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Local Listens: The Hall Monitors

Welcome to Local Listens, where we profile some of our favorite Washington musicians. This week, we shine the spotlight on the Hall Monitors.

Do you love rockabilly music but can’t stand the slicked-back, greasy look that often goes with it? Well, leave the pomade behind and check out the Hall Monitors, a band from DC.

The quartet that dons matching outfits “out of convenience,” according to drummer Mike Sullivan, perfects the retro-garage, rockabilly sound. It's bluesy, with an appropriate hint of R&B and, of course, rock roots. Singer/guitarist Sean Crowley’s rustic voice fits seamlessly over the music, while the group’s backup vocals complement his. It’s also a treat when Ginger Richards (vox/guitar) croons alongside Crowley. The two sound so flawless on “I Don’t Want No One Else” that when the song’s over after a mere minute and a half, you’ll probably press play again.

A side of the band that doesn’t have the chance to shine through the music—but is apparent in the bio and Q&A responses—is that the members are a witty bunch.

How’d they get together? The band members will tell you it happened after a drunken night in the District when Crowley, Mike Sullivan, and Matt Sullivan (bass) were beaten up by a group of Yankees fans. For some reason, the guys launched into a version of the Standelles’ “Dirty Water.” Their arresting officer, Richards, was impressed and asked them to start a band with her. The guys agreed only because they believed she was the love child of Ginger Baker and Keith Richards (is that even possible?). And the rest is history. (Okay, so that story might not be completely accurate. Get the “real” story after the jump.)

Unfortunately, the Hall Monitors don’t have any albums released yet, but interested parties can stream tracks on the band’s Web site and MySpace page. Or better yet, go to the band’s show tonight at the Quarry House in Silver Spring.

Members of the band discuss their dream tour, how they really came to be, and more in our Q&A.

Name: The Hall Monitors.

Age: Two years old.

Hometowns: Sean grew up in Rochester, New York, where he met brothers Matt and Mike, who come from a small town nearby called Penn Yan. Ginger hails from Boulder, Colorado.
First song that made you want to play music:
Sean: “ ‘Maneater’ by Hall and Oates.”
Mike: “ ‘Power of Love’ ” from a scene in Back to the Future.”
Ginger: “I was pretty young when I knew I wanted to play music, so either a Crystal Gayle song (my early-childhood music hero) or the Jem and the Holograms theme song.”
Matt: “Probably ‘Please Mr. Postman.’ ”
First instrument:
Sean: Casio SK-1.
Mike: Recorder.
Ginger: Piano.

Local spot to seek inspiration or write music:
The Hall Monitors: “We’ve got an antiquated classroom in an old elementary school in Southeast DC that we use as a rehearsal space. It’s grimy, dark, and cold, and definitely the perfect inspiration for some dirty rock and roll.” 

Best local venues:
THM: “The Quarry House, JV’s, Velvet Lounge, Surf Club, Fight Club, Black Cat, and Iota.”
Best bars to hear music:
THM: “For live music, Velvet Lounge or the Quarry House Tavern. For a great jukebox, check out the Hard Times in Old Town, Alexandria. Tons of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and Ernest Tubb.”

Favorite local band (other than your own):
THM: “The Shirks, Shortstack, Buck 49, JP McDermott and Western Bop, and the Pointies.”

Best thing about the Washington music scene:
THM: “That guy who comes to all the shows and sort of just stands around the band as we’re hanging out, and occasionally he’ll comment on what we’re talking about and then laugh. Then we laugh.  Also, it’s cool that rock and roll is on an upswing here.”
Worst thing about the Washington music scene:
THM: “There’s still not quite enough rock and roll, and there are too many people who are too cool to dance.”
Craziest tour memory: 
THM: “Sean’s amazing ‘stage dives’ at SXSW last year.”
Finish this sentence: “When not making music, you can find me . . .”
Sean: “. . . in the French Foreign Legion.”
Mike: “. . . in Albuquerque.”
Ginger: “. . . running, cycling, or librarianing.”
Matt:  “. . . charming snakes.”

Rolling Stones or the Beatles?
THM: “Stones for the music and sound, Beatles for the songs.”

Digital download or hard copy?
THM: “Hard-copy vinyl.”

Rolling Stone or Spin?
THM: “They’re still in business?”
Club show or festival?
THM: “Club show, the smaller and more packed, the better.”

What influenced the band’s name?
THM: “ ‘The Monitors’ was already taken by some ’80s R&B act, and the hall monitors from Rock and Roll High School were very inspirational.”

If you could listen to only one album for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why?
Sean: “EMF’s Schubert Dip.”
Mike: “Bush live at Woodstock ’99, assuming I’m already on my deathbed with only seconds to live.”
Ginger: “The Link Wray Missing Links series that Norton Records put out, and I’d fight to let the whole series count as one album.”
Matt: “Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks.”

Do you have day jobs or are you full-time musicians? 
THM: “We’re not really full-time musicians, but what we’ve found out is that each one of us is a brain . . . and an athlete . . . and a basket case . . . a princess . . .  and a criminal . . .”

Is new music in the works?
THM: “New album? How about an album?”  

Describe your dream tour.
THM: “First to Spain with the Hi-Risers, Eddie Angel, and the Trashmen, with Mike and Matt reprising their roles as Neanderthals, then on to Japan for a stint with the legendary King Brothers, or a Cavestomp World Tour. That’s the politically correct answer at least. The truth is that everyone’s dream tour would be opening for Michael Jackson’s next world tour, then later in the night playing undead during ‘Thriller.’ ”

Your MySpace page has a cute little story about how the band came to be, but really, how did it happen?
THM: “Okay, we’ll finally tell the truth on this one. Our MySpace bio is not true. Back around 1995, Matt and Sean were in different groups. Sean was in a group called the Creatures, which was a skiffle group, and Mike was in Lovely Lads. They looked at each other and said ‘Well, we might as well join up,’ so they became the Originals. But it turned out that there was another group in the East End called the Originals, and Sean and Mike had to rename themselves the New Originals! Later they called themselves the Thamesmen. Their first drummer was Joe ‘Stumpy’ Pepys. Great look, good drummer. They later switched to Mike after Stumpy left the group. Good look, great drummer. Ginger, a skilled guitarist and legend on the jazz-fusion scene, joined them a few years later and penned one of the band’s classic hits, ‘Jazz Odyssey.’ ”

Previous Local Listens:

The Moderate
Kitty Hawk 
Justin Jones