Stomping Grounds: Fred Gunn (Hiram-Maxim) on Cleveland, Ohio
From Cleveland, Ohio, new quartet Hiram-Maxim plumbs the darkest depths of psych rock, conjuring an experimental, improvisational death-blues in line with Pink Floyd’s early jams or the creepiest crawlings of Oxbow.
Hiram-Maxim is set for a March 3 release on , a new label with a new approach to releasing music. Masterminded by graphic designers Eric Palmerlee and Johnathan Swafford, Aqualamb’s releases take the form of 100-page, bound, printed books – essentially, each album’s art and liner notes, traditionally confined to an LP gatefold, a CD booklet, or the screen of some music-playing device, are reconfigured into book form. Each book also includes a download code for the music. Pre-order Hiram-Maxim from Aqualamb Records, here.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Hiram-Maxim’s Fred Gunn to talk about “The Mistake on the Lake,” the man, the myth, the phenomenon, Tony Erba, coffee, baseball and getting kicked out of the Beachland basement by Cheetah Chrome. This is what he told us.
What’s your town’s nickname?
The Mistake on the Lake.
What’s your nickname for your town?
Why do you live there?
I always say, Cleveland is what you make it but it can be a miserable place to live, if you let it be. Luckily, I’ve surrounded myself with a lot of awesome, active, creative people who try to make it better and a fun place to live.
Did you grow up there? If not, what brought you there?
With the exception of a year and half in Columbus, I’ve been here my whole life.
What’s the weirdest thing that has ever happened to you there?
Not sure if this counts because technically it happened in Columbus. My best friend Carolina and I drove down to Columbus to see Muse play. We met up with some friends from Columbus before the show, went with them and had a good time. When the show ended, we were leaving the venue and there was a guy standing outside the door, handing out fliers. When he got to us, he looks up and says “You’re so Cleveland, it’s disgusting!” Never seen the dude before and it’s not like we were in head to toe Browns gear or anything. But it took us both by surprise and we didn’t really have a retort because what do you say that? Thanks? I’m sure he meant it as an insult but I took it as a compliment.
What is your favorite local attraction (monument, park, etc)?
What is your favorite local event or festival?
My favorite Cleveland event is called Lottery League and is actually how HIRAM-MAXIM started. Lottery League has been held in 2008, 2010 and 2013 and was created by Jae Kristoff, Michael Pultz and Ed Sotolo. The idea came about by the conversation of “How do bands start?,” with the answer being either by friends or like minded musicians coming together. The goal of the project was to eliminate that. The guidelines of Lottery League is to invite a selected group of local musicians, pool everyones names into a bingo hopper and randomly draft bands out of the pool, with the only rules being that musicians must have performed out live previously and that they couldn’t be drafted into a band with someone THEY have already been in a band with before. Bands are then given two months to create a band name and write a 10 minute set of music to preform at “The Big Show.” The goal is to force people out of their element, their “comfort zone,” and create something new.
What is the best time of year to be there?
Summer, for two reasons. One, I’m a big baseball nerd and die-hard Tribe fan. Two, Cleveland Softball. Falls back to what I said about “Cleveland is what you make it…” Cleveland Softball aka Punk Rock Softball, is a league started by Matt Jauch and Jae Kristoff. The league consists of musicians, artists, bicycle enthusiasts, drunks and the indie crowd. Basically, the people who didn’t play sports in high school. The team sponsors range from record stores (Music Saves, My Minds Eye) to music venues (The Grog Shop, Now That’s Class, The Happy Dog) to the record pressing plant (Gotta Groove) to a college radio station (WCSB), to name a few. Anyway, it’s a lot of fun and has brought the scene closer together. I’ve made a whole bunch of friends with people who I would see around town but never had an excuse to talk to.
Who is your favorite local celebrity?
Tony Erba of H-100’s, 9 Shocks Terror, and most recently, Fuck You Pay Me. Tony is a maniac on and off the stage. He recently performed a Christmas show at The Grog Shop, wrapped head to toe in battery powered Christmas lights. Dude puts on a great show, his onstage banter is right on par with his high energy musical performance. There is a reason the man is a punk rock legend around the world. In Cleveland, that is recognized and felt but he’s also just one of us. Which is cool.
Where is the best place to drink and what’s their specialty or happy hour?
I don’t drink, so I’ll go with my favorite coffee shop which is Loop in Tremont. Part coffee shop, part record store, part art gallery. First thing you see when you walk in the door is a “Caution: Hot” sign on a roaster. Loop is pretty chill and is hip without being pretentious or uncomfortable. Baristas are well versed in both coffee and music while being very approachable and friendly. Fuck, I feel like I’m writing a Yelp review. Go to Loop, it rules and Adam is chill, tip him.
Who has the best jukebox (and what’s in it)?
The Beachland has old one that is full of 45’s. Kinda rules. My Uncle Wally’s band, The Baloney Heads’, single “I’m a Drunk” is in there which always makes me smile.
Do you play music there? If so, where is your favorite place to play?
One of my favorite places to play is The Happy Dog (we’re playing our Cleveland Early Record Release show at their new location at The Euclid Tavern with Murderedman and Goldmines on Friday, February 13). The Happy Dog is a favorite venue for local and touring bands alike. Bands play for the entire door and are generally treated very well. Door prices are usually pretty low and people like hanging out there, so turnouts are usually pretty good. And they have tater tots, win-win.
Does where you live influence your music?
That’s inevitable. So yes, it does. There is a gorgeous bleakness about this area that inspires great music.
What is your favorite place to see live music and what was your favorite show there?
I always have fun at The Beachland. The show that stands out in my mind was seeing a reunited Dead Boys in 2004. Cheetah Chrome and Jimmy Zero split vocal duties. A large photo of Stiv Bators hung as a backdrop while his leather jacket hung on a mic stand in the center of the stage. The whole thing was pretty surreal and Stiv’s parents were there too. Pretty rad. Then the next year, they played at the Beachland again on Halloween for their 30th Anniversary and my band at the time, The Sex Crimes, got to play the show. After we finished, Johnny Blitz’s wife came up to us and told how much she enjoyed our set. Then asked if we wanted to come downstairs and hang out with the Dead Boys. Cool! So we go downstairs with her and we’re not down there for more than two minutes when we hear Cheetah go, “Thin it out.” And we were quickly escorted out of the basement, ha! Anyway, it was still really cool.
What is your favorite local band?
This is a rough one. Especially right now in Cleveland, I’m really, really proud of our local music scene. I can’t remember a time in this city when there were so many super fucking good local bands at one time. However, gun to my head, pick one, I’d have to say Goldmines (although I really fucking love Murderedman as well!). Goldmines is Mandy Aramouni, Heather Gmucs, and Roseanna Safos (all formally of Hot Cha Cha) and if they weren’t bad ass enough already, they have recently added Jeanna Lax (who is in another amazing band called Shale Satans). They’re one of those bands that you can tell are just really comfortable playing with and off each other. Mandy’s guitar work is fantastic and unique. When you hear her play, you know it’s her. Ro is one of my favorite drummers and people in Cleveland, she also plays drums with Obnox. Heather rules as well and actually pressed our record at her job at Gotta Groove. Anyway, their album Drag is available for download at https://goldmines.bandcamp.com/album/drag – you’ll want to listen to it 3 times in a row, like I did on my last road trip.
(Shout outs to Filmstrip, Blaka Watra, Shitbox Jimmy, Obnox, Uno Lady, Nowhere, Herzog, All Dinosaurs and New Planet Trampoline as well!)
What is your favorite diner or restaurant and what is their best dish?
The Beachland has brunch every Sunday and after you get over the fact that you’re sitting down to eat in the same room you just saw A Place to Bury Strangers play in the night before. It’s really awesome. Each week features a different guest DJ, food is as locally sourced as possible, vegan and vegetarian options and a bloody mary menu. The biscuits and sausage gravy is my usual go to but Eggs Beachland are pretty kick ass as well.
What is your favorite record store and what was your best find there?
Music Saves, it is down the street from Beachland, celebrated its 10-year anniversary last year and is owned by my good friend Melanie. I’ve helped out at the store for Record Store Day there for the past 3 years and fill in from time to time when needed. The store focuses mostly on newer Indie Rock, but branches out beyond that. Melanie does work with the Waterloo Alley Cat Project, does a series of in-stores called Alley Cat Fridays in the summer, and is generally an awesome person even though she doesn’t eat meat. As far as best find, it was more of a tip off. Melanie was ill so I offered to fill in at the store. She had me pick out a record as a thank you. I picked up The Soft Moon’s Zeroes based solely on the cover art and asked then co-owner Kevin, who was taking over for me, if he had heard this. He was surprised I hadn’t already heard of them already because it was right up my alley. He knows me too well.
What is your favorite local publication (alternative weekly, zine, website or blog)?
Lawrence Daniel Caswell’s Facebook feed, it’s where I get my news.
What is your favorite local shop?
Blue Arrow Records (another record store, ha!). Blue Arrow is also on Waterloo and focuses mainly on used records.
If you could live anywhere else, where would that be?
I don’t know, Akron? Maybe I could just move from the east side of Cleveland to the west side. People swear they’re different cities.
(Hiram-Maxim’s self-titled debut is out March 3 on Aqualamb Records in “book” form… Aqualamb Records is a new Brooklyn label whose releases take the form of 100-page, bound, printed books.
Feb 13 – Cleveland, OH @ Euclid Tavern w/ Murderedman
Feb 21 – Cleveland, OH @ Superelectric w/ Goldmines
May 6 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland w/ Six Organs of Admittance)