Mike Huguenor (Classics of Love, Hard Girls, Shinobu)

Mike Huguenor is a busy man. Moonlighting in Shinobu, Hard Girls and Classics of Love it's amazing to think this man gets any sleep. . Shinobu put out their last full length Strange Spring Air on Quote Unquote last year and are putting the finishing touch on a B-sides collection. Hard Girls put out the Hello EP last year as well and are working on a split with Kudrow. Classics of Love released their debut in 2009 and are gearing up to record a new full length. Mike sat down with Tim McGowan and talked about song writing phenomena, South American tours, and made jokes about Operation Ivy and space age book reading technology.

So, Mike as of right now you are technically in three different bands. Some are more active than others, but could you kind of fill me in on what each project is up to right now?
Well, Classics of Love is nearly done with writing what will be our first full length, which means that probably within the next two to three months we will try to record it. Jesse has been talking to a few people to kind of feel out recording guys who may be of a similar mindset for the album, but nothing has really been set in stone for that as of yet.

Hard Girls is almost done with our half of a split with our friends Kudrow, which will probably be coming out on Asian Man and Quote Unquote when it is finished and Shinobu is in the process of finishing a few old recordings to release a kind of massive B-sides sort of affair on Quote Unquote. It’s somewhere between 30-40 tracks.

Holy shit, that's a lot of Shinobu.
Many of them are alternate takes of previously released songs.

Very cool. It's good see each project is keeping busy; you must be a very busy, important man.
Busy-ish. I still feel like I should be doing more.

Don't stretch yourself too thin Mike.
I can't promise anything.

Now, how about touring for each band? That seems more difficult for Shinobu, but any plans for the other two?
Touring is all on a bit of a pause at the moment. If anything really awesome crops up, I'm sure we'll do it. But right now Morgan, Max, and I are all working full time, and Jesse is a full time student. So we're kind of taking a break and playing locally until maybe the Classics album is done, or, like I said, if something awesome crops up.

Speaking of Classics. I'm sure you get this question a lot, but how is it working with Jesse Michaels? Do you feel at all intimidated working with what most people would consider a living punk rock legend?
It was very intimidating for a while. Operation Ivy is one of those few bands that I really loved when I was in middle and high school that I can still really listen to, and definitely the only one that I still hold in the same regard as I did then. But we've all become used to each other and now it’s pretty normal. It is very strange and completely unlikely, how well we seem to all fit together. It helps that none of us really have anything close to a "refined" sense of humor. Working with him is really nice. He tends to bring in ideas and we all help flesh them out, it's very fun.

That was gonna be my next question. How is the writing process between you guys?
Yeah, it’s pretty natural, I think. Jesse comes in with some ideas, we play them a bit, make suggestions, allow the songs to breathe, try them a few different ways. Some songs work, some don't, but the process is pretty intuitive and Jesse is really into the idea of everybody putting in their own parts, which is fun. I was worried that he might not be, but it is very natural. No power struggles or anything in the writing process.

That's good. Listening to Classics it kind of feels like where Common Rider left off do you feel as if there is a bigger difference between the two bands just based on members alone? That was an oddly thought up question. If you don't understand it, I understand.
People have said that at shows quite a bit, which, to be honest, surprised me at first. When I think of Common Rider, I think much more of the ska influence of the band. "Signal Signal," "Midnight Passenger." It is the sort of more thoughtful ska that I think of when I think of Common Rider.

Yes, at least the first few releases were more ska oriented, but that last album was leaning more to the punk side.
That is true, but I think Classics is heavier on the 80s punk than Common Rider. The truth is that Jesse has a style, and so that style comes up in different bands which, I think, is a very good thing, but I think there is a pretty big difference between the two bands. Hopefully I don't just think that because I'm in one of them, but I'm pretty sure that the difference is there.

It seems like it, at least to me. Do you guys get any shit from ska kids for not playing any ska songs? Or perhaps the random Operation Ivy song request?
Well, we do have one ska song as of now, so hopefully that appeases the rudies when we play it. The Operation Ivy requests have lessened a bit. We played "The Crowd" a few times and I think that sort of sated people. Now we just do Deep Purple covers.

Well that's good. Switching it up to keep "the crowd" interested. That was a terrible Operation Ivy joke. Anyway, moving on.
There were a whole string of bad Operation Ivy jokes some friends and I used to have. We had a friend we referred to as "Big Sleazy." So "Big City" got turned into "Big Sleazy" a lot of the time.

At one point a few kids in the local ska/pop punk scene where I'm from formed a joke band called Big City. They recorded these awful demos and some label in Europe wanted them to fly out there and record some songs for a comp.
That's nuts.

It is, considering they just did it to poke fun at Tim Armstrong. Speaking of Europe though, Classics toured with Mike Park in Europe how was that experience?
I had a great time, and I think everyone else did, too. It was a very sincerely positive moment for me, to be able to play somewhere far away and have people show up and to be able to see the UK for such an extended period of time. Traveling by train. It was great.

That was one of the first big tours you guys did together, correct?
Yeah, we had done a few little weekend or week long sorts of things, but that was the first real tour. Mike just suggested it, set everything up, and we did it. It was awesome. I wish Mike would do that for all my bands, all the time!

South American Shinobu tour!
That would be incredible. I actually have really wanted to go to South America. I never had been all too interested until recently. Watching the Herzog movies in Peru, reading a bunch of Machado de Assis books, and listening to the early tropicalia stuff has made me think that I would really like it, but I probably wouldn't know what I was doing at all.

It seems like such a big place for bands to tour in.
We were friends with this band the Red Dons and they did a huge Brazil tour. It sounded like it went great.

A show on an Amazon cruise seems like the only thing that would make it worth it.
Amazon.com? It would be great to play in Sao Paolo, and then finally see Amazon.com's corporate office.

Yes, to play on Amazon.com.
I think we'll just release our next album as an eBook.

Now, everyone will be forced to buy a Kindle.
Greg Kihn should do an eBook album. He could finally make another bad Kihn pun. Kihndal and Burn - by the Greg Kihn Band.

Quote Unquote can put it out, I'm sure Jeff could find the technology.
I think Jeff is more of a Nook sort of guy, but he can probably get hip to the Kihndal.

Speaking of Quote Unquote, Hard Girls put out the Hello EP last year on that label. How was that received?
Somehow, I think it was received really well. I've heard many really positive things, which, being in Shinobu, I'm not used to.

How does the writing in that band work and how did that band even come to be? I know Max and Morgan were both in Pteradon.
Pteradon and Shinobu have shared a practice space for years and been friends and reluctant lovers for even longer and right when Matt, Jon, and Bob were all moving away, Ian from Pteradon was settling down so Max, Morgan and I--the three losers left--decided to try playing together. It was a little odd at first.

How so?
Well, I was so used to hearing the way Ian played with them and I tried to sound like him for a little bit at first. I'm not sure why, exactly, but it took me a little while to figure out how to play right again. Mostly because I hadn't played with anyone new in a really long time and before Strange Spring Air, I never really jammed much with anyone besides Matt, anyway. But Max and Morgan jam their ideas a lot to develop them, so I had to get used to that, but I think it’s a very natural and fluid way of writing, and I like it a lot now.

Who writes most of the lyrics? I know you and Morgan share vocals.
For the most part whoever sings the song writes the lyrics. There have been a few times where for backups Morgan has said, "Sing this," and I've done the same to him, but mostly, if I'm singing, I wrote the lyrics, and if Morgan is singing, he wrote the lyrics.

I think it shows. At least when I listen to Hard Girls your songs remind me of Shinobu songs. There is that thoughtfulness to them and Morgan's songs are alittle looser. Like there are two different subjects. I'm not sure how to describe it.
I think that's fair.

It's certainly not a bad thing.
I really envy Morgan's writing style. It seems like it comes to him totally differently than how it comes to me and he just drops pearls a lot of the time that take some time to really sink in for me. But, we both have different styles.

How does writing happen with you? I notice, at least in Shinobu there are a lot of references to literature. "Hail, Hail the Executioner" comes to mind.
Well, that still comes up in Hard Girls songs. "Vega" is mostly about Solzhenitsyn's book Cancer Ward, which really did some damage to me when I was reading the end of it and there have been some references that are less direct. I think a lot of my writing process has been a process of learning to write, but a lot of the time I will hear a word or phrase, or think of a word or phrase, and, this sounds lame, but, the poetry of the phrase kind of strikes me and I spend some time thinking about how to phrase my words to express that feeling. "Strange Carafe" for me was a moment totally like that. The word "carafe" just really lodged itself in my head and I spent a lot of time thinking about it.

I have moments like this with words or phrases and will think about them throughout the day at like work.
I know what you mean.

Band names too.
Yeah, definitely. Sometimes really commonplace band names, too, I'll look at and notice the poetry of the language.

Yes, it is an odd occurrence that happens often.
It’s a very mysterious feeling.

We should get some scientists on this.
But it grips you, from time to time, and I think it’s fascinating.

Do you think that's where you get your best work from?
I think so. "Cetacean History" is the most proud I've ever been of Shinobu. I remember reading those two words and just being floored by them next to each other. It sounds dumb, but mysterious is the only word I can think of that really hits on the feeling it gives me when I notice these things.

I just looked up cetacean. They are whales?
Yeah, it’s the class or phylum or something that whales and dolphins fall into, but the look of the word is just so aesthetically arresting and trying to make sense of the meaning conjoined with the sound and the look of the word. It just has a lot of power.

It is rather confusing when you think about it.
It kind of sucks because I'm perpetually mush mouthed and confused when I'm speaking, but I really love words and language, and I really think that there is beauty and power in them.

So basically, you are writing songs based solely on the words you use? How they move you inside your mind?
More recently, yes, a lot of the time.

That's awesome!
Most of the last Shinobu album I was just writing down ideas in this little pocket notebook I would carry around with me and so I would read a phrase or hear a word or think of some combination, and I would pull it out and jot it down. And a lot of those songs came from those jottings, kind of jumbled up and congealed.

So, that record was really that organic?
There were two or three songs that were written beforehand, but for most of them we would set up the recording equipment, think of an idea, jam on it until it became a song, and then record it. Then I would go to the notebook and get some ideas, and then start writing out a more fleshed out idea and sometimes it would take a day or two after the music was done. Other times I would have the lyrics in an hour or so and then we would record it and that was the song.

How long did it take for you guys to record Strange Spring Air?
I don't totally remember now, but not very long though, a month or so probably. Just coming in to the practice space when we could and trying to get something recorded each time. I came back to do and redo vocals a lot, especially since a lot of the time the lyrics weren't totally finished.

Well, I think last time I talked to you at Fest 8 you mentioned that record might not have even come out. How did that feel after doing all that work?
It’s one of those things where you record it and work on it because you really want to and because you really think that it is some version of what good is to you. Even if it never got released, the process was really cathartic, and I've learned a lot about how to write from it, but I'm definitely glad it came out. I'm really proud of it. "Amor Fati," I wish we could go back and do again, but the rest I really love.

How did "the kids" react?
Shinobu isn't very good at getting people to react to us. People seem preternaturally able to ignore us, which is fine, I suppose, but the handful of people who told me they listened to it all were really positive. If only a few people like it a lot, that's better than lots of people thinking its pretty okay.

I remember one time in Jacksonville I was talking to Jon from Bomb the Music Industry! about how he played drums with you guys at Fest 7 and he was telling me how much of an honor it was to be playing with this great band that no one really appreciates.
Yeah, he totally did. He was amazing. We practiced once with Jon, the day before that tour and he was better than I was for that tour. He is incredible and it was so much fun playing with him.

He did pretty damn good.
It was totally an honor to have him as part of the band.

That was one of the best performances I saw all weekend.

Given, you guys were one of the only bands I was actually excited for. I paid 60 bucks for you guys!
We can paypal you the money back whenever you want.

Please don't.
I think Strange Spring Air has made almost 60 bucks by now.