Sci Fi Nerds and Bee Gees' Love Children

Forget what the press says. Devonte Hynes does not look like AIDS.

"It’s
pretty harsh," Hynes says about the cruelest comment published about
him. "’You look like a terminal illness. You look like death. I don’t
know what AIDS looks like."

It
definitely isn’t him. Decked out in cut-off short shorts, a faux fur
hat, and white tube socks, Hynes looks more like a fashion misfit.
Strumming a duct-tape adorned acoustic guitar with a Star Wars sticker,
he also boldly professes his love of science fiction. But it’s OK. Some
of the best music was written by misfits and nerds. Hynes’s new album,
under the moniker Lightspeed Champion, is an easy favorite in the
I’m-so-nerdy-I’m-hip category. Songs like "Galaxy of the Lost" and
"Everyone I Know is Listening to Crunk" are as catchy as they are
endearing. With a flutter of wind instruments, acoustic guitars, and
effects kept to a minimum, Lightspeed Champion is a far cry from the
out of control screamo act, Test Icicles, that brought Hynes notoriety
among the UK’s indie elite.

"I’ve
kind of always been solo and occasionally I would play as a band,"
Hynes says. "When I play with a band, it’s always one specific type of
thing, and if [Test Icicles did] more than one record, it probably
would have changed genre. I could have put out seven different albums
of different genres. There was more of a dance based thing, like a Daft
Punky thing, there was hip hop, there was stuff similar to Test
Icicles. [Lightspeed Champion] was originally going to be more grunge
based. As it took longer and longer to the point where I was going to
record, I decided I wanted to challenge myself. I stripped away the
guitars."

Lightspeed Champion’s on-stage act draws closer its heavier origins. Some songs may stray from the acoustic versions on Falling Off the Lavender Bridge,
yet there is also a violinist–one who performed a note-perfect
rendition of the Star Wars theme. It strikes a balance between Hynes’s
musical extremes. One part that doesn’t change is his charming allure.
Hynes’s on-stage banter hops from subject to subject, including bowling,
his preference for Michael Jackson over Prince, and a simple, "What
have you been doing today." He has a natural comraderie with the
audience, almost as if he could hop from the stage and sling his arms
across the strangers amidst his artful crescendos and witticisms and
his "too many solos."

"I
tend to do way too many guitar solos," Hynes says. "It’s something that
gradually, gradually got worse throughout touring. They’re just so fun.
They’re the best thing ever." But some may say there are never enough.

The
Explorers Club would probably disagree. They sunny Beach Boys-loving
seven piece fits its multi-layered harmonies and composition so
tightly, a solo would be nearly undiscernible in its wall of sound. The
opening act boasts at times four guitars, two keyboards, drums, a
mandolin, a tamborine and sleighbells. Can’t forget those sleighbells.
With an early ’60s sound and a look like the love children of the Bee
Gees and Lynyrd Skynyrd, the South Carolina band claims influences from
The Beatles, The Zombies, the Beach Boys, and Chuck Berry.

Most of them cite an early appreciation for oldies. For guitarist Jason Brewer, it was The Beatles.

"I
listened to The Beatles a lot as a kid, like all the time," he says. "I
had like every Beatles album on cassette. If I was a good kid and did
my chores, loaded the dishwasher, my mom and dad would give me a
Beatles tape. Instead of giving me money, I said, ‘I want music.’ We
listened to a lot of church music, too, because my parents were both
choir directors."

Gospel
shows itself frequently in The Explorers Club’s music, as does the
swinging rock of Elvis Presley. He was keyboardist Stefan Rogenmoser’s
introduction to music.

"When
I was a kid, I had this Elvis tape," he says. "When we first bought it,
my mom got it at WalMart or something, and they had these tape
security cases, this plastic. The lady popped it open, it went flying up
in the air, and I caught it just before it hit the ground. I played it
so much the tape broke. All my friends were listening to Green Day’s Dookie. It was a couple years before I got into that stuff. I was just rocking out to Elvis."

It’s
this retro influence that sets The Explorers Club apart. In an era that
finds bands strip mining New Wave and grunge, few go as far back as the
early ’60s, relegating it to being their "parents’ music." The Explorers
Club wants listeners to remember that even our parents were once hip.
Likewise, the band rejects rock’s ultra-suave attitude.

"We’re
a very family friendly little band," Brewer says. "We’re not the kind
of band where you walk in and you think, ‘Man, this makes me feel cool.’
We just want to make you have fun."

They’re
the kind of band that appeals to people of all ages, or as guitarist
Dave Ellis likes to put it, "zygotes and zombies, man." The Explorers
Club’s first full length, Freedom Wind, dropped last month.
It’s a sunny record best listened to in May through early September.
Nothing says summer like cheery harmonies and jangly hand percussion.
More sleighbells, please.