TENSION HEAD

Opportunity comes knocking, and they're taking it on.

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 648   By: Lauren Davis

01st November, 2007     0

Their Myspace page proclaims:

"With the help from those who had voted (you all know who you are) T.H. will be opening for HELLYEAH, Otep, and Bloodsimple in Detroit, MI. on Tuesday, October 30th (Devil's Night) @ The Fillmore (State Theatre)!"

For those of you not familiar with the world of metal and hardcore rock, HELLYEAH is a very big deal. Local band Tension Head got their hands on a great shot at a very big show, and they are excited as hell.

Though I was happy to get the opportunity to talk to another local band who has a shot at playing in the big leagues, I was afraid I'd never get the chance to do the interview at all.

Front man Chuck Rossio and I tried to connect all week, through a series of phone calls, e-mails, and messages. When we finally hooked up, it was actually pretty fun. He and some guys from the band were just wrapping up some work on some T-shirts, and I was recovering from some serious dental work. They self medicated with barley and hops, I did the same with herbal tea and incense. Right out of the gate, it was weird.

The band consists of some familiar names: Sean Griffin on Guitar, JoJo Jiminez on drums, Anthony Garcia is playing bass. This particular combination of the group has been together going on three years, though the foundation for it has been carefully laid for nearly a decade and a half.

Tony Garcia was in the background as I spoke to Chuck. He was occasionally audible, as his lead singer passed along questions and subsequent answers in a grown up version of the telephone game. Chucks enigmatic and raw gusto is evident down the wire.  He's passionate and persuasive. During our conversation, I had a sneaking suspicion that, had he chosen another career path, say, selling used cars, I would be climbing into the front seat of my 1978 Chevette with rodent-wheel-drive, fully convinced that the empty sacks of Taco Bell on the floorboard were really just Mexican made airbags. And I'd have been delighted that I only signed a five-year lease.
Cripes.

Though I love to do it, I have to admit that sometimes, interviewing bands can be painful. Some are so acutely aware of the interview itself, they forget to have a conversation. Sometimes its just shyness. Sometimes, it's somebody putting altogether too much effort into saying something that will look good in print. But the guys in Tension Head are straight forward, down to earth, and (dare I say?) charming.
YesŠA heavy metal band. I called them charming. Despite sounding a little like Mrs. Cunningham describing The Fonz, I gotta call it as I see it.

Even though I stick to my used car analogy where Chuck is concerned, one should not misconstrue the man's persuasiveness as dishonesty. Actually, it's quite the contrary. This is what makes Tension Head interesting.

They are blatantly honest about their world, and their feelings about their place in itŠwhich is what makes them unique. They aren't egocentric, but they make no pretense of modesty, either. In the face of an opening gig with metal monsters "HELLYEA", Tension Head are excited as hell, and they don't care who knows it. They don't feel the need to play tough guy, or act as though the opportunity was their birthright. They are just particularly stoked. And that's cool, especially considering their impressive resume of opening gigs to date.

Tension Head is just plain personable. They answer questions straight from the gut. Their easy approach belies every preconceived notion one has ever conjured about what Metal Musicians are really like. To the best of my knowledge, they didn't growl once in the course of our conversation. I didn't sense so much as a sneer on the other end of the phone. I didn't feel intimidated, or even remotely like I was in the presence of pure, liquid, dripping evil. I didn't feel the need for holy water on standby, or a bible open to the 91st psalm.

Having interviewed a lot of Metal-Type-Dudes, I appreciated this immeasurably.

In a world full of posers and wannabe's, Tension Head is a very real deal. I speak with Chuck about how the band came together, and he throws a few surprises at me. For example, a lot of people don't know that, were it not for the fateful flip of a coin, the band might have been named Arkansas Chrome. Chuck says: "Actually, that would have been pretty damned cool! I mean, did you know, this is really just redneck speak for duct tape??"

I agree that it really would have been pretty damned cool, naming a band after slang for duct tape.

Chuck's perspective on how the band came together paints a picture of vision, trial and error, and raw stick-to-it-ed-ness. Doodling logos for duct tape on my notepad, cursing the power of suggestion under my breath, I ask him if dealing with contracts, riders, loading schedules et. al, has created a different view of how the music world works vs. the one he had when he started.

"Well" he says, "Everyone wants to be a star as a young buck. But I never was in it for the sex, drugs and rock and roll. I'm just in it for the rock and roll! In the last fifteen years, it's still there, but it's a combination of trying all the right formulas and working those formulas. There's something to the rock and roll thing, all by itself. I mean, there are millionaire movie stars out there who are already famous; they have it allŠwho want to go out and put a rock band together. Well, there is a reason for that."

With regard to Tension Head, one must not confuse the term "formula" with the tired concept of creating for commercialism. Rather, in my conversation with them, I see that the term comes to mean a method of approach to the business of the music scene, and to the combination of players within the band that, through 15 years of trial and error, has finally clicked. Though, true enough, "Clicked" seems like such a minimalist term.

Tension Head lives to prove its worth in live performance. "I am a firm believer that you can't judge something until you see it live." says Chuck "We work for that." But, he notes, music is a business very much based around whom you know, and what you're selling.
"Any business is used to creating a cash flow revolving around one product or aspect of a product. That's their revenue." He pauses, and the unmistakable crack of a beer punctuates his point. I sip Sleepy Time tea, and wait it out.

Chuck concedes that a multi-faceted approach to metal music is not always successful if it doesn't fit that particular business model. Citing the vast range of influences of its members, though, he says he believes Tension Head has a healthy fiscal and marketing approach to their music, by combining that conflux of influences. "We work for that time when all the facets of our product are considered," he says.
"This HELLYEAH show gives us a chance to prove something: That we can do this thing doing our own thing"

Despite a long list of opening gigs other bands would kill for, Chuck says Tension head sees this gig as its biggest shot yet. "We know that doors will open for us with this (show). We just don't know which ones. I'm more excited about this show than any show I've done in 15 years."

The former choir boy come metal singer is honest when he says the band doesn't base its energy or enthusiasm for the stage on how many seats are filled in the house. "We don't see a gig as bad because of the turnout" he says "We don't give a ***t how many people are there. As far as we're concerned, it's just great practice. We still draw from the people who are there"

In short, his excitement over the forthcoming gig with the big boys has nothing to do with playing in front of a large audience, although, admittedly, that's pretty awesome, too. Rossio relates that the excitement the band feels is more in the shared sense that this is a turning point.

"So" I say "If you're standing on the edge of something pretty big, than how would you describe your relationship with your music right now, before it happens? Is playing a career, a lifestyle, or an addiction?"

"It's not something you can really put a finger on.," says Chuck "It's all three. I am definitely sure we can make a living at it. If it's a career for a year, five years, ten yearsŠ right! That's great. I'll take it!"

"I see it as a lifestyle and an addiction at the same time, because we love really do love people. We love the people who come to see our shows, and we really draw on the energy they give back to us. That, itself, is really addictive" He says.

Tony voices his agreement in the background, and cracks another beer. Tension Head may pour aggression on stage, swapping energy with its audience through music and vibe, but it may be surprising to some fans that they all have kinder, gentler sides. For example, Chuck is gainfully employed in maintenance, in charge of a multimillion-dollar complex, and would really like to have a family one-day (All of the other guys have families already). Tony confesses to a closet addiction to the band Queens of the Stoneage. (Who knew?) Shawn is painfully shy and hates big crowds off stage. And Jo Jiminez, a former Tejano drummer, never played Metal a day in his life until joining Tension Head. "We had to teach him the rhythm patterns," he laughed "One at a time".

The band is unanimous in admitting its stupidest moment; one they were destined to repeat. "Stupidest thing?" says Chuck "Getting involved in a battle of the bands. ANY battle of the bands." He laughs "No matter the size of the prize. When there are younger bands, they always take it so personally and they get really pissed. These things are always fixed. We just reached a point where we said: 'We're grown men! We don't need it!"

Chuck and Tony have me in stitches through most of the interview, and they relate to me that no matter what doors open with the forthcoming HELLYEA show, they intend to stay true to their roots and keep themselves grounded in the Saginaw Valley. They constantly express their appreciation for their audience and a love for their "people".

"I just really wanna work hard and create a better life for my band and their families" Says Chuck, referencing the formidable task of managing the band on his own. "No matter what, they've always got my back. And I want to do something good for my future children. We want to live and work in the community that has given us some great opportunities."

On the eve of a big show with one of the hottest names in metal, Tension Head is expectant and excited. The band prepares to face not a daunting load in, intimidating crowd, and 20 minutes of manic, sweat dripping "best". Rather, they view this opportunity as a definitive change in direction. They can feel it in the air. The exciting part, to them, is which door will open next.

"It's Tension Head time!" says Chuck, without a bit of ego. "We feel it's our time to shine. We've paid our dues." Tony chimes in from the background; "We've never had anything handed to us either."

'That's right." Chuck continues. "We've worked our asses off. We're grateful that we've gotten help along the way. But we feel we have earned it. We deserve it," he says. "Now we're gonna enjoy it"

Sensing something in the way of possibility, coming full circle from star struck kids on different playing fields, through the school of hard knocks, and back out the other side as cohesive team, Tension Head brings a little lesson to all of us in their optimism and unabashed sense of adventure. They sense that something good is about to happen, and they aren't afraid to let themselves feel optimistic. Instead of being afraid to let themselves hope that it will yield something great, they are enjoying the sense of anticipation in the certainty that it will.
It's a good lesson, after all, for those of us who feel tempted to wallow in the occasional pool of self-pity, fear, and loathing. Tension Head is taking it on. And you know something? I have a feeling they just might pull it off.

Get details on Tension Head's forthcoming show with Hell Yeah and some local appearances by logging on at http://www.myspace.com/tensionhead

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