Monday, June 30, 2008

Some Serious Words About Some Serious Dudes

Ever since the term “Rock and Roll” was coined by Alan Freed in 1951, it has been synonymous with power, masculinity, and aggression, all with a heavy dose of sexuality. A real Rock Star is always simultaneously the good guy and the bad guy. They are riotous and compelling, bringing the always-devoted fan almost to the point of aural orgasm over and over again until he finally lets them have it in the final wail of the final twenty minute guitar solo, a moment so sweet and frustrating that the fan might punch their deity if their hands weren’t covered in the fruits of his labor. This might be seen as romantic, but Rock and Roll was made to be romanticized, and without some fantasy the genre as a concept would be quite flaccid.
New Jersey group Serious Dudes understands the importance of this fantasy, and has based their entire existence as a band on it. With their uncanny obsession with facial hair and armed with riffs that would make Jimmy Page feel impotent, they have set out to “bring rock back,” as singer/guitarist Alan “Charles” Charles put it.
“Rock and Roll is the most important thing in the world,” Charles added. “It just sickens me to see rock music taken over by such pansies in their makeup and shit.” Charles sees the members of Serious Dudes as the lone saviors of the much-maligned genre of Cock-Rock, one of the most masculine forms of Rock and Roll ever to emerge. Although the borders of the genre are vague (many Cock-Rock bands also fall under the category of Butt-Rock, which Serious Dudes cite as an influence as well), some of the cornerstone albums include Van Halen’s self-titled album, IV by Led Zepplin, and Second Coming by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Dad-Rock has also been cited as a notable influence on Serious Dudes, and Charles has been vocal about his own father’s support of the band.
“My dad said that hearing his son playing the music of his youth was one of his proudest moments, which was then one of my proudest moments, knowing that my dad was so proud. We were all very proud that day.”
Serious Dudes stick to the formula laid out by their idols closely, leaving little room for experimentation or anything else that might muddle their intentions. Their flagship song, “Serious Business” opens with a jolt to the system as a dual guitar line erupts out of one of the most solid riffs known to mankind: a simple whole step, F to G. The guitars, played by Charles and band-mate Dan “El Dangeroso” Fandoso, provide the framework for Charles’ gruff, masculine vocals. “C’mon lets go, it’s time to Rock and Roll./You know it’s right; no baby it ain’t wrong” he sings with enough conviction to lure someone’s grandmother to come along for the ride. The whole band, including drummer Richard Alcott, then bursts into ecstatic cries of “oh yeah!” while Alcott continues to pound a steady, propulsive beat, pushing closer and closer to the point of release.
“The lyrics are a bit like a combination of that lyrical storytelling of the old mystics, but it’s set in a modern Southern context,” explained Fandoso. “But (they’re) about the everyman too,” interjected Charles before concluding, “Like a working class Odysseus with a moustache, you know?” Despite their New Jersey origins, the hearts of the Serious Dudes are in the South, where their message is more readily accepted. The final line of “Serious Business” ends with, “Gettin’ down and dirty in the Southern night/I know it’s kinda funny but I’m feelin’ alright.”
“I don’t think I like this,” said real Southerner Yousuf Ahmed when confronted with “Serious Business,” “Yeah, this really isn’t my kind of thing. I didn’t even know people made this kind of music anymore, truthfully.” In response to such dismissing words, Charles said, “Well, he doesn’t even sound like a true Southerner to me. Maybe from the south of Iraq but not from these United States of America.”
Despite their strong convictions, even the members of Serious Dudes will admit that they did not come to Cock-Rock as honestly as some. The band formed when Charles and Alcott were in Alcott’s basement “jamming” after their previous band, John Hinckley, had broken up. John Hinckley had been a metal-core band in the vein of Botch and Coalesce, and they gained prominence throughout the oversaturated New Jersey hardcore scene before they broke up in February of 2006. During that fateful jam session, Charles began to play the riff to what would become “Serious Dudes Theme,” a rollicking, Sabbath inspired slice of rock, and an astonished Alcott followed along. It was at this point that the pair realized that they had just been kidding themselves for the past several years.
“It was just like one of those scenes in a horror movie where two people look into each other’s eyes and realize something terrible is about to happen, but instead of something terrible, it was something really awesome,” describes Charles as he looks back on that moment. Once that core duo had solidified the concept behind their band (a good rock band always has a concept), they called in Fandoso, who had been studying guitar for almost 10 years before he joined the band. It was his addition to the band that gave it the dual guitar attack that is so prevalent throughout the band’s discography.
“Basically I just took what Alan wrote and helped them decide which sections to use and how to use transitions more effectively,” Fandoso explained. “I added some harmonies to guitar parts that were already written and played some solos.” Although Fandoso is modest about his contributions to Serious Dudes, his solos lend the band a legitimacy that they might otherwise lack. His technical proficiency, which he built up through years and years of classical training, adds icing on the top of Charles and Alcott’s testosterone filled cake.
“Dan is the man.” Charles said with a little giggle and a smirk. “Without him we wouldn’t sound anywhere near as balls to the wall as we do now. At first I was skeptical of him because of his short hair, but once he picked up his axe, man, I realized that dude can play.”
Finally, in the summer of 2007, there was a bass player the Serious Dudes felt they could bring into their circle. Not much is known about Bekim Hida, but we do know that he joined Serious Dudes on stage for an infamous performance at a Brooklyn loft party in July of 2007. His past remains a secret even to the other members of the band, and Charles and Fandoso described his tenure in the band as “weird,” but “inspired.” They said Hida responded to one of the many fliers posted in Guitar Centers around North Jersey that read “KILLER BASS PLAYER NEEDED FOR KILLER BAND! PLEASE CONTACT SERIOUS DUDES AT 201-450-XXXX IF YOU ARE READY TO ROCK!” Hida called Charles at 2:30 A.M. on a Tuesday and they set up a band practice for the following weekend.
Although little is known about his past or his present whereabouts, for the several weeks Hida was a Serious Dude, the band flourished, gaining fans throughout New York and New Jersey. Ian Drennan, a fan and friend of the band, said, “While Bekim was in the band…I don’t even know…something just clicked. I felt like throwing all of my indie rock albums out of the window and starting a real Rock and Roll band myself. Everything else just felt way too…pussy.” Despite his undeniable influence on the band’s popularity, Hida is not featured on any of the recordings that Serious Dudes have released, as Charles took over bass playing duties during the recording sessions.
The culmination of Hida’s tenure in Serious Dudes was the aforementioned show at the Brooklyn loft party. All four members packed into their van on July 28th and headed to Bushwick, not knowing what to expect from the ironic hipsters that had become their main fan base. When they arrived at the loft they saw what they described as a “punk faggot” with an acoustic guitar singing slightly off key while four people sat on the floor and listened politely. This was not a good sign.
Thankfully for Charles and Co., three bands later when it was time for them to take the stage themselves, the loft had filled to capacity and the beer was flowing freely. As Charles hammered into the opening riff of “Serious Business,” the whole loft began to scream and jump around excitedly, as if Tony Iommi himself was on the stage. Serious Dudes fed off this explosion of energy, encouraging everyone present to join in the cries of “Oh yeah!” earning a response that almost drowned out the guitar solo that followed. As the song ended, shouts of “Rock and Roll lives!” and “America!” could be heard among the screams. Charles was beaming, looking out into the crowd of loyal followers and new converts.
“Thank you, thank you,” Charles said once the crowd had quieted down. Sweat was dripping down his face, into his scruffy facial hair and his long, dark hair was thick and greasy. He wore a vintage Kiss t-shirt with cut off sleeves, Levis blue jeans, and a scowl. When he spoke a little bit of spit flew out of his mouth. “We are Serious Dudes, coming to you from the other heartland of America: New Jersey. This next song is about our love of America and it’s dedicated to 9/11.”
With that, they were off, performing other songs including “Gettin’ Serious” and the newer, unrecorded song, “Something About Moustaches,” which explores the moustache as a facet of manhood in modern society. Every song was dedicated to America. Some have said that true Rock and Roll can only be experienced live with a couple beers in the belly, and in the case of Serious Dudes, they are right. Fandoso’s solos wrap themselves around the listener like a snake constricting its prey, and to witness Alcott’s drumming is akin to surviving a nuclear explosion but without the risk of cancer later in life. As the partygoers left later that night, they were covered in sweat and beer, feeling tired and used in the best way.
This would be the last time Serious Dudes would play in front of any crowd. After Hida stopped returning Charles’ desperate late night phone calls, the band decided to record their remaining songs using the Pro-Tools set-up Alcott had in his basement practice area, having Charles overdub the bass parts after the basic tracks were laid down. The recording process was tumultuous, especially given the short time frame forced upon the band by Charles’ return to school at NYU in late August.
“That whole recording session was really embarrassing, actually,” recalled Fandoso. “I’d rather not talk about it.” According to the rest of the band, Charles took over the sessions and became dictatorial, making the band do take after take until he thought everything was perfect.
“The Zep never made a perfect album in three days, I don’t know why I should either,” commented Charles. It was at this point that the rest of the band decided that once Charles left for New York City, the band would go on a hiatus, at least until Charles returned to New Jersey. Charles agreed, vowing never to let Serious Dudes die, even if there was to be a hiatus. “There’s still so much to do,” he said.
During the hiatus, Fandoso has moved to Chicago and given up the guitar as an instrument. In a move that could prove quite surprising to those fans of his shredding in Serious Dudes, he is now, “concerned with using electronic means to reach organic ends, using a dynamic form of electronic and acoustic improvisation to exercise intuitive communication,” according to his website. He performs using a turntable and a laptop, and is part of a group called the Green Pasture Happiness. Alcott has returned to the world of hardcore, drumming for his current band, Dick Punch, which for a brief period of time also featured Fandoso. While at NYU, Charles has stayed true to his Cock-Rock roots, despite dabbling in pop music.
Whatever the outside world feels, Charles will stay true to his views on the true American art form: Rock and Roll. It is a powerful tool, a tool of revolution and action, and one that has been underutilized in American society for years. Serious Dudes stayed true to the American spirit of Rock while the rest of the world has past it by, never forgetting their core value, (according to Charles): “Serious Dudes is anti-gay.”