A deafening doorbell interrupts our interview. It is a homeless man, selling a hood ornament. Er, it’s not really a hood ornament, but rather an anomalous plastic winged figurine that looks more like it belongs on a bowling trophy or atop a Christmas tree than a car hood. John Szymanski, organist/vocalist of the Hentchmen, says to the transient salesman, “No thanks, I already have one. Good luck selling it though, man.” And with a slightly uncomfortable chuckle, we walk back into his Hamtramck kitchen and begin to forget about the visitor. We talk about our rock ’n’ roll, our Sonics and Mummies and the photogenic babe factor of the Hentchmen’s guitarist, Tim Purrier.
So … yeah, yeah, yeah, the Hentchmen met in high school. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they got their start in (their own words) “a bad ska band.” And yeah, yeah, yeah, they are those guys who throw all of the stellar 3 a.m. parties. But what’s really the deal? What is going on here? Why have three boys who are now men done this rock ’n’ roll thing for 10 long years? And why haven’t they stopped?
For beginners, they are great friends. “I look forward to practice, because I get to hang out with my best friends,” says Szymanski. “We talk on the phone every day.” It is almost rhythmic, the way they look to each other as they respond to my questions.
“I was thinking to myself recently, that I am really lucky to be in a band with such good musicians. … it makes me look so much better,” says drummer Mike Latulippe with a reticent smile. It is about songcraft nowadays and that has made an obvious difference.
A proud part of the musical groundlings of Detroit garage rock, the Hentchmen are an important facet in the flawed diamond. Awake for the dawn and dusk of rooms such as the Gold Dollar, these guys, without meaning to, have become a “name,” a moniker, even.
When it comes to Detroit rock, the Hentchmen have experienced the duplicity of the second coming and of the predecessors, which may or may not be a tough spot to be in. Obvious influences to the wobbly legged versions of bands like the White Stripes, the Wildbunch (now the Electric Six) and the Sights, but descendants of the Grande Ballroom, MC5 and the Flaming Groovies scene, they do not hold claim to the chalice that reads “leader,” but they can’t be denied the badge that honors a carrying-on of Detroit salutations. Romantic lovers and unapologetic fanatics, they are newer nuts on rusty bolts, and they have made their white-belted presences known. They’ve transcended time. “We’re not even music geeks, we’re rock geeks,” says Szymanski.
Asked what makes a song great, Purrier says “ I don’t think you can analyze it.” He isn’t thinking about a right or wrong answer. And this attitude, that stickiness to the proverbial gun, that is one of the elements that make the Hentchmen a band that has garnered much respect in this town. It really is all about the music. And the one thing that will get on their nerves immediately, is bravado. They’ve heard it, man — don’t even bother. Why else do it for this long? For money? Fame? To get laid? Not likely.
A few years back, the band experienced a lull, and urban legend being what it is, the news of a breakup ensued. The breakup never really happened … not in the true sense of the word, anyway. Possibly catapulted by a conversation or two with Moms and the societal pressure-itch to “grow up,” they had some things to work out. But after a few months hiatus that funneled a series of bad job experiences and a longing for performance right back into their little Hamtramck practice space, they emerged from their musical sabbatical refreshed and ready to do it for real, together.
They are all on the same page now and the effort that went into making their new album is the proof. Produced by Grammy-nominated producer Al Sutton (Woodshed Studios) and Detroit legend Jim Diamond (Ghetto Recordings), the new Hentch album, Three Times Infinity, is a little more polished than their earlier works. With the swipe of a slightly heavier production hand, they have managed to top themselves. Still sly with Hentchmen personality but sophisticated with evolution, the time is now.
There is something refreshing about being in the presence of people like this. They are on each other’s side. In fact, the ideal interview would have been to be a fly on the wall as opposed to a contrived reporter intruding with her quest to discover the secrets of the Hentch family success. Simply put, things are as they should be with this threesome; and not unlike that cold, homeless hood ornament salesman, they are doing what they have to do — and it looks like things are gonna be all right.
Catch ’em before they’re huge. See the Halloween debut of their new video as the Hentchmen play Oct. 31 at the Magic Stick (4120 Woodward, Detroit, call 313-833-9700 for details) with special guests Ten High.Eve Doster is the Metro Times listings editor. E-mail [email protected]
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