WHAT DO you call a person that hangs out with musicians?
More often then not, drummers are the butt of the joke. According to the classic punchlines, they're the talentless, drooling Neanderthals in the band that just make fists and bash stuff. Portland's Hot Victory are out to discredit such foolishness. The band consists of only two members, Ben Stoller and Caitlin Love, and they are both drummers. The complexity of their music and how they make it is certainly enough to baffle any smartass guitar player.
The pair uses two trap sets that are joined at the hi-hat, along with acoustic triggers, electronic drum pads, and a MIDI sampler that pushes notes and sounds through to the pads. The setup looks like an archaic, man-powered time machine. And the sound that Stoller and Love create with it is some kind of electro-proggy-free jazz with a tribal vibe; it's as perplexing to hear as it is fascinating to witness.
Hot Victory and their elaborate stage setup didn't come to fruition instantly. Initially, the band played shows accompanied by a boombox that blasted tapes of samples and other sound effects that the duo improvised over. They also tried bringing in third members to do synth and looping work, but eventually went the direction they wanted to go all along—evidenced on their brand-new cassette, Nexus.
"We decided to go full throttle with an idea we had since the beginning: drums triggering and controlling all the synths and samples," says Stoller. "This of course is easier said than done, but after a year and a half of fine-tuning our setup, things are really coming together."
For a band that eschews traditional songwriting instruments, the writing process is naturally... unnatural. "It usually starts one of two ways: with a drum idea, or a sort of 'riff' I'll jam on a synth at home," Stoller explains. "Then it's a matter of programming the MIDI rig so that our triggers play the melody, bass line, or whatever. Then we'll figure out how to layer the acoustic drums on top of that."
"It's really quite tedious because there's no immediate payoff for coming up with a part," says Love. "It may be seven hours before you get to actually hear what you're writing with all the programming involved, but it's worth it."
Of course, Hot Victory knows exactly what they want, how they want it, and they have no bones about being a band without frets. "It definitely opens up a whole different dimension not having a guitar player 4/4ing your dreams into the ground," Love says. "The sky's the limit when it's just two of you with a pretty solid vision of what you're shooting for."
Love and Stoller realize that what they create might be a bit much to handle. Just the idea of a band whose only two members are both drummers is something of a challenge—never mind the space prog they produce. Love says, "The best way to approach listening or watching [us] is probably not to attempt to overthink or analyze what's going on. If you're spending that time nit-picking our setup or whatever, you're blowing it."
Both agree that shock and awe are reactions they receive often. "We like when people look like they're actually freaking out," says Love.
"We're instrumental—cosmic tunes with heavy drums, take what you want from it," adds Stoller. "At shows it usually seems like people are either fucking stoked or totally don't get it, and that's perfect!"