Clever Hans

On The Streets Of New Brunswick (Part 2)

In this age of hip-hop, dance, techno, emo, and Britney, raw, pop guitar rock has become a dinosaur. What once was seen as sell-out music, now is rarely heard.

This makes playing it all the more dangerous.

Clever Hans is a New Brunswick, New Jersey band that blends its influences into an infectious sound. Sonically, the band inlays eardrums with vibrant compositions.

The band plays pop in an unconventional way in a day and age when it has become completely conventional.

The band still manages to keep things structurally simple and melodic. Hans just finished its first EP, called "Radio Ready". The disc, produced by the band and the Churchills, who recently recorded its major label debut "You Are Hear" for Abrupt/Universal Records, is a mix of biting guitars (James Wells, Dave Sgalambro, Matt Prol), dancing drum rhythms (Quinn English) and inventive bass (Frank Mount).

The line-up is unconventional in that Sgalambro and Wells both sing lead, while Prol handles harmonies and plays third guitar.

The two prime songwriters, Sgalambro and Wells, write with contrasting styles that combine into one signature sound.

Clever Hans is a band that not only knows the meaning of melody, it also knows the meaning of risk. The band breaks its musical boundaries by knowing and exceeding its limits.

The band was nominated as best pop band and Sgalambro as best pop vocalist at last year's Asbury Music Awards.

If more local bands like these surface towards the mainstream, pop may come out of extinction.

This article represents Part II of an interview that took place Sept. 5, 2002 at Court Tavern, New Brunswick prior to a show including Punch Monkey and No Soap Radio.

What types of bands would you say you sound like? Who would you compare yourselves to?

Wells: I don't know, I would say ... Alright, how about we all get to pick one? How about we all get to pick one band, and that would be what we sound like?

Can I pick one?

Wells: Yeah, you can pick one. We want to hear what you think. Because, you're, like, a music critic; you're a music writer.

Mount: Each song sounds separate, though. Because, "Faded", I think sounds like Fuel. But I think "Tuesday" sounds like Incubus.

I think the rhythm of some of your songs ... some of your songs sound like Pearl Jam and some sound like pop.

Sgalambro: I think it's because we have so many different instruments. I mean, I love so many different artists it's crazy.

Prol: And we get the compliments from other bands that hear us. Because we're definitely a modern-rock sounding, radio friendly band. But, everyone's like, 'what is it about those guys?' I think it's because we can do a lot of things. And, then, we can do lots of different things in the same songs often. Where we can really mix it up.

Sgalambro: There's so many people out there who can't change what they're listening to. Anybody out there who doesn't play an instrument or write songs has to listen to what, you know, Virgin records shoves down their throat. At this point, we can pop our CD in and listen to our songs.

You kind of just make music to please yourselves first?

Wells: I play the guitar, I write songs, I sing, I go and perform shows because I need to. I have to.

[To Sgalambro and Wells] How do you two guys work out your lead vocal duties? How do you work out who's going to sing what song?

Wells: If I want to sing, I sing. And I lock him [Sgalambro] in the basement.

Sgalambro: He beats me senseless with a moist cane.

No, he sings the songs he writes and I sing the songs I write.

What about harmonies?

Wells: We just sing and if [Prol] feels so inspired he'll sing some crazy, off-the-wall note.

How do you think you were able to develop into a band that draws a consistent crowd?

Sgalambro: Just working our asses off.

[Car drives by, honks, and a female voice yells, "Clever Hans!"]

Prol: This show was a big show for us, because we're trying to break into the New Brunswick [scene]. Because once the semester starts, you have 20,000 people in this town.

English: Rutgers alone has 50,000 kids.

Say we get 100 freshmen to hear our CD or hear us or catch something at the student center. They tell two friends and they tell two friends and so on and so on.

Wells: Uh, anything else we want to talk about.

Talk it up, man.

Wells: It's the most fun band site ever. It's so fun, dude.

Mount [to the interviewer]: He spotted Hans at, what, a Burger King? [Editor's note: Spottin' Hans is a section on the band's web site,, where people can click and say where they have seen Clever Hans stickers. These stickers have been found throughout the state after being handed out by the band.]

Yeah, I was at Burger King in Freehold the other day.

Band: Freehold, ow-woo!

Wells: That's a far one.

Go online to our "Spottin' Hans section." Dude, we've got some people saying some girl's getting railed by a frat dude and she looks up and sees a Clever Hans sticker.

Prol: She's gonna remember that. Then she's, like, James aren't you in that band?

Wells: I used to be in a fraternity, no?

I'm in a rock band now.

Mount: So many people have come up to me and started singing "Rock Star." And, like, 'What's that song?', and they start singing it. They remember it.

What inspired that?

Sgalambro: I was at the SR-71 show at the Birch Hill [an Old Bridge, New Jersey, club, known for a big hair metal contingent] and I saw all these 40-year-olds wearing tight black clothing, that were all just washed up, like '80s. Like leftover from the '80s kind of shit.

They were all walking around. Like, there were so many of them. There was just as many teenyboppers there as there were 40-year-old women in tight, black clothes.

And I was looking around and I was like, 'Everybody likes to party like a fuckin' rock star."

That's one of the only songs we're I can actually sit down and be like, 'There's actually a story behind this."

What else do you write about?

Sgalambro: "Tuesday" is about September 11. It's a little bit heavier. It's about Tuesday, September 11. There's some meaning and relevance to me in it.

I went through a bad time with that. We weren't playing throughout the entire last fall. I was shot in my head with September 11, as I'm sure many people were.

Wells: Relationships. That's all that I see, is one relationship. Whether it's with a girl, whether it's with a band mate, whether it's with your parents, your family. Whatever it is. It's just one big relationship. Some of them go better than others.

When people listen to your music do you think it gives them something to relate to then?

Wells: I hope so. I hope so. That's what we try to do. Write about stuff that everyone's going through. That everyone can relate to.

Do you think there's a scene happening here in New Brunswick?

Prol: We're trying to make one, man.

Wells: There's no scene for our music. Matt Witte's huge in this town. He's huge. People love that kind of like jam band, folky rock thing. We love it, because it's not having a DJ out there. Anyone who's playing guitar and singing for people opens them for us. So that's great.

English: There's a decent hardcore scene. Not so much punk anymore. There's still the hardcore thing going.

Then there's the whole guy spinning, with drums and bass.

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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 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.