Fraternal Rush

The Kalamath Brothers' progeny is a dark country concoction.

Finally, there's Soll, an original member of the widely acclaimed country-blues revisionist outfit 16 Horsepower who brings a slithering sound to the Kalamaths' strange jamboree. Like his Iowan grandfather, Leo Warner, who played in a large all-mandolin orchestra in 1923, Soll harbors more than a fondness for the teardrop-bodied family of instruments; he plays a stringed hybrid called the mando-cello on the Kalamath tune "Troubled." (Soll traded his grandfather a Les Paul custom guitar for the curious instrument, which was made in 1917.) A skilled luthier once featured in Acoustic Guitar magazine for his self-styled upright bass, the Denver native builds and repairs all sorts of stringed things when he's not playing them.(His shop, The Guitar Clinic, is conveniently located at 49 Kalamath Street.) Before joining the Kalamath family, Soll and 16 Horsepower bandmates David Eugene Edwards and Jean-yves Tola signed with A&M Records, and the band's 1995 CD Sackcloth 'n' Ashes was recorded in Hollywood. Soon after, the group underwent personnel changes. "They wanted to add people and go more electric," Soll recalls. "They felt we weren't hitting the audience hard enough." Despite being unceremoniously dropped ("like a divorce over the phone" he says), Soll remains magnanimous toward the horsepowered ones. "It was rough for a few months, like it should be," he admits. "We all love each other. We were really close. I can say that I'm proud of what I contributed to that band."

Hauser's own past is a similarly colorful narrative. He has worked as both a joke-writer for Joan Rivers -- no small task -- and as a freelance cartoonist featured in the National Enquirer, the British biweekly Punch, and Cosmopolitan. He's also adept at working crowds. Last summer he joined Morales's wife in a Mercury Cafe production of Goodbye Charlie, a sexy, Forties-era comedy by George Axelrod. Hauser played opposite Rose's Charlie -- a cigar-chompin' man literally trapped in a woman's body -- a performance delivered with cocksure skill. Hauser's own efforts were punctuated with both flabbergasted reactions and understated Jack Bennyisms, an amusing portrayal by all accounts. During his tenure riding shotgun for the Auto Club, Hauser had the enviable experience of opening up for country music's black-garbed honoree, Johnny Cash, at a gig in Las Vegas. As for his departure from that widely popular Club, like Soll, he is not one to dwell among the fallout of projects past. "Bands are like marriages without the sex," he says. "We played five years together and got bored with each other -- that's all it comes down to."

Whether or not eyes glaze over for the Kalamath Brothers may depend on each member's willingness to tweak the devil's nose a little.

Family business: The Kalamath Brothers blur the roots/country line.
Brett Amole
Family business: The Kalamath Brothers blur the roots/country line.

"Music should be dangerous," Hauser says. "It is going against formula, against what is accepted, against the pretty, the tame, the traditional. The first time I saw a film about the Cramps, I got the same feeling. I think they've become watered down now, but at the time, Lux Interior with scars all over his back, his latex pants barely held up, swallowing the microphone while grunting away made it seem as if he were performing some illicit act."

When Hauser -- a well-dressed gent who screams and raves in truculent spades and tromps about on stage as big-eyed as Tennessee Ernie Ford on bathtub crank -- performs, it's not always clear exactly why he's throwing so much caution to the dogs, but it's oddly entertaining. "I'm laughing like a madman up there," he admits. "Part of that is a nervous reaction, but after a while, it became stylized. I'm feeling joy up there -- I'm so happy. I can't just stand there staring at my shoes." Nor would his Brothers want him to. "People really seem to come alive when he's screaming in Hungarian," Morales points out. Such outbursts are best exemplified during the frenetic "Mis-step," in which the players come off like ethnic hillbillies, and "Az A Szep (The One Who's Pretty)," which features the frontman polishing what he describes as "an old ridiculous folk tune" in his second tongue.

A self-taught musician who places ideas over chops ("I'm the only one that's just stumbling into it," he says), Hauser brings a refreshingly naive aesthetic to his more theory-oriented partners, a quality they all appreciate. "There's something about having music in front of you that's almost like a straitjacket," Grundy notes. "It binds you. I actually play better going by the feel of it." Soll agrees: "If Sonic Youth had all graduated from music school, I don't think they'd be as good."

Toiling away on their forthcoming EP with local sound engineer Bob Ferbrache (a former lap-steel player for 16 Horsepower), the Kalamath fellows remain busy. Getting their product into the hands of interested parties is still a goal, but none is more pressing than the foursome's growing together as a band. "I see us as craftsmen," Hauser states. "And that's what's important."

Finally, a piece of local flavor for indulgent historians: The Kalamath Brothers are named after a north-to-south-running Denver thoroughfare ten blocks west of Broadway, one of just a smattering with a North American Indian handle, albeit a misspelled one. Named after a region in northern California that was once home to the Karuk, Yurok and Hupa tribes, the correct spelling is "Klamath." Denver's founding fork-tongued street-namers objected to naming anything after "savages," anyway, and after the mistake was discovered, they considered it too bothersome to change. That this band should knowingly appropriate -- even embrace -- the title makes sense. Hauser and company are humorous fatalists in a flawed world, a make-believe family with a mangled surname.

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