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Hoi' Polloi interview

HOI’ POLLOI recorded an amazing LP back in the ’70s, but like many other bands remained forgotten due the lack of exposure. There was a wonderful reissue done recently and we had opportunity to talk with guys about their LP, which remained pretty much forgotten. Here is an interview with engineer John Schuerman and with member of the band – Charlie Bleak.

You were all from Richmond, Indiana and you formed when you studied at Earlham College. Were you in any bands before forming Hoi' Polloi? Did those bands release anything?

Charlie Bleak: To keep the record straight, none of us were born and raised in Richmond, Indiana. We met there as students of Earham College. Speaking for myself, I was in a number of bands between age 12 and 18. One was the Cheerful  Earful. We appeared on the nationally syndicated TV show: The Upbeat Show.  We did a rock version of "Five Foot Two".

How was the scene in the college city? Any other bands you remember?

Charlie Bleak: I helped form two other bands while at Earlham College prior to the Hoi Polloi project. One was called Ralph, the other was called Waste. No recordings of those bands exist. There wasn't really a "scene" musically in Richmond that I was aware of.

So, how exactly did the idea to start a band come to realization in Earlham College?

Charlie Bleak: Hoi Polloi was basically a studio creation. Dan Mack and Bruce Wallace were living in a farm house with some other folks and they started to write together as well as writing songs on their own. We all knew each other, and we appreciated each other's music. I don't recall who said, "Hey, let's record all this and make an album", but one thing lead to another. The only person on the album who didn't attend Earlham was the bass guitar player, Jeff D'Angelo (AKA Sid Stoneman). I called him, and he agreed to participate.

What would you say were your most important influences? It's interesting the album has a very unique sound, and as Patrick Lundborg stated a few years ago, the only influences that we can hear are maybe late Beatles.

Charlie Bleak: The influences are very diverse. Who knows what sticks in your mind from the time you first start listening to music and when you start trying to write your own? For me, what I CAN tell you is that I got hooked on rock n roll from age 6 or 7, and I loved the same artists that I found out years later that the Beatles loved growing up as well. Like Elvis, Fats Domino, Little Richard, The Isley Brothers, The Everley Brothers et cetera. I was and still am a huge Beatles fan, but I was also into Traffic, Frank Zappa, Spirit, Lovin' Spoonful, The Youngbloods, The Young Rascals and many others.

Tell us about the early songwriting process and about those early basement jams, out of which the record was born.

Charlie Bleak: What I recall is that by the time we brought Jeff D'angelo in, the songs were pretty much set. We rehearsed the songs out at Dan and Bruce's farm prior to going into record them. We weren't jamming all that much; we were just learning the tunes to record them. As far as songs co-written by Dan Mack and Bruce Wallace, you need to talk to them. At that time, the songs I wrote were written and complete when I brought them to the others.

Where was the album recorded and what can you tell us about the recording and producing it?

Charlie Bleak: We had the GREAT good fortune to have a friend who was the Guru of all things audio and visual at Earlham College, Mr. John Schuerman, who is the unsung hero of this whole saga. He was also responsible for the in house radio station. Once we had the idea to record, we approached John and he immediately embraced the idea. Basically we recorded the album in a lecture space usually reserved for music and arts during Spring break. We had just so many days (7 to 10) to finish. Then the students would be back and we would be kicked out. I do recall that on one of the last sessions, it was the the day the students were back, and I kept trying to hurry things up before someone crashed through the doors and ruined a take. It was the final overdub with about 8 people on "Who's Gonna Help Me?"

When recording was complete, everyone pretty much scattered. We did one concert on campus to try and sell some albums and that was it.I heard recently that an original Hoi' Polloi album can sell for 500 to 600 dollars (US) in Europe! But between the end of recording and the concert we did, John Schuerman and I programmed and mastered the final album. I am responsible for the side 1 editing of various bits and pieces that get a little screwy and weird. Like Hoi' Polloi Peeks Out, Instead Boogie, which was a 4 AM in the morning spontaneous jam (when we were stoned and basically sleep walking) and would have been considered an out take. And the end of that, when it speeds up and then breaks down at the end, you can hear Jeff D'Angelo's voice saying, "Lost . . . lost" right before the big chord CRASH! (which I instigated specifically for the purpose of a segue, kind of like the big chord at the end "A Day in the Life") which cross fades into a fade IN of "Satisfaction Guaranteed". The scraping sound that persists when the chord dies out is John Schuerman swirling a marracca while he was manning the control board! The fade in of "Satisfaction Guaranteed" was in fact the fade OUT of the song when it was originally recorded. I took the fade out, put it at the front, and then let the song go on from there.

John Schuerman: The recording was made on the Earlham College Campus. The Hancock Room in which we recorded the album is a large classroom in the fine arts building (Runyan Center) used for large classes in all the fine arts. It is also a rehearsal room for the various school choirs and other musical groups. We also used the projection room in Lilly Library to record a few overdubs when the Handcock Room was no longer available to us. We did the recording over spring break. We did not finish before classes started so that is why we moved to the Library projection room. That room no longer exists due to renovations of the area some years ago.

What gear did you guys use and how much time did you spend in the studio?

John Schuerman: As far as the recording gear goes we were recording live to two-track on a Revox A-77 1/2-track recorder which was an incredible machine for the time. We had a tube Ampex 4 channel mixer and solid state electronics from a Crown tape recorder. It had 2 inputs to each channel. I ran the outputs of the Ampex mixer into one of the inputs of each channel and had the other two inputs available for  two more mic inputs giving us a total of six microphone inputs. The Ampex inputs had switchable left-right-center inputs (no pan-pots). The outputs on the Crown electronics were sent into an Advent Dolby B Noise Reduction Unit, in order to have clean, quiet tracks which was going to be needed for the overdubs. The overdubs were accomplished by playing back the first two tracks (decoding them with the Dolby unit}, and then encoding the next tracks, mixing live mics with the playback. The final Dolby-B two-track master was taken to Gilfoy Studios in Bloomington, IN for final channel and level balance and equalization of each song plus the use of an EMT plate-reverb to add some ambience. The microphones used were Sony ECM-22 condensers, an RCA 77-DX ribbon mic and an Electro-Voice 684 dynamic microphone.

Charlie Bleak: Basically, John Schuerman stripped out every available piece of equipment extant at Earlham College at that time and pieced together the rig that recorded what exists today. We got it done in about 10 days.

What does Hoi' Polloi stand for?

Charlie Bleak: The term Hoi Polloi is, I believe, Greek for "the common people". However in the 1920's and 1930's the term somehow got turned around and came to refer to the rich and famous. Like the "Jet Set" of the 1960's. I first became aware of the term from a song by The Lovin' Spoonful:  "Jug Band Music"

It's funny, that the band didn't play any gigs before recording the LP. Does this mean it was 100% DIY project?

Charlie Bleak: It was strictly a DIY studio project. 100 per cent.

You played just one gig after the record was out, right? Can you tell us about it and maybe explain how the promotion or should I say distribution looked like. Was it mostly available for the college students?

Charlie Bleak: We had no distribution or promotion scheme.

How about the cover artwork?

Charlie Bleak: A woman by the name of Marsha Osborne designed the Hoi' Polloi lettering. The little guy scratching his head below the lettering was drawn by Jeff D'Angelo. He would do these little drawings and just leave them laying around.

How do you feel about the fact, that after so many years label called Folk Evaluation Records reissued your LP and people these days find it more interesting, that in the past? Are you satisfied with the reissue?

John Schuerman: First of all, I was thoroughly amazed when, ten years ago, I was contacted by Patrick for information on the "Hoi' Polloi" album and its creators. He also urged me, and with the permission of Dan and Charlie, to issue a CD version of the album which I produced from the Gilfoy master. Since then I have sold thirty copies of the CD. And now, we have the LP re-release from Folk Evaluation Records. In comparison I think this pressing is better than the original. I knew that good music was being made back in 1972 but I guess I did not realize how good it was, at the time, and had no idea that it would have such interest 40 years later.

Charlie Bleak: I am thrilled by the renewed interest. I am very grateful for the hard work and dedication that Jason and Jordan at Folk Evaluation have brought to the re-issue process. Their attention to detail and quality control are second to none!

I know this will be a bit hard task, but can you comment each song.

Who's Gonna Help Me? 
Wrote about a lost love. Definitely influenced by Paul McCartney... like Martha My Dear.

Old Bootstrap 
By Dan and Bruce.

Seven Deviations 
Me stumbling on guitar with Jeff D'Angelo on harpsichord at about 3 AM one day.

Last Laugh
By Dan and Bruce.

Hoi' Polloi Peeks Out 
Again, a function of a very LONG night, smoking jazz cigarettes and a HUGE contribution by John Schuerman who did all kinds of crazy things with his recording rig     the manufacturers would NEVER approve of.

Instead Boogie
Based on a riff by Denny Murry (AKA Ace Correcto)

Satisfaction Guaranteed 
By Dan and Bruce.

It's a Nice Day
Written about the same lost love (see Who's Gonna Help Me?). My lost love actually plays cello on that song.

Devil Song 
By Dan and Bruce.

Sid Stoneman Gets Scale 
Written and arranged by Jeff D'Angelo (Sid Stoneman). One of my favorite cuts.

15 Miles to Mexico 
A masterful piece of writing by my friend Dan Mack! Tells a story which is like a 3 minute movie directed by     John Ford starring John Wayne. I wish I'd written that.

How about other members, Patrick Lundborg mentioned in his article a few other college LP's including "Attention Span", "Sequoiah Stream", "Shaggy Joe/Crucible 1" and "Crucible 2", which includes some Hoi' Polloi members. Can you tell us about related bands and maybe a bit more in details about Crucible 2?

John Schuerman: The Crucible was the student produced literary magazine. The editors at the time decided that they wanted do more than publish student literary works. So they planned a concert featuring students performing original music. They asked me, as the Director of Earlham College Audio-Visual Services, to record the concert and have records pressed for distribution to the student body. I had, as a student, recorded two folk music albums by the Earlham group the Clear Creek Singers, so they knew I had the equipment and the "expertise." So I recorded the "Shaggy Joe/Crucible 1" and "Crucible 2" albums.

The albums "Attention Span" and "Sequoiah Stream" were completely done by students including the recording. The producer had access to a studio in Cincinnat, Ohio and took the performers down there to record using multi-track recorders and all the "bells and whistles" of a recording studio.

Again, in 1980, I was contacted by the Crucible editor, Wendy Seligmann, my future spouse, to record the last album the magazine sponsored. That album was entitled "Tape's Rolling" and was recorded live to two-track in the Hancock Room.

Charlie Bleak: I don't remember. It was a long time ago.

Is there anything else, that came out of your college and we didn't mention?

Charlie Bleak: None that I can think of.

What are you currently up to and what are some future plans for you?

Charlie Bleak: Still writing and recording. Hope to have a website set up soon for people to sample and download my songs. I have hours of unreleased material. It will be Not up yet.

John Schuerman: For the past 23 years I worked in public access television in Richmond, IN which included the recording and airing of music performances of music groups appearing in the area.I retired two months ago and move to Asheville, NC where my wife is the Director of Career Development at Warren Wilson College. I have started and on-line service called Moments In Time ( I create "electronic memories" from client supplied photographs, videos and music.

John Schuerman

I would like to thank to Jordan Burgis at Folk Evaluation, who got me in contact with you and who reissued your LP. Also thanks to Patrick Lundborg at (interview from 2003 can be found at here), who interviewed you for the very first time and thanks to all the members for taking their time and effort. Would you like to share anything else with us?

Charlie Bleak: Thank you for your interest! Hope that I have given you something to work with.

Charlie, Sassy and Dan

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2013
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