Until one year ago, the three members of the Hard Lessons were just faces in the crowd.
Flashback to April 2003. Location: Michigan State University. The Hard Lessons (together for about a week) are about to play their first gig. It’s MSU’s annual Battle of the Bands. Even though the trio has rehearsed a grand total of three times, they leave the contest with an impressive second place finish.
Three practices? Second place? Well, either the competition in East Lansing that day was lousy as hell or this band was about to discover that they have an incredible knack for beating the odds.
Take their inception, for example.
It all began with a serendipitous trip to a music store. Augustino Visocchi and girlfriend Korin Cox decided to spend the afternoon guitar-shopping. While Visocchi found himself preoccupied in a corner jamming out on a coveted new six-string, Cox decided to pass the time by hamming around on some keyboards. As it turned out, she could play by ear.
To hear Visocchi explain it, the moment was kismet. “I remember looking up and seeing that it was her playing the piano and I was like ‘when did this happen?’”
Already aware that Cox had a beautiful singing voice, the next step seemed inevitable. Start a band.
Cox, a kittenish redhead, was already ahead of the game musically. Growing up in an incredibly musical household (her parents were barbershop quartet singers), her pre-existing grasp of harmony and meter made her the near-perfect backup singer. With her creamy vocals and Brighton-esque Mod mien, two-thirds of the Hard Lessons were born.
“I had been looking for a drummer for a while,” says Visocchi, “Then one night at a show I ran into Christophe…he gave me his card. When I got home, I realized that he wrote the word ‘drummer’ on it.”
Insert Christophe Zajack-Denek, drummer.
“It’s all about attitude,” says Zajack-Denek of being in the band, “and they (Visocchi and Cox) really do have the right kind of attitude.”
When asked why he was drawn to drumming as opposed the guitar, Zajack-Denek replies frankly, “It’s my stature ... my hands are small.”
Zajack-Denek, who stands about three and half feet tall, says of his diminutive size, “It’s only a road block if you let it be one.”
“Sometimes when I am in clubs, I can tell that people are looking at me like, ‘What’s he doing here?’” says Zajack-Denek. “But once they talk to me, they realize I am alright.”
There’s no doubt that once they hear his chops, his height is no longer an issue either.
Flash forward to present: It has been approximately one year since the Hard Lessons played their first note together, and incredibly, they have literally accomplished and/or exceeded everything they set out to do.
“When we first started, we set these goals for ourselves, “ says Visocchi. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to play with some of our favorite bands? Wouldn’t it be cool to play at the Lager House or the Magic Stick? If we could only put out our music on vinyl.”
One year later, they can proudly state that they have shared the stage and collaborated with the folks who they once (and still) revered.
Their latest 7-inch release, Feedback Loop, produced by ubiquitous Detroit rocker Zach Shipps (Atomic Numbers, Nice Device, Electric Six), is a skronked-out, keyboard-laden tribute to Detroit rock (think the Hentchmen meets Rocket 455). Pressed on both blue and white vinyl, the record is selling relatively well.
So how does this happen? How does an out-of-town threesome of twenty-something college kids consummate their rock ’n’ roll dream within a matter of months? Are they just lucky bastards? They must have connections, right? Wrong. They are sweet kids with humble attitudes and genuine enthusiasm. And oh yeah … they write and perform chaotic rock songs and sweltering ballads, like it’s the latest rage.
On stage, Visocchi is an animal. Wielding his guitar like a medieval knight — his energy is as contagious as any this town has seen in a while.
A couple weeks ago, Visocchi celebrated his 23rd birthday by playing a show with garage scene godheads the Dirtbombs and the Sights. He recalls fondly that just a few years ago he was too young to even get in to see these bands. By the photographic evidence of the birthday bash and Visocchi’s humility in recalling it, this band just might have gotten it right.
Rock ’n’ roll isn’t dead yet and, thankfully, the Hard Lessons are just the refresher course we needed.
See the Hard Lessons perform at the Under My Heels showcase at the Magic Bag (22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale) with Nice Device, the Sirens, Los Coronados and the Avatars. Call 248-544-3030 for info. Saturday, May 8; doors at 8 p.m.Eve Doster is the listings editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].