Roger Houdaille apparently doesn’t sleep. At least that’s the assumption one could make based on a prodigious output that includes five albums in a mere six years with his band Ex Norwegian — and before that, various outings with his earlier outfit, the equally inexplicably tagged Father Bloopy. Drawing on influences of the Brit rock variety — Beatles, Kinks, the Move, and other bands with a similar pedigree – Houdaille and company have established themselves as genuine pop savants, as knowing and assured as any other outfit on the national stage.
Yet just as we thought we’d been able to put a handle on Houdaille’s enterprise, he opts to break away from his day gig with Ex Norwegian and launch a new project that, true to his penchant for unlikely monikers, he has dubbed Plastic Macca. Not content to make a splash with one album alone, he’s released two albums simultaneously – Sensation and Plastic Macca Is Here – and combined them on one disc. Make no mistake: Houdaille hasn’t altered his motives, but where his previous efforts were of a more perky persuasion, his new music is looser and less structured, more of a cosmic wash that’s heavily harmonized and equally enticing.
We recently caught up with this intriguing entrepreneur and queried him on his new pursuits and the status of those earlier endeavors.
New Times: First off, does this solo effort mean you're an ex-Ex Norwegian? What's the status of the band? And why an individual outing?
Roger Houdaille: I wouldn't exactly call myself an ex-Ex Norwegian yet, but I would call this a side project. Ex Norwegian is technically still around but just not very active at this point. After the release of the fifth album, which was only a few months ago, there was burnout. There was a whole lot of time and energy put into promoting it, but once the performance schedule started slowing down, it made the need to take a break a bit inevitable. The idea of a side project came about simply to have some fun again. Originally Ex Norwegian was scheduled to play Bufu Fest this past January at Churchill's, but instead I created Plastic Macca and invited some friends to do a set. And in our set, we just did songs that I liked — not originals but songs that often don’t get covered, such as the Zombies' "Care of Cell 44" or the Kinks "I'm on an Island." Now, with the release of these albums, it's serving as more of a semiproper outlet for my solo songwriting and recording pursuits.
What's the significance of Plastic Macca? Is that a reference to Paul McCartney's nickname? The name of your new band?
It's a bit of an inside joke for those who follow the "Paul Is Dead" trail. Plastic Macca is the nickname for the supposed Paul replacement, the guy who, since 1966, has supposedly been standing in for the cute Beatle. As a band name, it's not meant to suggest a weird Beatles tribute or anything. It’s just another one of my questionable choices for monikers, really. And for the record, I personally believe Macca is the same Macca he’s always been and he himself is the one behind the hoax. That may explain why he still gets asked about it on major TV interviews to this day. It's pretty clever stuff when you look at it from a marketing angle.
How did you go about writing the material and conceptualizing these two albums? What was different than the motive you exercised with Ex Norwegian?
There was no real plan at first, except to spend a week or so writing and recording new material. I wanted to have a hand at doing the kinda stuff I was doing many years ago, which seems to be finally "in" now. In fact, one of the songs is a four-track recording from my old high school days. Fernando Perdomo [guitarist/producer] played drums on it way back then, and he’s back again for most of the Sensation album, which makes this project a reunion of sorts. It's funny that after so many years we find ourselves doing things just like we did when we started. I don't know if it's a good thing or not, but at least we are still able to do it and have some fun with it.
Were you influenced by anyone special this time around?
Someone told me they could hear I was channeling certain artists, and that was nice feedback, because I did do that. However, I had no idea it would actually come across that way. The song "Art" is my take on the Kinks, for example. Obviously Paul McCartney would be another one to name-check. But in general, these albums are inspired by the ‘60s and ‘70s, right down to the mixing style.
Why two solo albums at once?
I actually put Sensation out in February, but I felt it had two vibes on it, so I went back and reorganized and expanded it into two records. Sensation is more in the ‘60s British pop psych-meets-American garage vein, and Is Here is a bit scattered around the place but has ‘70s art-rock glam at its heart. I describe something like "Cool Kids" as Velvet Underground meets Loudon Wainwright III over drinks with Bowie. If I had patience, I probably could have expanded that record into a couple more niche records, but two debut albums should suffice.
What's the plan from here? Solo touring? More work with Ex Norwegian?
There will be more from both projects, hopefully. I'd like the next Ex Norwegian thing to be big, so that will take some time to make it happen. And as much as I'd love to, I don't think I can tour Plastic Macca at the moment. The records didn't cost much to do and to release digitally, so expect some more of those before the year is over.
How would you rate South Florida in terms of its embrace for bands and artists like you that actually do original music?
South Florida is tough. There are some types of music that thrive here, but not so much in terms of what I'm up to. My audience tends to be pretty far away from Florida.
Anything else you'd like to add? Any local gigs coming up?
There's an Ex Norwegian gig at Clandestino Pub in South Beach on May 8. We're done promoting the last album, Wasted Lines, and so we’re gearing up to start celebrating Ex Norwegian's seven-year anniversary this summer. We'll be throwing in lots of classics we haven't played in a while.