Featured Music: wednesday, August 22, 2002
Honchie Fri at the Wreck Room, 3208 W Seventh St, FW. $5. 817-348-8303.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Shtick Men

Honchie takes crude humor as seriously as skillful musicianship.

By KEN SHIMAMOTO

The best description of Honchie comes from an audience member at the Ridglea Theater last Friday night: “Seeing this band is like eating a six-pound bag of sugar while watching tv.”

Onstage, Honchie keyboardist-vocalist Chuck Stephenson is an absurdly animated presence — like some over-the-top, Ritalin-caffeine-and-Viagra-fueled hybrid of Chris Kattan’s Mango character from SNL, vintage Michael Jackson (especially the crotch-grabbing King of Pop), and every preening, grimacing rock star you’ve ever seen on VH-1. His breakdancing routine during “Monkey Midget” is even more surprising than Valve’s “audience-participation” freestyle competition. Meanwhile, behind the wheels of steel, DJ T-Lark adds flava to the proceedings with his scratches and samples and is the proud owner of the world’s largest (and still-expanding) Afro.

In a Honchie performance, the conventions of popular music are tossed overboard to make room for laughs. At first, it’s hard to figure what to make of a song with a mellow jazz/R&B groove (“Mofo”) which finds bassist-vocalist Doug Krause singing, “Motherfucker, you stole my stereo ... my Cheerios ... my G.I. Joe.” Or of a quintet that repeatedly asks if there are “any ladies in the house who like to make sweet, sweet love” before launching into a song called “Meatseeker.” They’ll play a song about three gay sailors “sailing the homosexual sea,” and then Krause will sing a cover of Van Halen’s ultra-macho “Mean Street” in a ridiculous falsetto.

Krause describes the band’s music as “shtick-rock.” What makes the shtick work is the quality of Honchie’s material and performances. The songs are well crafted, the playing is tight, and the vocals by Krause, Stephenson, and guitarist James Pafford are strong. Said drummer Joe Elwood: “It’s a culmination of all the stuff we’ve grown up with, like Diff’rent Strokes, Queen, and Frank Zappa.” In fact, these guys write, play, and sing better than loads of bands that “mean it” — Honchie’s able to leap from one tempo and genre of music to another in schizoid fashion.

On “Bitch Stole My Liquor,” for instance, they rocket back and forth between a country shuffle and Faith No More-styled Big Rock drama with Zappa-esque facility. But unlike Zappa, Honchie would never do a 20-minute interlude of jazz-rock just to show how big their, a-hem, equipment is — although in “Totally Awesome,” they do include a round of hamfisted but ironic ’80s clichéd solos (look how big my equipment’s not).

The band’s c.d., Deathfists of Rage, has been in the works for almost a year but will be out, according to Krause, “in time for school.” Based on a preview listen, it stands to be one of the best-produced local records to come out in a while. The band is currently awaiting consent from Elton John’s publishing company before it can release “Mullet Man” (a rewrite of “Rocket Man” that includes the line, “It’s all business in front / But it’s a party in the back”). One wonders what Willie Nelson would think of Honchie’s version of “On the Road Again,” rewritten as “Smoking Crack Again” (which is not included on the c.d.).

“If somebody jumps on this album and picks it up,” Krause said, “the second album’s ready to go.” Krause and his crew are accustomed to writing lots of new material fast because “jokes get old fast.” They currently have more than 80 original songs ready to go, “although some of them are only a minute long.” The song “Little Buddy Rodeo,” downloadable from their web site (www.honchie.com), was written in response to a challenge from the Ticket’s Mike Rhyner. “He bet us we couldn’t write a song in a week,” said Krause. “He wound up playing it on the radio. It even got us our own little segment on his show.”

Krause and Stephenson have been in bands together since high school. “We were in a band called the Range Cats,” Stephenson recalled, “that practiced every day for over a year and played one gig, at a battle of the bands at West Side Stories in Fort Worth in front of four people.” Before Honchie was a band, both wrote for www.honchie.com, which was then a comedy web site (“Half as funny as the Onion, twice as funny as Bob Saggett”), using the aliases “The Angry Pancake” and “The Effeminate Monkey.”

“Back in the early days of the internet,” Stephenson said, “we used to send these fucked-up e-mails, and I’d forward them to all my friends, so we built the site as a forum to publish these stories, and we had a small but loyal following.” Today, the stories reside under the “Honchie Old School” link on the Honchie site, and they’re a hoot (but not for the easily offended). The “Shopping” link includes advertisements for Penis Kleen and Donko’s, The Original Donkey Meat Taco.

The idea for Honchie the band came about because “Chuck and I were in a band called Hush, and we just sort of blended in with every other generic band out there ... nothing especially shocking or original, and we were getting increasingly bored with that. It’s all about audience response, which sometimes requires profanity, as we’ve discovered. There were a couple of shows where during our breaks, Chuck and I started goofing around and playing stuff like ‘Monkey Midget’ and people were eating it up, more so than the actual songs we were playing.” They got together with Pafford and Elwood in January 2001 “with the idea of freaking people out. It was supposed to be a one-shot joke, but then Club Dada kept booking us back. Eventually we got other gigs.”

It’s interesting to note that all the members of Honchie have media backgrounds. By day, Krause, T-Lark, and Pafford all work in tv production, Elwood is a commercial editor, and Stephenson is an ad copywriter. Balancing band and professional commitments can be a challenge. For one Wreck Room show, T-Lark had to leave a location shoot with Dubya in Crawford “in my Channel 11 shirt, covered in mud” and drive back to Fort Worth at high speed.

The band dismisses suggestions that “you guys would be great if you’d quit doing the funny stuff.” Said Elwood: “Doing what we’re doing, there’s no stress. You’re having the best time of your life. We make fewer mistakes because we’re not worrying about playing well. Our rehearsals are a total goof.”


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