Rumors abound about Out Hud. That they have a drum machine named Phyllis. That they changed their name to !!! when they got signed to Warp Records. Whether it’s their perpetual instrument-swapping or certain associates’ membership in the seven-piece punk-dance outfit !!!, people just can’t seem to get their facts straight when talking about these New York-via-Cali dub ‘n’ dancefloor deconstructionists.
“It is hard, for some reason, for people to understand what’s going on with us,” concurs Phyllis Forbes, who is not a drum machine but a living, breathing 26-year-old woman who has handled keyboards/piano, bass, drums, and drum programming (among other duties) since co-founding the band in Sacramento back in 1996. “People must make up shit–they can’t have read us saying this stuff anywhere.”
The confusion should all be ending right about…now, especially since Out Hud’s second LP, Let Us Never Speak of It Again, is a bit of a coming out party for Forbes and cellist Molly Schnick, who together have assumed vocal duties within the group many people assumed was “!!!’s instrumental sister act.” (The lineup is rounded out by !!!-ers Justin Vandervolgen and Nic Offer; LCD Soundsystem guitarist and !!! member Tyler Pope recently departed the band).
“The first 7” record that we did back in 1998 had vocals on it and so did a lot of our early songs that we never recorded,” clarifies Schnick, the squeaky, high-pitched voice backing up Forbes on tracks like “It’s For You” and “The Stoked American.” “So we never really thought of ourselves as an instrumental band, even though maybe we were.”
“It wasn’t a conscious thing,” Forbes interjects. “I guess we just didn’t have anything to say.”
More Rawk, More Talk
With its cheeky, in-joke-derived song titles (“Old Nude,” “Dear Mr. Bush, There Are Over 100 Words For Shit and Only 1 For Music. Fuck You, Out Hud”) and somber, dark tones, it may not be too clear what Out Hud is saying on Let Us Never Speak of It Again. Whatever it is, it sounds damn sharp. Full of complex rhythms, richly layered sound textures, and flawlessly subtle transitions that lead toward unexpected heights, nearly every track teeters the brink between danceable and melancholy, funky, and sad. Buoyed by Justin Vandervolgen’s wholly underrated mixing skills–he also plays the role of dubmaster live, mixing the band’s instrumental output with the intensity of an Adrian Sherwood or Mad Professor–the girls’ vocals sound vibrant, upbeat, and very much a part of the music, providing a pop edge that builds significantly upon the dubby remoteness of 2002’s S.T.R.E.E.T.D.A.D.
“Listening to these new songs I do feel they are more accessible,” Schnick says. “You can sing along, and I like that. It is a darker record than we thought it would be. People have asked, ‘Do you want this to be a dance record?’ We didn’t have an agenda going into it. There is more behind it than just, like, ‘Dance!’”
It would be misleading to say that there aren’t distinctive traces of New Order, Dub Syndicate, and even the Tom Tom Club in the Out Hud mix, but unlike most of the other bands working their way out of, or into, the post-punk tag these days, there is little looking backward on Let Us Never Speak of It Again.
“I was really psyched when all of the tasteful, progressive tech-house stuff started coming out, even though our music sounds nothing like that,” Vandervolgen admits. “It is much easier for people to get into an aesthetic that has already been established. Everyone is always wanting to be able to say, ‘It sounds like this’ because it makes things easier. But I would be psyched if somebody told me this sounds like a lot of things but not really like anything.”
The Band That Stays Together, Plays Together
Over coffee at a Williamsburg pastry shop, Forbes and Schnick reveal a habit of finishing each other’s sentences—which makes sense seeing as they’ve known each other since elementary school. Out Hud is the women’s third band together, and they’ve been playing together consistently since the age of 13, when they started Raooul, a short-lived, three-chord punk band that nonetheless managed to put a 7” EP out on the influential Lookout! Records. During the course of the interview, Forbes, who briefly dated Offer nearly a decade ago, reveals a “bombshell” that might prove an online description of Out Hud as a “post-punk Fleetwood Mac” to be at least somewhat true: she’s begun dating Vandervolgen, her best friend of nearly a decade.
For some reason, though, it doesn’t seem likely that this newfound love will erode the band’s internal vibe, which is still very much typified by humor and a punk rock approach to things. Forbes willingly gives an example of the band’s California hijinks, which have only intensified over the years. “Once we made up a love triangle between me, Molly, and Nic to get onto the Mark Wahlberg Show,” Forbes recalls. “Not Marky Mark, but the Temptation Island guy–he had a talk show. Punks used to always go on talk shows and make up lies. They put us up in a real nice hotel and flew us out from California.”
Perhaps the secret to the subtle warmth that permeates Out Hud’s recordings from that first 7” through to Let Us Never Speak of It Again is their closeness—dating back to their Sacramento days most of the members have lived together in the same apartment, which tends to also be the place where they practice. With Offer, Vandervolgen, and Forbes currently residing in a remote neighborhood near the Brooklyn Navy Yard and South Williamsburg’s Hasidic Jewish enclave–and Schnick living nearby–the music never seems to stop in Out Hud-land.
“We practice every day almost,” Schnick says. “It definitely helps us to be able to hear the same things, and we influence each other with what we are listening to. Justin is a really awesome DJ, and he’ll just be downstairs playing stuff. You get to absorb all this good music all the time. And the good thing about the Hasids is that, for some reason, they are always up so late so we can practice super late.”
One of Out Hud’s pious neighbors even made their album–in the haunting intro to “The Song So Good They Named It Thrice.” “There was this three year-old just kid singing on his balcony one day,” Schnick recalls. “Justin thought it was amazing, and had to record it. I’m into them–they are so mysterious.”
Having a competent sound engineer with quality recording equipment also enabled the group to complete their album at home after a trip to National Recording Studio in Washington, DC wasn’t as fruitful as they might have hoped.
“I feel like this album was written five times,” says Forbes, who made many of the demos that morphed, in some degree or another, into the songs on Let Us Never Speak of It Again. “We went in to record it and that is one thing. Once Justin gets his hand on it, it has another life. Then once we hear that, we’re like ‘Wait, now I have another idea; I am going to put some other parts on it.’ We are always going back and forth.”