An uncompromising and prolific innovator, Simon Hanes is hard to pin down. I recently got the opportunity to sit down with the Tredici Bacci leader and former Guerilla Toss bassist to discuss his many evolving musical identities, his love of Morricone and Gainsbourg, and celebrating a perversity that is usually kept well hidden.
Boston Hassle: You’re originally from California, What drew you to Boston?
Simon Hanes: Well, it just so happens that Boston has the only school that accepted me for college, which was the New England Conservatory. I applied to all these other places and that was the only place I got in. So I guess I didn’t really have any other options.
BH: What were you like when you first moved to Boston? Like as a musician, an artist, a person.
SH: From my own perspective or the perspective of people around me?
SH: From my own perspective, I felt like I was a composer, like I wanted to write avant-garde classical music. And I had very lofty goals about studying that music and really becoming that kind of person. And I imagine that from other people’s perspective I probably just seemed like some weird guy that was too loud and liked to jump around a lot.
BH: So you studied composition at NEC?
SH: Yeah sort of. Peter and Arian and I, who are the drummer and guitar player of Guerilla Toss, were all in the same program, “Contemporary Improvisation,” which is basically a “study whatever you want” program. So I studied composition and improvisation, which is basically what Arian did too.
BH: Do you feel like you’ve changed since then?
SH: Yeah. I feel like my idea of myself has changed in more ways than I could ever even begin to explain.
BH: Care to try?
SH: Well, like I said, when I moved here I had a very strong idea of what kind of person I was going to be. I was going to be a composer and only write music for concert halls. Consistently over the last six years, though, my idea of what it means to be a musician/composer has been challenged in so many different ways—I keep on having to reassess the way that I approach being a musician and the kind of music that I’m interested in. That goes for everything from composing to playing in bands—every avenue that you investigate as a musician should in some way help you to challenge your idea of what it means to be a musician.
BH: So you don’t get stuck at all?
SH: No, I definitely get stuck sometimes. But I was 18 when I moved here for school. Everything that you’re supposed to know in your late teens is destined to be challenged in many different ways throughout your twenties and maybe your thirties, and hopefully for the rest of your life. So like I was saying—this idea I had of being a composer. When I moved here I tried to become as in-depth in the “composition world” as I could, and I realized that there were so many things in that world that I totally was not interested in, and there were things that I would not get from that world that I wanted to get. That’s initially what made Guerilla Toss such a great project. It provided an outlet from this more tight-assed “composition world.” It was an outlet for playing music that I wouldn’t normally get to play. Then I started to realize that there is a way to meld the two worlds together, and that’s an example of the kind of musical perspective shift I’m talking about. Throughout the last few years there have been all these perspective shifts, so I feel like a completely different person than I did when I moved here.
BH: Do you think Boston has played a part in your development as an artist?
SH: There’s absolutely no question about that. Yeah, Boston has played a crucial part in that. Specifically, do you mean Boston the city or Boston the music scene that you and I are involved in?
BH: Which one do think has been more influential?
SH: Definitely the music scene. Boston never really seemed very interesting until I discovered the incredible network of musicians that made up the Boston underground, and in that sense, being a part of that scene has been completely, absolutely integral to the person I am today. Not that the person I am today is worth anything, but that’s beside the point.
BH: Care to go into specifics?
Well, the Boston underground scene has shaped the way I see the possibilities of performance. Over the last six-ish years I’ve seen so many insane, ridiculous, incredible things happen, like I’ve seen people mutilate themselves onstage, I’ve seen people run around stage naked, I saw a guy spray-paint his balls pink once. I saw a guy shit himself onstage. I’ve seen every possible combination of instruments playing every possible definition of what music is, or improvisation is, or what performance art can be. And every one of those experiences was like a challenge. Like “Oh, it’s possible to create performance out of something as totally ridiculous as wearing a sparkly G-string and lip-synching to Michael Jackson and then dunking your head into a fish bowl.”
BH: Have you seen that?
SH: Yeah, that was one of the first shows I went to here, “We Are Guest Talk”—props to Adam Foam. So it’s like that. It would be impossible to even begin to explain the ways the community has shaped me, both from that perspective and as a social person who is interested in a social art form. Music, like most art forms, relies on a direct relationship with your audience. The feeling of friendship and being a part of a community was really influential for me. And it still is, to a certain degree.
BH: What are some of your inspirations? And when do you feel most inspired?
SH: Musically, I feel most inspired by this film composer named Ennio Morricone. He’s an Italian composer who wrote a lot of soundtracks. Musically, he’s been the most inspiring. Serge Gainsbourg is another big one. And there are two places where I feel most inspired: alone in my room at like 4:30 in the morning, and—to go back to the Boston music scene again—definitely some of my most inspired moments have been while watching other people perform. Watching other people be so badass that it would be impossible not to be inspired by them.
BH: As a musician, how much trust do you have in yourself that what you are creating is good or something you really want to share with other people?
SH: Oh my god, Jesus. That’s a heavy question. The interesting thing is, I feel like I have a tendency to judge the value of things I make based on my own projection of what an audience will think. I’ll write something for Tredici Bacci for instance, and I’ll think: “Nobody is going to like this!” because it’s referencing such a niche genre. Like, “Why would they care about this?” Technically they don’t have any reason to. The only reason that I feel the need to perform it is that performance is an integral part of music—and it’s wicked fun. But despite the fact that I am always questioning whether something is valuable to other people or not, I never question whether it is valuable to me. The experience of making something is kind of its own reward.
I’ve done some performances that have just utterly bombed, and I felt terrible afterwards because I could feel that the connection with the audience was not happening. Which is a sucky feeling. But the product, the part of it I’ve made, I’m the only person that really needs to care about that. For example, I recently performed as this guy named Christopher Douglas. He’s a singer/songwriter—every show he plays is his first show. He has no confidence, and he is anxious and has stage fright. He just got dumped by some girl that he really liked, and he picked up songwriting as a way to express his sadness. In order to do the performance I had to write those songs from the perspective of somebody who just started playing guitar and who just got dumped. I had such a good time just doing that, pretending to be this guy and trying to write the kind of music that he would write, that when it came time to preform, I wasn’t too concerned about what happened.
BH: You already felt fulfilled by it.
SH: Yeah. The most fun part for me was that I got to sit in my room and try to create a realistic character. As long as the music felt believable, it didn’t really matter what happened at the performance because I had already experienced the gratification of writing the music. I forgot the original question.
BH: It was the one about trusting yourself.
SH: We should ask Shawnie about that. Do you know Shawnie? (Shawnie Brando of Bugs and Rats, KTB, and Gangs stands at the nearby coffee counter. We beckon him over.)
BH: I’ve seen KTB.
SH: Anyways, I can’t really say that I know what people will think about something. Even though I do care about what people think about me. I can’t deny that part of performing is trying to make other people think that you are cool. In terms of the actual material, though, I’m less concerned with how they feel about that.
BH: That’s like when you see a band and you’re more into it when you can tell that they’re into it too.
SH: Sure, yeah. A successful band has very clear intentions. Like you look at Bug and Rats. They’ve been playing for upwards of 10 years now, playing a lot of the same songs for a long time, and you can feel their synergy. You can feel the way they relate to each other.
(Shawnie joins in.)
BH (to Shawnie): As a musician writing something, how much trust do you have in yourself that what you are creating is good or something you really want to share with other people?
Shawnie Brando: You don’t know. It’s like a personal feeling. If you were trying to please other people you would go fucking crazy. There’s like, no way you would be able to do it. There are too many different tastes.
SH: When you perform you are concerned with what the audience thinks of you.
SB: To a degree. I definitely get into a place when I play—like, “I know I’m fucking killing shit and if no one likes it, I don’t care.” I want people to like it, but ultimately, I don’t give a shit, if I like it and it feels comfortable. It has to feel right, it has to feel like you. At least for me. Simon puts on all these masks and plays Italian pop music; I would feel bizarre doing that.
SH: I do feel very bizarre doing that.
SB: You seem like pretty at home.
SH: I think the act of writing or playing music, no matter what kind, is totally personal.
SB: Like I made some songs yesterday for Gangs, with the drum machine and the synth, and I was just jamming all day and it was just so fucking brutal and so fucking intense, like “I just wanna kill my fucking mom.” So like in my head I know it’s the shit, but like, with these shows coming up—I wonder if this really is the shit, or if I just think it’s the shit. But ultimately you just have to not care. You’ve got to have kind of an ego. Any good musician has an ego. Even motherfuckers who act like they don’t. Kurt Cobain had an ego. Even the ones that kill themselves. They killed themselves because they couldn’t handle their ego.
SH: And it’s partially because of that ego that regardless of what kind of thing you make, it’s very much yours. So it’s like having a little tiny baby.
SB: The way I make music, I always try to be just as honest and real as possible. There are plenty of times, like going on tour with Guerilla Toss and seeing you guys play a million songs, I’m like “Wow, this is so fucking amazing.” You guys are doing shit that I’m obviously not going to do. But in my head I’m like, Man I kind of wish I could do that. But like in the end it wouldn’t be me doing it.
SH: I was just saying to Keeley before you showed up that when it comes to Bugs and Rats, it’s amazing how clear it is that you guys are connected in a special way from being friends playing the same music for so long. And that makes for a good performance. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a shitty Bugs and Rats show because every time it’s the same powerhouse, and I also love you and wish we were related.
SB: What’s funny is that I worry about every single show. Like every fucking show I’ve ever played in my life I’m like, “This is gonna suck,” until I actually play and then I’m like, “I’m gonna fucking kill this.”
SH: Exactly. That’s part of the process.
SB: You gotta have an ego. It’s a combination of having a humongous ego mixed with insecurity.
SH: That’s verbatim what John Zorn said when I heard him talk.
SB: I love John Zorn
SH: Yeah. He’s the fucking man. Do you know who John Zorn is?
SH: He’s this composer from New York. He had a band called Naked City that was essentially super-insane hardcore—written in an intensely detailed, structural way.
SB: Yeah, it’s like avant-garde hardcore.
SH: It’s cool. Anyways . . .
BH: How many projects are you currently involved in?
SH: Shawnie, how many projects are you currently involved in?
SB: Bugs and Rats, KTB, and Gangs.
SH: Right now I have Tredici Bacci, an Italian pop band, Luxardo, who is the Italian pop karaoke singer guy, Christopher Douglas, who’s the singer/songwriter who just got out of a bad relationship, and I just played my first show with Trigger, which is a very new project.
BH: How are you able to balance between so many projects?
SB: Well, do you have a job?
SH: No, so that helps. Not having a stable job, that helps.
SB: That’s the key.
SH: Not having a real job makes it pretty easy. But aside from that, basically it’s like juggling. Inspiration strikes for all those projects at different times and in different ways. Also it has to do with shows—like I try to write one Tredici Bacci song per every show we play. Which I almost never actually achieve. But like, that happens, and sometimes I’ll have a wave of only wanting to write Tredici Bacci songs. Same with Luxardo. It’s a balancing act, but it’s about trying to get as much music in as possible with the time allotted. That’s my ultimate goal right now, besides going to a lot of cocktail parties, dating at least 10 women at the same time, going windsurfing, and modeling. Besides those things I try to spend as much time focused on music as possible.
BH: Why did you decide to leave Guerilla Toss?
SH: This is a good question. When you are in a band with some people, you spend hours and hours of time with those people—you write together, tour together . . . spend a lot of time together. But, everyone in Guerilla Toss is still in their twenties. Now, if there is one thing I have learned about being in your twenties, it’s that the only constant thing you can count on is change. Fuck that sounds like a motivational poster.
BH: Change is the only constant.
SH: Yeah, change is the only constant, it’s true. I haven’t been able to rely on any one thing being the same over the last six years, except that every time I fart, it always smells bad. That’s the only thing that’s remained exactly the same all this time. So with Guerilla Toss, it came down to the path that I was on, and the path the band was on. And slowly but surely, the path I was on started to diverge from the path that it would have been necessary to follow for me to stay in the band, so I had to make a decision—”do I want to develop as a person in this way, or do I want to develop as a person in this other way?” Which isn’t to say that I would have been sacrificing something by staying in the band. Being in a band like Guerilla Toss, that becomes such a major part of your life—it’s kind of like getting married to four people. Four really nice people, but still . . . The implications of a commitment like that are readily apparent. I don’t regret any of it, but after a certain point the decision was clear. There were two neon signs. One said: “This is what will happen to you if you leave” and one said: “This is what will happen to you if you stay.” And the one that had to do with leaving, to me, was clearly the right decision.
Jeffrey Johnson by Guerilla Toss
BH: What was the motivation behind Tredici Bacci?
SH: I think that part of being a musician is exploring different interests in a “hands-on” way. So like, when I was going to school, I got the opportunity to get a large group of musicians together to perform a very specific type of music. To my eternal gratitude, the band managed to stay together after I left school. Basically the motivation was to investigate this one very specific style of music that I really loved. Everything after that has been because it’s been fun to work with that band. Because of how many musicians are in it, it’s like a fun party; and the ability to play with a really large band of really strong personalities, that is a gift.
SB: Do you plan on touring with that band?
SH: I mean . . . It would be almost impossible. Maybe someday when we’re all fucking millionaires. In the meantime, the experience of playing with this huge group of people who are all happy and incredibly talented beyond my wildest dreams and cooperating together to make this music turns every day into Christmas as far as I’m concerned.
BH: Who is Luxardo?
SH: The initial concept was inspired totally by Serge Gainsbourg. The idea being that basically Luxardo is me giving myself therapy about the part of myself that I almost feel like is confused and trapped in the rest of me. Not to sound, like, super dramatic. But Luxardo is like Serge Gainsbourg, sort of. Although I’m reading a book about Serge Gainsbourg right now, and it turns out that everything I kind of thought about him was not really that true.
BH: But you kind of built him up in your mind.
SH: Yeah, exactly. You get the idea of somebody like Serge Gainsbourg as this very sexual man. Luxardo is the Italian Serge Gainsbourg in that sense. Luxardo never second-guesses himself, never questions the way he’s performing, or whether or not he’s being charming. He’s always very seductive, smooth, and totally cool around women. That kind of shit. But in a very ’70s way—and he’s not afraid to be kind of sleazy. I feel like in a way all the characters I do or have done are to alleviate some sort of aspect of my personality that I feel unacceptable in a certain way. For instance, I’m not smooth around women. If I ask some girl out, I’m going to be really awkward about it because it makes me uncomfortable; it’s scary, usually. But Luxardo never has that problem; for him, everything is clear. He does this, he does that, he writes the songs about being romantic and sexy and he just preforms them and that’s all there is to it. Luxardo is my opportunity to be that guy in a situation where I won’t get in trouble for it. Like if I acted the way Luxardo usually acts in regular discourse, nobody would want to hang out with me.
BH: What was Combman?
Combman was the same kind of idea. On the outside, Combman is a guy with a jaundice-yellow face and scary glasses who is wearing an outfit made out of combs. He’s gross. He doesn’t speak and he’s socially a disaster. He’s freaky. But on a deeper level, Combman was another way to alleviate the feelings that one has as a twentysomething. Especially dealing with the idea of being perverted. Combman’s main motivation is that he loves hair, and that was always his thing. He always wanted to comb the hair of some beautiful women that was around. That can be a stand-in for anything that can be considered perverted in today’s day and age. At a certain point, in my early twenties . . . I’m a perverted person. There is no question that I am somewhat pervy. But there is a balance between the kind of pervy you can be just out in the world and the kind of pervy that you have to keep inside. The type of pervy that you have to keep inside is the kind I allow myself to alleviate through Combman. And also it was really fun to make the suit.
BH: Is that the same reason you did Simon Says Smut?
SH: Totally. The real thing about that was this store in Somerville that was a regular convenience store that had this mysterious green door, and on the other side of the door was, like, the worst porn store you could ever go to. They didn’t have anything that anybody who wanted porn would be interested in nowadays. But they did have tons and tons of paperback sex books from the ’80s and ’90s, and they were like 25 cents a book, so I bought a bunch of them. I would read them and think, “I like this.” I like reading this stuff, I’m not like—pardon me for being frank—jerking off all the time reading this, but I do enjoy it and think it’s funny. From then on, it’s like—you know what would be really funny? Seeing how people feel when they hear somebody read these books out loud. They’re all routed in male sexual fantasy that when they’re presented to you in this way, essentially like “story-time,” it seems totally ridiculous. So it’s like the same thing as Combman, from a perv level. I like erotic shit, but I also think the concept of delivering that to somebody and getting them to react was always really funny. I had a lot of plans for Simon Says Smut. I was going to turn the books into mini-plays.
BH: Like audience participation.
SH: Yeah. Or I wanted to do one where I would read the story and there would be a guy and girl doing sound effects. Because it’s pretty graphic stuff.
BH: Going back to what you were saying about reading the book about Serge Gainsbourg—I’m reading this book called I Love Dick by Chris Kraus about this woman who meets this man named Dick and becomes infatuated with him. She writes him letters without sending them. It’s about how her infatuation with him is not with him, it’s about the idea of him. That helps her find her own voice as an artist.
SH: And that’s something I’m finding out now, that somebody like Serge Gainsbourg was doing. Throughout his career he would fall in love with these incredibly beautiful women. You start to see a pattern of him becoming infatuated with somebody and using that as the impetus for creation. He’ll write an entire record for whoever he is in love with, as a gift to them, but also to himself. It’s more about getting yourself in that inspired state. And then, inevitably when they would break up, he would take inspiration from that feeling of being despondently depressed. He wasn’t afraid to investigate those feelings. If I were to say I was doing that, it would be in a different way. Luxardo, Combman, Christopher Douglas, and Simon Says Smut are all my way of investigating these interests I have. And these feeling that I have that I think are part of the condition of growing up.
BH: Do you still do Tsons of Tsunami?
SH: Tsons of Tsunami have been on the back burner recently, but I do love that band. All anybody has to do is ask the band to play and we’ll be there, guns blazing. Until then, we are on indefinite hiatus.
Fearless Riders of the Holy Curl by Tsons Of Tsunami
BH: And is Trigger just starting to play shows?
SH: Trigger started as a group to just play compositions by a certain person. It was a total crapshoot because I didn’t know Aaron or Will but I got asked to play with them, and it turned out that the chemistry was really good.
BH: What Boston bands do you like right now?
SH: The other day I saw Nate Ventura play, I think he’s really amazing. A band like Bugs and Rats I think I will always be into because of what they stand for to me.
BH: What do they stand for to you?
SH: To me, and I know we were just hanging out with the guy from the band, but they’re an example of a band who does a very specific thing incredibly well and have spent a lot of time not being recognized for that thing, but persevered long enough that when somebody smart showed up they could be like: “Hey, you guys are amazing! I need to show you to these people over here.” All of a sudden, there was a built-in audience, eager to love and accept them. The power that comes from being able to commit to playing this music for a long time is really inspirational.
s/t by Bugs and Rats
BH: How do you feel about the Boston music scene? I know we already talked about this a lot.
SH: This last year, I literally feel like an old man. Which is very silly. This year I have been going to a lot less shows. Partially because I left Guerilla Toss, so I haven’t been playing as many shows. I’ll never be able to explain the way the Boston underground music scene has shaped me as a person. More recently, I feel like my path has been diverging a little bit. There was a certain period of time where the Boston underground scene was the exact right thing that showed up at the exact right time for me. I discovered it and got to become part of it at the perfect time in my life. However, I thank Shiva or whoever for that because it was a total stroke of luck. But I think I’m leaving the time of my life where I needed that. You know?
BH: You mean that you can take a step back from it?
SH: Exactly, because the nature of music scenes that are underground is, I mean this is a fucking college town, the amount of kids that are going to keep coming to Boston and needing this outlet in the exact same way I did is going to make it so it can forever perpetuate itself. Which is a very positive thing, as far as I’m concerned.
BH: So, it’s always going to be turning over.
SH: We just met for the first time two days ago. You’re already an integral member of this community that you’re proving by writing articles for the Hassle and interviewing motherfuckers, and that’s going to keep happening. For me it means that, yes, I don’t know half of the people that go to shows, but that’s fine. Because that’s not what I need from shows anymore.
BH: To meet people?
SH: Yeah. I need to be able to communicate with the Boston underground scene because it’s an incredibly beautiful thing and a really amazing outlet. I can play shows with other super-talented musicians, and I can experiment with doing weird performances that help me with my weird perversions. I’m thankful to Boston for that beyond belief.
BH: What do you view as your next step?
SH: My next step is to refine my music and performance interests that I am still enjoying. It would be impossible for me to say what my next step is going to be. However, my hope, as a listless college graduate with a useless college degree and essentially useless knowledge about things nobody cares about in the real world, is that I can refine my relationship to the art I’ve made the most integral part of my life. With Tredici Bacci, my hope is that it will continue to develop until it fizzles out or until that musical world has nothing more to give, or I have nothing more to say in that musical world. And to continue to try to investigate the ways someone like Luxardo can both arouse and entertain audiences. All I can really hope for is to keep chipping away at trying to make a musical identity for myself.
BH: What upcoming projects and releases do you have?
SH: If everything goes as planned, on February 25 will be the Tredici Bacci release party—we’ll be putting out an LP reissue of our first cassette, an entirely new cassette, and hopefully a batch of T-shirts that I didn’t have to make myself. Luxardo is playing with Jerry Paper on February 2.
Catch Simon as Luxardo this coming Sunday, Febuary 1st @ Industry Lab in Cambridge, MA!!
Vai! Vai! Va! (Musica dal filmato originale) by Tredici Bacci