If there's a typical story that most touring punk-rock bands share nowadays, it goes like this: A few disenfranchised punks meet each other at some crumby kitchen they're stuck working in, or maybe a college art class. They play some local shows, make a pact to drop all the crap-paying jobs and set sail on the open road in an old Econoline beater with no AC, and play shows at any skuzzy venue or basement that will have them. But for better or worse, it eventually putters out owing to lack of funds or road burnout — often both. The punk trade doesn't lend itself to continuity and stability. It's a shame: How many good albums fall victim to the cycle before they are ever born?
Fortunately, there's the Humanoids. Its five members have all been in dozens of bands before. They have spent too many nights at crappy diners and squatter punk houses, and they know how to appreciate a little balance in life. If that means clocking forty-plus hours at a commercial insurance agency and saving your vacation to go on a weeklong support tour opening for some of today's most notable American punk bands, so be it. Too many bands become so entrenched in what's "expected" of them that they wind up doing the very thing they were trying to avoid in the first place: playing by the Rules.
Five years into its career, the band — comprising Shaun Morissey (drums), Ryan Zimmerman (bass), Greg Stinson and Bryan Clarkson, (guitars) and Tim Clarkson (vocals) — is steadily gaining steam and seeing a return on its slow-play approach. It's booked for a week on the highly anticipated punk-rock package tour featuring Off With Their Heads (Minneapolis), Riverboat Gamblers (Denton) and Dead to Me (San Francisco). The tour found them sweating it out in front of some of the largest crowds they have played for, with stops in Kansas City, Minneapolis, Chicago, Madison and, finally, a homecoming gig when the tour visits the Firebird on July 24.
Most of these towns are hardly uncharted territories, though. The band has visited a few of these cities multiple times already, especially Minneapolis and Chicago, where it has built a solid core of fans — fellow artists and label folk alike. A few years ago, I was interviewing the ever-notorious Paddy Costello of Minnesota's famed Dillinger Four. Costello was still drunk from the night before, hanging on a balcony in Toronto in between gigs with NOFX. As I was wrapping up our conversation, Paddy did something that caught me off-guard: He turned the tables and started interrogating me. "So you're from St. Louis? What do you know about the Humanoids? Dude, they are my favorite fucking band." Such is the excitement the Humanoids has slowly built over the last half-decade.
And Costello isn't the only card-carrying member of the Humanoids Fan Club-Twin Cities Chapter. The band's Year of the Snake seven-inch, released in 2009, was pressed under the seal of Minneapolis' Rock Bottom Records. Label head Phil Schwarz remembers exactly what he liked upon first hearing them while on the road with Off With Their Heads in 2007: "I was pretty blown away by them. In general, I am not really into bands that get labeled 'pop-punk,' so I was pretty skeptical.... But that show [with the Humanoids] was a breath of fresh air. They are a really physical live band, which blew my mind considering they fall more on the melodic side of the punk and hardcore spectrum. I felt, and still feel, their energy rivals most hardcore bands I've seen."
Like so many other fans the band attracts, Schwarz picked up on the eclectic influences that have obviously inspired the band's sound. "It's easier for me to relate to the people that have a diverse taste in punk and hardcore, and these fellas knew their shit. From doing covers of stuff like Naked Raygun, Archers of Loaf, the Wipers, Avail and Dag Nasty to their Crass T-shirt design...We were just on the same wavelength," Schwarz recalls.
The Humanoids is now ready to release its first proper full-length, recorded locally under the attentive ears of Brian Scheffer at Firebrand Recording. The self-titled album serves as the best representation of the band's high-energy live show — partly thanks to the flexibility of the recording sessions. "More than anything, we really just like to hang out [at Firebrand] a lot," confesses Zimmerman with a laugh. "We love being able to mess around and say, 'Hey, Brian. How about we go ahead and add a fifth guitar track on this one?' And he's always super cool with what we want to do."
The new album finds the Humanoids building on its already melodic, pop-core sound. The interplay between the two guitars — Stinson's melodic riffage and Bryan Clarkson's gliding octaves — takes on a life of its own throughout the album. Angular guitar licks surfing through tuneful hardcore chugging rarely sounds as seamless as it does on "Bad Breeze." It's not easy to make catchy songs when the rhythm section is banging at such flooring tempos and bottomed-out low ends, but Morissey and Zimmerman make it happen throughout the album, especially on "Recollection Hour," the opening track. And it's no cinch to scream with harmonious hardcore vitriol without running the risk of coming off contrived and obligatory. Tim manages to pull it off though, offering his heartfelt sear with MicroMachine Man-paced delivery.
The budding national interest hasn't stopped with Rock Bottom. Just last year, after wrapping up the recording, the band caught the interest of veteran punk guru Vinnie Fiorello of Gainesville, Florida, founder of Paper + Plastick Records and drummer of ska-punk stalwarts Less Than Jake. After casually trading e-mails with Fiorello, the band met up with him at a Less Than Jake show at Pop's last spring. What started as an innocent booze session on the balcony after the show quickly turned into and all-night bender on LTJ's tour bus. As the night went on and bottles emptied, Fiorello mentioned the possibility of him releasing the new album. "Vinnie doesn't actually 'sign' bands. He pours them shots," quips Tim.
Never one to take the traditional route, the Humanoids will release its new album for free on FreePunkMusic.org, a soon-to-be-launched incubator site for Fiorello's Paper + Plastick. Official hard copies of the album will be released eventually.
What's next for the Humanoids is anyone's guess. But whatever the band does, it will do on its own terms. Don't expect the band to set aside months of slaving away on the road to support the new album in hopes of conquering the world. These dudes know better than to get ahead of themselves. Tim hits the nail on the head: "I really do think that it's important for us to acknowledge what we have already accomplished up to this point," he says. "Especially when you weigh that against all the things we are tied to here in St. Louis."