Motor City madness 

The High Strung takes cheerful eccentricity to new dimensions

Plenty of Detroit artists, including Bob Seger, Hank Ballard and George Clinton, have found their way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And while Motor City natives Josh Malerman, Chad Stocker and Derek Berk may not be among them, they did come close.

Under cover of darkness, the three musicians, collectively known as the High Strung, drove their Chevy van up the museum's steps and left it at the front door. Inside the donated artifact was a note drolly extolling the virtues of rock 'n roll and of the vehicle that had seen them through 500 shows and 300,000 miles.

"It was 2 in the morning, and we even had a getaway van; it was a great, great moment," says singer/songwriter/guitarist Malerman, who'd abandoned the initial idea of crashing it through the building's glass façade. "We got a message from a police officer the next day saying he had to take care of our vehicle, and he just wanted us to know it was hilarious and not to worry about it."

That was back in 2004. Ironically enough, the High Strung ended up releasing its 2007 album, Get the Guests, on an indie upstart called Park the Van. Coincidence? Could the band have somehow willed the label into existence?

Malerman says it's possible: "You know what? Next time we see the label head, I'll see if he's an illusion. I'll check behind him and underneath him."

The High Strung is not, as you may have guessed, the most serious band on the planet, even though its newly released Ode to the Inverse of the Dude album does have its sad and beautiful moments. Comparisons to the Kinks and the Flaming Lips still abound (and not without reason), but Malerman has other ideas.

"Two bands that I would love to be compared to — and I know that we're never gonna be — are the Minutemen and the Violent Femmes," he says, explaining how each band featured prominent bass leads and avoided your average power trio's "blues-based guitar-riffin' dude."

Malerman's voice also bears a resemblance to Gordon Gano's, although he has to admit that, unlike the Violent Femmes frontman, he's not a Christian who collects comic books.

"But I am a Jew who buys comic books," he adds hopefully. "Only a Jew could have written [a song like] 'Guilt Is How I'm Built.'"

There are other odd things about the High Strung: Thanks to a librarian friend's suggestion, they tour libraries as well as clubs. Malerman says they'll be hitting a dozen of them this time out, in a van that's even more reliable than its predecessor. ("The good news about this van is that it shifts gears.")

But perhaps the oddest thing about the High Strung, at least musically, is the new album's "panoramic" arrangements. There's even a track, "Bad With My Hands," that evokes the infamous Phil Spector.

"It does have that 'Wall of Sound' thing," says Malerman, who blames it on the album's producer. "We don't love the idea of aping Phil Spector; I feel like he's a really easy guy to mimic, or at least want to mimic. All you need is a bunch of booze, a wig, a gun and a young woman."

Purchase: Ode to the Inverse of the DudeThe High Strung - Ode to the Inverse of the Dude



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