Al Over It with Happy, Hairball Guitarist
Hairball was busy packing up their truck to get on the road, but I was able to catch up with Hairball Guitarist, Happy, on the phone today to talk about their upcoming Halloween show at Grizzly Rock in Lakewood, CO.
Alan Sperry from Mile High Feedback: What’s the history of Hairball?
How did everyone come together?
Happy: Hairball is just kind of the band that never grew up. Essentially, we do exactly what we did in high school, all of us. Most of the guys in the band have played in and out of bands in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area for quite a while now. Really, my set list and my stage clothes haven’t changed since I was in high school. We just never grew up. It never stopped being cool to me. I have always felt that a loud guitar through a Marshall amp is always in style and it’s always fashionable. Some of this music just seems to have staying
power. The cool thing is, it seems like people that might be in their 40s and 50s that went to these concerts, they get a chance to kind of relive all of this stuff. A lot of times we do all-ages shows, and it’s amazing how many 8 to 12-year olds seem to know everything as well, through video games or tv commercials. I’m not sure, but they all seem to know it.
There was no master design. It’s just the same things I’ve been doing most of my life. Everybody in this band has been in original bands and have had records in various bands. We all still write songs, but Hairball is more of a show, it’s a production, and it’s the excitement that we try to create by just celebrating what is KISS, Van Halen, Queen, Motley Crue; all of the artists that we cover. And we just stick to big theatre things, so as soon as you see that thing come around the corner, you know, ah, that’s Alice Cooper. There are many bands from that era that had great music, but nobody dresses up like Tesla for
Halloween. We tend to stick to things that were big arena pieces, and when we do those things, we bring all the theatre with it. If you get KISS, somebody is going to breathe fire. If you get Alice Cooper, you’re going to see get a snake and someone gets their head cut off. If you get Twisted Sister, you get the big, giant outfit with the shoulder pads and the guy is 8 feet tall. It was just kind of what I was attracted to as a reckless kid. It was the records that I bought, and it’s still cool to me to this day. There was no brilliant business plan. It’s all an accident. I like to call it a fabulous disaster. It just worked
MHF: Have any of the acts seen your show?
Happy: I don’t know that they’ve so much they’ve seen the show, but we’ve been at a few conventions. Our Dee Snider met the real Dee Snider, and that was a good photo op. I believe Bret Michaels has been on some bills. He is just a great supporter of anything cool with Rock & Roll. Any time we have crossed paths, he is a very social, accommodating, festive guy. Other than that, I don’t have any great stories of somebody in KISS that has gotten up and played with us…not yet, but I am sure many of them are aware.
MHF: Who or what inspired you to be a rock star?
Happy: The first concert my dad took me to was KISS on the Love Gun Tour. That really set it in motion of how powerful that job could be, and exactly how fun, and how important it was. My first guitar influence was Ace Frehley. Growing up in grade school, I studied them all, from Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Ace Frehley, Brian May, and Eddie Van Halen. I just found that I, as much as I like to keep my music integrity, and think it’s just about the music, I’ll be honest with you, as a kid, it was more than about the music to me. I was just taken by
the showmanship, and the theatre, and the environment that is the set up that I think makes it so powerful.
The Who, that is so much that there is so much musical perfection in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, you can hear Peter Townsend hit the strings so hard that the strings pull sharp. That’s what gives it the rage and that energy because it’s not musically perfect. Sometimes I think that’s what’s so good about older music that was was recorded on tape, as compared with computer-based cut and paste techniques that are applied more today. Let’s get one chorus perfect and we’ll cut and paste it throughout the song. I am just a big fan of performance and emotion. My opinion is the best musician is somebody that has a voice and identity. Don’t get me wrong, I am amazed at watching Steve Vai play guitar, but
I find Ace Frehley bending notes and melodies that he made and the certain bends he put in there, are amazing to me. “We Will Rock You,” is two stomps and a hand-clap, but I am amazed at the creativity of writing and developing that. There was quote from a guitar player getting interviewed. I don’t know for sure who it was, but it might have been Eddie Vedder getting interviewed and talking about Eddie Van Halen and how he could play Eruption in his sleep backwards, and the interviewer asked him, “Yes, but could you write it?”
Hairball is just sort of tipping our hats, and celebrating everything that is cool in Rock & Roll.
And it’s timeless. We just don’t grow up. You let me know when that Elvis things stops being cool. It’s not something that I like to over think. We’re coming in for the Halloween show. To me, Hairball is the perfect career. It’s Halloween, New Year’s Eve, and your birthday slammed into two hours with some fireworks. That’s how we make a living. I decided very young from watching those bands, that how you make your living is really important. If you do something you like, you’ll never work a day in your life. After I saw some of these groups, I thought, “Dad, that looks like good work.” My dad played guitar and he was kind of an Elvis Presley guy when he was in high school. I used to watch him
play Elvis songs on the guitar. He showed me my first chords, and really, I have to give him credit for supporting what I wanted to do. Just about as good as any parent can do. That’s where it started.
MHF: How did you and the rest of your band mates get your
Happy: My personal stage name, Happy, is just a jumbo-shrimp thing. The sound man named me that because I was just kind of a perfectionist, and I always seemed like I was bitchy. Every Time we would come into a place, I would want to listen to the kick drum for an hour during sound check just to make sure it was perfect. I would make the sure the crew brought in every light, and if there wasn’t some place to fit it, then smash some of the duct work and move the heater vent, and cram that other light in there because I want the biggest rock show we could pull our of our truck and cram into whatever place we were
playing. “Yeah, yeah. Whatever, Happy. ” The truth of it was, even though I crabby cuss, preparing for an intense rock show, inside, I actually was very happy; what I loved doing. The rest of the guys? I don’t even know where they came from.
MHF: What keeps you guys going night after night?
Happy: A couple of things. The first thing I’ve found is, I think it’s best if you’re doing things for yourself first. I played what I enjoyed playing. It’s just music that I love playing and can’t get away from it. Then there are those times when you have the flu or you’ve twisted your ankle. The last time I was in Denver, actually I was throwing up and I was sick, but there’s something about that crowd of people in the room ready to have a good time, that can seem to make you well really quick and get you fired up. In the beginning of it, it was designed to be something I’d like to see. If I wasn’t in Hairball, I’d be a fan of Hairball. It’s the kind of show I’d like to see. That’s where it starts and it escalates, and the motivation to want to get in a truck and drive 16-17 hours to Denver to put it on. It’s the excitement that happens when you pack a room. It’s a good buzz. It really is. I always keep in my mind when it’s a small house, in my life, I have played many of small club shows. I feel I give the same intensity to 50 people or 5,000 people. I always imagine that one person that saw me and brought his friend to the show and says, “You have to see these
guys! You’re not going to believe this!” I keep that in my mind about him and his buddy. You know what, there’s only 50 people here tonight, but I can’t let that person down. And the other members of Hairball that were around when we were just drawing small numbers. A mental game I play with myself, every time I go on stage, just to make sure my intensity is up. Push through the hurt, man. Don’t let that guy down because he just talked his friend into coming and seeing you.
MHF: What are some of your favorite places?
Happy: Any place that has 120 volts coming out of the outlet and there’s a big enough stage that I can do a somersault and land the Russian splits. Some of the outdoor, summer shows are really good. We get large crowds and everything. Certainly when we get big venues, we go crazy with fireworks and pyrotechnics. Our pyro guy was Prince’s pyro guy. And we got him off the road with Beyonce, but he’s done Paul McCartney and Metallica. If you want a good story, talk to Pyro Chuck. He probably has had the most mileage and work with the biggest people from this band. I am just a fan of seeing that. There’s nothing like hitting an A-chord and having an explosion go off right behind you to make you feel like you have the power of the gods behind you. I wouldn’t say any venue in particular, other than I like coming into small towns even, they seem to be focused on having a good time. Really the requirements are electricity and enough stage dimensions to get loose. Then every one of them is my favorite.
MHF: What were some crazy moments on stage?
Happy: Nobody in the band had realized what had happened until we went to pick him up at the emergency room, but Rockstar Bob was doing the fire breathing and the torch is a sword. He usually puts in the big block. He just wasn’t paying attention and was all riled up and decided to throw it into his foot instead of the archery pad; a self-inflicted move. All of the sudden the set list was getting jockeyed around and we’re like, “What’s going on here? I don’t get what is happening.” And later on we got the word that Bob was down.
Because with numbers of singers working with this thing, I just don’t even know. Whatever comes out of the phone booth and around the corner, I know what I do. If I see someone dressed up like Steve Perry coming out, I know to go into Journey. If I see Axl Rose, I know what to do. That’s about all I need to know. He didn’t end up messing up and bones, and it was a pile of stitches. It was nothing some duct tape, some Vicodin, and couple shots of Jagermeister couldn’t fix. He just kind of wrapped it up, and we actually played in Vegas the next couple of days. He was more worried about flying with his foot.
All the touring and time, all the guys are pretty much Scrabble experts. I wouldn’t recommend anybody taking on our drummer in Jeopardy or Scrabble.
MHF: What are you looking forward to the most on your trip to Colorado?
Happy: I am looking forward to not being sick this time. I am looking forward to being healthy, and putting on a more intense show where I more physically feel better. The thing about Hairball has so much talent and so many weapons. I would hate to let those guys know that it isn’t completely about me, because there is just so much going on. I personally look forward to giving it hell and being healthy. I love the scenery. I have been around Denver many times with other bands. And it’s going to be Halloween. It’s going to be a festival. I look forward to costumes. There will probably be some girls in sexy outfits.
That’s always conducive for getting a good Rock & Roll attitude.
MHF: Where are you playing for New Year’s Eve?
Happy: We are playing the Medina ballroom, near the Twin Cities, staying close to home.
They all feel like New Year’s Eve to me. It’s just another day for Hairball really. We bring the same amount of fireworks, the same stage props and amps, and whatever we can pack into the room. We light it up whether it’s Tuesday or New Year’s Eve. It’s the same level of party.
As Happy puts it, “Be there, or be sorry!”
Addendum: I wasn’t sure what to expect with the interview, if Happy would be tongue-in-cheek, and be completely in character or what. As you can see from the responses, Happy came off as very sincere, passionate, and insightful. I enjoyed talking to him. He loves what he does and it shows. Happy is serious about being a rocker. He works at it. He lives it. He knows what he wants, and he is Happy. He is happy, and I hope he never grows up.