Posted by: Addison – Oct 18, 2012
Herro Sugar have been generating quite the buzz around the RVA indie rock scene lately. Their catchy indie rock tunes and tight live performances win over new fans on a regular basis. They are clearly a band on the rise--which makes their young ages all the more noteworthy. “We’re all going to be juniors in high school when school starts,” they inform me recently, collectively responding by email to my barrage of questions. Lead guitarist Tristan Fisher recently turned 17, while the other members of the band--singer/guitarist Jack Mayock, bassist Noma Illmensee, and drummer Jack Oliver--are all 16. Taking inspiration from “a collective love of Wilco and The Smiths,” early 2000s garage rock revival groups like The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and of course, plenty of local music (they cite The Trillions, Black Girls, White Laces, and The Milkstains as local favorites), Herro Sugar have integrated their influences into a strong, original sound that is quick to capture the attention of listeners.
The four of them became a musical unit around three years ago. “We had all been best friends for years before we started to play music together,” they explain. “Tristan’s been playing guitar since he was 9, but the rest of us have only been playing our instruments for about as long we’ve been playing together.” At first just messing around in their garages, figuring out their instruments, and learning a bunch of covers kept the four teenagers amused. But then they discovered the local scene. “We started going to shows of bands like the I-Las and the Nervous Ticks at Plaza Bowl and the Camel. This inspired us to get more serious about writing our own songs.” However, wise enough to recognize their own inexperience, Herro Sugar only gradually began booking shows, taking things slowly and giving themselves plenty of time to grow and learn. They take this same painstaking, unhurried approach to songwriting. “We spend a lot of time with our songs. A lot of our current songs have been evolving for at least a year.”
Of course, for a group of teenage boys to be able to spend a lot of time learning their instruments, developing songs, and becoming comfortable as a performing unit, they need to have a group of tolerant and understanding parents. The boys in Herro Sugar have that and more. “We’ve grown up with a lot of musical encouragement from families,” they explain. “[Our parents] have also been kind enough to provide living rooms and basements for us to practice in.” Herro Sugar’s familial connections offer more than just permission to use the basement as a practice space, though. “Almost all of our dads were in bands, and are still,” they relate. “Noma’s dad has a long history as a guitar player in Richmond, having for many years been a part of Frog Legs and Boneanchor. Tristan’s dad grew up playing in the Richmond scene and is currently the drummer for the Jangling Reinharts. Jack Mayock’s dad spent many years hopping trains and making a living as a musician around the country.” This remarkable pedigree certainly helps to explain how such young performers come by such a prodigious amount of talent, and it’s always fascinating to see the ways that the talents of one musical generation pass down to the next.
Although they self-released a homemade demo back in winter of 2010, Herro Sugar’s first real release came out earlier this year. The self-titled 3-song EP was recorded with studio time they acquired by winning a battle of the bands hosted by the nonprofit organization Let Them Shine. Its songs are both well-recorded and excellently written and performed, and a homemade video for “Moments,” one of the tracks on the EP, caught a lot of people’s attention. Filmed and directed by bassist Noma Illmensee, the inspired video mixes footage of the band and their friends goofing off at home and at school with madcap footage Illmensee shot while riding his bike around the Fan with his video camera mounted on his shoulder.
“I had been filming all the stuff our band had been doing as our school year wound down, figuring that I might as well document these moments in our lives for fun and posterity,” Noma says. “I also enjoyed the thrill and style of filming on my bike as I rode to and from practice and elsewhere.” The idea for the “Moments” video came from the juxtaposition of the song's lyrics and the footage he'd shot. “I figured I could make a stylistic impact by using the song ‘Moments’ as inspiration for the videos, which ended up featuring ideas that inspired the song. So I matched the shots to the beat and figured that they went well together.” The end result is a sunny, upbeat video with a subtle undercurrent of deeper emotion, which matches with the feeling of the song and combines to create an unforgettable sequence of images and music. It’s an excellent indication of what Herro Sugar are capable of, even as young as they are.
They’d rather we not focus so much on their ages, though. “We think of ourselves as less of a high school band, and more of an RVA band that happens to be in high school,” they comment. “We hope that we can gain recognition for our music despite being so young compared to everyone else playing in Richmond.” In the wake of their first EP’s small-scale success, they're in the process of readying their next release. “We’re finishing an 8 song EP we recorded with a friend of ours, musician and sound engineer Collin Pastore,” they explain. Their plans for the fall semester include the release of the new EP and plenty of local shows, and they hope to be able to take their act on tour next summer.
If Herro Sugar carries on at the rate they’re going, they could be one of the leading lights of the Richmond scene by the time they finish high school. Considering that in a few years, their generation will be the one carrying on the RVA tradition of a vibrant, exciting, and original local music scene, it’s good to see that there are some talented, passionate young musicians preparing to step into that role.
By Andrew Necci/Photos by Marin Leong