New York City is a weird place. Every few months, a band seems to appear from out of thin air, and is immediately crowned kings or queens of a scene that, in all honesty, may not even exist anywhere but in the minds of a few writers. For most, though, the reality of being a band in New York involves sticking with it for years, plodding along, playing the same clubs over and over again, and working day-jobs to support what is sadly only a hobby. For some of those bands, it pays off. Heston Rifle is an instrumental rock band made up of folks who are as adept at rocking the joint as they are at smoothing things out.
The L Magazine: Tell us a little bit about how the band came together. How long have you been doing this?
Jerry Chierchio: Originally the band was comprised of two bass players (one of them being myself), guitarist (Bill), and drummer (Erik). Around the same time that the other bass player decided to run off with my ex-girlfriend, we happened upon Vicki, our violinist. We had initially intended to use her in a couple of songs, but she was so charming that she became a permanent fixture in the band. Brian appeared one day at our practice space (thinking we had invited him to join the band) and we haven’t been able to get rid of him since. This whole evolution began in 1997.
The L: You guys have had a series of successful tours in Canada, playing with high profile acts including the Arcade Fire. How does a band break into such a market, and what future plans do you guys have with regards to America’s northern friends?
JC: The first time we played in Canada was on our first disastrous DIY tour. After about two weeks of playing at atrocious venues, the van constantly breaking down, and Vicki smashing one of the windows, we wandered into Hamilton, Ontario for one of the last shows. This was the saving grace of the tour from hell. Luckily for us, the kids in Canada go crazy for instrumental post-rock. Since then we’ve been back up to play with such bands as the Arcade Fire and the Constantines, and now we’re in the midst of booking a Canadian tour around Pop Montreal.
The L: What I really meant with that last question was, “Seriously, how fucking awesome is Rush? Are you guys, like, Rush famous up there?”
JC: I’m a Yes man, myself.
The L: One of the defining characteristics of your music is the presence of the violin. How did that become such an important part of the band’s sound, and how difficult is it write music into which such a vibrant sounding instrument can be so seamlessly mixed with the rest of the band?
JC: In my view, instrumental music needs something to fill the vocal-less void... something that stands out like Damon Che’s drums in Don Caballero. It’s not difficult at all to mix the violin pieces into the songs, in general, because there are really no egos in the band. In other words, the violin is as important as every other instrument.
The L: Your live shows tend to be a chaotic mix of subtleties and explosively jarring rock ‘n’ roll moments. I hear the band has sustained their fair share of injuries on stage. Care to give us the laundry list?
JC: At about every other show, my fingers bleed (and Bill’s occasionally). Vicki almost always takes a bruising on stage from the rest of us constantly bouncing into her. In a feat of drunken acrobatics, Brian tried to stand on top of the bass drum and didn’t quite make it, smashing his nose. I had the bright idea, during one particularly drunken show, to try to swing my bass around my back. I was successful three times, but I paid the price on the fourth and wound up with a five-inch welt on my neck. The instruments take quite the nightly beating. I personally have broken the necks of two of my Rickenbackers.
The L: Since your debut, 20 Strings, you guys have come a very long way. Describe the lengthy recording process behind What to do at Time of Accident... And while we’re at it could you tell us what the hell the title means?
JC: The title came about during a tedious mixing session. We had just received the new insurance card for the band van, and reading material was scarce, so I read the back of the card. On it was a list of things you should do when you’re in a car accident. And so it goes. The quality of the recording that we wanted required us to cash in favors, and to sneak in to some of the best studios in NYC after business hours. This created a schizophrenic recording schedule, which took three years to complete.
The L: What bands have been most influential in the development of your sound?
JC: Some of our influences have been A Minor Forrest, Polvo, Shellac, Mogwai and godspeed. If you want further elaboration, you’ll have to come see us to determine for yourself.
The L: I wanted this question to be: “One of the things I’ve noticed is that you guys always seem to put the vocals really low in the mix. Why is that? Are you secretly preaching hatred and intolerance?” I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have been nearly as funny as I wanted it to be, though. Answer if you wish.
JC: No. Quite the opposite. The lyrics that you can’t hear are about gummi bears and kittens.
The L: Obviously, one of the most difficult things about being in a band around here is that rent’s incredibly expensive, and very few people can afford to live without full-time jobs. What do you guys do to pay the bills?
JC: Thankfully, we all have pretty flexible full-time jobs, so it tends to be a non-issue.