Backstage In South Florida: Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares observations, insights, and updates relating to South Florida's musical environs. Ex Norwegian returns!
Back in the day, the imminent arrival of a new album by the Beatles or the Stones was something of an event, a cause for anticipation and celebration. Few artists garner that level of excitement these days, but on the local scene, there are still a handful of bands that justify an ever-eager response. I'd single out Ex Norwegian for that distinction, based not only on their rich catalogue -- consisting of four albums to date -- but also because the music merits special attention.
Founding member and guitarist Roger Houdaille is an avowed retro enthusiast, and his music reflects that fact: from the vibrant melodies to his soaring guitar solos and unabashed references to Beatles, Bowie, and other Brit rock mainstays of several decades past.
Pared down to a trio -- Houdaille, singer Michelle Grand, and bassist Giueppe Rodriguez -- Ex Norwegian recently released their fourth album, cryptically titled Crack. I spoke with Houdaille and asked him to give us the lowdown on the making of this exceptional new effort.
New Times: Why did you name the album Crack? That's a rather provocative title, no?
Housaille: It was a very last minute choice! I was originally thinking about something along the lines of "Fourth," but I needed to create an album cover, and I was running low on ideas until I thought of having a crack on the cover, and that would serve as the title too. It was actually later when I realized it could be looked as a bit provocative. And the others in the group think I'm up to no good with all the album titles so far -- Standby, Sketch, House Music, and now this one! But I could think up some titles that would be more provocative.
Who's in the band these days? Any significant personnel changes to report?
It's been complicated, unfortunately. Michelle and I are the constant members. I wouldn't say it's become a solo project, but this new record definitely is more akin to a solo effort than a group one. But I don't want that to be the modus operandi.
How did you conceive this album in terms of songwriting or musical direction? Did you do anything different this time around?
I made a conscious effort to put together more accessible tunes, and originally it was going to be a very stripped down and simple affair. Our most popular song is still the very first one we did, "Something Unreal," which, in its original version, sounds unfinished to me. So I thought, perhaps that's part of its charm, that it was so simple and under-produced.
Consequently, I wanted to go in that direction. However, the new album sort of just sat there for many months while the band's existence was in limbo. When I came back to it, I decided to experiment a little more with it and I went back to the approach I used to do with my "underground" albums from way back. I would say it's still more commercial than underground, but it's not the super radio friendly album I had originally intended it to be.
What are your immediate plans? Any plans to tour? Any showcases in store?
Crack came out the first week of April on Limited Fanfare Records. The album was meant to buy the group some time while we sorted out some of the personnel issues. We're hoping to be touring later in the year, and who knows, we may have a new record to promote by then too!
What new developments have taken place with the band since your last release? Are you pleased with the band's current status?
The last six months have easily been the roughest in the band's history. With unstable personnel and dire finances it's been a constant struggle just to get together for a rehearsal or do a show. If you ask the rest of the guys, they will tell you I try to break up the band every other week. Thankfully, they don't let me. The biggest development has been working with Brian Kurtz at Limited Fanfare Management.
It's a weird point in time where the future never looked so promising for the band despite the serious adversity. I take that as a good sign, if anything. I think the low points are behind us.
Any thoughts on the state of the local scene?
We recently played a high profile gig (Block x Blog) with pretty much the best local bands out there, from Deaf Poets and Plains, to Jacuzzi Boys and AfroBeta. It was fun, but I feel Ex Norwegian doesn't quite fit in with what's going on down here. We go over the audiences' heads. So that can be a little frustrating, at least in terms of development of the band. It's like I have to put the brakes on with most of the ideas I have because it's too much.
What other projects have you been involved in lately?
Musically speaking, I've been helping out on lead guitar with the Macsters, a band that recently re-formed after 20 years or so. I've also been producing the new Ed Hale album. But Ex Norwegian still takes up most of my time and energy.
Recently, I shot a brand new episode of an online reality sitcom called All My BJ that I used to produce several years ago, all of which can be found on YouTube. That was a lot of fun and features some familiar Ex Norwegian faces in the cast. And once again, it features a very provocative title! They seem to follow me around.