It’s Friday night at P.A.’s Lounge in Somerville, and the band on stage are facing a potential drum-kit disaster. The trio are halfway through a shambling yet melodic song when the drummer’s makeshift kit, which includes strange and disparate pieces like a guitar-stand-turned-cymbal-stand, a circular BMX bike pad, and a frizzy-haired troll doll balanced on the bass drum, begins to crumble gracefully like a slo-mo car crash. The crowd is laughing as the kit teeters on the edge of total collapse, but the drummer is unfazed as he continues to hold down the mid-tempo backbeat. Welcome to the slanted and enchanted world of Headband.
This fall will mark the 10th anniversary of the Allston-based trio, who have one seven-inch and three CDs to their credit. For years, only a few devoted fans and fellow musicians tuned into Headband’s lo-fi recordings and low-key gigging. Neil Young and Pavement have always been the band’s obvious stoner-rock reference points. And that’s just fine because they bring their own sense of humor and imagination to that mix. “I think that a successful Headband song has to have a punch line,” says de facto spokesman Brad Hyland. “We don’t rely on it, but . . . there are some songs that are less joky, and they’re good and fun to play, but the ones that actually have a solid kind of hook and punch line are the best.”
And they’re comfortable with their place in the local pecking order. Over the years, Headband have forged alliances with bands like Mittens and Runner and the Thermodynamics, though they’ve never gotten quite as much recognition (or press) as either. “Headband is kind of like the Rodney Dangerfield of local rock,” Hyland jokes. “We don’t get any respect.”
But the band have created their own musical world full of witty dorm-room humor and a dark sense of irony. “Satan wraps his wings around your safe college rock band,” is one of the better lines from “Satan Wraps His Wings” (on 2002’s The New Buzzards). “Ain’t life a bitch when you find that your niche is lying face down, drunk, in a ditch,” is one of the more evocative rhymes in “Niche,” a live-show staple that they’ve yet to record. Headband’s slack, often fuzzy guitars and a willfully ramshackle rhythm section are the direct result of another unusual quirk: Hyland and Matt Byers and Don Lofthouse switch around on bass, guitar, and drums, with each member taking turns at the mike depending on whose song it is.
All three members have also shared some of the same offbeat songwriting inspirations. The first was a clumsy kid named Joel who worked at the KFC across the street from the Model Café in Allston. Headband wrote roughly 20 songs about Joel. When he left his job and the band moved their practice digs to Cambridge, they found a new Muse — and a year’s worth of material — in a bums’ hangout visible from their practice space. “The Joel stuff gave us a subject matter so we could get better just playing our instruments and switching around and stuff,” Hyland says. “We didn’t have to worry about writing real songs. We could just write about him and kind of practice songwriting.”