Music, in most cases, is supposed to be fun. While there are inevitable counter-examples to that statement, comprising goals such as solemn self-expression or emotional catharsis, for the most part, music, especially pop music, is meant to make you feel good. It can also be funny, as demonstrated by indie garage rockers The Hairs, whose new album The Magic’s Gone walks a fine line between carefree goofball imagery and arch self-awareness. With song titles like “Tennis Penis” and “Birds Shit Then Sing,” you might be forgiven for assuming that the band’s work is mostly an exercise in comic word association, overlaid atop catchy power pop arrangements. You would be wrong. Most of the time.
I went to see the band at Cake Shop in early June, not remembering until shortly after entering the space that my girlfriend used to work with Jacob, their bassist. I said hi, then sat back to take in the openers, the more overtly surf-rock outfit Hippy. They set the tone early with a slow rock jam called “Hippie Lifestyle.” The crowd was friendly and laid back, much in keeping with the overall vibe of the show.
The Hairs have an inimitable likability to their music, whose deceptively acerbic lyrics are punctuated by oohs, aahs, and cheerful back beats. On tracks like “I’ve Been Working Out” and “Duh! x12” the feel good vibe prevails over the relatively mopey lyrics like a comforting blanket of 90’s slackerdom. It’s only after parsing the words a couple of times that the bittersweet themes become more apparent.
After their set, I went outside with Kevin Alvir, songwriter and lead singer for the group, to talk about his band and his humorous new indie comic series American Cheese.
You guys have been really prolific lately.
It’s just a force of habit. I get a little – I don’t want to say OCD about writing songs, but I do get a feeling of constantly having to create output.
To feel productive?
I feel like I’m really introspective, so it’s kind of like a good release for me to constantly write songs, and see where I’m at.
Jacob describes your lyric-writing process as “very Zen.” That’s his take. Where does it come from?
When I started to make music I used to be so self-conscious about “Oh, I want to be this or that kind of band, I want to do this kind of music,” but that changed over time, so that might be what he means.
I really like “I’ve Been Working Out.” Does humor play a big part in your music? Is it inadvertent, or a goal in your songwriting?
It is meant to be funny. It doesn’t feel real if it’s not funny. If it’s too serious, it doesn’t make sense to me.
What is a Hell Ninja?
I don’t know. I think it’s just someone who’s working really hard.
Like, “I’m going to go be a fucking hell ninja about this.”
So there’s a really warm quality to the music, it has a lightness to it. You could imagine hearing it at a seedy dive bar, but you could also imagine it at a children’s party.
Sometimes I do feel like in my own head, I’ve had some dark moments, but I like that we can keep it light while still talking about lots of different things. I never want to be just light, I never want to be just dark. I definitely don’t like maudlin.
So maybe we can talk about the title of the new EP, The Magic’s Gone. That’s dark!
Yeah, it’s kind of a bittersweet song, but I kind of like bittersweet. It’s kind of about getting older. I mean, no one’s getting younger.
I can relate! So can you talk to me a little bit about the song “Bury The Hatchet?”
When I write songs, there’s a part of me that kind of shuts off and I just go with the flow. I guess the main character in that one is me. At the time when I wrote it I was mad about some things and some people and I just kind of wanted to move on with my life. So I think the song is about telling myself to do that.
So I want to segue to the online comic strip you work on, American Cheese. What’s that about?
It’s about this folk-singing pony woman. It started out as just this idea of having this woman singing funny songs, but it’s involved into something more reflective.
It seems like a send-up of the Brooklyn music scene but also sending up the experiences of mid-to-late twenties people, especially the bits about the workplace.
Yeah, there is some of that. It’s about a girl trying to find her voice, it’s pretty much a coming-of-age story.
You’ve been doing American Cheese for a few months. What’s the response been like?
Well my mindset was that I didn’t know if it was going to be good or bad, I would just go for it and say what I wanted to say. The response has been good though, I mean, a lot of readers like it. It doesn’t have like, a bazillion followers, but quite a few people seem to have latched onto it. And I just did a new episode today. And I’m also doing a bunch of other, smaller stories that don’t have much to do with the main story that are part of like, the American Cheese world.
So why the name American Cheese?
I don’t know, it just seemed like a funny title, and at some point I’m going to get to the crux of what it all means.
What about the fact that the characters are animals? Does that help create distance?
Well I have one character that’s just a hula hoop with a girl’s head on it. I just wanted it to be really surreal, but really emotionally real. I didn’t want to just draw people. It seemed more fun to draw animal people.
Do you think there are links between American Cheese and your music, or are they two completely separate parts of your brain?
I think they kind of do the same thing for me. Jacob was saying to me that The Hairs’ music is like the musical cartoon version of whatever we’re thinking and American Cheese is the visual cartoon version of that.
Do you think they’re both ways to deal with real things you’re feeling but with a lighthearted, comical distance?
Yeah, I don’t consciously think about that, but I definitely use it as a barrier, so it doesn’t have to be so painful! (Laughs)
The Hairs’ new album The Magic’s Gone is available now from Break Records. The Hairs play Cake Shop in NYC on July 10th.
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