IV to the floor

Garage Rock '09: Bastard bonus combo Hank IV let it rock
Photo by Chris Anderson

"We do rockcations," says Hank IV vocalist Bob McDonald, "which is trademarked, I believe, by Anthony." McDonald knows of what he speaks. The San Francisco underground dynasty of a band that he cultivates — alongside guitarist-vocalist Anthony Bedard, guitarist Andy Oglesby, bassist Chris Portfolio, and drummer Scott Jones — has been to Bologna, Italy, and back on the grand notion that, yes, you too can hold down steady, life-giving, lease-holding employment and still rock hard, hither and yon. Today's revolutionary road, it seems, means playing outta town in, say, five-day spurts with a side of out-of-pocket relaxation, "because no one wants to go on an extended tour," McDonald continues over the phone from his day job. "Because we're too old, or we have jobs we can't leave."

The bonus is the word-of-mouth equivalent of an anniversary Rolex. During HIV's sound check in Bologna, where the band was visiting friend and Fuck founder Kyle Statham, McDonald says, "this guy came up after we were done and said, 'Everyone is so soft or so techno here. Finally, someone with some balls-ah!'"

Who knew this bastard offshoot of McDonald and Bedard's Mr. and Mr. and Mr. and Mr. and Mr. Evil combo would take off like it has — HIV released its second long-player, Refuge in Genre, recorded in all its "high-fidelity bombastic rock" splendor by Tim Green (the Fucking Champs) and mastered by Bob Weston (Shellac), on the shitgaze-cool imprint Siltbreeze — and find its balls-ah in the process? This, after HIV's furtive beginnings: its first show happened at the Dunes in Portland, Ore., a teensy bar owned by Valet's Honey Owen. "We wanted to play somewhere where our friends weren't going to see us," Bedard confesses by phone. Since then all the "good energy and crazy momentum" this proudly balls-ah-to-the-wall outfit has generated — inspiring comparisons to Country Teasers and the Saints, and garnering invites to perform live on WFMU — has surprised its music insider-y members. (McDonald is a veteran of Denver hardcore unit Bum Kon and a product manager at music distributor Revolver; Bedard, the Hemlock Tavern booker and ex-member of groups like the Resineators and Icky Boyfriends.)

HIV came about following the departure of Mr. Evil's old drummer, amid a spate of drinking and brainstorming "dumb ideas," says McDonald. "We thought, 'Hank IV — we'll cut the lineage,' and we wrote notes on a bar napkin. It was easy because we just told the guys [Portfolio and Oglesby] we were playing with that they were in this band. That's the best way to do it, because if you ask them they might say no."

A few Hank fans, however, haven't been able to take the tease. The group's name is "definitely an idea that makes some people angry!" Bedard exclaims. "Like that Hank Williams III fan who called up Amoeba when we were doing an in-store: 'They should change their name!' It's an absurd idea — thinking that our music has as much to do with Hank Williams as Hank III's music has to do with Hank Williams, family lineage aside."

Rather, HIV takes its cues from the mind-blowing qualities of early Butthole Surfers, Volcano Suns, and other bands instrumental in forming the musical sensibilities of Bedard, McDonald, and Jones, who are in their late 30s and early 40s.

"We're trying to make noisy, fun, abrasive, fucked-up rock 'n' roll," explains Bedard, clearly pumped to return to Portland for its Slabtown Bender festival on Feb. 7. "There's so much medium rock out there. People settle for stuff that kind of rocks or maybe rocks.

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