Cleveland's Hiram-Maxim To Play Record Release Party at No Class

Group once again recorded with famed producer Martin Bisi

click to enlarge Hiram-Maxim. - Courtesy of Hiram-Maxim
Courtesy of Hiram-Maxim
Hiram-Maxim singer-guitarist Dave Taha admits he’s surprised that the local industrial/indie rock band has lasted as long as it has. After all, the group, which upon forming also included drummer John Panza, singer Fred Gunn and keyboardist Lisa Miralia (since replaced by multi-instrumentalist Balmer) was formed on a whim. It came together for the Lottery League, the festival that randomly places Cleveland musicians in bands with one another, in 2013.

Prior to that, members didn’t really know one another at all.

“I had done a Lottery League or two before that and since, and nothing has stuck like Hiram has stuck,” says Taha via phone. Hiram-Maxim plays a record release party with Orphaned and GRVE on Feb. 25 at No Class. “I think it’s a testament to our ability to gel creatively and to find the light in the darkness and seek out new musical avenues and pathways. It’s been a blessing to work with these cats as long as I have.”

Released on Aqualamb Records, the imprint run by graphic designers Eric Palmerlee and Johnathan Swafford, the group’s 2015 self-titled debut came with a printed, bound, 100-page book designed by local graphic designer Ron Kretsch. Local pressing plant Gotta Groove provided the guys with the vinyl versions of the disc. It took the band only four days to record the LP.

“John Panza was in a band called HILO with Johnathan Swafford, who is the head of the label, and it went from there,” Taha says when asked about how the band signed with Aqualamb. “He started the label up, and he caught wind of what we were doing. He liked it, and it was serendipitous.”

Speaking of serendipity, Taha formed a friendship with underground producer Martin Bisi by happenstance. A few years back, Taha’s band Filmstrip opened for Bisi’s band at the Grog Shop. Acknowledging that Bisi, who’s worked on albums by the likes of Sonic Youth, John Zorn and Swans, is a “fucking legend,” he asked if he’d produce a Filmstrip album. Bisi turned him down. But when he heard a Hiram-Maxim demo, he expressed a desire to work with the group and wound up producing the band’s second record.

He's worked with the band ever since.

“It’s been an organic relationship,” says Taha of working with Bisi, who produced the band’s forthcoming album. “He fleshes out the whole thing. He’s a wizard. It’s so organic and easy. He turns on the button and gets out of the way. He lets us do our process. He’s recorded some amazing albums. It’s an honor and really humbling to work with him.”

Last year’s EP, Hive Mind, features the addition of keyboardist Balmer and represents a shift in the band’s sound.

“Lisa [Miralia] left the band toward the end of COVID when we were getting ready to get back in the swing of things,” says Taha. “We didn’t see eye-to-eye on the level of involvement in the public sphere and had to move on. I knew Balmer would be good for what we were doing. I knew I could rely on Balmer, and we worked together in the past. I knew they were on the level, and we gelled. We hit the ground running and learned old songs immediately and started writing songs right away and we wrote one of the new songs on the new album the first weekend we got together.”

The EP notably included a cover of David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes.”

“Actually, when Bowie died, we had a show booked at the Beachland just three or four days later, and we learned the song on the fly as a tribute to him,” says Taha. “He’s such a Renaissance man and the quintessential artist’s artist. That was the one we landed on. It really resonated. I think we only rehearsed it two or three times. Now, it’s been a go-to cover for us. There was a cover series through Aqualamb, and that was the one we wanted to do.”

With songs such as "Alpha," a Joy Division-like tune distinguished by gurgling synths and dissonant guitars, and "Time Lost Time," a song with a Bauhaus-like vibe, the new album, Colder,  shows how the band has expanded its sound.

“With the addition of Balmer, we’re going in a much different direction,” says Taha. “When we played a couple of newer tunes at the [local venue] Little Rose Tavern recently, I was shocked to see people dancing instead of the usual morose head-bopping. I think the core synthesis of the band is there, but Balmer brings a lot more vitality in terms of the live performance. We’re all running around stage together, and it feels more like a live band instead of a studio project. It just feels organic, and it’s really great to be able to take off in these new directions and have ideas about new songs in ways that didn’t really occur to us before.”

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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