Hello Society: music that feels good

A rotating roster, improvisation and structured jams. Sounds like jazz? It is . sort of.

You may have seen Hello Society at any number of events around Foggy Bottom since the band’s inception in the spring of 2005 playing as the house band at a performance by Think Tank, a spoken-word group on campus at the time. At the show, pianist Campbell Charshee, drummer Corey Brekher, a senior, trumpeter Philippe Chow, a junior, and then-members John Canter (saxophone) and Tash Neal (bass) met the band’s would-be vocalist, junior Dan Cohn. Though they played dozens of shows billed under the name Speak No Evil, the band had to change its name due to a conflict with a West Coast heavy metal band. As Charshee puts it, “We’d rather play than fight with a bunch of forty-something washouts hanging onto their last glimmer of hope. Besides,” he adds, “the new name fits the new sound better anyway.”

Indeed, it does. Though Speak No Evil may be an appropriate name for the hip-hop driven jazz-fusion band that they were, the newly renamed Hello Society is much more fitting for the band in its current incarnation. With Charshee, Brekher, and Chow still on the piano, drums, and trumpet (respectively), the band has added GW graduate Steve Perkins on the bass and sophomore Gabriel Morales-Bermudez Pereyra on the alto saxophone. Cohn remains an absentee member of the band until his return this May from his semester abroad in Africa.

Along with these new members has come an aforementioned new sound. Without a vocalist to groove behind, the band has recently turned away from its original hip-hop roots and moved more towards the complexity of post-rock and modern jazz, along the lines of one of Brekher’s favorite bands, Tortoise.

In its current form, the founding members of Hello Society likens itself to music that has “jazz chops with a rock spirit.” With members who draw their influences from both ends of the musical spectrum, it’s no surprise that their music varies so much in its style. Chow is the most traditional of the group (as well as “the brainiac” and the conflict settling “arbiter”, according to Brekher,) and cites Freddy Hubbard and Roy Hargrove as some of his horn-blowing heroes. Bassist Steve Perkins, who Charshee describes as a “very creative soloist,” graduated from GW last year as a computer science major and is currently the band’s webmaster at hellosociety.com.

In between lay the other members. The Peruvian sax player Pereyra, for example, brings a Latin-funk feel to the band from the likes of David Sanborn, though he admits that his schooling at GW has given him more experience with the standards like Charlie Parker and Kenny Garrett.

Perhaps the only thing that has changed as much as Hello Society’s lineup is the compositional process that they embark upon when writing songs. “At first, it was a very informal process,” says Charshee, “Corey or I would lay down a groove, everyone would fill it in, and Dan would spit over it.”

As the band played more and more, everyone naturally grew more comfortable playing together. Charshee, who claims to practice for 23 hours per day (but really, it’s closer to six – which is no slouch), began writing more independently and bringing his Pat Metheny/Dave Holland-inclined compositions to jams. At the same time, Brekher’s pot-rock interests were moving the sound in a similar, more “harmonically complex” direction. Now, having maintained the same lineup for just over six months, Hello Society no longer relies on one or two members to write the music, but instead collaborates on most of their new material.

While they may have had the longest possible chronology for a band that is only months old, Hello Society is more than just a bunch of hobbyists or mediocre musicians out to have some fun, though they undoubtedly do. At least two of the founding members, Charshee and Brekher, intend to pursue music as their careers in the not-too-distant future. Hello Society represents all that is great about the GW music community, which is thriving in spite of the administrations best (or worst) financial efforts to quash its artful and expressive spirit. There is little doubt that Hello Society will continue to grow in the future, especially with plans in the works to jam all six members into a house with nothing more than what Charshee says will be “a ping pong table and a soda machine filled with beer.”

The band is planning a show next month at the Velvet Lounge to celebrate Cohn’s return (tentatively scheduled for May 23), and they will also be playing in Kogan Plaza on May 3 at 6:00 pm with GW swing band King James and the Serfs of Swing.

“There are constantly cool new songs to work on, and as long as we keep pumping them out it won’t get stale,” ensures Charshee. Thankfully, it doesn’t look like Hello Society’s musical well will be drying up anytime soon, especially with Cohn’s highly anticipated return looming only a few weeks away.

It seems that Hello Society has the right idea about what a band should be. They try to keep everyone on the edge of their often too-narrow comfort zone, while still supplying the audience with more musically complex ideas than they are accustomed to being exposed to. In doing this, Hello Society has embraced a Soulive-esque, mass-appealing, cross-generational sound that still avoids becoming the always dreaded “mainstream.” Well-trained, well-versed, and well-intentioned, the members of Hello Society pride themselves on the ability to transcend musical boundaries.

“Everyone has their own idea, their own light bulb that goes off when you say ‘jazz,'” says Brekher, “But most of the people in clubs are ‘Bourgies’ who are using jazz as a link to the past. We’re just trying to be progressive. Jazz is always growing, like Miles in the ’70s, and it’s important to us to get jazz out of the jazz club.”

“Yeah!” chimes in Charshee, “If you want to hear the old standards, go buy a Starbucks CD.”

For more information on the band and to listen to samples, visit their myspace page at www.myspace.com/hellosociety and www.hellosociety.com.

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