Take their sound. Both in concert and on their excellent debut disc, Sucker for a Pretty Face, they proffer an intoxicating, if unusual, mixture of classic rock, blues and jam-band sounds.
Depending on the song, they can evoke the epic reach and shifting dynamics of The Band or Led Zeppelin, or the explosive intimacy of Matthews or Ani DiFranco. Sometimes they do this in the same song, which makes describing them all the more confusing.
Swirling over the top are witty and broodingly enigmatic vocals from Hasselburg. Like Elvis Costello, you can’t tell if Hasselburg is joking or angry when he excoriates an ex-lover in song or if he’s jubilant or suicidal that she’s gone. “Things really couldn’t be better, I confess,” he sings in the lovely “Good Thing.” “Still, I’m never satisfied.” Thrown throughout are little bon mots that could have appeared on My Aim Is True or Armed Forces: “She’s probably the prettiest girl in this town / All the guys look her up and the girls look her down,” to name just one.
“Most of my lyrics come from personal experience, but some of it is straight storytelling,” he said. “I always want to get a point across. But I’m not going to do the insane/brain, love/dove, time/rhyme bullshit. It’s going to be something people can feel. I aim for the heart.”
In the song “Among Men,” Hasselburg sings of his artistic frustrations: “If you don’t appeal to a middle-aged crowd, you can curse in the field of the teens / A pinch of sex, a dash of attitude / Would like that shaken or stirred? / Keep it loud, keep the lights flashing and no one understands a word.” “It’s a response to everyone saying, ‘Hey, you sound like Dave Matthews,’ or things like that,” he said. “Someone actually came up to me and said, ‘You should mix Dave Matthews and Creed.’ Can you believe that? It’s responding to people telling you how to make your music.”
`Hailing from rustic Cloverdale, Ind., Hasselburg grew up absorbing all the music he could find. He moved to Indianapolis a few years back after a particularly nasty romantic breakup energized him to want to accomplish something.
Ask Hasselburg how the band started and he launches into a nearly indecipherable tale of growing up playing guitar with friend Tony Kerzan, a former soundman (Chris Meyerrose) picking up bass and a roommate who works at Applebee’s, meeting drummer Rich Berberena, formerly of Dayzie Head Mayzie.
The end result is that each member brings wildly diverse musical influences to the band, accounting for their across-the-map sounds and textures. Hasselburg believes in hard work. “I’ve always had at least two jobs,” he said. “When I’m not working, I don’t know what to do.” He’s already recorded enough solo material for two albums, just in his spare time.
The band won first place at the World Mardi Gras Battle of the Bands last year and shortly thereafter recorded their album, for free, because a fan of the group had a connection to veteran Hoosier rockers The Roach Bros., whose 30-plus year career has been as bizarre and undefinable as Left Foot Moses aspires to be.
The album was recorded at their Logansport studio, which is located in a barn. The unusual milieu didn’t faze Hasselburg at all. “We got a keg of beer, some whiskey and stuff, got our equipment and recorded 16 songs in a weekend,” he said.
After recording the disc, he sent it to Hoosier legend Paul Mahern, who remixed and mastered it at Echo Park Studios, adding the final nuances to a very nuanced disc. “I learned a lot just watching him work. He’s got a great ear for music and is really open-minded,” Hasselburg said. “About day two into the mixing, he looked at me and said he wanted to represent the band and get us a record deal or publishing deal.”
Although the band played (and got good press) in Minnesota this year, they burned out the transmission of the truck they used to drive there. “So now we can play only as far as all of us can drive,” Hasselburg said. Plans for 2004 include repairing the transmission.
The show at Birdy’s on Saturday will follow Hasselburg’s belief that rock shows should be eclectic. Besides the farmboy-pop sounds of the Roach Bros., the show will include mystery rapper Innate and singer/songwriter Vila Fishburne. “We’d like to have a juggler or fire-eater, too, if we could find one,” Hasselburg said. Given their nature, don’t rule it out.