April 7, 2013

The High Five: An Initiative To Make Philadelphia A Center For Local And Touring Rock N Roll Bands

“We’re gonna put Philly on the map” said High Five drummer, Eric Kohlhofer, on our way to get a slice of pizza on one wild Guitar Army night in Philadelphia. “There’s a revolution going on in Atlanta. With The Biters and The Booze. We have a monthly going on in Voltage Lounge. We’re gonna book everybody. We’re booking The Ravagers from Baltimore. We wanna book The Biters. We’re gonna build rock n roll in Philly. You gotta put us in your blog”.

Eric Kohlhofer

“Of course I will. Be warned though, every band I do a story on is a mixed bag of praise and critique. The expectation has to be right. It can’t be too hyped. When I was in LA everybody accused me of favoritism because I’d praise and push certain bands too much which pissed off their peers and competition. Which consequently jeopardized my relationships with a lot of bands. I have to be fair. I don’t wanna do the same mistake on The East Coast”. I worried he’d take it the wrong way. “Ok”, he answered. Then he proceeded in a passionate and drunken rant about something. He was very critical on certain bands and scenes. “I’m sick of all these daisies man! Those scenes man, they’re daisies! Here in Philly we’re not a bunch of daisies! All these fucking daisies man! I’m trying to .. Do you understand what I’m trying to say to you?!“. I understood that he was backlashing against something. I understood that he was championing something. And I understood that he has a lot of zeal and a lot of passion for his hometown. And I understood that he hates bands and scenes who are daisies.

Eric is a biker and a bouncer. One time when The High Five were in Brooklyn for a show he hugged me in a way that felt like a Judo maneuver. My neck and back hurt for a week and a half after that vicious hug. He’s tough and he’s a badass. That explains why he hates daisies.

As I was preparing to write their story, I piled up a couple of photos from their facebook profiles and I looked for good YouTube links to embed in the blog. I realized that good links of their best songs aren’t online. So I had to go to Philly again and video record it myself. While I was at it I might as well sit their asses down, interview them, and get some good sound bytes for my documentary. What you are about to read is the story of that eventful weekend. And I use the word “eventful” as a euphemism for very wild debauchery that I can’t fully talk about or describe on the record.

Johnny Douglas

I arrived in Philly and partied at Eddie Gieda’s Guitar Army at The Barbary. As the bouncers were kicking everybody out at closing time, I got my drunken ass out of there with The High Five’s singer, Johnny Douglas. Johnny was with a girl. We were supposed to head to “Nothing House”, a legendary house that hosted punk rock shows in South Philly, where Johnny now resides, and where I’m crashing in for the weekend. Throughout my whole stay, Johnny always comes home, or wakes up next to a beautiful girl.

I knew very little of Johnny. The one I’m closest to the most out of everybody in that band was Eric. But I got a good preview of Johnny’s personality as we left The Barbary. He’s a mack with girls. He’s obsessed with the metaphysical. He always talks in cryptic ways with extreme enthusiasm, which was a challenge for me later on as I was trying get a clear usable sound byte for my documentary. He kept pissing on the side of the street whenever he stopped the car. And he’s not afraid of trouble. He pranked the shit out of a McDonalds drive through cashier. And we somehow ended up ordering a happy meal. The toy sucked. The food sucked too. But the prank was funny.

Yusaf Ali

We went to an afterparty at someone’s backyard. I wanted to be a good bro, so I gave Johnny and his girl some alone time and fucked off. The afterparty crowd were circling around a camp fire. It was there where I met the newest High Five member, Yusaf Ali. “I’m my own guitar player with my own playing style and my own ideas”, Yusaf, who proclaims himself as “The Fifth Five”, wanted to make sure that I don’t get an impression that he’s a hired gun. I think his background is more blues and less punk. I like it. I think his input will really make the band develop a new dimension to their sound.

Two of Eric’s biker friends were at the afterparty, Lord Beard and Cowabunga Banzai Geronimo. Cowabunga filled a water gun with Lord Beard’s rum and proceeded to shoot inside people’s mouths with it. After shooting some rum in my mouth with the water gun he said: “Trip, I love you. You know the right things, and you like the right things. I just get the impression that the only bands you push are bands that are into fashion and shit”.

“I hate indie rock”, I told him.

“Of course, I’m not gonna get a bunch of boring people in my band but what if my band are bikers with long hair who listen to Budgie? Would you promote that?”, he asked.

“Hell yeah!! Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeell yeah!!!”, I assured him.

Lord beard
Then we had a conversation about KISS and we went to the speakers, unlpugged someone else’s laptop, plugged my phone and played KISS’s “King Of The Night Time World”. I started running and jumping around and air guitaring like a crazed brat on rum until Johnny’s girl tapped on my shoulder and said they had to leave.

Cowabunga is a promoter and he books bands. Expect a blog about him on The Dead Notes soon.
We drove to South Philly. After a few stops and pissings on the side of the street, we reached Nothing House. Johnny showed me to my room and I passed out.

The next morning, it’s documentary time. Yusaf stops by the house, I made the mistake of screening the first episode of my documentary series to them before the rest of the band gets there first. As soon as the end credits were on the screen, a flood of great sound bytes started to pour out of Johnny ... but none of it was taped. “Wait wait wait wait wait!!!! Hold on!!! Stop talking!!”, I put him to a halt. “Let me set the camera up first!!”.

Rory Cain
Johnny Mick

After I set the camera up we find out that their Guitar Player, Rory, and their bass player, Johnny Mick (the other Johnny) are both still passed out and not picking up their phones.

Fuck it, let me film what Johnny and Yusaf have to say now then wait and film the rest once the rest of the band are in one room. I start filming. After I have the sound bytes on record I start wrapping my gear and camera in the bag. Eric comes to Nothing House, great sound bytes start pouring out of him: “Nobody wakes up knowing the whole catalog of the MC5!! You have to turn people on to that first!! So we shouldn’t be too hard on people who are fucking new to this!”. That sound byte was never recorded. “Wait wait wait wait!! Stop talking!!”, we agreed to haul ass to their rehearsal space and continue taping everything there.

I set up my camera. Rory, and Johnny Mick show up. Relief. They set up. They played the songs that I wanted to film, Dreamin’ and Stone Fox. We find out that Eric’s boss wants him to come to work early and fill in for someone else who had to bail. Fuck. I’m gonna miss his sound bytes in the documentary. “Everybody calm down! Let’s just play as many songs as we can before Eric has to leave!”, Johnny shouts. The High Five boys play 2 new songs that they wrote recently. The first one didn’t really resonate with me. The second one they played, “Spend The Night”, ruled. “It’s about fucking bitches, Trip”, Eric said with a grin. They were happy that I loved Spend The Night. Johnny shouts: “Ok! We’re still ruling! Everything’s fucked today but we’re still ruling!”.

Eric: “I gotta leave guys”.

Rory: “No, let’s do Down. Let’s just do Down. We showed them our rock n roll side now we have to show them our Dead Boysy punk side”.

Eric sticks around and they do “Down”.

After they wrap, I go to set up the interview segment for my documentary. Rory kills it. He kills it. My mouth salivates. He’s too smart. Too articulate. Too insightful. Too well spoken. Too .. FUCK! MEMORY CARDS RAN OUT!! I try to dump the footage from my cards to my hard drive. The desktop doesn’t have the right outlet! FUUUUUUUUUCK!!! I run around all over South Philly for a Fed Ex. They don’t have the right cable. I run around all over South Philly for a Radioshack. 22 blocks of running around later, I finally buy one. It’s shit like this that makes me want to have a producer to look after my reckless ass.

 Rory is exhausted, and bored, but I have to overmilk the shit out of him because he’s giving me gold. We go from the rehearsal space to Rory’s place. Electricity’s out. Fuck. We go from Rory’s place to Nothing House. I start taping again. Rory gives me gold, more gold, oh yes! Yes! YESS!! YEESS!! OH YESSS!! FUCK YEAH!! YEAH!!! YEAH!! YEAHH!! Aaaaaaand ... fuck! I ran out of batteries! And I forgot my battery charger in NYC! Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck!! It’s shit like this that makes me wanna have a producer to look after my reckless ass. But we were still ruling. Everything was fucked that day but we were still ruling.

What I’m trying to say is, Rory rules. That band has a great mind in it’s team. I would’ve made this High Five entry a classic typed interview but I exhausted them with so many questions that it’s too soon to do ANOTHER interview for the blog. I overmilked the shit out of those boys with questions. I started filming at 3:30 PM and stopped at 1:20 AM. That’s how much interviewing I did. That’s how much gold Rory was giving me. So I’m sure Rory is sick of my questions by now. I am, however, planning to do a Dead Notes interview with them a month from now for a separate event. And you guys will see how sharp, on point and profound Rory is in that Dead Notes post.

Rory Cain

I played back the footage of the interview to them on Johnny’s computer.

Rory: “My face looks fucked and hungover. Which rules”.

Johnny’s sound bytes are hilarious. I could play them back over and over again and never get bored by it. He delivers his points with so much humor and enthusiasm. Great theater.

I remember Johnny Mick (the other Johnny) telling me: “Just make us look cool”. A reference to the movie Almost Famous. Which alarmed me a little bit. Because I had so much critique I was prepared to write on them, but they’re charming me too much that they’re making me not have the heart to do it.

Trip Loon with The High Five

Johnny Douglas: “What time is it?”

Trip: “It’s 1:20 AM”

Rory: “Fuck. Everything’s closing in 40 minutes”.

Johnny Douglas: “No! We’re going out! We have to go out! There’s 40 minutes left we have to go NOW!”.

That’s Johnny for ya. Always partying. Myself, Johnny Douglas and Rory go to a joint called Dolphins. We order a shit load of alcohol before last call and we down it all. We made it. We successfully got fucked up before closing hour. I start hitting on every girl I see. Johnny loves it. After 9 rejections from hot chicks, we finally hook up with a group of girls and we all go to this after party joint, The Republican. Here’s what Eric Kohlhofer has to say about The Republican:

Eric Kohlhofer
“Last time I was there I walked into the bathroom and a girl came in behind me, dropped her pants and jumped up in the sink to take a piss. That’s the kind of place The Republican is. You know you're in a classy place when a girl says: ‘You take the toilet and I’ll take the sink’".

Johnny and Rory were telling me tales of how dingy and shady that place is. A bar fight, or getting mugged isn’t too far off from happening over there. Which rules. I was so pumped to go there. When I got there everybody was smoking cigarettes INSIDE the bar. When you see cigarette smoke fogging up the whole atmosphere and you see beams of red light bulbs pierce through it everything feels fucked. Which RULES. I love feeling that I’m in a dangerous place where NOBODY is a wholesome asshole. I hate wholesome assholes. Fuck me, the test of ,“Just make us look cool” is really starting to tempt my sense of integrity as a reviewer because I’m having a shit load of fun. The kind of fun that you can’t say on the record. I really don’t wanna say one harmful word on The High Five ever right now. They’re so cool. God I wish I have a gang to roll around with just like them that get into trouble where eagles dare. Everybody I know is too responsible and tamed for this shit. Who the hell has the will to do all of this 40 minutes before closing time and STILL manage to pull off a legendary night?! I’m used to people saying “nah fuck it” in situations like this.

We go to an afterparty after the afterhours bar. This house has naked pics and paintings of naked babes all over the walls. Enough of how much fun I was having, the significant thing that happened over there was that Rory and I had MORE dialog about culture and music. I thought his brain would too fried by now with all the questions I asked him. I don’t know how we were quoting Gregorian chant music and Medieval music of Alfonso The Tenth to each other. All this while we were completely fucked up and drunk as hell.

Rory: “Yusaf is really opening me up to new things”

We talked about how The Dead Boys is the real first punk band instead of The Ramones. We talked about The Clash, Rory’s favorite band. We talked about music theory. We talked about how lame it is that a certain closed minded Philly punk scene will ostracize you if you branch out to rock n roll.

Rory Cain

Johnny and I head back to Nothing House. Of course, Johnny has a girl with him. I pass out.

I wake up the next morning while everyone else is asleep. As I’m trying to hail a cab outside, I just realize that Nothing House is at the ghetto. I was at the ghetto this whole time. Carrying around expensive camera equipment like an asshole. I thought it was smarter to hail a cab at a safer place. So I walk around until I find a cop car next to a church. It was Sunday at noon. The cab I call arrives after 20 minutes.

Cab Driver: “What the hell is a guy like you with all that fancy camera stuff doing at the ghetto?”.

Trip: “I know. I wish I had a producer to look after my reckless ass”.

I reach the bus station and I get my ass back to New York City.

And now for that awkward moment that we’ve all been waiting for:

The critique..

And as Cheech Marin puts it, this is gonna hurt you a lot more than it’s gonna hurt me. Ok I’m fucking with you. I’ll be fair. Johnny Mick (the other Johnny) gave me an interesting sound byte when I asked about the music press of today: “Nobody’s writing an honest review, it’s all praise. That’s why nobody trusts the music press”. Well bro, don’t take this the wrong way but I have to do that honest review. If I don’t I’m just as corrupt as all the asshole reviewers who are guilty with favoritism and payola. So here it goes .... Ok here it goes .... Fuck ... Ok .... Ok here it goes .... I really hate doing this ... FUCK! .... Ok here it goes ..

... It’s the fucking power pop thing! And look, I’m not picking on power pop. When Bay City Roller’s “Saturday Night” plays on the dance floor I lose my shit. When Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” is on I lose my shit. I get it. Inherently Power Pop is cool.

Also, I’m not picking on The High Five. I wasn't that crazy about The Stalkers doing Power Pop. I still don’t like The Biters' power pop numbers like Melody For Lovers or Shout It. When I told Rory: “Listen, I think your songs ‘Falling Out Of Love Again’ and ‘Scars’ are too cute. You’re a rock n roll band, you’re supposed to be badasses, you’re not supposed to be cute. I think you’re choosing the wrong singles. That’s why I came here to record the more badass songs at your rehearsal on camera. There has to be a representation of that badass side on the internet”.

Rory: “So wait. What do you think of The Biters?”.

Trip: “I only like a few songs like ‘Oh Yeah. The Bitch Wants More’ and 'So many nights'".

Rory: “That’s it?”

Trip: “Yeah, that’s it”.

Rory: “Oh see, you’re coming at it from a different place”.

And I think he’s right. I am coming at it from a different place. I was never a veteran of any punk scene. I was never even exposed to punk scenes. I’m a rock n roll guy. And the kind of Power Pop that I’m fed up with isn’t Bay City Rollers or songs like Surrender by Cheap Trick. It’s the kind that’s represented by bands like All American Rejects, Avril Lavigne, Blink 182, The Jonas Brothers ... etc. Those assholes made something that bands like The Dead Boys built so much badassery to and turned it into some family entertainment wholesome cute bullshit. Nowadays Power Pop is the trademark sound for teen movie soundtracks where the plot is a bunch of pimple faced high school dweebs who are trying to score a prom date. It’s the cultural signature sound for Nickelodeon and Saturday morning commercials like Nerf or Mattel. It’s the sound of the fucking Jonas Brothers for Christ’s sake! I can never understand why The Biters, Stalkers, The High Five or any other loud rock n roll band would still wanna do that sound?!

Don't get me wrong, The Stalkers here in New York City are the coolest motherfuckers who know and like all the right things and hate all the bullshit. They’re the most enlightening people to learn from. They’re scholars who make me feel like the most ignorant dumbass of all time. I love learning from them. I know that when David Hénaire (The Cheap Thrills / Bators) started out he was doing Power Pop. I know that the boys from The Nuclears love power pop.

Mick Maverick of The Nuclears told me something interesting: “I wouldn’t worry about it, Trip. They’re mastering the pop sensibility. As long as they master that then they’re gonna know how to use it in rock n roll”. Mick would know. Brian Maverick is one of the main guys in The Nuclears. Guess who his favorite band is? The Clash. That’s Rory’s favorite band too. So I think I’m beginning to understand a little better where all this is coming from. Not only am I understanding where it’s coming from, I think I’m understanding where it’s being taken to as well.

Songs like Dreamin’ and Stone Fox are a little harder and louder and heavier. Songs like Scars and Falling Out Of Love Again are poppy. When they played their new song, Spend The Night, it was a good merging of both. Which I’m happy with. If that’s the direction of their sound, if that’s where the sound is defining itself, then I’m happy. Having Yusaf in the band is great too. Because his background is blues and rock n roll. I think that’s a big factor on where their sound is going as well. Which I’m happy with. Also, understanding the musical mind of Rory in our conversations and interviews that weekend assured me that I don’t have to worry at all.

Johnny Mick and Yusaf Ali

"I'm branching out to Rock n Roll, but I came from Punk". That was one of Johnny Douglas' sound bytes in the documentary.

For a band that’s only a year old to have 4 killer songs in their set is great. They only got Eric halfway throughout that year. And they only got Yusaf very very recently. The dream team that Rory, Johnny Douglas and Johnny Mick wanted in the first place is finally assembled. This is the real beginning of The High Five.

The last thing that I’m gonna say is that what I admire most about them is that they don’t wanna leave Philly. I know a lot of musicians who leave their towns and cities to move to New York or LA. If our whole uprising did that, then who the hell are we gonna book ourselves with when we tour the country? They’re really making Philly a center for rock n roll. A very prosperous one at that. With their alliance with Eddie Gieda of Guitar Army, Philly won’t only be a center, it will be a rock n roll capital. Which rules. I hope that inspires everyone to do the same for their cities. Help the High Five when they tour in your town just like they’re helping you.

Eric Kohlhofer and Eddie Gieda of Guitar Army
Rory is one of the brightest musical minds I ever had the pleasure of learning from. The High Five are very capable of being Philadelphia’s flagship band. That’s if they aren’t Philadelphia’s flagship band already.

Catch their second ever monthly event, High Voltage II, with The Nasty Souls and The Tough Shits. The fucking Tough Shits are on that bill!! For all those who don’t know, Philadelphia Rock n Roll was synonymous with The Tough Shits for nearly 6 years. And THE NASTY SOULS, one of the flagship bands of LA, are in that same bill!! Brett Hellings, The Nasty Souls’ singer, is a Philly boy himself. It’s his first ever show in front of his family and home with The Nasty Souls. I can’t even begin to hype how ceremonious that event is gonna be! I already talked too much and I better shut up. All I have left to say is, it’s on April 14 at Voltage Lounge and that you better show up. That includes you too New York City crowd. I know The Nasty Souls are touring New York too but it’s not gonna be anywhere near as special as this. The Tough Shits and THE HIGH FIVE are on that bill! Buy a $15 bus ticket and get your asses to Philly!

Get the jury. Here's the music.


Spend The Night

Stone Fox



**Full Interview with New York City Booker & Promoter Ashley Moree


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