Brisbane surf rock band Hugo Stranger & The Rattlers release their debut album Against The Tide this week. Playing high energy shows with sounds of 60s surf pop, blues and spaghetti western. Their influences include The Beatles, Beach Boys, early Tarantino Soundtracks and film scores. During a year’s journey across North America in 2016, front man and rhythm guitarist Tom Harrison wrote the bass line for the song Dark Places and immediately knew he had found the sound he wanted. He swiftly wrote and bedroom-recorded a solo six track ep under the guise of Hugo Stranger. Upon his return to Brisbane, Australia a finely written ad was posted to Gumtree marketplace and was swiftly responded to by lead guitarist Thomas Atkin, bassist Ben Lane, and Daniel Plautz on drums.
After a series of rehearsals and blood oaths a band was formed, however the moniker ‘Hugo Stranger’ was for a solo project. So taking a page from the bands that inspired him like Dick Dale and his Del Tones, Link Wray & The Wray Men, he added on the band tag ‘The Rattlers’. After spending the last year honing their songs and high energy live performances Hugo Stranger & The Rattlers completed recording for the debut album including the single By Your Side. The band answer some questions for Hi Fi Way about making the album.
Are you feeling optimistic about the year ahead for Hugo Stranger & The Rattlers?
Absolutely! I’ve been wanting to put this album out for a few years now so releasing it alone is good enough to make the year, but if we get to do some great shows to support it that will make it even better. Of course we live in turbulent times at the moment so anything can happen but that’s out of our control so if we don’t get to play too much we can get started on album number two.
Do you feel any pressure releasing your debut album?
I’ve probably over thought so much of the recording process that I’ve exhausted myself and now I’m just happy it’s finished. The only pressure I really feel is from myself.
How did the band get together?
Well in a quick summary I made these home recordings of about five tracks for a solo sort of project that in the end sounded like it should be a band so I put up some ads up on the local classifieds and found members through there. It was pretty great really because (Thomas Atkin) the lead guitarist who was the first to respond turned out to be a great guy and a hell of a guitar player and has an amazing home studio and rehearsal space. I feel pretty spoilt by the sound quality because this is my first band so his rehearsal space is the only real one I know. I don’t think I can go back to a garage now.
Sonically, how would you describe the band?
The initial idea was a 60’s sort of surf band so there’s some instrumental and pop stuff with sax but under that 60’s umbrella we started veering into garage rock and doo wop too. I wanted the album to sound a bit like a movie soundtrack so it’s a bit all over the place. It ends with some Ennio Morricone inspired western so I think I got the cinematic aspect ticked off.
How much fun were those initial jam sessions?
It was probably different to most bands because the music was already written so we were sort of all relearning the songs that I recorded, however it was still a good time. Playing music with friends is the best. It got more fun as new songs were brought in and everyone could add their own flavours to them.
How tough is it picking out singles?
I think going through the album it was kind of obvious which songs seemed more like traditional singles, such as our first single By Your Side. It’s very over the top pop so it seemed like a good fit, plus I already had a good idea for a video. However it’s hard to gauge your audience when you’re still building it. Is the market begging for sax solo’s and ”Beach Boys” hooks anymore? Probably not.
Did everything go to plan in the studio?
We had a killer first session with a big thanks to our former drummer (Daniel Plautz) who unfortunately is back in America now. We managed to knock out ten out of eleven tracks live in one day, which is pretty amazing. After that though it was probably a year of indecision and rerecording of vocal lines and getting all the sax and violins sounding just right. So no not really haha.
Have you been pleased by the reaction of what has been released so far?
Yeah it’s been great. By Your Side made the Top 20 in the 4ZZZ FM Hot 100 last year so that was a great way to finish up 2020.
Are you looking forward to getting out and touring if you can?
It would be great if we can, pending the casual global pandemic.. At the moment it would be great to just do a small coastal run to the border of NSW, but we would definitely love to get down to Sydney and Melbourne.
What’s next for the band?
Well the album comes out this month, then we have our album launch early March and a new film clip for the song Dark Places. We’re currently working on demos for the next album and a possible remix EP of Against The Tide, which will be different versions of roughly half the tracks on the album.
Interview By Rob Lyon