Big Fun; An interview with Robert Malta and Matt Norelli of HUGElarge

(Photo by David Gross)
HUGElarge: 2 dapper gents + 1 cocktail drum + 1 Teisco guitar plugged into a 12 watt amplifier = a great self-titled debut album. Guitarist/vocalist Robert Malta (Pawpawblowtorch) and drummer Matt Norelli (American Music Club) recorded fifteen raucous rave-ups of garage, punk and pop gems and one original number at Bayview Studios and Jackalope Studios in Northern California, engineered and mixed by Karl Derfler (Tom Waits, Roky Erickson…) HUGElarge was released September 29 by HWY 61 Records via special high-quality vinyl album collector’s edition, digital download, CD and streaming services.
HUGElarge features underground classics by the Sonics, Stooges, Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers, and Standells among others rendered in the band’s blistering “two-man power trio” style, an appropriately raw documentation of the live shows that’ve delighted Sonoma County residents since 2006.
Ghettoblaster caught up with Malta and Norelli to discuss the band and this is what they said.
What is it about HUGElarge that makes the group so fun for you? 
Matt Norelli: HUGElarge=fun. We began HUGElarge as a vehicle for Robert, me, and our wives, Betsy and Sosi, to get together once a week socially. Robert and I would go downstairs with my two boxers and play music and then we would all sit down for dinner afterward. Bobby and I didn’t care if we mangled the songs too horribly. Sometimes we were laughing at our version of a song so hard we couldn’t stop. We also did not envision playing to an audience in the early days.
As it turns out we did wind up playing to audiences but nothing changed about our attitude, except that now the songs we do perform are the ones we feel we do not butcher too badly.
We are at a point in our lives where if we are not having fun playing music then what is the point, really?
Robert Malta: HUGElarge is as much a social thing as a music thing.  We get together and play music to entertain ourselves and have lots of laughs.  I never learned but a few guitar chords so I play in open tunings which can be challenging and that keeps it interesting to me.
How did you choose the songs to give the HUGElarge treatment to?  
RM: Well first of all, I would have to be able to play it and then we choose songs that both of us really like or thought sounded good, which in turn make it fun to play.  In the case of “When The Levee Breaks” which isn’t on this record,  but we sometimes play live, well that came about because Matt was adjusting the upside down kick pedal on his cocktail drum one night and started playing that intro and my mouth fell open and we both started laughing because it was that sound on a small cocktail drum kit.
MN: Covers are what we started playing from the start. When you just want to get together and play music and socialize, it just comes naturally to try your hand at songs you already know or think you know.
Once we had our own take on these songs we thought it would be fun to record them and give them to friends as party favors or at shows.
We had some of this album already recorded with Karl from our early days. You can distinguish these earlier recordings easily from the drum sound. I had an original Slingerland cocktail drum set and the snare and bass drum are integrated. The snare on those songs is very deep and not as snappy as the later songs.
We are extremely fortunate to have Karl as a friend, producer and engineer. We would not have considered recording these songs originally if it had not been for Karl and his willingness to go along with our shenanigans.
What, in your opinion, makes a good cover song? 
RM: I think we pick songs to cover that we like to listen too.  Songs that turned us on when we first heard them.
MN: It has to be a song we both like, we can both play, and we can make it work with only two players.
Sometimes a keyboard or horn will carry a key part of the song along and we won’t realize until after we have tried it a few times and it doesn’t click. The we just ditch it and try another one.
Which of these covers is your favorite or comes from a band that is most influential to you?
MN: Favorite songs we have done include “Ramones” by Motorhead and “Next in Line” by the Kinks.
The Ramones are definitely one of those bands that have left their mark on our style as a band. Simple, to the point, and the whole greater than the sum of it’ parts. Rolling Stones as well.
RM: The answer to this question changes from moment to moment depending on what mood I’m in.
Did Karl Derfler give any advice on the arrangements for these?
RM: No, we brought the songs fully arranged to him.  Karl has been a friend for many years and he has always been part of HUGElarge.  He is the “HUGE’ in HUGELarge and has recorded and mixed everything we have ever recorded.  Again, it’s a social thing, a chance to hang out together.
MN: Karl helped us tremendously with sound and where and when to add the few overdubs we included. the basic arrangements we had stayed the same.
Can you tell us about the HUGElarge pilsner?
RM: We’re are really proud to have a beer brewed and named after us  by Vinnie Cilurzo from the Russian River Brewery.  After all, Vinnie is a renowned beer maker.  At first we thought we might just stop playing, because really, how many bands have had a beer named after them? We felt we reached the pinnacle.
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