Thursday, May 8, 2008

English quintet the Heavy attract howls with their signature “stinky” sound this Friday

by Diana Bae

“Pack your best wolf howl.” That’s what Kelvin Swaby suggests fans should do at his band’s shows. This big bad wolf persona that was proclaimed by the Heavy a couple years ago -- inspired when people expressed disbelief that so much noise could come from so few people -- fits. With the American release of their debut album Great Vengeance and Furious Fire, the Heavy is finally bringing their robust horns and soulful beats across the pond from the U.K. and playing shows Stateside in May before taking the funk international.

One of those Stateside shows is this Friday: The Heavy will be headlining this week’s Chicago edition of Playboy’s Rock the Rabbit. They’ll be joined by Life During Wartime DJs Mother Hubbard and Bald Eagle -- and new DJ duo Rocktapussy will be making their Chicago debut. (And, of course, there’ll be plenty of bunnies milling about.)

The Heavy is the result of a collaboration between lead singer Swaby and his longtime friend and the band’s guitarist, Dan Taylor. “It was born out of the two of us having the idea that rhythm and blues should be rhythm and blues -- only heavier,” Swaby says. Along the way, they picked up other bandmates to round out their creation: bassist Spencer Page, drummer Chris Ellul and singer Hannah Collins.

Considering their long list of inspirations includes everything from the Sonics to Led Zeppelin to old-school hip-hop -- all of which can be heard in the songs -- the album is surprisingly and fantastically cohesive. Swaby describes the band’s sound as “dirty, stinky, the kind of stuff you wouldn’t take home to your mother, but she’d love it anyway.” The band is big, bold and unafraid to be unique and raw. With Great Vengeance, they have created a “very tongue-in-cheek” album that deals mainly with relationships without losing its edge, he says. In “Doing Fine,” his personal favorite on the record, they get the chance to showcase their songwriting talents in a “testament to things that have gone on, and pain. It’s so gentle but the beats are big,” he says. On the first single, “That Kind of Man,” Swaby’s falsetto smoothly falls in with the fearless and loud horns blaring behind the lyrics, creating a gritty sound that can only properly be listened to at the highest volumes.

As far as the band name goes, Swaby says that he and Taylor considered making it plural like “The Hives.” Being horror and disaster film fans, though, they ultimately decided that simply “the Heavy” sounded more sinister. They liked how abrupt the name sounded, the frontman says, pushing the band’s musical offerings even more in your face: “heavy beats, heavy riffs, heavy lyrical content, heavy tunes in general.”

Playboy’s Rock the Rabbit takes over Darkroom (2210 W. Chicago, 773-276-1411) May 9 with the Heavy, LDW DJs and Rocktapussy;