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Rock/Pop

We’ll get the airwaves

Siddhartha’s black rock paves a Motor City roadway — heading west

Photo courtesy Siddhartha
Siddhartha
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Published 3/7/2007

Mick Collins is huge fan. So's Rodney Bingenheimer — the man who broke countless in-the-fringes bands on L.A. radio spins their shit. Madonna is aware of them. Major and minor labels are thinking of reaching for their thinning wallets to invest.

We'll say it: Siddhartha is the closest thing right now to Motor City rock 'n' roll in that poorly imitated Stooges-MC5-Black Merda spiritual swagger sense. No shit. Who wants to hear a new Stooges album? Who cares what Iggy — this fiftysomething millionaire and shill for cruise lines — has to say? What can he say? Next to Siddhartha, they're but old geezers who should find themselves redundant self-parodies. The Stooges were a moment in time. A necessary cultural collision ignored by record buyers. Siddhartha is similar ... in 2007. Gratefully (for us) they're passionate and still naive, a freight train of personal-political (and singsong) commotion. We'll soon see the record-buying public's response.

They're a loud, good-looking and (aside from the whitey bassist) black band whose songwriting far exceeds the garage-template of white dudes bashing black blues chords and screeching linear melodies over barely organized racket.

The band is so rock 'n' roll, in fact, that most of them rode a Greyhound bus — three days straight across this horrible continent — to make tiny club shows in Los Angeles. So rock 'n' roll that they couldn't get it together for a Metro Times photo shoot. Well, they could, sort of, but singer Marlon Hauser couldn't. He might've had bus fare, but then it snowed. If only the Chicago Greyhound bus station hadn't closed ...

On paper, Hauser's a mess. He's homeless. No car, no phone. He's got a 1-year-old son whose mom takes care. He's all but unemployable. Today he's cooling his heels in the home of his baby's grandmother (mom's side) up in Marquette, and talking through a whiskey hangover. His phone voice sounds nervous. No, it's not nerves. He has a (slight) stutter that's been his for life. But "it's better than it used to be."

Dude's no saint — he's had his problems, even suicide attempts — but he's sharp, well-read, self-aware.

Should Hauser be concerned about his lot in life? Who knows? But he isn't. Not really.

"Very few people on this earth know why they're here," he says, gently picking on an acoustic guitar. Young Dashiell Dubois Hauser offers occasional goo-goo babble into the receiver. "I know what I'm here for and I know why. Therefore there's nothing else I do. Once you learn why you are here it makes it really easy to live ... My mother is like, 'Why?'"

Hints of Bukowski and Hesse (of course) color his words, and he counts Trane, Hendrix, the Stooges, Love, the Beatles and the Stones as musical reference points. Hauser fine-lines between a mid-20s messianic-complex and unjaded twinkles of earnestness. "There's only three things that I can do extremely well, Music, have sex, and research politics. I can't do jobs — the plight of the working man is terrible — but I don't want to sound arrogant."

Here's the idea: Rock 'n' roll should demand the here and now — real stories told by real people with real street struggles. We want tales rife with empathy, sexual tension, yearning and bliss. Songs that inspire proactive deeds — inspire physical and intellectual movement — that define us in ways we couldn't possibly imagine. It's a deceptively simple concept that five-man Siddhartha (Hauser on vocals, guitarists Ayinde Zuri and Justin Walker, bassist Michael Pelot and drummer Zenas Jackson) is learning, fast.

Never underestimate the significance of a band's chemistry either; as Hauser says, "musical and spiritual harmony is everything." But such chemistry doesn't guarantee success; if anything, it makes it harder. Siddhartha's one-in-10,000 chemistry — this weird combination of accidents and timing — could implode at any moment. But that shit adds tension to music.

On stage the band summons a mix of disparate adjectives; they're green and sophisticated, horrible and great, ugly and lovely, explosive and moving. There's a shady sexuality that transcends even the too-well-lit and awkward stage schematic. Hauser's a glistening head-shaven pimp-priest — a collision of infernal dirtiness and divine cleanliness, lithesome and shirtless, it's as if he's on a steady diet of Clenbuterol and gonadal steroids. Drummer Jackson has more swing than a hanged man on a breezy day and there's a sort of black Keith and Ronnie thing going on with the guitarists. After burning through a handful of bassists, Pelot's a good choice.

As main band songwriter, Hauser's got a gift: Songs get written in his head — not just lyrics and chords, the whole song. He thinks up and arranges all the pieces — Brian Wilson style — with drum parts, bass lines, guitars, even string and horn sections. He could write the sheet music, but who reads music? Oh, Hauser has perfect pitch too. This is a kid who grew up with a socially crippling stutter in a "shithole" section of East Cleveland. Childhood wasn't so pretty; example: For years, the family would Dumpster-dive for food from a nearby open market. But at age 6, Hauser says he got into the prestigious Cleveland Music School Institute (with two of his three siblings), where "we were the only black kids in the entire symphony."

Mom was a socially aware Black Panther, a musically literate woman who bestowed upon young Marlon a love of jazz, blues and R&B. He stops to consider her: "I don't even think she knows how thankful I am. If I ever make any money from this, there's nothing I wouldn't do for her. She sacrificed her life. She did some things that people would look down on, for me, for us."

Mom was "good at raising cash; cooking, taxi-cabbing people, whatever; it was by hook or by crook. We were on welfare and food stamps. Don't ask me how my mom paid for it all those years. Shit in the hood works out where you, if you don't have the money, you hustle."

After a sand-throwing infraction that, Hauser says, was born of a "racial" issue, he got the institute boot at 15. But by then music language was his. But that stuttering kid in the ghetto carrying a violin case learned to run like a motherfucker ("I would get in fights every day. It's a culture where intelligence isn't really appreciated.") Hence, Hauser says he got into Ypsilanti's Eastern Michigan University on a sports (running) scholarship. "I was gonna sell drugs and see if I could make things happen. You can make a choice. No, I didn't want to live that way, but the fact of the matter is your resources and opportunities are limited. But Eastern was an eye-opener. It was like I could walk around campus with a violin case and not get beat up!"

He manned a violin chair in the EMU Symphony Orchestra. He began singing contemporary R&B covers ("I grew up in the hood so of course I went to a black church. My mom made me join the choir.") Then he discovered Hendrix and bailed on Eastern two courses shy of an international politics degree. It was all about the rock 'n' roll. ("You mean as a black guy I don't have to do R&B? I learned that I could sing a song that wasn't about love!")

He got a guitar, taught himself to play, started writing. After a few band misfires (the Silencers, Velvet Revolution), college running-bud Thomas Galasso — who now manages Siddhartha from Los Angeles — introduced Hauser to Ayinde Zuri, who brought in Justin Walker. Enter Jackson ("Our first drummer lost his mind, literally") and the name Velvet Audio, which changed to Siddhartha in 2005. The hit-and-miss self-titled full-length debut quietly landed last year.

There's inherent restraint in the band's songs — the kind established only after a band works with a good producer. It sounds like Sunset Boulevard circa '67; The Doors rising out of the Whiskey, Arthur Lee's multi-hued meander down on the boulevard.

"Dumcake," from the bands's self-titled, self-released album and EP War is Tragic (each produced by Jim Diamond), shows the band firing all cylinders. Misleadingly uncomplicated, it's a run of sweet psyche-pop pushed and pulled languidly by Hauser's sunny-day croon. It's love song, yeah, but sour.

"At the time I'd been listening to a lot of Love. Especially Forever Changes, where the music is beautiful but the lyrics are dark as hell. I wanted the music to draw the people in and have the lyrics to be cryptic but still poppy."

What's next? Mick Collins is recording a Siddhartha 7-inch that might be out in a month. The band's contributing "Holiday" to a Madonna covers album — alongside Giant Drag, Devendra Banhart, VietNam and others — that Manimal Vinyl records is putting out. Through the Wilderness: A Tribute to Madonna is a benefit for an unnamed African AIDS charity. The same label is releasing the next Siddhartha record — a double album (?!) — in the fall. The band hasn't started recording it, but will in Los Angeles after a short summer tour. In the meantime, Spain's Munster records is reissuing a slightly altered version of the band's debut.

The very things that promise an existence fraught with misery in a "normal" life are what make for great rock 'n' roll. Jim Carroll, Betty Davis and Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and Keith Richards; one can't imagine them in a workaday job, as sensible shoppers clipping coupons and hunting for reasonable car insurance while holding down a marriage and mortgage. You can't because they couldn't. Hauser is probably one of those. And we can only pity those who never got their due.

"I ain't black enough for black people and not white enough for white people," says the dude whose band name is nicked from a Hesse novel and who shaved his head to avoid Lenny Kravitz comparisons. "I carry my acoustic and my bag with two days' change of clothes, that's it. I live wherever I can; and that means a lot of cold and hungry nights. I have no idea how I get it done. It's only through the grace of God — or whatever you want to call it ..."

Brian Smith is features editor of Metro Times. Send comments to bsmith@metrotimes.com.

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