Super 400 – Three People in a Room
Written by Liam Sweeny on October 30, 2018
Any musician who’s gotten past the lottery dreams of fast cars and decadent hotel rooms knows the story of the rock trio Super 400. It’s one of cigarette haze, dimmed lights and pick up sessions, trying to find the right fit and the right sound, and of course, hand-blistering jam sessions in nondescript groove stations clad in concrete and stone-shattered windows. Singer Kenny Hohman, drummer Joe Daley and bassist Lori Friday tour endlessly, making new music classic as soon as it comes out of the speakers, or carries its way to the back of that small club. And they’ve been doing it since the late nineties. The band has agreed to sit with me to answer a few of my probing questions.
RRX: So, of course I’ve got to pick on the first time you all officially met. Word around the internet is that Kenny brushed off Lori at first. Seeing all the magic that’s happened since then, were any beers or mixed drinks owed by anyone to anyone after that first jam session?
Kenny: That is a true story and I fully own up to it! Joe and I were playing at Pauly’s Hotel in Albany one night when Lori introduced herself to me and asked me to join a band she was starting. I was in a serious relationship at the time. I was attracted to Lori so I thought ditching [her] number was the best way to stay out of trouble! Super 400 was just getting started and even though we needed a bass player, being the uneducated fool that I was at the time, I didn’t even consider the possibility that a “girl” like Lori would be an option. How good could she possibly be? We were not looking for some cute girl to get on stage and hold a bass. We were looking for that Jack Bruce, John Paul Jones, Berry Oakley and Paul McCartney stuff! Unpredictable, hard driving, melodic, exciting, thunderous bass…. which turned out to be exactly what she was bringing! The credit – and drinks for life – belong to Steve Candlen. He called me and asked if Joe and I had met Lori and if we were going to get together with her. He informed me that she was a “for real” player with a great natural feel. Joe found out that she was working over at Last Vestige record shop and he asked her to come over to our loft on River Street in Troy a few days later to play. After a brief hello, and no discussion of what we would play, she plugged in and we started into a jam that lasted about 45 minutes. It was obvious by the time we played the last note that we were a band. Whatever “thing” we have as a band was there from the first note. I continue to learn from this amazing woman that I am still so blessed to play with to this day… and that I am also now lucky enough to call my wife! Thanks Steve!
RRX: My last question leads to this question. That first jam session. Now I know you all work extraordinarily hard to develop your own sound, and to work out the musical space. Thinking about the influences that you all had in common, what issues did you have in creating something new? How did similar tastes help? Where did they hinder things? Were there key differences?
Lori: When we first came together, the three of us had so much in common, musically, but there were a few influences that we each brought in. I had never dug into the early Van Halen catalog before meeting Kenny; now I love VH, I went through a phase where I listened to them every day for 4 months. Joe introduced Prince, who I’d not known much about. The three of us each have some musical loves that aren’t shared mutually, but when we get together, the pieces fit. A really fun part of being together for 23 years is that we’ve been turned on a so much great music during this ride, together as a band. When we were signed to Island in 1997, they offered us our picks from anything in their catalog. The open candy jar! We left their London office with bags of cds, and soaked it all up.
When I listen to Super 400 records I can hear the echoes of the stuff we were heavily into at the time we recorded them. At its core, though, our music still sounds a lot like that first jam session in 1996. Three people in a room, connecting.
RRX: Super 400 plays internationally as well as locally. I watched the DMTv segment where you all talked about the feeling of playing Europe. I know that you can’t honestly say which fans, U.S. or European, you like best, but can you talk about the norms of let’s call it “show etiquette” that exists in Europe, as opposed to the U.S.? For example, do cell phones come out more in Europe than here during concerts?
Lori: I’d like to comment on the fans in Spain, especially. They wear their passions with pride and honesty. The music fans there show their love very openly. We’d never witnessed such a demonstrative reaction to our music – they sing along, pump fists, crowd the stage; and afterward, give hugs and laughter til the sun makes an appearance. There are cell phones, but it seems as though most of them would rather experience the moment with their senses instead of a screen.
We haven’t been back to Spain since I had a bad auto wreck in 2011. The fans there still write to us, asking when we are coming back. That kind of love has motivated us to start recording our next record this winter, with an aim to return to Spain, maybe this summer.
RRX: I guess mentioning phones in concerts brings us to another question. Super 400 considers itself a “taper-friendly” band, meaning that you encourage people to tape live shows and trade those tapes. Is that right? If not, please clarify, and, if so, was this something that came about as a matter of practicality, or is it a purposeful statement about art and performances?
Lori: We’ve always felt that once our music goes up into the air, it should be available to anyone who wants to hear it. In the days before YouTube, we hadn’t started heavy touring yet, and it made us happy to know that bootlegs were being traded. I get excited when I’m able to hear a recorded performance by a band I like. It brings me closer to the them.
RRX: Here’s the ‘influences’ question. I could spend an hour here, because as I am very much in love with blues and classic rock, among other genres, I’d love to swap references. But I like to play with this question. I’d like each of you to mention one group, performer, etc. that’s an influence, and tell us one thing about them that few people know but has made you love them even more.
Kenny: Well, I don’t think that it is much of a secret to most musicians, but it may not be known by the general public that some of my favorite artists are multi-instrumentalist super heroes! Stevie Wonder, Prince and Paul McCartney come to mind. Any one of them could have made a name for themselves as a non-singing instrumentalist on any number of instruments…and they are the best singers you could ever hope to hear. Oh, also they wrote some of the best songs of all time. Crazy talent. It’s hard to give them more credit than they have already but somehow they really still deserve more!
Lori: I love the magnetism and confidence of David Bowie onstage. The way he connected with his audience, it was like witnessing a purer and more powerful level of being. We saw him at Roseland Ballroom, it just about knocked me off of my feet. It’s surely been an influence; I’ve always tried to shed my insecurities before we step onstage, so that I can be in that precious moment, really experience it. It’s such a blessing to have any opportunity to perform.
RRX: Again, one question leading to another. The last album I could find of yours after exhaustive trawling of the internet was Sweet Fist, in 2009. Your website mentions that you had the album recorded and the vinyl cut at a studio famous for classic rock and other genres. Would you like to comment on that?
Lori: We recorded Sweet Fist at Ardent Studios in Memphis, where Cheap Trick, Issac Hayes, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Big Star, REM, The Replacements, ZZ Top, and so many others have made records. Larry Nix was the mastering engineer there. In his studio resided the famous lathe from Stax Records, the very machine used to cut wax on all the Stax recordings in the 60’s and 70’s. And, Zeppelin III was cut on it! It sat there, inoperable in Larry’s studio, like a museum artifact. I started bugging him to have the lathe repaired so that we could cut vinyl for the Sweet Fist album. He told me that the parts needed were no longer being manufactured, and that we were out of luck. I trusted my instincts and I became a bit persistent, which paid off. A couple weeks later, Larry told us that he had found someone who would supply the parts needed. Before long, we were back in Memphis, witnessing the lathe in action, cuting grooves in wax.
We videoed the whole thing, it was like watching sorcery! That was a magic time. There’s a cool article about the lathe, here: https://www.prosoundnetwork.com/prosound-news-blog/1636
RRX: This is where I harness the power of social media. You all have seen bands out there that are top shelf, but maybe haven’t had so much success in building a buzz. What bands locally are the bands that everyone must see once? Who should I be looking to interview in the future?
Kenny: The best new band I have seen locally recently is Motorbike, Mike O’Donnell’s band. They will be opening for us at Hangar on the Hudson Dec. 8th.
Solo artist Steve Candlen is also amazing.
Check out Super 400 at the Hangar on the Hudson on December 8th at 8 pm, with special guest Motorbike.