Strangely Habit-Forming

 

Strange Habits’ new album is a remarkable feat of local music, brimming with soul and an intelligent questioning of the world around us. Within its 45 minutes, they evoke a surprisingly broad range of styles for just four guys: while their main sound is something like Rage mixed with Sublime mixed with Chili Peppers, they also go into beautiful interludes of experimental ambience, and in other moments they explode into all-out screaming.

I recently met with Eric McGuire, Eric McCauley, Brett Sparrey, and Sheel Doshi (performing vocals, guitar, bass, and drums, respectively) at Duffy’s, and I immediately wanted to hear more about their take on this grandiose album.

“If the album were condensed into one sentence, I think it would be, ‘We live in an ever-changing society, full of goodness and corruption.’” McGuire said.

“We were going to name it ‘Mannequins’ at first,” Brett said. “It was original, we hadn’t seen anyone else use that word.”

“The message of ‘Mannequins’ was really literal,” McCauley added, “A critique of [our population] being puppets within our society. But once we had the album art (which has a mannequin on it), we didn’t want it to be so obvious. That’s when we started looking for another name.”

Sheel continued the story: “The album’s very politically driven. It talks about our government, organizations of authority in general… There are constraints from those organizations being put on us all the time. ‘Mannequins’ as the title was a way of illustrating what that’s created— an inanimate humanoid.”

“The NEW name is the title track: ‘Fear Of All Fools.’” Mccauley said. “You have this fear of change built into society; there’s so many people who will take what’s given to us without even questioning it. You become the fool if you let your fear control you; if you don’t let yourself change.” The other three murmured approval at this last line, like they hadn’t heard their idea stated that clearly before.

After going through the multifaceted journey of Fear Of All Fools, I was curious to know what stood out as important tracks to the band. “The most important song to me is ‘Diretrix,’” McGuire told me. “It’s not my favorite, but it’s the most important to me because it was an experiment from the beginning. It was pure collaboration [between Sheel and I], and it had no direction at the beginning, just pure experimentation. And at the end of it, I loved it! I listened back to it, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. There was screaming, which I didn’t know I could do, which I definitely COULDN’T do before I tried it. It was a huge expansion of my horizons.”

“’Man Of Wax’ is another one—super catchy,” McCauley added.

“Definitely our poppiest song,” Sheel said. “We already shot a music video for that one. I had to face my biggest fear ever: I had to try and play drums underwater. Water in general? Love it. I can drink it all day. But being in it is a different story. Being underwater playing drums? Way too scary.”

I was amazed to hear this; has anyone ever seen a band playing underwater? I haven’t. I guess there’s ‘No Surprises’ by Radiohead, but that was only the singer. Did they tie weights to their feet or something?

Brett cleared up the mystery for me. “We had this bar on the bottom of the water, where we put our feet under and curled our toes up,” he said. “It held us down there. We shot it right when winter was starting… which kinda hurt the value, ‘cause we couldn’t even handle it. We did three or four takes, and we all had hypothermia by the end of that day. We were dyin.’”

“It’s next to impossible to nail this album down as belonging to a genre,” McGuire said, in response to my wondering what they thought made Fear unique. “I can’t think of a single genre that umbrellas the whole album, and I haven’t heard a lot of albums I can say that about. I think that’s the strength of this album… but for the mainstream audience, I think that’s the weakness. It’s gonna hinder us in finding bigger acts to open up for.” A big smile lit up Eric’s face. “But music’s not about fitting into the cookie cutter! It’s about expressing what’s inside, whether it fits into a scene or not.”

After an intensive period recording and producing the album themselves, the band found a fateful friendship in professional mixer Josh Benton, and mastering engineer Kris Crummet: Josh being the guitarist of Dance Gavin Dance, and Kris having worked with countless acts over ten years, including Fear Before The March Of Flames, Sleeping With Sirens, and Deftones singer Chino Moreno.

 

“After Sheel had produced it himself and we’d gotten it mastered, we listened to it on bunches of different systems. Car stereos, ipods, anything we could find,” Brett said.

“The fidelity didn’t quite hold up on every system,” Sheel continued. “We started looking for a way to make it better, and found Josh and Kris, who totally transformed it. At first, I just wanted their opinion, but they decided they wanted to give our album a shot. It’s way better now; there’s things coming through in the mix that I haven’t heard since we recorded it.”

The next subject of interest for me was McGuire’s performance: his mix of white guy hip-hop, soaring choruses, and brutal screaming is not something I’ve witnessed before. “When I was fourteen, playing bass in a band in Detroit with Sheel, we were looking for a singer,” he said. “It happened when I was on a trip to Peru and listening to a lot of Sublime, singing ‘Santeria’ over and over again… When I got back home, I sang it with a microphone, and I thought, ‘Wow, I think I can make my voice sound exactly like Bradley Nowell!’ I was really excited about it until we moved to California, where EVERYBODY sounds like Bradley Nowell.” The band laughed.

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“I used to play bass and sing,” McGuire continued. “The shows weren’t consistent: some nights the bass would be on point, and the vocals would be out of tune, sometimes the other way around. I was looking to tighten up the whole sound.”

“When you’re thinking about two different things, singing and playing an instrument, a sense of your stage presence is lost,” Sheel added. “Just ‘cause you’re thinking about two different things. You can’t present yourself as a spectacle, and you gotta entertain.”

“At one point I played a house party with Brett’s old band, and I ended up free-styling over his music, and I liked it so much!” McGuire said. “Being only a singer is so fun, like karaoke night or something. The music’s just jamming, I’m just throwin’ down the vocals; it feels a lot more organic. Natural.”

“Where do you hope to be as a vocalist in a year?” I asked him.

“I feel like, in order to lock in and perform as well as I want to, I have to sacrifice an awareness of my stage performance… I have to close my eyes and come into a more personal state,” McGuire responded. “I’d really like to feel more comfortable saying things in between songs… For some reason, I can’t speak into a microphone between songs without making a total ass of myself.”

“LOTS of cuss words,” Sheel added with a smile.

McGuire laughed. “I cannot stop saying fuck! ‘Fuckin’ this, fuckin’ that.’ I think people notice. I’d LIKE to say really inspiring things, but it’s all, ‘This is fuckin’ great, fuck yeah!’ or, ‘We fuckin’ love you!’ That last one’s my main line. And the crowd just shrugs, like, ‘I guess! You don’t even know me, brother.’”

Originally from Detroit, Michigan; Eric McCauley, Eric McGuire, and Sheel Doshi met each other when they were starting high school. All three of them had been playing music for awhile already.

“McGuire moved to my high school at some point; he told me his band was looking for a guitarist,” McCauley said. “I got really excited, and really wanted to do it… I think he took that as a bad thing at first.”

“Kinda like the chick that’s just way too excited to hang out,” Sheel said.

“I talked with Eric three or four times before he actually agreed to a practice…” McCauley said.

“I do remember though, the first time you came to practice with us, we wrote like three songs!” Sheel added.

“I was just gonna get to that.”

“Oh, sorry.”

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After years gaining momentum in Michigan, the three-piece version of Strange Habits made the huge decision to live in California. “We’d been talking about coming here for a long time,” McCauley said. “When we all turned 21, we said, ‘Let’s get the fuck out of here!’ We spent six months getting in touch with bands and venues, setting up our first tour. We stayed in Chico for a couple weeks; it was our main base of operations… And we fell in love with it. From Chico, we played shows all up and down California.”

“Yeah, we actually just drove to California from Michigan, then played all through the state.” Sheel said. “We made the drive in less than three days! Spent a thousand dollars on gas. We thought we could recoup it.”

“Did you?” I asked.

“No! But we got really close… We were here as a three-piece for two years before McGuire introduced Brett into the band. We were a little, uh, put off at first, not gonna lie.”

“It was weird for me too,” Brett said. “McGuire called me up, and I was all excited to join the band. He had me over to try me out, teach me some songs. I’m jamming with Eric, and Sheel comes in. Eric just says, ‘Oh hey, I’m thinking about having Brett join the band!’ In my head I was like, ‘You didn’t TELL them?’ This is like, you’re dating a girl, and suddenly someone else comes in…”

“And your girlfriend’s like, ‘I wanna have a threesome! Here’s the other guy, hope you get along!’” Sheel finished. “It took awhile for me to realize Brett was actually really good,” he admitted. “I just had this dire love of three-piece bands… I was the biggest Muse fan you would ever know.”

While their new album was released on the web March 11th, they’re also planning a CD release party in April where they’ll be selling physical copies.

“We’d rather do a house party for our CD release show,” Sheel said. “They’re more fun.”

“We always do our best at house parties; the energy’s so much better, and we get a really good response.” McCauley added.

“Besides, the venues around town don’t pay us shit.” Brett said. “We can throw a much cooler show in a house.”

“It got so intense [at our last house show], I was starting to think maybe it was too risky to keep playing…” McGuire laughed. “But the crowd was so into it, we had to keep going.”

“At one point a girl fell onto the stage and knocked over my mic stand,” McCauley said, the adrenaline of the remembered night playing behind his eyes. “I had to stop playing and help her up, and just kinda throw her back into the pit.”

 

Download Strange Habits’ new full-length album Fear Of All Fools FOR FREE at strangehabitsrock.bandcamp.com. 

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Howl was born in the wastes north of Hithlum, where only beasts and witches dare roam. He was raised by two old hags, Tabby and Wiles, who had an unhealthy fascination towards the literary arts. Howl now resides in a well-furnished cave off South Rim Trail, complete with an old iBook and Wi-Fi.