Local Indie Rockers Hiram-Maxim Return With a Noisy New Album

click to enlarge Local Indie Rockers Hiram-Maxim Return With a Noisy New Album
Bryon Miller
A local event that pairs together local musicians from an array of different bands, the Lottery League has generated a slew of bands since its inception a few years ago. Few acts have stuck like Hiram-Maxim, the indie noise band that releases its second album, Ghosts, next week.

Band members didn't know much about each other before they assembled for the first practice in 2014 and on the spot decided to play “dark post-punk music.”

“Me and [guitarist] Dave [Taha] were pretty good friends before Lottery League, but I didn’t know [keyboardist] Lisa [Miralia] or [drummer] John [Panza] at all,” says singer Fred Gunn one afternoon from Loop, the Tremont coffeehouse and record store where he and Taha have met up for this interview. The band plays a record release show on Friday, April 14, at Now That's Class.

“We went to John’s practice spot and plugged in," Gunn says of the first release. "We had researched each other. I checked out John and Lisa to see what they were about. I added up the parts in my head and wanted to go dark with some post-punk thrown in there. That was what we wanted to aim for. We just jammed for 15 minutes and looked around the room and knew it would work.”

“It was totally free form,” says Taha.

Recorded and mixed by John Delzoppo at Negative Space in Cleveland and mastered by Chris Keffer at Magnetic North, the band's 2014 self-titled debut, the first release to come out on Aqualamb Records, the imprint run by graphic designers Eric Palmerlee and Johnathan Swafford, mixes elements of noise, post-rock and punk. In lieu of standard album packaging, Aqualamb's releases take the form of printed, bound, 100-page books. Cleveland-based graphic designer Ron Kretsch provided the artwork for the debut, and the book also includes a download code for the music.

For its new album, Ghosts, the band hooked up with producer Martin Bisi (Swans, Sonic Youth) and recorded at his BC Studio in New York. The album includes two unreleased tracks the band cut with Delzoppo; Bisi recorded the rest of the album at his studio.

“Martin had come to see the [local indie rock band] Filmstrip in New York, and I told him about Hiram-Maxim because I thought he might be interested in the group,” says Taha. “I sent him some tracks, and he messaged me that day that he loved the music.”

With Bisi on board as a producer, the band decided to take a slightly different approach.

“This album is more aggressive vocally and a more brutal record,” says Gunn. “I’m a little angrier. There’s a lot of emotion in the lyrics.”

The press release for the album declares that Gunn's lyrics address "personal suffering and state-sponsored acts of oppression." The album's title track even references the Tamir Rice shooting.

“Our practice space is a stone’s throw away from where that shooting took place,” says Taha. “The song captures that turmoil. I’m really inspired by it. Before, Fred could have been barking his lyrics out in Spanish because it was just a jam, and it was organic, but now there are distinctive channels of energy.”

Gunn agrees.

“There is more structure to the songs on this album,” he says. “This is a far better record than the first one and shows how we’ve evolved.”

Guest guitarist Oliver Ackermann of the indie rock act A Place to Bury Strangers adds meaty, feedback-ridden guitar riffs to tunes such as "Behind the Blindfold" and the Sonic Youth-like title track.

“He came in and unloaded all this gear and listens to what we’ve recorded and goes downstairs and rips through them right away and nails them," says Gunn when asked about Ackermann's contributions. "After Oliver recorded his part, Martin ran down, and he told us he didn’t know what we were thinking when we told him that we wanted Oliver to play on the song. But he was shocked. He said, ‘Somehow, he found the space in the song.’”

The group also recorded two 15-minute sessions with Ackermann, and a portion of one of them became “Interlude,” one of the tracks on Ghosts.

“Burn” comes off as such a powerful tune, especially as it escalates into the mess of glitch-y electronics and chanted vocals.

“The song is more about frustration with everything around you,” says Gunn, who adds that Bisi works on an old Mac computer with an outdated version of ProTools and uses the same mixing board that was used on David Bowie’s “Young Americans.” “If you listen to it on headphones, the panning is incredible. The music just swirls around you. That’s the B.C. touch right there.”

The album will be issued on vinyl printed locally at Gotta Groove Records, and, as was the case with band's debut, a 100-page book will accompany the digital release.

"It’s Aqualamb’s signature. In lieu of a CD, the label puts out a book that’s something to own and have in an age when no one buys CDs," says Gunn. "It’s really clever."

Palmerlee handled the art direction, and the book includes photos from Gunn along with photos from locals Bryon Miller and Lauren Voss. Lyrics will be displayed with redacted text.

Initially, Lottery League organizers intended to release a compilation after each event, but that hasn't consistently happened, and many of the group's haven't stuck around long to record and tour. Still, Taha says it's been liberating to play music that doesn't have to adhere to any genres, something that Lottery League encourages.

"There are two ways to play guitar — rhythm and lead — and I've found this other weird other space," he says. "It's cool to explore that realm with this band. I would have never done that on my own."

Gunn admits he didn't initially think the collaboration would have such staying power.

"We thought we'd sign up for something we'd do for a few months and a few years later, we're putting out our second album," he says. "It's been really fun. For me, I was in this mode of thinking that I tried music, and it didn't work. But this band has been like the universe saying, 'You're not done yet. Don't give up.'"

Hiram-Maxim, Deche, Ex-Astronaut, 9 p.m. Friday, April 14, Now That’s Class, 11213 Detroit Ave., 216-221-8576. Tickets: $5, nowthatsclass.net.

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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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