff] encourages creativity -- he's not selfish at all."
Though he came up with the name of the Curious Hair when it was his solo project back in 1996, Rollason never saw the band as his vehicle. He and Gurdjian are both responsible for the band's home base, called "the Ranch," and Gurdjian writes off any sense of exclusive ownership. "The Ranch is attached to my house," Gurdjian explains via e-mail. "Originally built by Jeff and I, it's as much ours as everyone that's ever recorded there. Filled with electrical, mechanical, wind-up instruments and toys, it's a place that's sort of made itself over time. Jeff and I bought the deck, mixer, mics, and two gallons of paint. The instruments are residents. It's a collection of 'stuff' found, bought, or donated. There are pictures, photos, and art all left behind as friends come through and record a song or two. Everyone to ever visit or record at the Ranch has invested into it."
In turn, Evol Egg Nart releases records not only by the Curious Hair but by many other local artists. "I used to pay for everything," winces Rollason. "Nowadays money's supertight, so the artists usually rise to the occasion and pitch in."
Rollason has released 36 recordings via EEN since its birth in the summer of 1996, explaining that the only reason EEN exists is "to spread music." It's a destination that seems very comfortable for a musician who would rather flip a finger at the music industry than join it. "Evol Egg Nart isn't a business," Rollason explains. "It's an antibusiness. We give almost everything away, so it's not like there's a real flow coming in that helps pay for future releases. The profits are nonexistent, but we've distributed probably somewhere around 15,000 copies of our releases to cool music lovers all around the world. Not all the releases are Miami folk, so I guess EEN is the public display of the many recording projects I've stumbled into. It's like I'm documenting the music I think is good and doing what I can in a grassroots kind of way so that as many people hear it as possible."
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