Art rock with extra art

Weird Science: The Philadelphia band originated at a time when the music scene wasn’t interested in anything too flamboyant. These days, Weird Hot’s art-rock instincts are well-received.
Weird Science: The Philadelphia band originated at a time when the music scene wasn’t interested in anything too flamboyant. These days, Weird Hot’s art-rock instincts are well-received.

“Nobody who sees us isn’t entertained,” says Shawn Kilroy, frontman for Philadelphia rock outfit Weird Hot. The band was a long time in the making, partly because Kilroy also stays busy as a visual artist, filmmaker and actor. And partly because it took the group’s hometown music scene awhile to catch up.

Kilroy, a native of Philadelphia, remembers growing up in a neighborhood “with like five punk rockers. Now there are hundred of thousands of freaks. Philly nightlife has exploded.” But before the influx of youth culture into Philadelphia (which is close to New York City, without the astronomical cost of living), Kilroy says the music scene was basic, with nothing considered too flamboyant or fun.

These days, there are bands called Far-Out Fangtooth (avant-garde) and Sweatheart (rock-plus-performance art). And Weird Hot, which plays regularly at Fishtown staple (and rumored Kate Moss hangout) Johnny Brendas, and hosts “Weird Hot Wednesdays” at another bar.

Worth noting: Kilroy’s collective takes its name not from a backhanded compliment but from a comment about warm stage lighting. (Also worth noting: There’s a local connection. Bassist Justin Hallman is a Warren Wilson College alum, one reason the band is so excited for its Asheville show this week. Opening act The Night Trotters features WWC grads Will Chatham and Charley Brophey.)

“I think it was just getting out there and having fun and being honest about the kind of music I wanted to make and the kind of presentation I wanted to bring,” says Kilroy. “It turned out that people connected with it. It’s coincidental that it happened at the same time that bands like Cream Circus were getting up on stage in Philadelphia in 10-inch platform heels.”

The frontman won’t be donning platforms himself: “Our sound is more new wave and disco and punk than it is glam rock,” he says. “But from a visual standpoint we create something that you’d want to look at. I’ve got two gorgeous ladies who stand on either side of me, and the whole band is built around what we’re singing.”

The group is also organized around astrological charts. Rumor has it, all six of the musician’s sun signs are compatible. “Once we saw the results, the world made sense,” Kilroy quips. “We even set up the stage for maximum power.”

It’s likely the band’s real power comes from its members’ commitment, both to the project and to one another. “By this age, our late 20s, a lot of people have bailed on this lifestyle,” says Hallman (who’s actually in his late 30s). “But we’re always in touch with each other. It’s essential, especially if you’re not getting paid, that you really like each other.”

With a third album, to be titled The Rodeo, in the works, all six musicians are also involved with other creative pursuits: Hallman is a stay-at-home dad and is working on a film score, vocalist Carrie Share is an actress and fellow singer Jenny Prescott is a gardener. Guitarist and synth player Joe Boyle repairs amps (“Which is not so much an art as a craft,” according to Kilroy) and drummer Marc Sonstein runs a bar and restaurant.

“I think it’s all interconnected,” says the frontman, who also writes partial screenplays and does standup comedy. “But those are just things that I do. Music, to me, is the main focus.”

Art, in its many forms, runs like a current through the band’s charged makeup. On Facebook, Weird Hot’s genre is listed as “dance to your doom.” The term art rock gets tossed around a lot, too. A conversation with Kilroy and Hallman revealed that the label means different things to different people: anything from Talking Heads to Love and Rockets side project The Bubblemen to Pink Floyd and Arcade Fire.

“We’re influenced as much by Earth, Wind & Fire as we are by Ziggy Stardust,” says Kilroy. “We do a couple of slow numbers, but it’s mostly a dance situation.”

— Alli Marshall can be reached at amarshall@mountainx.com.

who: Weird Hot with The Night Trotters
where: Jack of the Wood
when: Friday, Oct. 18, at 9 p.m., $6. www.jackofthewood.com.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts writer and editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs.

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