A month ago, the band Esposito was no more. Eighteen-year-old lead singer and guitarist Dave Paulson was wrapping up his days at Brentwood High Schoolwhere 17-year-old bassist Seth Murray is now a rising seniorand 19-year-old drummer Scott Martin was gearing up for his second year of college. With the three at different stages of their young lives, it seemed time for the punk-pop trio to disband and each try their own things.
And there was something else as well, something that Paulson hesitates to admit. The band’s chief voice had decided that, after a year of playing around Middle Tennessee with a loose, open, bash-it-out style, Esposito needed to tighten up. “I was trying to find a model, trying to define our sound,” he explains. “Trying to be too straightforward, and the other guys had a problem with that.” The minor power struggle that ensued shook the group’s confidence enough that they announced a “farewell show” for June 9 and decided to part amicably as friends.
The resultant decrease in pressure on the boys may have straightened them out, or maybe it was a sudden realization that they shouldn’t stop before they’d really begun. Whatever the reason, by the time Esposito made it to that fated final gig at NXT Generation Performance Hall, they had already decided to soldier on. “I think we worked it all out,” Paulson says. “We decided that we’ll never label ourselves, to limit what we can do.”
Paulson is the son of a music-loving local attorney. “My dad is a fanatic, a collector,” he says. “He’s the most rock ’n’ roll dad I know. I remember having a Beach Boys tape when I was 5, and watching A Hard Day’s Night when I was 7.” That inherited love of pop music is part of what had Paulson wanting to force Esposito into a box in which they would not fit. He describes trying consciously to write a song like The Beatles, but says it was “kinda boring for the other guys when I did that. It’s more fun to write the song together.”
Certainly, Esposito’s music displays the spark of imagination that comes from collaboration. Their self-titled EP tempers bratty-but-melodic minimalist rock with the sort of spur-of-the-moment instrumental choices and weird time signatures that only a band with an open mind and a willingness to play around can generate. And one of their more recent songs, “Set in Our Ways” (available on MP3.com), shows an impressive maturity, shifting as it does between pleasant ballad and screeching rocker with degrees of gradation in between. Esposito aren’t just repeating the same slow-fast, loud-quiet dynamics of their early ’90s grunge forbears; they’re actively looking for the tight-fitting spaces in between.
Part of that willingness to reach a little comes from Paulson’s closet love of contemporary Top 40. He may publicly express his devotion to Built to Spill and Weezer, but privately, he confesses, “I’m drawn to really cheesy, overproduced pop. To a point, it’s sort of just a joke, but I do pay attention. There’s a part of me that admires that stuff.” That explains the sudden appearance of piano, tympani, and squiggly organ on certain Esposito tracks. When Paulson says, “I’m always trying to write the same kind of song,” he’s referring to his desire to make each composition a drag-out-the-kitchen-sink, monster-hook, catch-you-unaware rock classic.
What he’s learning is that he can’t go it alone. What success the group have had in their first year is partly due to their friendship with fellow teen-rockers Silent Friction, with whom they share many a bill.
Esposito’s recordings to date have been done on a rolling eight-track owned by Martin and recorded in the drummer’s room. And when they burned 200 copies of their EP, the packages were put together by a work force consisting mainly of “our moms.” Any band that can still get their mothers to pitch in has no business breaking up any time soon.
Singing the blues
John Lee Hooker was an extraordinary singer and striking guitarist who parlayed a rudimentary approach into a highly distinctive, singular style. Hooker, who died June 21 of natural causes at his home in Los Altos, Calif., eschewed sophistication and lyrical subtlety. His songs were raw, powerful, and instantly recognizable, as well as being alternately scandalous, delightful, or combative. Hooker’s melodies might have been simple, but they were seldom forgettable. He didn’t play intricate progressions or blazing solos behind his vocals. Instead, he would stomp his feet and hit flickering, rhythmically charged lines that only made his dynamic delivery and fiery messages seem more assertive.
Hooker, who was 83 when he died, lived long enough to earn critical acclaim, even if his commercial fortunes often didn’t equal the praises he garnered from musicians, writers, and fans. The awards included induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 and a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammies last year.
Hooker’s stepfather, Wil Moore, passed on to Hooker a brand of blues playing that emphasized gritty lower-string punctuations and a style that vamped around a one-chord droning pattern. Hooker’s songs would divide the standard 12-bar structure and allow him to skillfully construct and narrate wonderful stories with shattering punch lines. A Hooker solo violated so many conventional rules regarding chord structure and fingering patterns that transcriptions proved more baffling than instructive. Yet Hooker did this so masterfully that he influenced numerous musicians who were more technically and vocally skilled. His biggest fans included Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, Carlos Santana, Van Morrison, Bonnie Raitt, and Bob Dylan, with whom he shared a bill in a New York club in the early ’60s. That same year, Hooker also toured with The Rolling Stones, who at the time served as his opening act.
Born in Clarksdale, Miss., Hooker traveled to Memphis and Cincinnati in the late ’30s and early ’40s, before settling in Detroit in the mid-’40s. His first big hit was “Boogie Chillun” in 1948, a tune he originally cut for Bernard Besman’s Sensation label. In the ensuing two decades, his stark “boogie” style became extremely popular.
During the ’70s, Hooker gained more fame thanks to recording sessions with Canned Heat and other rockers. He even snared an acting role in 1980, playing a street vocalist in The Blues Brothers. Nearly a decade later, his LP The Healer brought him his first Grammy Award for “I’m in the Mood,” a duet with Raitt. Certainly, his later-period albums weren’t nearly as accomplished or characteristic as the dates he’d made with Chess, Vee-Jay, Specialty, Fantasy, or many other companies, but they earned him far more recognition.
Thankfully, much of Hooker’s finest material remains in print. Those who only desire a good compilation of his songs can get either The Ultimate Collection, 1948-1990 or The Very Best of John Lee Hooker, both issued by Rhino.
Ron Wynn is a staff writer for Nashville’s City Paper.
A few Tuesdays ago, singer/guitarist Tim Keegan and his band Departure Lounge were playing their biweekly gig at East Nashville’s Slow Bar when they dusted off an obscure song called “If It’s Monday Morning,” from a 1971 album by superstar ’60s songwriter/producer and cult hero Lee Hazlewood. Shouts and applause greeted the number. But the response that pleased Keegan most was the upraised thumb of the man in the back of the roomLee Hazlewood.
It wasn’t just the celebrity sighting that impressed the Slow Bar crowd. Since Dave Gehrke and Mike Grimes opened their tiny East Nashville watering hole and listening room last winter, the establishment has had more than its share of notable visitors, including Ryan Adams and Badly Drawn Boy. But any sighting of Hazlewood, perhaps best known for his string of hits with Nancy Sinatra in the 1960sincluding “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ ” and “Jackson”qualifies as something special. For one thing, he spent much of the past 25 years living in Sweden.
So what was he doing in Nashville? Hazlewood, whose legendary solo records were recently reissued by Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley’s Smells Like Records label, is the subject of an upcoming overseas tribute albumfor which Keegan and remixer/producer Kid Loco cut a version of “If It’s Monday Morning.” When Keegan was visiting his native England a few weeks ago, the mutual friend compiling the tribute asked if he wanted to meet the song’s author. They ended up drinking and talking in a hotel bar.
Keegan says Hazlewood was impressed not only with their version of the song but with their choosing it in the first place. “He said, ‘I only like about three or four songsI ever wrote,’ ” Keegan recalls, “ ‘and that’s one of my favorites.’ ” Knowing about the band’s Slow Bar residency, the mutual friend invited Hazlewood to see them play.
That he actually showed up wasn’t the only surprise. After the set, Keegan went up to talk to Hazlewood at the bar, and the elder musician gestured to a man sitting next to him. “Hi,” he said, “I want you to meet my friend Duane Eddy.” Hazlewood discovered the guitar legend as a teenagerhe co-wrote Eddy’s classic “Rebel Rouser”and their friendship goes back more than 40 years.
Next Tuesday marks the end of Departure Lounge’s regular Slow Bar dates, which Keegan says have been “a good excuse to learn lots and lots of songs, because people always want to hear songs at parties.” Thus bandmates Keegan, Chris Anderson, Lindsay Jamieson, and Jake Kyle have been tackling anything from Kirsty MacColl’s “They Don’t Know” and Nick Drake’s “Hazey Jane II” to Atlantic Starr’s “Always,” augmented by guests like Fleming & John, Josh Rouse, and The Pierces’ Allison Pierce.
In September, Departure Lounge will release an instrumental LP called Jetlag Dreams recorded in Nashville. Until then, the band will continue to spin cool tunes this summer on its weekly “Departure Lounge” radio show, 8 p.m. Sundays on WRVU-91.1 FM.
I hope Bonnie and Clyde is better than Mob City, which was - as far…
The only website you can call directly is 1-800-FLOWERS.com.
Not the first time Mario Lopez has been snubbed (see Kapowski, Kelly).
I was all like "how do you get the phone number for TMZ?!?!" you can't…
I think it's weird when speculation is wedged into an otherwise straightforward biography. I love…