Johnny Headband's 'serious fun'

A second album emerges from the woods

Who Cooks For You release party is at 8 p.m. Friday, July 27, at the Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. With Phantasmagoria and Lettercamp. A special 7-inch will be available of "Hot Button Topic" by Johnny Headband and a B-side of Casimer & Casimir, the latest project by former Detroit-based chamber-pop auteur Casimer Pascal (Pas/Cal) and his nephew, Vincent.

Chad Thompson describes his band's newest album as being very "removed."

The word and its permutations come up a lot when the singer-keyboardist-producer talks about Johnny Headband's Who Cooks for You. For one thing, he's now removed in time from the album, much of which was recorded two years ago, to the week, with his brother, Keith, and drummer Robbie "RGS" Saunders.

And there's the matter of being "removed from playing" for a period leading up to the recording. Johnny Headband's debut Happiness Is Underrated came out in 2006. A year later Keith was enlisted in the Electric Six, whose demanding tour-schedule curtailed Headband's performances and recording opportunities. In July, 2010, they found a wide enough window of time with Keith home from the road and jumped through it.

But, also, the band was "removed" from "the scene" for the recording of Who Cooks for You? It was tracked in a "cabin in the woods" near rural Grayling, far enough from civilization that one of their neighbors was a bomb-testing military facility. "We were distancing it," says Chad, "from a lot of things."

Another theme in Chad's conversation when he meets us for a cup of espresso (a morning routine the former coffee drinker picked up on a recent Headband tour of the U.K. and northern Europe) is being "in that moment." 

Headband live shows are a blur of motion; the brothers throw their whole bodies into their playing, lunging or running in place or doing interpretive dances. They're theatrical as hell, but if you're in the front row, you'll see their deadeye focus, staid expressions on their sweaty faces. The music is just as ebullient as its performers, an arresting blend of danceable sensibilities: French discothèque, British trip-hop, rhythm-revved German krautrock, and funk-tinged techno-pop.

Chad can't expound upon all of that because he's probably only aware of it "in that moment." Both brothers responded to the diligence instilled through high school marching band, particularly Chad, who would go on to endure the militaristic wood-chopping of college drum corps at Michigan State.

"When you talk about this thing you've been doing since you were 6 years old, you can't just boil it down to: 'Oh, I just wanna have fun,'" he says.

The Thompson brothers, raised by an artistic father at their home up near Flint, have been collaborating, either in music or on film, nearly all their lives. "A lot of the time that fun is the pure form of what you're going for, but our goals for the impact of what we do are different than our personal daily-life things. What we want people to take away from it and feel are very important, we take it seriously." 

There isn't what he calls "long-term motivation" behind most Headband songs, because these brothers are constantly writing and experimenting (even if that means Keith's e-mailing ideas from the road). 

So what is behind the music? Chad says: "Euphoric, escapist, fun and maybe, hopefully, genuine, but also not serious ... you want people to feel that. And in that moment everyone can all experience it at the same time, if you do it right. We're very serious about that and we do have fun."

He finishes his espresso. This is a few days after Johnny Headband's first practice since returning from England. He thought he'd be too tired for it but wound up motivated by the sheer energy, talent and enthusiasm he heard and saw in Keith and RGS' playing. It let him rise above "all the extraneous things you think about when you're not playing or not in that wonderful zone of removal."

That "removal" was integral when they seized upon five consecutive days of collective free time in summer 2010. But truthfully, Chad says, much more of Cooks came together in the following winter and into spring 2011, mixing it himself from his home studio in Ferndale.

Following that, both brothers were "working like crazy," with Chad as an independent freelancer producing promotional films (motion-design and animation) and Keith following through on a couple more E6 tours and another musical side project. Last winter, after booking their European tour for May and June, they decided this July would be the best time for a local release party. 

"Time goes fast," says Chad. 

"How do you say it without sounding like the end of a cheesy movie?" He smiles when he remembers the inspiring spark of his bandmates from last week's practice. "It always makes it worth it. Those moments when you can really just ... just, they are real! There are things, musically, that are meant to be really just purely emotional." 

Jeff Milo is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]