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Here’s the thing about instrumental music: if it can’t hold my interest as more than just background music, I give up on it pretty quickly. If I’m going to enjoy a band without a vocalist (and I know I’m not alone in feeling this way), that band needs to be tighter, more intentional about melody and structure, and more interesting than it’s vocally-endowed musical counterparts.
Beer Hockey, despite their funny name, is all of these things.
Beer Hockey has that perfect balance of impressive musicianship and groove. They’re heavy, the kind of heavy that feels good on the inside, and they certainly know how to solo…but they also know how to lay so deep into a groove that you can’t help bobbing your head. The chords are interesting, the drumming is understated and delightfully groove-heavy, and every now and then you’re treated to a short burst of metal guitar solo.
Unlike many of their contemporaries, when you listen to Beer Hockey, you get the sense of relatable song structure without being bored by repetition. This is because the band treats their music like songs, even without a vocalist to guide the listener with repetitive lyrics or melody. In other words, the music flows so naturally from one part to another that you hardly notice (and certainly don’t care) that there isn’t a singer.
We asked Beer Hockey’s guitarist, Justin Dodge to answer some questions for us. And, even though we asked him some pretty dumb things (re: Scooby Doo character resemblance) he managed to grace us with some interesting thoughts about their music, the local scene and what it’s like to be a band without a singer.
Band members, their instruments and which Scooby Doo character they most closely resemble:
Justin Dodge (Guitar), Mark Debenedetti (Guitar), Kevin Kreller (Drums), Danny Levy (Bass). Kevin is perfect for Freddy. Straight shooter and always on the task. Even kinda looks like him too. I guess I’d be Shaggy. Just so I could chill with the dog all day. Danny would be Scooby Doo, because I don’t understand what the hell he is talking about most the time. Mark is Old Man Johnson trying to spook us away from the haunted museum.
How would you characterize the Chicago music scene? What do you like/what would you like to see changed?
What makes the Chicago music scene great is that it is filled with really talented and diverse groups and individuals. I started my music career in San Diego, California. In San Diego, there are basically punk bands and metal bands. At least they are the bands with the biggest following. So moving to Chicago a few years ago was a real eye opener. However, this is also the bad part about Chicago. Since there are so many talented and diverse musicians it is really hard to grab just anyones attention here. You have to do something that people aren’t expecting you to do. This also makes it extremely competitive amongst one another. Though it seems like a healthy and friendly competition so far.
How do you approach songwriting?
Its been all over of the place for us. Three years ago when I first started this project with our first drummer Nino I wanted to start a metalcore band. So our original songs, which never really got popular, sounded a lot more like things you probably already heard before from other bands. Now that we have a different drummer, Kevin Kreller, things have changed a lot. We spend five to ten minutes sometimes just jamming one riff. Just to see how many different ways we can play it. What little accents can we add, or even take away to make this interesting. I think its easier to write a song when you understand what directions it can go first. When we were writing our EP “Low Budget” it was different because all those songs were written when we had planned on finding a vocalist. Plus Nino, our old drummer, was a much different drummer. He really liked to move around and be all over his kit. Kevin kinda sits back and goes over the top when needed. So its been a lot of different processes actually.
What’s more important, Beer or Hockey?
Cant have one with out the other. The name comes from a drinking game my friend Matt taught me. Its a game involving a quarter, a beer bottle, and your friends. The game essentially is supposed to be like a shoot out in hockey. One person shoots and the rest of the people play goalie in front of there bottle with only two fingers. If the bottle gets hit then some one spins the quarter and you drink until it stops spinning. It became an addicting game for a while. Its is a really good ice breaker to meet new people because you have to learn everyones name to play. So we figured if we went around playing Beer Hockey with friends and at parties then people would love the name and not forget it. Not sure how successful it has been going for us yet but I love the name.
Why instrumental? What can you express that a band with a vocalist can’t? OR. How do you approach music differently than a band with vocalist might?
If anything there are a lot things we can’t express because we don’t have a vocalist. But we are okay with that. The one complaint I hear the most from people who aren’t metal or hardcore fans are about the singer being irritating and the lyrics being idiotic. In many cases I agree with those people. In our generation of musicians, we have a small handful of good lyricist. Music, rock music mainly, from 1960-85 was often known as rebellious and crude. By the late 80s early 90s, producers and labels figured out, they can basically take any band make a few hits out of them, then move on. By the 2000’s you could write anything as lyrics and people will say its art. Look at the thong song for example. So instead of trying to say we have a message with our music, we just want people to enjoy themselves. That’s pretty much what we are all about. Come to our shows, get loose and just have a good time.
Favorite venue to play in the city?
Subterranean is always fun.
Advice for new bands to Chicago, how/where should they start.
Stick it out! Its been three long years for us and three different member changes. Finally things are coming together for us though. Have respect for your fans and have respect for the bands you play with. All it takes is one or two people to make music. If you have a guitar and a drum set, just have some drinks and a smoke. Thats how Beer Hockey was started.