The Band Just Wants to Have Fun
[New York Times,
By RICHARD MORGAN
As with most birthday parties for 1-year-olds, the guest of honor didn't really know what was going on. A Brooklyn band, Have Her Home by Ten, was celebrating its first anniversary last weekend with a prom-themed all-nighter at the Bitter End, the legendary Greenwich Village bar where Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen played as they were hitting the New York scene. Tough acts to follow.
But HHHB10, as the group is also known, is too young and excitable to dwell on the toughness. The oldest member is 30, and the band throbs with the kind of earnest energy that lets the members, in this case the bassist, say things like ''We have such a unique sound that we don't really have any competition.''
HHHB10 exists in a limbo common among musicians in the city, one of addictive romanticism coupled with a question-mark future. All the group's members had been in bands before, but Ethan Eubanks, the bassist, had never played bass; Emily Curtis, the drummer, had never played drums; Jonathan Brooks, the singer, had sung only in musical theater, which tends to be over the top compared with the soulful intimacy tone of small concerts; and Julia Darling, the electric guitarist, had never played electric guitar.
A year later, after desperately singing in underwear at one show and glumly plugging away despite a shoddy sound system at another, HHHB10 is celebrating. And the occasion itself is a telling reflection of the short life spans of struggling bands: a year together is special for the same reason that a teenage romance that lasts the whole semester is special.
The group's kinship is tight; Mr. Brooks and Ms. Darling live together, and Mr. Eubanks and Ms. Curtis date each other. Very Fleetwood Mac, they admit, doing something they often do: describing themselves in terms of other bands. As Mr. Brooks put it, ''We're Weezer meets the Mamas and the Papas at a Hell's Angels pool party.''
Though Mr. Brooks comes from Texas, Ms. Darling from New Zealand, Mr. Eubanks from San Francisco and Ms. Curtis from the Upper East Side and the ''Fame Academy'' (the High School of the Performing Arts), ''we're a Brooklyn band,'' Ms. Curtis insisted.
''But not a Williamsburg band,'' Mr. Eubanks quickly added, noting with some pride that their studio was in Carroll Gardens.
Before the Bitter End concert, the members were changing into costume and buzzing on beer, wine, pizza, cigarettes and the Beatles in the Gramercy Park apartment of their friend Seth Wolkoff, a 34-year-old Wall Street trader who moonlights as their manager. Mr. Brooks was on the phone, pacing in the kitchen, calling the club.
''Are people showing up?'' he asked. Really, he was equally nervous about any answer: too many people, too few, or nothing different than the norm.
He made a quick dash to the roof for another hit of Winston Lights.
''Does it look like a prom?'' Mr. Eubanks asked.
''It looks like a prom,'' Mr. Brooks replied.
''Wow,'' Mr. Eubanks said. ''Every now and then I guess things work out.''
A few minutes later, against a backdrop of spotlights raking the sky above Midtown's Fashion Week, Mr. Brooks -- a little less nervous -- declared to Ms. Darling that their dog, a beagle-pit bull mutt named Emma, was the band's new mascot.
''I just decided right now,'' he said.
''Yeah?'' Ms. Darling asked.
Mr. Brooks broke into a smile and wrapped an arm around his girlfriend. ''Nah,'' he said, laughing. ''She wouldn't stand for it.''
These are moments of whimsy that the band-mates know are all too rare. And they are. As Mr. Brooks sat in a cab on the way to the bar, he said somberly: ''This is the biggest thing we've ever done. I'm hoping.''
The unspoken thought is this: Omaha or Atlanta or Austin may be the next Seattle for up-and-coming musicians, but New York will never fall to that fad mentality. Along with maybe Chicago and Los Angeles, New York will always be a definitive music city. Its buzz is enduring and, many bands hope that by extension, theirs will be too.
It took six hours to decorate the bar. Before the night was over, guests dressed largely in ruffled shirts and puffy chiffon dresses anointed a king and queen, held a raffle, auctioned off a 21-year-old half-naked male model for $35, and scored free prophylactics as well as schmaltzy prom-style Polaroid keepsakes, the kind in which the girl is smiling too hard and the guy is pondering his chances for sex that night. All this took place under a canopy of silver tinsel, glittering plastic stars, and pink and white balloons. And no chaperons.
The partygoers were hard pressed to describe the head-bopping, toe-tapping, shoulder-swaying music without using the word ''fun.'' The atrociously 80's nostalgia and prom atmosphere didn't hurt the mood. ''Have Her Home by Ten High School football rules!'' screamed one of the prom king contenders in his bid to win votes.
''It's fun as an adult to dress up and be silly; other bands don't do that,'' said Ashleigh Van Pelt, a 26-year-old from Hell's Kitchen whose boss, the fashion designer Jill Stuart, might have been aghast at the teased hair and white loafers.
''I mean, they have a female drummer -- that's just cool,'' said Joe Brack, who wore a mullet wig and sucked on a chocolate lollipop. His wife, Allison, a devoted fan, is proud to have been one of the backup singers pulled from the crowd for the band's song ''Do You Want It?''
''Their music is so much fun, it just makes me feel happy,'' she said, before adding with a giggle, ''I'm a tax accountant.''
Sean and Sarah White, from Red Bank, N.J., spent most of the time right in front of the stage. They thought the anniversary was sweet, having been married 8 years themselves, 13 if you include dating, his wife was quick to add.
BY midnight, Mr. Brooks's bowler was gone, along with his white ruffled shirt and plaid scarlet-and-periwinkle blazer, both sleeveless. After some shots of Jagermeister, his Texas twang surfaced more often as he flopped about with the giddy bounce of a character from ''Footloose,'' a role he has played Off Broadway. With growing frequency, he'll turn the microphone over to the audience, either dangling it above their heads as they sing along or inviting them onstage to serve as makeshift backup singers.
''They kind of created this genre,'' said Russell Ridd of Washington Heights, the auctioned model, referring to HHHB10's 80's kitsch. ''They get better every time I hear them. They're about to catch on, I tell you.''
Perhaps. But by closing time, the tinsel had been taken down. The party was over. The next day, Mr. Eubanks flew to Ottawa to be paid $1,000 to play klezmer music, and Mr. Brooks began rehearsals for a musical at the Zipper Theater about a rock band in which he has landed the job of understudy for the lead role. They are not yet the new Beatles. Not even the new Oasis. But they are the first Have Her Home by Ten. And that, for now, is more than enough.
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