It’s been one and a half years since former locals No-Fi Soul Rebellion last swung through Missoula, but recently, while playing in their current home of Bellingham, Wash., the husband-and-wife duo of Mark and Andrea Heimer met a Missoula fan with a curious story to tell. The fan alleged that one night a small group of people broke into Jay’s Upstairs (the legendary Missoula rock venue that’s been closed since October 2003), slipped a No-Fi CD into a player and had a dance party. “And I was like, ‘Is that true? It sounds a little too fantastic,’” Mark says. “But the guy swears it’s true, so that’s flattering.”
And probably apt, too, considering No-Fi Soul Rebellion’s modus operandi. Live performance is key to the band’s music. Mark, as frontman, struts and dances, gets up in the faces of individual audience members and rolls around in a frenzy of screams and sweaty contortions. It seems fair to say that for a fan of such performances, listening to the CD solo in the comfort of your home just doesn’t hack it.
In fact, No-Fi Soul Rebellion’s 2001 inception was born out of Mark’s disillusionment with live shows. In his mind’s eye, the emotion captured in recorded music should be conveyed with equal (if not extra) fervor in on-stage dramatics. But he wasn’t seeing it happen.
“I put higher expectations on performers because their performance is what I think of when I listen to their music,” he says. “Bands that I love, like the Pixies, I might not even go see because I’ve heard they just stand there while playing their songs.”
Such dissatisfaction led Mark to tip the scales the other way and focus more on high-level performance, undeterred by the imaginary boundaries of the stage and the hindrance of instruments. His solution: the Soul System, a contraption comprised of an MP3 player embedded in a hollowed-out bass guitar. The MP3 feeds into the PA system and the pre-recorded songs plays as Mark sings live. Sound like karaoke? Well, sort of, except that the pre-recorded songs are originals written, played and recorded by Mark. Andrea, meanwhile, provides feigned strumming on the bass-looking Soul System (as well as back-up vocals and stage banter). The setup frees Mark to perform his heart out. Which he does.
Now, No-Fi Soul Rebellion is in the midst of a tour, including a Missoula homecoming this weekend, to promote their new Wäntage USA release, Lambs to the Slaughter. The five-song effort comes on enhanced CD with a music video featuring a corndog. “I think some aspects of the album are a little more cohesive [than previous albums] as far as songwriting style goes,” Mark says.
Still, Mark’s real exuberance is reserved for the full-length album he’s been fine-tuning for the last six months. “Every release I’ve had up to this point, I’ve always had apprehension about it,” he says. “You get to the point that if you’re writing all the songs and playing all the instruments, you’ve heard them a bazillion times. I get doubts in my head about whether it’s really quality stuff or not.” But this time, Mark is confident and excited about his new compositions, some of which he’ll debut on the current tour.
Mark may be the band’s writer and frontman, but Andrea gives No-Fi an added charm and humor. More importantly to Mark, their union as life- and band-mates is key. “She’s 100-percent supportive. It’s really built up my self-confidence, having someone who you love and who reciprocates that.” It’s a confidence that Mark claims fuels his high-spirited performances.
Confidence is also important for the duo because their departure from Missoula a year ago led them to bigger ponds: Seattle, Vancouver and Portland. Along with a New Year’s Resolution to tour more often, Mark wants to make more music videos like the one on the new CD—a move that isn’t surprising, since video is yet another medium for theatrics. Such theatrics, Mark says, are inspired by favorite bands like Nation of Ulysses and The Make Up, both fronted by Ian Sevonious. Strangely enough, Mark never got the chance to see either band live, but that didn’t stop him from imagining what the performance would be like.
“I imagined [Sevonious] as a total maniac, going out of control. Not just being crazy, but being wholly devoted to what he is saying—so into it that it makes him scream. I really like that cathartic aspect of performance.”
No-Fi Soul Rebellion plays the Boys & Girls Club Saturday, May 14, at 7:30 PM. Tickets cost $8 at the door.