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Published: Friday, 3/9/2007

Rock and roll believers serve up classics with a twist

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Detroit band Hard Lessons   from left, The Anvil, Ko Ko
Louise, and Augie Visocchi   will be in Toledo tonight for a
freebie at Culture Clash, 4020 Secor Rd. The Detroit band Hard Lessons from left, The Anvil, Ko Ko Louise, and Augie Visocchi will be in Toledo tonight for a freebie at Culture Clash, 4020 Secor Rd.
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The Hard Lessons are a thoroughly modern rock band with a stubborn insistence on maintaining the traditional values of rock's forefathers.

Their spiritual and creative godfather: Neil Young.

Their musical niche (so far): classic new-school garage rock in the vein of White Stripes, but with a fresh twist - a man and woman trading vocals, and keyboards instead of bass.

Their prominent influences: '90s bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana.

Their marketing scheme: a cutting-edge mix that straddles generations. The band's most recent project is a collection of vinyl 45s, which actually represents the trend toward bands focusing on songs - the more downloadable the better - over albums.

Except that the young Detroit band isn't making anything available for download because - while the three members believe in their souls in the power of a strong song - they also love the idea of a project that's radically out of the mainstream.

Yes, it's complicated.

"We're obsessed with doing too many things," said guitarist and singer Augie Visocchi, while taking a break from recording in Ferndale, Mich. "We're stubborn in the fact that we want to record, release material, and not take any breaks from touring. We tour, we get home, we hop in the recording studio."

The band, which is rounded out by Ko Ko Louise on organ and vocals and The Anvil on drums, will be in Toledo today for a freebie at Culture Clash, 4020 Secor Rd., at 7 p.m.

Visocchi, the son of Italian immigrants who moved to Detroit to work in the auto plants, grew up a rabid fan of the indie Seattle record label Sub Pop. He was in the label's "singles club" and would ride his bike to the post office with a check or money order that his mom gave him so he could order the latest release from the seminal grunge label.

"Records in the mail or picking up 45s is something we've all been excited about since we were younger, and I think that's something that's missing from the modern music scene," he said. "You can just download an album off torrent or iTunes. Art work and the whole idea of collecting records is sort of taking a back seat."

The band has released a few EPs featuring their excellent combination of punky attitude, strong songwriting, and rock purism - they sound like '80s L.A. punkers X crossed with Neil Young in a gritty Detroit night club - but is now working on a collection of "Boy" and "Girl" sides. Each platter will feature a couple of songs in the 45 format and the songs will be told from the perspective of either a man or a woman with Visocchi or Ko Ko taking the lead vocals depending on whether it's a "B side" or "G side."

Each record will feature unique cover art that when laid out on the floor or on a table will form a complete picture. Visocchi admitted it's a "grandiose concept" for the band, all of whom are in their early 20s and who met at Michigan State University. But it reflects the band's desire to honor the "chutzpah" of Young, who has never hesitated to try different styles or release formats based on what he was interested in at the time.

"We do it because it's fun, but second of all we're willing to sit and debate someone about the importance of music, the importance of still putting stuff out on vinyl, the importance of getting out there and touring as opposed to just scheming and plotting from your computer," he said.

"We like to have fun, but at the same time this is something that is life or death for us."

The Hard Lessons' Toledo appearance is part of a spring tour that will take the band all over the country, including the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Their shows include a version of Young's "Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black)" which they recorded for a compilation.

The genesis of the band's version was during a spontaneous spoken rap that Visocchi would do during a break in one of the band's originals. One night he started singing the song's refrain, "Hey, Hey, My, My, rock and roll will never die" and Ko Ko started harmonizing with him. From there, the song became one of the band's set pieces.

"That's completely the mantra of our band. We believe in rock and roll music," he said.

Hard Lessons will perform at 7 p.m. today at Culture Clash, 4020 Secor Rd. Admission is free. Information: 419-536-5683 or go to www.thehardlessons.com.

Contact Rod Lockwood at rlockwood@theblade.com or 419-724-6159.



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