Clever Hans

You've Seen The Stickers, Now Meet The Band

Melody makes a pop song good. Harmony makes it great. Clever Hans is a young band that puts those attributes, along with other skills, into its arsenal; creating songs with staying power in the eardrums.

Lead singers James Wells and Dave Sgalambro have separate and distinct vocal styles that improve the diversity of the band both on stage and in its songs. Both provide melodic lead lines and chord vamps to further paint the picture portrayed in each musical piece. The group's compositional skills challenge many radio songs with sensible and fitting guitar riffs or vocal choruses. Songs not given this type of thought often feel like they are missing something. It's refreshing to see a band that follows through with their songwriting.

The band is humble when speaking about their instrumental skills, placing more emphasis on live abilities, which have been proven with a steady draw in a local original band scene known for inconsistent crowd attendance. Their ability to grab fan interest and draw a crowd has impressed promoters, earning the band opening slots for Doors legend Robby Krieger and Pennsylvania major-label rockers Marah, both at Tradewinds.

On Friday, September 20, the band makes an appearance at the Sea Bright Club opening up for Jersey native, John Easdale of Dramarama.

Those who attend a Clever Hans show can expect adrenaline-filled songs full of layered melodies and thick harmonies, delivered with spontaneity for a contagious good time. In a mainstream where harsh angst and sensationalism equal high sales totals, the down-to-earth power pop this band offers stands out as radical and ground-breaking. Keeping things simple, but not boring, is a challenge when much of today's music fails to challenge due to over-simplicity.

Clever Hans makes good use of their songwriting skills. Nothing is overdone and there is much for the listener to put its ear on in the music. On top of the two electric guitarists, Matt Prol makes it a guitar trio, attacking with colorful acoustic rhythms. He also embellishes the vocals with Gin Blossom-esque harmonies. Bassist Frank Mount focuses on playing mature bass lines focusing more on feel and tone over slap, giving himself a signature bass sound. Quinn English's drum beats round out the band's sound and drives its feel, adding power to the rhythm section.

The band received two 2002 Asbury Music Awards nominations; Sgalambro for Best Male Singer and the group for Top Pop Band.

Chorus and Verse caught up with Clever Hans after one of its recent shows at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick on September 6, with Punch Monkey and No Soap Radio. The band hopes to see itself as part of a developing music scene in the college town. They continue to promote and develop their sound. If the mainstream asks for true, sincere pop, Clever Hans may have the answer.

[Interview took place on the sidewalk outside of The Court Tavern.]

How did you guys form?

Dave Sgalambro: I was playing in a coffee house in Long Branch and James happened to live right next door to where I was moving. We hooked up, paths crossed, planets collided. And before you know it ...

Then, I found Frank. I put an ad out in the Aquarian. Frank was the first bass player to answer and he sounded amazing.

Frank Mount: First ad I answered.

Sgalambro: We love him. He kicks ass.

Quinn [English, drummer], we had to convince for a while to be in our band. But, he worked out. And then, fuckin' [Matt, acoustic guitar, harmony vocals] Prol, we just asked him to fuckin' sing harmonies at the first show and here is singin fuckin' singin' harmonies for us. It's great.

Wells: I actually have known Prol since seventh grade. We had a junior high science class together. So when I came down to Rutgers, because I used to got to UCONN, and then when Dave and I started playin, I came down to the Rutgers and he was already at Rutgers.

I said, "Let's do it."

Sgalambro: Sky's the limit.

Wells: Now he satisfies all the ladies.

(Mount laughs.)

English: And the guys!

(Laughter.)

Band: Wooh!

Wells: So, anyway. Anything else? Any other questions?

That's it!

(Laughter.)

When did each of you guys start playing music?

Mount: I started playing when I was fourteen.

What got you to start playing?

Mount: I have no idea. Actually, I figured bass would be easy. (Laughter.) One of those morons. And it just snowballed from there. It just came naturally, I guess. I put a lot of work into it.

Was there one guy, one musician, who got you to start playing?

Mount: Steve Harris from Iron Maiden got me playing.

Yeah? There you go, man. Steve Harris ...

Mount: And it was just everything after that.

Yeah. What kind of music did you get into after Maiden?

Sgalambro (to passer-by fans): Thanks for coming out fellas!

Fan: Wooh! Keep on rocking, baby!

Prol: Watch out for that car.

That would have made for a good article.

Sgalambro: ... and then they died.

Prol: ... and then the fan died.

Sgalambro: That's how we loose our fans.

James?

Wells: When did I start playing music?

Yeah.

Wells: I started playing guitar back in freshman year of high school. Basically, because I had a guitar. It was my old man's.

What kind of guitar was it?

Wells: My first guitar was a Goya classical guitar. Goya is the lowest-end of Martin ever.

Sgalambro: They make, like, beans and stuff.

Wells: They make beans and guitars. Long story short, I found a Beatles book. I started playing and banging it out. I took lessons for a couple of years. That kind of made me a little better than not good. So I was a little-better-than-not good. So, I just kept on doing it. I never performed in bands until I met Dave. One thing led to another and he was teaching me how to write songs.

Who are some of your influences as far as guitar soloing?

Wells: Guitar solo? I like Eric Clapton's guitar solos and I like David Gilmour's guitar solos. They are the most melodic guitar players ever, which I am not. I'm not very good. But, if I could incorporate it, I would. Dave, you're next.

[Editor's note: For the record, James is a kick-ass guitar player!]

Sgalambro: I started playing piano when I was a kid and I was fuckin' five, six years old. I quit that, moved to Jersey, started playing guitar. Quit that. Started playing a whole bunch of sports and then finally decided to start playing bass when I was 15, because, you know, like Frank said: I figured it would be easy.

I played bass for a while. I wanted to meet chicks. I wanted to write songs, so I stopped playing the bass and started playing the guitar. I guess I was, like, 16-years-old at the time. I started writing songs. Someone liked the first song I wrote so I was like, "Cool, maybe I could do this."

What was the name of the first song you wrote?

Sgalambro: The first song I wrote is, holy shit, ah, "Just Another Sunny Day." Then came my big hit, "Paradise," and that's what everyone liked. So I kept just writing songs.

Mount: That was your second song? That's a pretty damn good second song!

Sgalambro: Then there was "Pez Song." Did I play you guys the "Pez Song?"

Mount: Yeah, I know that song.

Wells (to group of girls walking in front of Court Tavern): Ladies! You guys want a sticker?

Prol: Slap the cuffs on us.

English: I started ... I got a drum set in seventh grade. I got to high school and these guys basically convinced me to be in their band. It was a Christian rock band. Actually, I wasn't really into the whole Bible reading thing. But, that's basically how I started playing drums. I learned from being in a band and playing along with these guys. After that, I was in a rap-rock band for a couple of years.

These guys, they convince me to be in the band. Honestly, I thought they were just humoring me because we were good friends and they had a band and they needed a drummer and I was a drummer. But, I thought they were just joking around.

"Oh, it's the hard-core boy, let's make fun of him."

(Laughter.)

Prol: I've been playing since fourth grade. I played alto-saxophone for, like, ten years. As soon as I got out of high school, I stopped that and I started playing guitar with James. Because we grew up together. We were always toting our acoustics to parties and we would play. I've been [playing] guitar now for six years.

Sgalambro: And, here we are.

How do you incorporate your acoustic style to their music?

Prol: Well, I think Dave and James are like-minded in the sound they're going for for Clever Hans. It's a particularly beefy, full, well-arranged kind of sound. So, I think the acoustic can add in that respect. Just kind of fulls everything out. It layers it up. So, I think that's what the acoustic does best; it's a little texture.

Wells: I came up listening to classic rock. If you listen to any classic rock, if you listen hard enough, there's an acoustic guitar track in there.

Sgalambro: Even modern rock. Any modern-rock CD's, it could be the biggest punk-pop-rock [band], there's an acoustic guitar track somewhere underneath.

So does that help you out live? When you're in the studio, you can always add the track, but now you've got another guy [performing live]?

English: You know what, it comes through when we need it.

Mount: When you listen to an album, it sounds full and then when you see them live it sounds empty. Because of Matt we don't sound empty.

Sgalambro: He's the texturiser.

Prol: Yeah. Me and Quinn just basically joined on together in January, when these guys we hard up for a drummer.

Have you ever had anybody else in the band? Or has it always been this line up?

Sgalambro: Last summer, when we put this whole thing together we had another drummer. [Editor's note: The band chose not to mention who since it didn't work out.]

Wells: You know what's so great about this band. and I'll say it above anything else? It doesn't matter if we have a bad show or we're, like, fighting, I can always look around and just be like, "I love these guys. These guys make music fun for me." That guy, he didn't do it. He made this not fun.

The group of guys that's standing in front of me right now, I guarantee I had more fun on that stage than I will in the next 23 hours of this day. I will never have as much fun. Even if I'm in the bedroom, I'd rather still be on stage.

(Laughter.)

Prol: Either way, I'm performing, mind you.

Wells: Yeah. I'm performing because that's what I do!

Mount: You could put it this way. [The former band member] was a pretty good player, but he just brought the band down.

Sgalambro: On all ends. Originally it was me, James, Frank and him. That was the line-up. And then, we had four or five months without playing. We turned it around. Scott [Stamper], from the Saint, hooked us up with a January 11 show.

He was like, "Are you going to have a drummer?"

[Pointing to Quinn] We were like, "Wait, we have a drummer here."

We played an acoustic show, me and James.

Scott came around and said, "If you guys can get a drummer, you can play the show."

Wells: We're like, "Quinn!"

All the way at the end of the bar. "You're playing drums with us." He was, like, wasted and then we got him all drunk. He's like, "Sure, I'll play drums for you."

English: It's not like they forced me into the band. It took a little talking into it, honestly. But, being in this band, I can play what I want and it ... works so well. Everything everybody in this band does is so reciprocal. Like, the chemistry is great, I really feel, between everybody here.

They can play something and everybody builds off of everybody else and it just works so well.

What do you think causes the chemistry?

Wells: Drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.

(Laughter.)

You know what it is. You know what I honestly think it is? We have a mutual respect of musicians. When Dave writes a song and he has an idea of how he wants it to sound in his head, whether we end up doing exactly what he wanted, he respects everybody that does their own thing. I think because we're linked so well, we all have a common goal. It works out.

Sgalambro: I'll hear something in my head. I remember the new song we did [at the Court Tavern show]. I wrote that song a few weeks ago and I had how I wanted it to go in my head. I'm sitting on my acoustic guitar, but in my head I hear, like, screamin' harmonies and screamin' vocals and wailing guitars.

I sit down to practice and I show it to Quinn and all of the sudden, boom, we went right into it.

I was like, "Shit man, that was pretty much the same thing that I was fuckin' thinking about in my head."

Wild.

Prol: Not only that, but we're all friends at the end of the day.

English: We're just five guys having a good time. It's magic. It sounds kind of corny, but it is.

Prol: We're all kind of tight and this music has just brought us tighter together.

Sgalambro: When we're on stage we have the same common goal: to get the audience off. That's all we want to do, is get the audience off.

Wells: And when they're moving or when they're singing anything, when I see a big, burly dude nod his head, I'm like, "Yes! I did that."

English: Two guys and one girl and they're the only people moving out of 50 people, I'm still like, "That's anybody moving, I'm getting into it because they're getting into it."

Wells (to girls walking by): Stickers?

Girls: No, thanks.

Wells: They're not drugs, they're stickers.

Sgalambro: They might have LSD on the back of them, girls.

Wells: Thank you, ladies. Clever Hans.

Sgalambro: Cleverhansmusic.com.

Wells: We also have a website.

Various band members: It's cleverhansmusic.com, plug that.

[ Publisher's note: Ok, guys. Everyone please visit www.cleverhansmusic.com!]

Prol: There's going to be a squad car by the end of this.

You guys are going to be to the cops, "Hey, you guys want some stickers?"

(Laughter.)

Wells: And it's all on tape. And they take the tape and they say, "You guys, not only this, we got you for drugs. We're raiding your house."

You're not a narc are you?

I can't say that.

Do you focus on having a good time first? When you get on stage is that what you focus on?

Wells: Honestly, and I'm sure a lot of musicians are going to hate us for this, or at least me; I would rather not play as well and give my all out there on stage.

Prol: It's energy transfer from us to the audience.

Wells: You can play amazingly and only a small amount of the audience is going to get it.

Prol: And you can stand there and be boring as shit.

Sgalambro: Nobody is going to hear the chords I miss in a song.

How do your songs sound different in comparison between when you're onstage to when you're in rehearsal or listening to your music on CD?

Mount: All the bad notes we've hit.

(Laughter.)

Wells: I honestly think that it's going to come across better. Like, to a listener, it's going to come across better. There's something that they see and it adds to the sound. Even if something isn't right on, the visual that we provide them and we're putting on a show that's only going to add to the music that we give them. Tenfold to the mistakes that we made.

Because, honestly, we make mistakes. I'm sure every live band makes mistakes.

English: You listen to a CD all you're getting is the music. When you're watching a music video, you're not 100 percent focused on the music. You're watching the video, you know. You come to the show, you see guys jumping around and having a good time, you're going to jump -around.

Sgalambro: We don't have a CD. We have no recorded representation of our band. We've been together since January 11 and we have 50, 60, 100 people at the shows.

Prol: It's that just because they come see us live, they fall in love with the music and the show we're putting on. Then they want to hear the music all the time, to remember how great it was to be at that show and the great time they had. That's what we want to do; make people have a great time. When we say "Party Like a Rock Star," we mean it. We do and we just have a good time.

[ Website: www.cleverhansmusic.com ]

Josh Davidson
Josh Davidson has written music feature articles for Jersey Style and served as the Jersey Shore rock columnist for Steppin' Out Magazine. Other music writing credits include Aquarian Weekly, Jersey Beat, Backstreets and njcoast.com. He has written free-lance for the Asbury Park Press' Community Sports section and has written featured articles for its news section, as well as covering campus news and sports weekly for the Signal, the College of New Jersey's (formerly Trenton State College) student newspaper. He has worked as a staff writer for The Independent, and his work for Greater Media Newspapers has also been published in the News Transcript. He is a former beat reporter for the Ocean County Observer who presently is a news writer for Symbolic Systems Inc. supporting the US Army's Knowledge Center. His music writing covers a vast range of topics, from the current cover band craze, highs and lows of the original scene, to the early days of the Jersey Shore rock scene in Asbury Park. He is also a musician, having written hundreds of songs as a singer/songwriter, and playing them out as a solo/acoustic artist. He has also played with cover bands, including It Doesn't Matter, and several original bands, including as the guitarist for the solo project of singer/songwriter Dave Eric. He continues to work on solo material and is presently the guitar player for Jersey Breeze.
The Hottest Audio Brands At Daily Steals