The Be Helds are a garage rock band, so when I go over to a house in the Lower Rattlesnake to meet them, we head out to the garage and they play loud and fast and surrounded by junk. There are only two of them and they both sing and they face each other when they play, so it's like they're having a yelling match as they alternate barking hard into their microphones. Their amps are draped in American flags. Ralston Coorough wears his guitar the way men in action movies wear their machine guns—slung high up, near his neck—and he lunges forward when he plays it. Jordon Lybeck's drums are a new set, he tells me, but they look pretty banged up already and they're taking a new beating now. It's too loud to hear what they're singing about but there's no doubt that they mean it. It got dark early tonight and winter's coming on strong and I'm the only person listening. But The Be Helds want to have fun, so they're having fun.
It wasn't always this way for them. Before they formed The Be Helds, they both played in a prog band that was first called Deny the Dinosaur and was later renamed Cruel World Dream Band. They have a lot of good things to say about that experience, but it wasn't giving them what they wanted.
"I just like simple, fun music," Lybeck says. "That's why we quit, sort of, because we were like, 'We don't really like this music. We like garage music. Why are we playing this? Let's just start something funner and not give a shit.'"
So they did. They were unemployed and they didn't have much else to do, so they didn't give a shit and started playing. Lybeck had never even played drums before. This was in May. They each already had a few songs written and they worked together on some more and two weeks later, they had enough material for an album. Then they spent a day recording the album at Black National, a studio a friend of theirs is just starting in town. The result was Volume 1, a collection of 10 songs that's available on their Bandcamp page now and coming out on vinyl as soon as Lybeck finishes gluing the album covers together.
"It's just pop songs, and the lyrics don't have to mean all that much," says Coorough. "It can just be songs about girls and shit. It doesn't really matter so much. It's just trying to get across a good feeling, I suppose. Getting people jazzed up. Dancing. Getting drunk."
"Hugging and kissing and having fun," Lybeck adds. "That's the goal."
Hence, the name.
"We were named by a friend," Lybeck says, "but we thought it fit well with our message of just having fun and being accepting and enjoying people for who they really are. And not being pretentious about it. Just hugging and being like, 'We all live short lives, let's have fun'...Don't put that in there. I'm a little drunk."
They refill their wine when we go back out to the garage, and now they're playing loud and loose and urgent and there's some skis leaned up against the wall, some bad furniture strewn around, some smashed boxes, an old TV, a ladder leading up to a scary-seeming attic. Lybeck blows into a harmonica and smashes his drums. Coorough sings, I guess, about girls and drinking. What else is there?
Then they're done and we go back out into the night and they tell me how now that they both have jobs—both at Worden's—they aren't as prolific as they were during the first, unemployed weeks of The Be Helds's history. This is just one more strike against laboring.
"I play my guitar a lot," Coorough tells me, "but I haven't come up with a finished product in a while. Just need to do it, I guess."
But if The Be Helds are going to keep going somewhere, they have to keep trying not to get anywhere. It's staying loose and carefree that keeps their music exciting.
"This is a band that I'd listen to if it wasn't us," Lybeck said. "I really enjoy this shit. So it's nice, you know. I don't know if it's 'cause we didn't spend any time on these songs, so it still sounds like somebody else's song."
"If it becomes work," Coorough adds, "you start to hate it." He pauses, considers and says, "I don't know where I was going with that."
The Be Helds play Zoo City Apparel Wednesday, November 2, at 9:30 PM with Dead Dog, Mouthbreathers and Bad Naked. $5.