The Noise Parade
Ex-Chicoans Experimental Dental School return with more mutated circus dance noise
Once upon a time, there was an experimental rock trio called MeYow.
Not content to fall into predictable categories of any traditionally configured rock, the musical brainchild of Chico couple Jesse Hall (guitars/vocals) and Shoko “El Loco” Horikawa (keyboards) experimented with adventuresome sounds rooted in electronic distortion and found samples, blending fractured Casiotone P1000 chords that conjured circus/psychedelic polka with distorted, carnival barking vocals, scratchy experimental guitar and a train-rolling, punk-rock backbeat.
In short, MeYow was the most original and creative rock band performing around the Chico scene for the few years it was here—an exciting live band that most people compared to unheralded art rock groups of larger cities.
A little over a year ago, the couple decided they wanted to pursue music more seriously and needed to be in a larger community of like-minded artists, so they moved to Oakland, currently a hotbed for struggling artists and “weirdoes from all over the country who gravitate here,” Hall tells me via phone from his Oakland apartment.
The band is now known as Experimental Dental School (or XDS), and its founding members are happy to be surrounded by noisy bands they love and respect, groups such as Deerhoof, Numbers, and Young People, to name a few they have performed with since moving.
Immediately after relocating to Oakland, the pair advertised for a new drummer and found Ryan Chittick, whom Hall calls their “drum engine.” Chittick is an accomplished player who adds professionalism and electronic expertise to the band’s raw, celebratory sound (he uses an octopad that allows him, like the others, to incorporate samples into live playing).
“I think he has his own unique way of presenting rhythms,” Hall says. “It’s so difficult to layer noise in a three-piece. … [With Chittick’s electronic influence] there’s even more possibilities for harnessing noise. One of our new things is to really find a way to make noise make sense—to make it tonal.”
Known for his own freakish on-stage persona (at their last local gig, the duo donned hot-pink muumuus before taking the stage), Hall made a name for himself locally by using vibrating dildos, knives and walkie-talkies as slides on his special Guitar-O-bass—a low-tuned guitar with bass strings and angled pick-ups (specially designed by Paradise guitar tech Dave Vert, whom Hall calls “amazingly talented").
“I like bands where you can hear the personalities of the players,” Hall says.
While one might think that the guitar gimmicks he uses so expressively onstage might ruin the intonation of his instrument, Hall has accumulated veteran experience over the years.
“I know how to be sensitive with the dildo,” he laughs. “I can make it play the guitar, but the hammer I had to stop using; that messed up the neck.”
In person, Hall is gentle and soft-spoken, always quick with a friendly smile the few years I have known him. He can also convey a wide-eyed willingness to learn and experiment with anything and everything he gets his hands on musically. He absorbs music from all avenues of his life, which now includes part-time work at Door 7 art gallery in Oakland.
“There’s a pretty good scene going on down here,” Hall says. “Although we love Chico and miss our friends and the natural surroundings, it can be a little too easy there. We wanted to really focus and work. The only thing is that the rent here really sucks—just practicing costs us $550 a month.”
Aside from rehearsal space, the couple made a smooth transition back into city life, since they had old friends in the area and had toured there previously. Currently, XDS is working on a new album, Hideous Dance Music, using Pro Tools and other top-of-the-line digital software. Among the always-quirky originals, the album will feature a whacked-out Hawaiian slide guitar version of Salt ‘n’ Pepa’s “Push It.”
Hall, who does most of the booking, has been talking to the Frenetic label in the Bay Area (home of the Fucking Champs) and has some friends on Kill Rock Stars’ sister label 5RC, so there should be no problem getting the album out, thanks in part to XDS’ growing reputation and good press in the city. In May, one of their songs was the No. 1 MIX pick at the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
Future plans include an upcoming West Coast tour from Seattle to San Diego in August (there are hopes for a national tour in the months afterwards) and the big goal of hitting Europe and Japan ("where Shoko has a van waiting") by next summer. Hall says he would also like to help bring more experimental bands from the Bay Area to Chico, bands he says are interested in checking out smaller towns.
As for the upcoming XDS show, fans can expect more of the same sonic wildness and circus freakdom that endeared the musicians to Chico audiences when they lived here.
“It’s important for us to keep the music flexible so I can play it the way I feel it.”
Of course, Hall and company are always excited to return to Chico and see old friends.
“One of the best compliments I ever got was in Chico. We were playing a show in the [Downtown Plaza Park] gazebo and this girl, who had never heard us, said she had been sleeping on Nord and it woke her up and she just knew it was our band. She said she could hear loud, annoying circus music and knew it was us. I thought that was so great."