Music has long been used to get through traumatic times like deaths, break-ups and wars. There's something comforting about being guided through the hard moments by artists who seem to know exactly what you're going through, but who have the tools to help others. Music is a salve, a sturdy shoulder to lean on in the darkest of hours. Break-ups call for righteous fuck-yous; deaths call for wistfully mournful journeys into the depths of human emotion; wars call for stamping feet or weeping guitars. When there's a disparity between the words being sung and the music being played, sometimes the results can be unexpectedly affecting.
I would've never thought to include Seattle quartet the Hoot Hoots in this category of bands attacking these intense feelings, but their most recent album has me rethinking them. I've long been in love with the fizzy, cartoonishly bright power pop of the Hoot Hoots. With their driving indie rock, dressed with colorful costumes and embellished with lyrics about robots and dinosaurs, the Hoot Hoots have embodied the height of blissful optimism for me in the Pacific Northwest. Seeing them live is a sweaty, exuberant joy.
"We take a lot of inspiration from video games that we really love, like Mario," says lead singer Adam Prairie. "Really colorful stuff, and fun bands like the Presidents of the United States of America and the Unicorns. Those are really our main inspirations. ... We love the music that comes from the Pacific Northwest but, when we moved here, we had decided to create an experience where people could feel OK about expressing joy externally. (Laughs.) There were a lot of people with their hands in their pockets, standing around, which is fine, but we wanted to create an atmosphere where the kids would want to jump around."
Still, as I listened to their most recent release, COLORPUNCH, I couldn't escape a creeping sense of melancholy that crept into their still-upbeat jams. Yes, superheroes were present, but they came wrapped in the knowledge that no one has super powers, and that - try as you might - sometimes your best can't be good enough for the most important person in your life. On "Gone Far," Prairie addresses the struggle between being too open with people or being too closed off. What's better: being naïve or being forbiddingly guarded? Which is least likely to leave you lonely?
"A lot of the music that we make acts as a portal to talk about something more serious," says Prairie. "The lighthearted topics that we pick usually bend to talk about something intense like a war, you know? It's these little tricks to make something as little more deep than playing a video game. ... It's like that Unicorns song, ‘Tuff Luff,' where he sings, ‘So blow your head on the turn of a fan/ don't put another down payment on the oil of Iran.' It's like, where did that come from?!"
The rest of the band - Chris Prairie (Adam's brother), Ben Lewis, Christina Ellis - wrap all of these sentiments in a roiling boil of overdriven guitars, space-age synths and clattering drums. There's an overwhelming sense of positivity and joy at a Hoot Hoots concert, even if the subject matter may be secretly darker than you might think. Whether they're using superheroes to represent their supposed lack of worth, or using Agent Scully to establish trust, the Hoot Hoots come at the real issues through a curtain of absurdity that would make the Flaming Lips proud.
Yes, you might listen to sad bastard music during your times of woe, but bands like the Hoot Hoots are around the rest of the time to remind you that the hardest of experiences can be buoyed by music.
THE HOOT HOOTS, w/ the Jesus Rehab, Fruit Juice, Trees and Timber, 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 20, The New Frontier Lounge, 301 E. 25th St., Tacoma, $5, 253.572.4020