The Human Factor
Former Charm City Suicides Return With a Host of Different Sounds
More info on
Baltimore band Human Host spent months preparing for its second show last May, recording and perfecting the prerecorded backing tracks that the band sings over at many of its shows. But the band was playing at a hardcore show, and most of the crowd wasn't interested; Human Host ended up playing to "like 10 people," group mastermind Mike Apichella says. "They didn't even hear our music," he recalls. "They saw that we didn't have any equipment and instantly were out of there."
Apichella is the former frontman for Charm City Suicides, the popular Baltimore punk band that broke up last year when Apichella decided he was no longer interested in playing "the exact same songs and the exact same sets every single night." With a split EP (with Fridge A) recently released and a full-length album due out on Ellicott City-based indie Hit-Dat Records later in the year, his new band retains CCS's frenetic energy and theatrical intensity but breaks the mold in virtually every other way, and it's still not clear whether his old audience will go along for the ride.
"I think we might make some people uncomfortable," says Human Host co-founder Cory Davolos--and it's easy to see why. The band's music is all over the place; members list such disparate influences as Danzig, Ludacris, and Styx. Songs range from fragile, pastoral instrumentals to bizarre hybrids that sound like Iron Maiden produced by Timbaland. When performing, the group's members charge into the audience or lie motionless on the floor for minutes at a time. And no two shows are alike; the band always plays different sets of songs, usually with different sets of members.
Apichella formed Human Host after CCS's breakup last year with Davolos and founding CCS guitarist Josh Marchant. "I've always wanted to be in a band where everyone was dedicated to playing lots of different kinds of music in a lot of different ways, lots of different styles," Apichella says. "I've always wanted to work with a lot of people that were also multifaceted and willing to do visual art in addition to musical and written art."
Marchant, however, soon left Human Host to form another band called Ghouls and Ghosts, but many others soon took his place. Though Human Host played its first show less than a year ago, at least 13 people have already performed with the group, including local musicians like Andy Devos of Mrs. Train and Dan Keech (aka MC Height). The most recent lineup consists of some permutation of Apichella and Davolos along with Rick Weaver of the Organ Donors and Kim Cafuir and Kevin Hall of Kim++.
"I think [the band] is stable," Apichella says. "It's just that the way we go about keeping it stable is different from how other bands do it. Human Host is more of a feeling, and if someone gets the feeling, then we'll call it Human Host."
At its shows, the group hands out lyric sheets that list the band's personnel for the night and feature original art. "We do lyric sheets at every show because we really want people to know what we're saying, just as a way to show that something inspired this music," Apichella says. "We really want to give something special every time people see us."
Human Host's lyrics may be the most perplexing thing about the band. (A sample: "Ghostly kilns in spring/ The mute ogre's friendly shadow," from the song "Distant Light.") "We could sit here and go into depth on exactly what all the songs are about and analyze every single last lyric, but I don't think we would really feel that that would express what we're about at all," Apichella says. "Actually, it would completely take away from any impact [that] anything that we do--art, music, or writing--would have on anyone. We don't want people to know exactly what we're talking about."
None of Human Host's eccentricities would mean much if its music weren't compelling. But Human Host is a great band; even its most outlandish experiments are packed with huge, beguiling hooks. "North Dakota," a long, guitar and keyboard-based instrumental, builds from a heavy garage-rock stomp to an intense free-jazz freakout, while "Flash Vapor" deploys a devastatingly sinister synthesizer throb and fiercely howled vocals. "We don't want the music to overpower the show or vice versa," Apichella says.
Apichella and Davolos run the small indie label Baths of Power, which released the limited-edition split EP with Fridge A, a local band that Apichella lists as an influence. The EP only hints at Human Host's musical potential, though it does include the highlight "Raw We All Pilots," a gleefully nonsensical punk screamer that Marchant wrote before leaving the band.
Human Host has already played several out-of-town shows in New York, Washington, and Allentown, Pa., but the band has found its best audiences at home, Davolos says. "The diversity of the scene in Baltimore has really helped us out," he says. "It pretty much helps everyone out."
Apichella and Davolos are both wary of alienating CCS fans, and this tension has contributed to the band's performances. "You really are conscious the whole time of how people are looking at you because you don't have the instrument and you're not surrounded by people with instruments," Apichella says. "I think that's good, though. It creates a nervous energy that makes us really insane."
Human Host may be the hardest-working band in Baltimore. Most bands would probably give up after spending months preparing for a performance and then watching all but 10 people walk out. Lately, the band has encountered more receptive audiences; Apichella even notes that, despite his expectations, the prerecorded sets tend to receive better reactions than the "live" ones. But audience acceptance is hardly a priority for Human Host. "No matter what we're making, people think," Apichella says. "We're shattering [expectations] and leaving it up to the audience to put it all back together."
Human Host plays the Talking Head Nov. 20 with Volcano . . . I'm Still Excited, Carter Tanton, and Soma Solution.