Don't call the Curious Hair classic rock. Don't call it a jam band. And if you're a major record label, don't call it at all. As far as frontman Jeff Rollason is concerned, the industry can kiss his white ass. "It's not the music business," he contends. "It's the business business."
Instead of chasing record sales, Rollason leads a ragtag parade of rockers, folkies, and other survivors of the hip-hop/electronica era to the eight-track recording studio known as "the Ranch" in the garage of his partner in rock, Mitch Gurdjian. This Romper Room for grownups looks as if a toy chest has exploded. Dolls and action figures are strewn on the ground around an old dingy sofa, and a dresser supports a beat-up reel-to-reel tape recorder. A Britney Spears poster hangs on one wall, a sarcastic antihomage to the slick commercial pop that has no place here. Just as Rollason is loath even to call the Curious Hair a band, he won't admit that Evol Egg Nart, the imprint that issued the group's most recent album, Say Hello to Happiness, is a record company.
"Evol Egg Nart is a complete nonbusiness to the point of being completely ridiculous," he insists. "Pied Piper," a 57-second track from Happiness, could serve as a sonic manifesto for the anticommercial label. On the off-kilter circus track, the yawp of a 1960s Whitehall organ is met by spasmodic organ-grinder percussion and a small wooden flute. Although considerably more experimental than EEN's usual Americana fare, "Pied Piper" captures perfectly the serendipity of the enterprise. Most of Happiness' 14 tracks exude raw, bruised Southern retro-rock swagger, such as the Royal Truxish "Sunday Sunshine." Another recent EEN release, Maria Marocka's SoLo-Fi, resides firmly in traditional singer-songwriter terrain.
"There's so many things involved [in EEN]," explains Rollason. "It's more this collective of artists who come together. Most of [what we record] isn't even sold; it's just given away. We put out a limited release of 100 or 500 copies. Sometimes I make them myself and just mail them all over the world to like-minded people. I recently went up to Seattle with a suitcase full of recordings and started handing them out. We released 28 recordings, and I'd say we've distributed maybe 10,000 or 15,000 copies. More recently we've been putting out some albums that we would like to sell, but more generally we're just making music."
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Rollason began writing songs with his current sidekick in 1989. "The first tape I put out was in 1991: Strangelove," he recalls, a little embarrassed by the name. "We didn't record it [ourselves], but we managed to make all the tapes ourselves. We went to some cheesy local guy who knew how to record, paid him (probably too much), and everybody had to pitch in. It was rough. That was the last time I recorded anything with anyone like that."
Rollason and Gurdjian remained friends through the years while playing separately in a variety of bands, among them the South Florida favorite Mr. Tasty and the Breadhealers. In 1996 Gurdjian joined Rollason on an EP the singer originally had devised as a solo effort, The Curious Hair Is Not a Band. In 1997 the duo snipped the name down to the Curious Hair and bought an eight-track reel-to-reel. They recorded the full-length cassette Phaser, which featured many special guests, but Rollason notes, "It was mainly just me and Mitch."
The core of the Curious Hair is those eight people listed on the most recent CD: Maria Marocka, Mario Padron, Amanda Green, Matthew Sabatella, Ben Peeler, Ferny Coipel, and of course Gurdjian and Rollason. Many of the members have recorded their own projects separately, either with EEN or on other labels.
"For the longest time, I was always trying to convince everyone that they were in the band," Rollason explains. "For example I'm still trying to convince Ferny that he's in the band. There's probably a list of 50-something people who have either played with the Curious Hair or recorded with Evol Egg Nart. Nartworld [www.nartworld.com] is pretty much the home of everyone who has played with us or recorded with us."
In his own music, Rollason requires complete control of the creative process -- control he believes some big-name record labels usurp from their artists. "With major labels what you usually get is someone who says --" Rollason drops his voice a few octaves lower for effect, ""Wow, you got a good idea there, but this is what it really should be like.'
"There's probably somebody way up at the top of Sony that hears something that they might think is good music," he continues, "but if they don't hear anything that will sell to a particular demographic, they won't even bother. It's all evil, man! This is the reality: What we do is irrelevant, because it's not a product that the music industry can categorize and put into their systems. I know a lot of people who quit playing music because they're not making money and that makes them think they're worthless. I'm broke; most of the artists I know are broke. Why? Because they're doing something that isn't mainstream enough. It's almost that I feel I'm handicapped in my life because this is what I want to do."
It is that sense of exuberant irrelevance that typifies Evol Egg Nart. "I am not going to go outta my way to let the record labels know we exist," Rollason declares. "I kinda don't give a shit whether they know we exist or not because it's not even about that. I'm just trying to do [the music] and spread it, and hopefully, yes, at one point ignite enough of a spark that I can live off of it. Extremely modestly would be great."
If not? "Well, then, I'm going to go down to Taco Bell and become a manager," he cracks. "I'm 27, and I'm still at home, and at some point, even though it means you have to bend over, I'm going to have to get a job because you can't live rent-free with the parents forever. But that kind of life sucks the soul right out of you anyways," he says of the nine-to-five work routine. "People get up, they go to work, come home, and veg out in front of the television. It's part of the whole evil structure that exists. But I'm fighting it, man; I'm fighting it."
Evol Egg Nart allows Rollason and friends to put up resistance. "When I work with somebody, it's because I want to do that," he says. "If I could play in the garage with the people that I love to play with and record records and put them out, I would be happy. What I like to do is write songs. And I like making records. The process of making a record is an art in itself."
Rollason is always on the lookout for playmates in his alternate Nartworld. "Anybody willing to continue what we're trying to do is welcome," he offers.
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