Hiram-Maxim: A release as different as their sound
Run by graphic designers Eric Palmerlee and Johnathan Swafford, Aqualamb Records is a new label with a new approach to releasing music. It’s “inspired by the lack of album art in the age of invisible music.” In lieu of standard album packaging, Aqualamb’s releases take the form of 100-page, bound, printed books. Each book also includes a download code for the music. The year’s first release on the label comes courtesy of Cleveland rockers Hiram-Maxim, a band named after the 19th-century inventor of the Maxim machine gun. Cleveland-based graphic designer Ron Kretsch provided the artwork. We spoke to Hiram-Maxim singer Fred Gunn, who talked about the project via phone from his Cleveland home.
Talk about how the band first came together.
This is a band from the 2013 Lottery League. We didn’t know each other at all. I knew guitarist Dave Taha a little bit. I never heard of or met [keyboardist] Lisa [Miralia] or drummer John Panza before. We were coming into this thing blank. I met them on draft night. I internet-stalked them. I listened to what John does and I listened to what Lisa does. I was trying to add the pieces up in my head. I knew right away that we were going to be dark. We had a meet-up and agreed we would do dark post-punk music. When we got to practice, we had ten of the elements in mind. We just jammed to see what happened. We played for 15 minutes and, after that ended, everyone had the same look on their face. It just gelled right away. We knew we had something. We clicked from day one. We had fun doing it and we kept doing it.
How’d you decide on the name?
We had to change the name. During Lottery League, we were called Kill it With Fire. After Lottery League was over, we recorded the album and John knew some of the guys that run the Aqualamb label. He sent them the completed album on a Monday and on Tuesday, they said they wanted to put it out. It was crazy. It was totally flattering. There were two other Kill It with Fires. The label wanted us to change the name and we weren’t married to it anyway. We had to come up with a new band name and Panza suggested Hiram-Maxim. He was an inventor. He laid claim to inventing the light bulb. He also invented a flying machine. His most famous claim was to having invented the machine gun. He had asthma and was criticized for inventing a breathing apparatus to help save lives when he invented this machine gun. The other thing that was really cool was that later in life, he went partially deaf from being around the noise of his machine guns. We’re pretty loud and we have this noise element going on, so that’s what sold me on the name.
You recorded at Negative Space in Cleveland. What was the recording experience like?
It was cool. There is a lot of improv. We noticed that we would have these amazing sessions and then it was just gone forever. We started recording our practices. Two of the songs were jams we did in practice and then we learned how to play them. In the recording session, we went in with the two songs and the other two were improv songs we recorded in the studio.
The opening guitar riff in “Visceral” is terrific. Talk about what you were going for sonically with that song.
That was one of the ones we went in prepared with. Dave just busted out that riff in practice. We thought it was awesome. We recorded it through the voice recorder in my iPhone. The recording of that was awesome.
Are their actual lyrics or do you whisper something different every time you play it?
I do whisper something different every time. That song is about dealing with my friend Mitch’s death. Mitch was killed by a drunk driver two years ago at a festival. He was one of the most amazing people. You loved him from the minute you met him. Lyrically, that’s what that song is about. The song that makes me think of Mitch is the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place.” In the whisper, I do whisper, “Love me till my heart stops/love me till I’m dead.”
“Can’t Stop” sounds like the aural equivalent of a nightmare. Was there something in particular that inspired the song?
That came out naturally. Some of the vocals were stuff I used from the scratch track and then we went back and added more to it. I was thinking about [Cleveland musician] Ken Janssen during that song. I was good friends with Ken and I was thinking about [ALS] and how his body was shutting down on him and the anger behind it.
“One” has such a quiet intensity to it and sounds a bit like Pink Floyd. Talk about that song a bit.
Dave had that pretty guitar melody. We were writing it and thinking it was so pretty, how did it fit in with what we’re doing? Our music has this dark, somewhat spooky element to it. Lisa adds these dark and menacing elements and it’s a beautiful contrast to the two. I’m not a Pink Floyd guy so I don’t know how that fits in. The way my buddy described it to me was that it reminds him of Joy Division but ten beats slower.
Graphic artist Ron Kretsch worked on the artwork. How closely did you work with him?
We had meetings with Ron and found photographs and gave him the element. John has been obsessed with gas masks so that’s why there’s a gas mask element to everything. Before we came up with the name, we were already using World War II imagery. The cover photo is John Panza. He went into the hospital with the bacterial infection. That’s a photo of John’s stitches.
And there’s a book too?
This is a thing that Aqualamp does. It’s a 9 by 5 booklet. In the past, it’s been 40 pages but now it’s 100. It’s in lieu of printing a CD. It’s really smart because they found a way to tackle the digital market. It’s something physical that you can buy and it’s really neat and cool. It’s a 100-page booklet with artwork, and there’s a download code.
What do you have planned for the future?
We are going to play in New York in April and do a release show out there. We want to hit up Philly or Boston or DC. Scheduling is difficult. Dave is in [the indie rock band] Filmstrip as well and there was a good period when he was gone for six months. John is in four bands. Lisa is always involved in the noise scene.
Have you thought about the next album?
We went back into the studio in December and recorded 97 minutes worth of music. It’s still in its pre-stages and we’re still listening to the tracks and piecing them together. We’re not going to use all 97 minutes. To me, the new stuff has an element to shoegaze to it. It still has this darkness feel. I feel like a lot of it is building and building and building and then gets heavy. I wanted to do something that starts heavy and then we progress it out. That track blows your ears off right off the bat.