Seeing No-Fi Soul Rebellion perform is a little like looking through the bedroom window of 13-year-old kid who is listening to his favorite CD and rocking out in front of the mirror. He rooster-struts around the room, he writhes on the floor in musical ecstasy, he pogo-hops and plays air guitar, living out sweaty fantasies of rock stardom. You see, No-Fi Soul Rebellion isn’t really a band in the traditional sense. Front man Mark Heimer will occasionally play bass or guitar as he sings, but the real music comes from a skip-proof portable CD player inside in the hollowed out bass guitar of the other No-Fi member, Lucas Tanglen.
A fraud? A hoax? Is No-Fi Soul Rebellion the Missoula equivalent of Milli-Vanilli—scamming audiences, lip-synching to pre-recorded music? No. Rest assured, they really do sing on stage. Heimer sometimes makes himself laugh mid-song, or droplets of spittle will fly from his mouth onto onlookers’ faces as he belts out the choruses. This doesn’t happen when someone lip-syncs.
So, you ask, what is it, then? Karaoke? That’s a little closer, but it’s not the music of Elvis, James Brown or anyone else blasting from the CD player. Heimer calls it “original karaoke.” He emphasized at least three times during a recent interview that the music is original. Though you probably wouldn’t call your average karaoke performer down at the bowling alley a musical virtuoso, arguably that title can be applied to Heimer. On the pre-recorded tracks, he plays the bass, guitar, and keyboard parts, and does most of the backup vocals. A friend helped him do the drum tracks, but the music is all his. Heimer says that he prefers solitary songwriting.
“Maybe someday if I find people who have the same musical tastes as me, I might be in a real band, but this is working fine for now,” Heimer says.
So if Heimer is the musical innovator, the sole creator of the No-Fi sound, why is Tanglen in the band? “Because I can get free beer at Jay’s when we play,” Tanglen says. Heimer’s answer to the question is slightly more aesthetic. “Lucas is the anchor of the band,” he explains. While Heimer executes his spastic rock-star dreams, Tanglen remains on stage, bobbing his head to the music and pantomimes playing the hollowed-out bass guitar that’s not only missing its guts, but also pickups and strings. This adds a second, subtler absurdity to the No-Fi Soul Rebellion. The man who remains on stage and seems to be intent on playing doesn’t even look like he’s playing. The notes never match up, and at times Tanglen will stop strumming, but the bass from the CD player keeps humming along. The ridiculousness of it all makes No-Fi Soul Rebellion so much fun to watch.
Although lots of pop stars try to hide the fact that their music is pre-recorded, No-Fi Soul Rebellion brings this fact to the forefront. You can’t make fun of the guy who’s already making fun of himself.
“I wanted to something different, invent something new in music,” says Heimer, who had the idea to employ a boom box as a musical instrument. “I later decided a boom box was too ‘ghetto.’ Not that ghetto’s bad, it’s just wasn’t for me.” From there, it wasn’t a far leap to the idea of using his dad’s router to hollow out his old bass and install the CD player. “My dad’s into carpentry,” Heimer says. “So it’s an homage to him.”
Craftsmanship, however, isn’t the only salute to Heimer’s parents. Anyone who has seen No-Fi Soul Rebellion undoubtedly remembers the costume Heimer dons for every show. It’s a green basketball jersey worn over a collared, white shirt with black necktie flapping over the number 13 on his chest. He also wears a pair of black-framed glasses without lenses. He calls this “a conglomeration of my failures.” Heimer explains that the jersey represents his failure to be the athlete his father hoped he’d be, and the shirt and tie are for his mother.
“She always wanted me to dress nice, especially for church on Sundays. I never did, so it’s my failure to live up to her expectations,” Heimer says. And the glasses? “Nobody hits a guy wearing glasses.” Heimer says it’s his way of avoiding a punch in the face for being obnoxious.
After all this, you’re probably wondering: What’s the music like? Lyrically, No-Fi addresses everything from friendship to relationships to occasional existential tangents pondering what it’s all about. Also, both Heimer and Tanglen are Christians. “We’re not proselytizing or trying to win any converts, but Christianity sometimes finds its way into the lyrics,” Heimer says. Musically, No-Fi Soul Rebellion doesn’t adhere to one specific sound. There are lots of swooping bass lines and danceable drumbeats of funk, but you can also hear currents of anthem rock, hip-hop, folk and country. Whereas a plethora of bands that mix genres compare themselves to a salad or a stew—a bit of this and a dash of that to create one tasty dish—Heimer compares his band to a blintz or a crêpe: “It’s delicate, flaky, light and delicious.”
Most bands play new songs before they record, but due to their technical setup No-Fi Soul Rebellion must record a song first before they can play it live. The good news is that they are currently working on a follow-up to their debut CD, The Chocolate Demos. Although the album (tentatively titled Code Pink) won’t be finished until autumn, Heimer says that they should have a few new songs for their July 23 show. “We’ve been doing the same songs since the last CD came out last summer,” he says, “So it’ll be good to play something fresh.”