Backstage: Catching Up With Ex Norwegian's Roger Houdaille

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman offers his insights, opinions, and observations about the local scene. This week: The return of Ex Norwegian.

I'm always fascinated by the odder monikers bands bestow upon themselves, and generally I'm pretty amused as well. Take Ex Norwegian, for example. There's not a single Scandinavian in the bunch. Then again, it's a far better choice than Father Bloopy, the band's previous handle. Ultimately, it serves as the nom de plume of Roger Houdaille, one of South Florida's most gifted musical provocateurs and a man whose talents are well-invested at the helm of this ever-changing combo.

There are several new developments in the Ex-Norwegian saga of late. The band's epoch sophomore album, Sketch, was recently re-released, and yours truly takes great pride in the fact that the laudatory liner notes I wrote at Roger's request grace the back cover this time around. Yes, I offered effusive praise for this endeavor, but I thought then -- and I think now -- that Sketch is an album with the kind of indie appeal deserving of a wider audience. It's melodic, well-executed, and a reflection of that certain savvy he and his colleagues clearly had at their command. Roger recently returned from New York, where an attempt to change course -- personally and professionally -- didn't exactly go as planned. Still, South Florida is happy to have him back. 

To mark the occasion, I asked Roger to update us on the current status of Norway's would-be expatriates. 

So what's the status of Ex Norwegian at this point, Roger?

It's in a very awkward transitional stage. Right now, we have a new band promoting an old album. I've switched to bass guitar, but I'm still playing the familiar glittering Danelectro that was associated with us. We have Lucas Queiroz, left over from the previous lineup, handling guitar duties. Michelle Grand is back too, helping me out with singing, because I definitely need that, and we're working with Alex Ibanez on drums. We're hoping to augment the band whenever possible, and this new phase of Ex Norwegian will have a very liquid lineup. It's a quasi-solo band. 

Are you gigging these days?

We're playing a few warm-up shows in South Florida before we do our album-release shows in NYC and Boston. The next show is a last-minute thing at Monterey Club this Friday. However, we don't plan to be performing regularly, at least not in South Florida. It's just a matter of demand more than anything else. If the demand grows thanks to our records, then we'll be ready. But the idea of a nonstop performing group at the level we're at isn't appealing or affordable. 

We're happy to see Sketch getting a second chance, but do you have any new music in the pipeline?

There is at least a couple of albums' worth of material that I'm in the process of sorting and recording, so there will definitely be a new Ex Norwegian record out in 2012. If all goes well, maybe two new records! 

Why did you decide to re-release Sketch at this point? 
The re-release came about because of our label, Dying Van Gogh. They wanted to put it out, not me. I honestly didn't have interest in doing anything more with Ex Norwegian after we did our "farewell" show in March 2011. It took a bit of convincing and thinking about all the angles to agree to it.

I had already recorded a full album with Eric Hernandez (Capsule, Psychic Mirrors), which I wanted to release under a different name. As the months went on, I kept going back and forth as to what the plan of action should be. It wasn't until August, when I was starting to talk with various publicists, that I realized there is simply no way to put out Sketch and not have Ex Norwegian in action. Worst of all, the original idea was to somehow tie in Sketch with a new album by a new group. All the people involved felt it simply wasn't going to work. 

What prompted the move to New York City... and why did you opt to return home?

I moved up to New York to get away for a bit and without any real intentions to keep going on as an artist. Joining a band didn't materialize, and I didn't even pick up the guitar for months. I was burnt out of doing the music thing, but unfortunately my job was still in the music business, so it wasn't much of an escape. Now I'm back and forth. It's cheaper to live down here and just travel to New York when I need to be up there. The other thing was that the musicians I wanted to work with were all down here. 

What are your thoughts about the South Florida scene as it stands now? 

The scene seems pretty much the same. Just a couple new hot spots here and there and some new artists making their mark. I try to keep up with all that's going on, but there really is so much that it overwhelms me quickly. It was fun in New York actually, because I got the chance to catch some South Florida artists on the road -- Rachel Goodrich, Sam Friend, Jacobs Jeffries Band -- it's nice to see these guys playing to completely different crowds and packed venues with people who actually listen to the music. That kinda blew me away... not to say the audiences down here are bad... obviously there are good nights and all that... but it's just a different vibe. It's why it's so important for local bands to travel!

You emulate a lot of different styles in your musical mix. 

Can you give us some idea of your preeminent influences? 
I grew up in Miami Beach. The music I would listen to growing up was mainly oldies radio or my mom's scratchy vinyl albums. I never dug the '80s, even in the '80s, so I wasn't trendy from an early age [laughs]. But soon I started discovering music on my own, and it really all started with the Beatles and then it went on to Badfinger. By middle school, it was the Who, and then I discovered the Kinks, and that was really the band I think ended up influencing me the most. From there, it went into British psychedelia and progressive groups, the top three being Patto, Family, and Procol Harum. [Editorial interjection: I am impressed!] Monty Python should be mentioned too, as their whole thing was very influential on me, which may explain why most of my music videos or projects and even lyrics sometimes are so silly. 

I don't usually set out to emulate music, but I do like to emulate vibe and attitude. I think that approach is what helps makes Ex Norwegian and my songwriting sound a little different. 

Ex Norwegian performs Friday, October 14, at 10 p.m. at the Monterey Club, 2608-A S. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale.

Call 954-598-1887.

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