Five-piece electro rockers East Hundred work tirelessly on (and talk about) new material.
The five members of Philadelphia’s East Hundred fill a cozy basement practice space inside a multipurpose Fishtown warehouse.
Diminutive but vivacious vocalist Beril Guceri flips through a notebook of scribbled lyrics. Guitarist Brooke Blair plays around with effects pedals, searching for the perfect tone on his Telecaster. His brother, drummer Will Blair, gets into a rhythm with the progression Dave Sunderland is hammering out on bass. Susan Gager situates herself behind a tower of keyboards, ready to strike.
They’ve made the best out of the space since scoring it through a friend. It’s got carpeting, a couch, a little home recording studio, all kinds of instruments and equipment and, most importantly, a mini fridge stocked with tasty local brews. It’s a good work environment, and that’s just what they intend to do: Work.
They aren’t here to jam. At least not in the sense of just messing around. There’s a clear purpose, and they’re trying to fine-tune the growing catalog of new material, piece by piece.
Today’s focus is a promising mid-tempo rocker called “Fools, Kings and Queens.”
“Let’s just play it as though we’ve played it a million times,” suggests Will Blair, seated behind his kit in one corner of the room.
On this first try however, they don’t even make it past the intro before stopping to make some adjustments on the opening guitar part. Will says this kind of intensive tinkering and nit-picking is time-consuming, and it can be frustrating, but in the end, the result is something all the members of the band can be happy with.
Throughout the three-hour practice, the band only manages to play through the entire song once. Much of the time is spent working out the complete structure and intricacies of individual sections of the song. The original chorus progression is scrapped and reworked entirely, a few times over. They map out chord changes and the song’s overall structure on a dry erase board.
“Don’t tell anyone we use a dry erase board,” jokes Brooke. “That is so not rock ‘n’ roll.”
The band talk about “Fools.” Then they talk some more. After that, they talk some more.
They’re not “attacking it” yet, Brooke insists. Gager thinks the chorus should pack more wallop. It’s too “Noodletown,” says Will.
“I think we talk more about the music than we play the music,” Gager quips.
The band laughs, because she’s got a point. After a few more tries at “Fools,” and much more discussion, the band decide to shelve it until the next practice later in the week. They’ll each think about it on their own and land on something definitive then.
East Hundred have never been signed to a record label. For them this is, and has always been, a Do It Yourself venture. They’ve been self-recording, self-producing and self-promoting since the band’s inception around 2004. It all began when the Blair brothers asked Guceri, Brooke’s then-girlfriend, to add vocals to the demos they were working on together.
“I would just sing to myself,” Guceri says, “I never had lessons, and I had never sung in public before this band. All I knew was that I wanted to be in a band really badly and write songs.”
When the trio reached out to friends Sunderland and Gager, it was an instant connection.
“It was serendipitous,” Guceri says with a smile.
Remaining independent has been frustrating at times for the band, but rewarding at others, giving them unlimited creative freedom and the time necessary to perfect their work. They’ve put together their own East Coast tours and built a steady fan base on their own terms.
In January 2009, the group released their first full-length LP, Passenger , which began as an EP in 2007 at Drexel’s Mad Dragon Studios and evolved with the help of Brian McTear at Miner Street Studios, an album that has since received local and national praise. WXPN has also been kind to the band, offering them a spot in last summer’s XPoNential Music Festival and giving a few of their songs regular radio airplay.
Time for a big Bang breakthrough?