The instruments do all the talking for this indie rock trio – vocals, optional.
“I would loosen the snares and pretend to play Jingle Bells,” says Jonathan Wooding of indie rock band Hello Chief, as he recalls his 11-year-old attempt at playing the drums. “My dad said if I could learn to play a snare drum, he’d buy me a drum set, but that obviously didn’t work out so well.” Wooding instead went with the bass guitar. And when one conversation in his high school gym class forced him to cross paths with long-time friends Jake Hollier and Jordan Wright (drums and guitar, respectively), Hello Chief was born. The three-piece plays The Prytania Bar on Saturday night.
Hello Chief is the high school band that lasted beyond high school. Only four years old, the trio stepped onto the Beaumont, Texas music scene when its two youngest members, Hollier and Wright, were barely old enough to get into the bars they’d booked shows at. “If you’re mid-17, you just get a wristband and pretend like you’re 18,” Wooding says of the situation.
But the nighttime gigs didn’t come right away for Hello Chief. “We did instrumental music at first,” Wooding says. “We played a coffee shop downtown and some Battle of the Bands competitions.” When the three-piece added their own vocals in several months later, opportunities opened up. “We went from playing to six people in a coffee shop to headlining bars downtown and pulling 200 or 300 people,” Wooding says. “We don’t even rehearse vocals most of the time, though. That’s kind of an additional thing. 'Laissez-faire' is a very good term for it. Jordan doesn’t even write lyrics, he just sort of sings whatever sounds he feels like. If Jordan and I are writing lyrics together, he’ll have a melody and he’ll sing it in just noises. I’ll interpret it.”
"Laissez-faire" is exactly the attitude that Hello Chief’s music pulls off, an auspicious combination of playful spontaneity and total control – part indie, part rock. They’re a heavier Dirty Projectors, they’re the neighborhood garage band that understands their craft well. Vocals are nothing fancy because they don’t need to be. Hello Chief’s simple melodies work well with the music's upbeat crescendos.
It’s an art that took time to develop. “I remember this one time, I held out this note on my bass string that I wasn’t supposed to,” Wooding says. “We were in this tiny little coffee shop, and Jordan reaches across and grabs my bass and stops the note from ringing out. He wanted it be played exactly how we’d written it. There was no improvisation. He grew out of that.” Now when Hello Chief takes the stage, they feel the music out more than anything. “We play to each other,” Wooding says. “I don’t look out into the crowd that often. Jake is forced to because he’s facing forward, but we’re more or less playing to ourselves. It’s like other people happened to be there.”