Never Ending Halloween
The Changing Masks Of Human Host
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Mike Apichella is a quiet guy in person. The kinda scruffy, kinda rustic 33-year-old is well considered, reserved even, when talking about his band Human Host at a Mount Vernon pub. He's concerned about the image of his gleefully schizoid punk band, and sounds like he's worried that it comes off as excessively rude and/or ridiculous. A valid concern maybe: His band is a spectacle, a proper flailing anything-goes piece of punk performance art. Apichella says a sentence about the band and then corrects himself. He politely asks that some of the band's cruder moments--in past Human Host incarnations--be kept off the record.
He does allow an "infamous" Human Host incident from 2006's Whartscape into the conversation. Darren Mabee, of New Jersey's We Are the Seahorses--a band that has taken the crude art of making audiences uncomfortable to a fascinating, horrific extreme--joins in on Human Host's set. He's "a real wild guy," Apichella says. "He starts taking off his clothes. He's, like, half-naked, and we're playing tug of war with his body. The guy's huge. Big beard, the longest hair you can imagine. People were really nervous. [But] it was, like, feel uncomfortable or make it part of the show."
He laughs before adding, "People were having a really good time."
Beyond that, the frontman keeps parts of the band's long history under wraps. Apichella appears to be cultivating something new for Human Host, his project of some five years. At least he's trying to keep it secret. He starts to talk about a troupe of dancers that Human Host often collaborates with, known once as Two Nuts and a Dick. He chuckles as he says the name and goes on. "A lot of their dances are kind of vulgar--not stripping," he clarifies, and then pauses before he goes on. "I don't want to spoil the surprise."
Human Host is almost half performance art, even in its subdued moments. In January, Apichella played as Human Host solo (beyond himself, the band is completely amorphous) at a bar in Brooklyn, N.Y. The room was almost entirely dark and Apichella was sitting behind a pair of keyboards and a flickering candle--you half expected to see him with a cape and a half-masked face. He played simple, organ-toned melodies and countermelodies over preset beats and growled occasionally into a microphone. The crowd was transfixed, with hardly any chatter. It even applauded politely after each brief song.
It worked as a sort of anti-spectacle, upending the assumption that after five years of mania, Human Host can't do a show without it becoming a kind of situationist event. Yes, the walls between the band and the audience are anything but fixed, and Human Host's absurdity becomes everyone's absurdity. Human Host can turn a punk bar into a dim recital hall and it can turn a rock club upside down into a spectacle of contorted punk-rock posturing and perverse aboriginal dances to a soundtrack of basic drum-machine beats, pre-tracked eye-of-the-hurricane noise whorls, or almost obscenely basic keyboard presents--the kinds of sounds your first electric keyboard might have made, only a couple hundred times louder. And since Human Host shifted from a guitar-assault punk band into its barely defined current form, those keyboards have been part of the spectacle.
"I find whatever sound the keyboard is trying to imitate and exaggerate that by like 20 million times," Apichella says. "Those [sounds] are trying to appeal to these kids, and when you put it in the context of an actual composition from an adult's point of view, it's not irony. It's like a clash of the sophisticated and . . . . you know."
That would be the "primitive"--wonderfully, primitive--if Human Host's recordings are an indication. The band's latest, The Halloween Tree, is a broad stew of lo-fi genre ramblings. From punkish psychedelia, chipmunk-fuelled Dan Deacon-esque mania, electro stomping, and wavering sound forests with happy mushrooms sprouting from every alcohol-dampened surface. "I wouldn't feel there was much integrity to our records if they were extremely usual," Apichella says. Though, he described the next record, Creature Mountain, as being the band's "least diverse" and most "song-based" of its output.
With a band like Human Host, that sounds like a harbinger of disappointment. This is a fuck-all band that thrives on displacement, as do its fans. A comment attached to the YouTube video of Apichella's Brooklyn show has a comment attached saying, "I liked it better when he jumped around. Now I feel that he's really testing my patience!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Indeed, some old-school Human Host fans are probably thrown off by the band's latest evolution. Human Host's steez has more truck these days with the giddy musical theater of Wham City--not necessarily direct confrontation--than its roots in Baltimore's crust-punk underground, notably Apichella's ex-band, Charm City Suicides, which broke up in 2002 because of Apichella's frustration with playing that one punk style. He freely admits his changing artistic affections. "If I [lived in the city], I'd probably surgically connect myself to Wham City," Apichella, a Baltimore County resident these days, says. "I just love everything they do."
And his Human Host ethos sounds exactly like what Wham City might be under heavier doses of punk--that is, if more screaming was involved. The Human Host crowd sounds awfully similar to what you'd find at a Wham City-related show: "[There are] two halves: One half totally loves it, loves being confused and disoriented," Apichella says. "Loves the rush of it. The other half is divided again. One half doesn't like it at all, doesn't understand it. The other half of that are very confused and fascinated by it, but don't necessarily like it. Car-accident syndrome."
He sounds content with that. "It's cool to be consciously disorienting," he says. "It reminds you how connected you are to other people just because you're different." H