LOCATION: The basement practice space of Chris Boerner's home of nearly a decade in Raleigh
HEAR AND SEE: The band releases its excellent Cool It at The Pour House in Raleigh Friday, Jan. 22, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10-$12. For more information, see www.the-pour-house.com.
BACKSTORY: The Hot at Nights began with a guitar. In 2010, Chris Boerner acquired a bizarre-looking, custom-made, eight-string contraption built by a local luthier. Drawing upon its range of quirks and capabilities, Boerner was able to play guitar leads and bass lines at once, essentially handling half a band himself. The acquisition inspired Boerner to pursue new musical ideas—and find some new bandmates to do so.
Boerner, a Raleigh native, met sax player Matt Douglas and drummer Nick Baglio through mutual musical acquaintances. They played together sporadically in other bands before founding The Hot at Nights not long after Boerner's purchase.
Though each member has a jazz background, that's only the band's foundation, not a limitation. Each player weaves elements of rock, funk and soul into the seams, creating songs that are technically intricate and melodically enchanting. Boerner cites jazz iconoclasts The Bad Plus as a key influence for this mission; like The Bad Plus, The Hot at Nights play jazz-minded instrumental material—loudly.
"It's not something you'd stick in the corner of a restaurant," Boerner says of both acts.
Trying to put the band's new EP, Cool It, in any one corner would be a mistake. The Hot at Nights transmogrify five songs by North Carolina acts. Bowerbirds' folksy "Bur Oak," for instance, becomes a warm, heady number that blooms patiently, while Hammer No More the Fingers' "O.R.G.Y." gets a bit of sizzling funk. Elsewhere, The Hot at Nights have turns with songs by Delta Rae, Future Islands and Sylvan Esso, folding those acts into their jazz-plus mentality.
"Especially on a creative tip, there's never walls that can't be broken down," says Baglio, "never any limits."
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INFLUENCES: Cannonball Adderley's melodies, Ornette Coleman's improvisation and Steve Coleman's rhythm
KNOWN FOR: Douglas' most recent big gigs have been with The Mountain Goats and Hiss Golden Messenger, but he's also been involved with Phil Cook's latest venture. He co-founded The Small Ponds with Caitlin Cary and once led his own band, The Proclivities.
SELMER MARK VI ALTO SAX: Made in the mid-'60s in Paris, this horn—"quintessential, coveted mid-century saxophone"—is Douglas' most-used piece. "This is my instrument I'd be emotionally distraught over if something happened to it, if it was stolen," he says. He bought it in 1999 when he was a music student in New York, from an ornery Broadway musician. Many saxophones made after the Mark VI were modeled after this style. The mouthpiece is a Meyer 6, made around the same time in New York as the saxophone was made in Paris.
SELMER BUNDY TENOR SAX: "If anybody's heard of a Bundy saxophone, it's because it's a total piece-of-crap student instrument—which, the Bundy IIs are, but this is a Bundy from 1960," Douglas explains. Even if it's not dressed up with engravings and reinforcements, this horn came off a factory line that built these horns to last. Douglas bought it from Raleigh's Marsh Woodwinds after years of borrowing different tenor saxes for various jobs. But he accidentally stole the Berg Larsen mouthpiece years ago from another musician while borrowing another horn.
PEDALS: Douglas uses the first three pedals on his board to distort his sax. On the far left is a Dr. Scientist reverb pedal that belongs to head Mountain Goat John Darnielle. Next is a TC Electronic Flashback delay pedal, followed by a Boss TR-2 tremolo and a Boss RC-3 Loop Station (not pictured). Douglas bought the tremolo in when he filled in for Boerner on guitar in Jeanne Jolly's band. It also adds intrigue to the sax: "It sounds like a really intense but robotic vibrato," he says.
INFLUENCES: Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Charlie Hunter, John Scofield, Wayne Krantz
KNOWN FOR: In addition to The Hot at Nights, Boerner works closely with Raleigh singer-songwriter Jeanne Jolly as a guitarist and producer. His lengthy résumé also includes work with Hiss Golden Messenger and The Foreign Exchange.
EIGHT-STRING GUITAR: Boerner's unusual guitar rig is the centerpiece of this band.
"That instrument informs a lot of what we do," Boerner says. "There's some limitations to it, but you also just play differently, because you're playing two parts at one time." Wes Lambe, a Hillsborough luthier, built it for Boerner from maple and mahogany. Its eight strings put the E, A and D of the bass above the B, G, D, A and high E of the guitar. Each set runs through separate pickups and outputs, and its frets are fanned—that is, not perpendicular to the neck but spread over changing distances—to allow for easier adaptation to the strings' different scales.
B-BENDER: Boerner installed this Nashville-inspired modification because bending a single string for extra twang is difficult given the instrument's other strings. A carabiner, connected to Boerner's belt loop, attaches to a short length of cord that runs through the guitar and anchors to the B string at the bridge. When Boerner pulls the guitar the right way, the string bends. Listen for it on Cool It's "O.R.G.Y."
HIPSHOT D TUNER: "That drops this [string] down a whole step," Boerner says, referring to the bass's E string. "If I have a song that requires a lower bass note, I can go to D really fast without turning it."
PEDALS: Boerner's extensive pedal board stretches his capabilities. The bass runs through a Boss OC-3 octave pedal to give it even lower tones, while a Moog Lowpass supplies an auto-wah sound. (Think Bootsy Collins.) For the guitar, Boerner has a fuzz pedal and a boost pedal made by Raleigh's Rich Flickinger. A MXR Phase 90 pedal came from Aaron Freeman, or Gene Ween, with whom Boerner toured extensively in 2014. Boerner built his own tremolo pedal and a copy of a Klon Centaur reverb pedal, which retails for about $3,000. A vibrato pedal, reverb pedal, tuner, Pigtronix auto volume pedal and Eventide TimeFactor delay pedal share space on the board.
INFLUENCES: His dad, Dick (also a drummer); Tony Williams; Vinnie Colaiuta; Mark Juliano
KNOWN FOR: Baglio mostly plays drums for The Foreign Exchange outside of The Hot at Nights, but, like Boerner, performs with Jeanne Jolly, too.
DREAM 16" HI-HATS AND CRASH CYMBAL: These cymbals are unique prototypes made for Baglio. What Baglio uses as hi-hats are actually 16" crash cymbals, reconfigured. They have holes in them, too—to make them cheaper, Baglio jokes. But these spaces actually affect the cymbals' sound. "It takes away from the girth of the cymbal. It thins it out, but it also makes it really cutting," he says. "They feel really nice under your hands." Baglio is currently experimenting with a 10-inch splash cymbal beneath the crash.
STICKS: Baglio uses two different models of Vic Firth sticks—an SD4 and an AJ2. Each makes a slight but noticeable difference in how the cymbals resonate.
DRUMS: This wooden Ludwig kit from the late '60s isn't actually Baglio's. This one lives in Boerner's practice space, but Baglio's is similar—one floor tom, one rack tom, a snare and a kick drum. His rig also includes an electronic element that triggers loops and samples.