I think it's pretty safe to say that Hypertribe has lived up to its name. When you think of the 'Tribe, you think of aural fireworks, amphetamine stage presence, screaming scantily-clad groupies… Oh yeah, all the subtlety of a brakeless dumptruck.
So you can only imagine my anticipation when bassist/producer Nick Raskulinecz and I trekked down to the dank and musty nether-regions of the 'Tribal vaults to listen to new, unreleased material. I was ready to strap on a crash helmet.
But as I sat listening to the future of Hypertribe, there was a tangible sense of restraint present on each of the newer tracks—dare I say it… maturity? Familiar 'Tribisms are still much in evidence: shattered-asphalt grooves, hairpin rhythmic misdirection, industrial-strength ensemble riffing. But now the rough stuff is liberally interspersed with trippy guitar atmospherics and pensive textural passages, bringing to mind the futuristic soundscapes of Canadian sci-fi metallists Voivod.
"We try to create a mood now instead of just slamming all the time," Raskulinecz explains. "We're much less a metal band than we were before."
"The music is still heavy, but we're exploring more melodic ideas," elaborates guitarist/vocalist Mick Murphy. "We've shied away from the groove aspect. It seems that people really wanted to pigeonhole us with the heavy funk tag."
In years past, detractors often faulted Hypertribe for posing and affecting too much studied "spontaneity" on-stage. Whether or not these charges were wholly warranted, the band has definitely replaced most of the hair-throwing frenetics with a more focused presentation, exuding a very palpable intensity despite the lack of visceral display.
"We've settled down a lot," says Raskulinecz. "We feel less obligated to go ballistic on-stage. I don't feel the need to run around and have a certain look all the time."
Murphy believes that much of the change is an outgrowth of the fact that he and co-guitarist Manning Jenkins have had to assume vocal chores since the departure of former lead singer Mike Walls last summer. "I don't have the freedom to move around as much. But even though I'm fairly stationary, I'm a hell of a lot more tired after the show."
If the Hyper-guys have gained a bit of sophistication and savoir-faire through the course of their five-year existence, it's been at the expense of much youthful innocence and more than a few cherished illusions. One of the few Knoxville bands conspicuously trying to "make it" in the music biz, they've suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune—fruitless road treks, fickle A&R reps, groundless rumors…
"The music industry is not what I thought it was when we were a little younger," says Murphy. "We've heard so many things so many times before. The whole process tends to wear you out and frustrate you."
"We've had lots of contacts with record companies in the past," says Raskulinecz. "It doesn't mean much—people talk but seldom come through. I would just like for us to be reasonably successful—to be able to live making music instead of working in a restaurant. We don't give a shit about being arena rockers."
Cynics though they may be, theirs is a particularly starry-eyed brand of cynicism; no one is ready to talk about cashing in their chips just yet. A write-up in the "Raw Talent" section of the November issue of Screamer magazine has elicited a fresh round of rumor and flirtation from the pony-tail set, and the band plans to do some extensive road-tripping this spring now that the post-Walls line-up has started to gel.
"We hibernated for months, spending three nights per week working on vocals and songs," says Raskulinecz. "We've come through that period, and now we're ready to get some road bookings."
"I think we'll be more selective about our choice of out-of-town shows this time," drummer Chris Brewer stipulates. "I used to love going on the road, but now I'd rather we not bust our asses on gigs that don't pay off."
Hypertribe has an important home-stand upcoming; they'll be playing a showcase in front of A&M Records reps on Jan. 28 at the Electric Ballroom (along with Immortal Chorus, Sandbox, and The Used). But high stakes or no, Raskulinecz has his poker face on.
"We've been in that sort of situation before, and it's really not productive to get too excited or go in with any expectations. It's just another gig to us."
Raskulinecz pauses, as if searching for the right way to crystallize some final thoughts.
"All of us have put our lives on hold for Hypertribe. No one here has had more than a semester or two of college. I've thought about going on to other things, but right now I'm really committed to doing something with this band."