up with Beta Male is like setting up a clandestine rendezvous with, say,
to the corner of such and such a place downtown," said the voice over the
phone. "Call this number and we will give further instructions."
Camped out on a frigid winter
night in the shadow of Lucas Oil Stadium, I found myself wondering if this would be an
interview or some sort of fraternity hazing.
Beta Male is not a band known for its restraint. I last got to know them a few
years ago when they exploded onto the local music scene, propelled by a
penchant for self-promotion and a taste for the spectacular. They one-upped
themselves with every show, whether with near-naked hula-hooping or ridiculous costumes.
print, I called them "David Bowie meets George Michael in a space-age band of lunatics"
lunatics"and frequently wondered if they might actually burn down a club
someday. P. David Hazel fronted from behind, playing drums while singing; wife
Allison Hazel and partner-in-conspiracy Jess Hack provided keyboards and
dancing (sometimes in the back, and sometimes right up front). Other members
came and went during those early years.
I wait outside the hulking stadium, my iPod plays my favorite Beta Male song,
"Mirrorball," one of their earliest songs and a longtime live-show staple,
driven by a ferocious hook and pounding bassline.
the whole crazysexycool thing ticked people off. I often got the feeling Beta
Male – particularly Allison, who directs most of the band's PR operations
– enjoyed pushing people's buttons. "There were all these rules about how
people were supposed to sound and present themselves," Allison told me once.
"We got a lot of criticism when we started down that hypersexual road." In one
noteworthy incident, she and Jess showed up at an event in burqas just to stick
it to the naysayers who didn't like the whole nearly-naked thing.
all this, I could be forgiven for holding out suspicion that tonight's outing
will somehow end up with me in the trunk of a car trying to dial a cell phone
with my teeth. No such madness; the cloak-and-dagger business had much more to
do with surprise birthday party for Jess at a nearby apartment.
I finally got the coordinates and arrived at party central, I found the band
more down to earth than I expected — in other words, they didn't seem
remotely inclined to throw me in a trunk. After the party, we ended up spending
a good chunk of time bar-hopping, which I recommend as the best possible way to
get to know a band.
key point we mused on that night: How pop culture has caught up to Beta Male.
we started out, there was no Lady Gaga," Allison says as we all talk over
drinks in a hazy cigar bar downtown – our third meeting site of an ever-shifting
evening, 2 a.m. and counting. "It's not only accepted but expected in the
broader culture that people are going to do wild things."
how has the band adjusted to the zeitgeist? Why, by calming the hell down just
as everyone else is ratcheting up. No wonder we made it through the entire
evening without anyone spontaneously combusting.
moving into a phase where there's nothing to rail against," Allison says, in
between screamingly loud blues sets at the Slippery Noodle, stop No. 2 of the
night. "This reaction of 'You all don't belong here' has faded away."
culture is oversaturated; we're bombarded with so many visual and sexual cues
that it's become the norm," Jess says.
music has become refined — even, dare I say it, mature — and a Beta
Male set these days is as likely to feature evening wear as unitards or
Underoos. After releasing demos and EPs, the band has completed their first
full-length album, and is ready to move onto the next stage, whatever that may
come all the way around," P. David says. "For a while it was this whole dance
rock movement, where the only thing that made sense to people was colorful neon
explosions and sexiness and bootie shorts, and that really wasn't us. We've
come back to where we want to have fun."
Male still have a Bowie-gone-electric thing going on, their sound very much a
product of the glam 1970s and new-wave 1980s. But for all the electronic tricks
available — and P. David loves playing with his toys — it's
still a stripped-down, guitar-and-keyboards sort of band.
when everyone actually listened to albums in order and not just iTunes
downloads, the more experimental bands, especially the prog-rockers and the
new-wavers, put a lot of emphasis on pacing. Start the album out with a burst
of energy, ebb and flow over the course of 60 minutes or so, and close on a
slightly melancholy song that's a nice sendoff, equal parts elegiac and
hopeful, the aural equivalent of "Thank you, goodnight!"
Male's new release follows that template. The album includes reinterpretations
of several songs the band has been playing since the beginning. "Mirrorball"
takes on a darker sound, but with a certain hopefulness about it, a sense of
"here we are, here's what we've done, take it and hold it and we'll see you
next time." The album's version of "Mother's World," another longtime Beta Male
favorite, is more polished than its demo — and also a little more
unnerving, a shifty-eyed glance into the corners of the room where you're not
sure what's there and you're less sure you even want to know.
always had a political edge to their work ("When you see injustice going on and
just go back to your drink or whatever, we're the first to call bullshit," Jess
says), but a lot of it is equally applicable to day-to-day life. I don't think
it's coincidental that several Beta Male songs are written in second person
– "Are You Holden?" and "Where Were You?" come to mind. The politics are
less in the lyrics than the structure — most songs virtually out to the
listener, demanding to know "Who the hell are YOU really?"
few years can make a lot of difference. Beta Male's music has always been
restrained, but the most recent incarnations of the group carry the definite
tenor of age and experience. "A lot of the material is very dark and
introverted, not extroverted music," P. David says.
more organic," Jess comments. "It's like you're more comfortable with your
position. You own it now. Which speaks for the band and how we've evolved. At
first you were unsure and we were unsure."
don't really feel that way," P. David responds. "When I churned out that first
EP in five days, I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do. It was very
rough and I've since settled into what Beta Male is and what the sound is. The
album is thematically back to that early mood, but it's better than the
original stuff. We've gotten a lot more solid."
birth of the beta male
Male was born a few years ago when P. David, then of Extra Blue Kind, felt
dissatisfied with that band's poppy feel. He locked himself in a room for a
week, during which he conjured up a five-song EP. After Extra Blue Kind
dissolved, he devoted the bulk of his creative efforts to Beta Male.
recruited Jess from their time doing burlesque together. They were initially backup
dancers, but eventually started playing instruments. Other members came and
went, including Indy veteran Vess Ruhtenberg. Two years ago T.J. Briggs joined
as guitarist, and they've been a stable quartet ever since.
created a cartoon character who started to stand for things," P. David says of
the band's name and philosophy. "The beta male, the man behind the man, the
little dude who's driving inside the brain."
Beta Male embody for you what you couldn't express in everyday life?" Jess asks
him. (Honestly, the best interviews are the ones where it's like I'm not even
here. I get the feeling that the band members themselves are still exploring
themselves what this all-new, all-different Beta Male actually is.)
I was just trying to embarrass myself by being as honest as possible about
things," he replies. "I wanted to see how far I could go with the philosophy.
We live our lives as a farce because there's this biological process going on
behind us. You think you're in control of everything you're doing, but you have
no idea how to turn food into energy. You have no control or input over these
processes that your life depends on."
if they've "matured" some, Beta Male hasn't given up the theatrics. Not long
ago, Allison and Jess dressed up as sex dolls and performed their set with
robotic focus. Sometimes all band members wear masks.
band presents themselves the way they want to be seen," Allison says. "To go
with no frills is a gimmick in itself. You're always trying to package
yourself. We've just been more brazen about it."
trying to put the mystery back into what we're doing," P. David says. "With the
whole dance rock thing, there was a general impression that we were the sex
rock band. It's still theatrical; we still represent ideas physically onstage,
but without neon and dayglo. But things like the masks create a creepy
beta male. Man behind the man. "We want people to think about what's behind
their own mask," Jess says. "We want our audience to look inside themselves and
realize they're not necessarily in control."
way we're talking, it sounds like we were really thinking it through, that it
was designed like this," P. David muses. "But we're making art very
been very honest and the ideas keep coming through. When I first started Beta
Male, I wanted to make a record that I would want to buy myself. That hasn't
whole thing's a work in progress. Nobody knows where this experiment will end,
not even Beta Male.
things are going to work and some things aren't, but we're not scared anymore,"
"Were we ever?" P. David: "I'm scared every time!" (For full effect, you have
to imagine these statements said perfectly simultaneously. You couldn't time a
situation comedy better.) "But I'm more scared NOT to change," P. David adds.
mirrorball spins. Everything changes. One facet dark, another bright, another
blinding, then dark again.
question is, how do we emerge again?" Allison asks, not entirely rhetorically.
"How does it get presented on stage? We'll see how it goes. And maybe the
pendulum will swing back again. Nothing's really happened to Beta Male yet.
It's all been buildup."
Stream: "Are You Holden" from Beta Male (feat. Richard Edwards from Margot & the Nuclear So and So's)
Stream: "Were Were You" from Beta Male
Meet Beta Male:
David Hazel, "The CEO"
drums, overall maestro
quote: "There's not room in a band like this for musicians with egos."
thoughts: It's funny that a band so known for being in-your-face is directed
and driven by someone so introspective, but that's part of the genius of the
quote: "My job is to represent sonically what David has imagined.
thoughts: T.J. doesn't strike me as ever having been quite as maniacally insane
as the old-school Beta Male was, but a band like this needs a guy like him, the
sort who's all like "So I'm going to push a box on the stage and carry out the
girls who are dressed as dolls? Sure, I can do that" and then goes out and
plays his part to perfection.
bass, vocals, dance, overall planning
quote: "I don't care if a magazine cover calls us the sexiest band or the worst
band in Indianapolis. I just want to make a mark."
thoughts: If P. David is the musical mastermind, Allison is the PR schemer who
comes up with the PR stuff, the attention-grabbing id that made up the Beta
Male image for so long.
quote: "We're never satisfied with being the same for long. We're constantly
thoughts: Over the course of an evening with Beta Male, the thing that struck
me most about Jess is her relentless optimism and cheerfulness about the