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Hard Karma

Bill Bohlen – bass guitars
John Bohlen – keyboards
Al Buffone – percussion, samba party whistle, raps,
Joe Collins – vocals, raps, guitars
Derek Holscher – drums, vocals
Andrew Vail – vocals, guitars, hand percussion, bongos

What do you do when you go to sit at a big, long table at a restaurant with six guys, and NO ONE is sitting next to you? You start to get self-conscious and are not “SURE” your deodorant is working so well, that’s what. After playing a bit of musical chairs, Kaffeine Buzz was ready pick the cumulative brains of the guys from Hard Karma, delving deep into their turn-ons, turn-offs, family squabbles, musical influences, and their first self titled full-length release, “Hard Karma.” It was a lively conversation to say the least, especially when you have Lime Cantina margaritas around a table of seven people all talking at once. Let’s just say it was good they stuck us outside, because at times, I swore their staff turned up the music just to drown out our babbling.

I first heard of Denver’s Hard Karma at the Soiled Dove. But not in the way one might think. It was Mardi Gras celebration time (come on!) and I was in the mood to get down tonight. I basically grabbed Al Buffone, HK’s mad samba percussionist, from his stool and told him we were dancing. He didn’t argue. Poor guy didn’t have a choice really, but once we were on the dance floor I learned of their band and got to see them perform a while later at Herman’s Hideaway. That night the house was pretty packed, and when they hit the stage, they turned out friggin’ fiesta of funk, jazz, blues and rock – sonic arrangements ranging from Tower of Power to a Latin samba.

In listening to the new album, it’s apparent that Hard Karma is not just about the party. Songs such as “Newbie”, a rappin’ track with 70’s soul guitars and gliding keyboards, and the languid and misty love song,”The Other Day”, shows their ability to incorporate their different styles to create diversity in their sound. Andy Vail, HK’s vocalist and guitarist, explains his musical preferences, “I like softer, more melodic type stuff, like Paul Simon, Ben Harper, and Jack Johnson. Then you’ve got these guys like Al that bring in more of the funk and the jazz, and it kind of mixes everything together.”

Joe Collins, also on vocals and guitar, says, “That’s what defines our sound. There’s no one person in the band that is the mastermind.”

Al delves deeper, “It’s about the way we write music. Somebody comes up with an idea – lyrics, or whatever. We put the whole band’s influence into it. We’re going to be premiering three new tunes – one’s a rap tune, one’s a funk tune, and one’s a ballad.” The rap tune, “Concrete Jungle”, takes them into a political realm, was written by Al. The experiences of living on the east and west coast were his inspiration, taking his frustrations and views of the urban decay within the big cites, and putting them to ink, “Everyone at this table grew up in Colorado except me. I grew up in New York and L.A. I’ve seen that, but when I gave Andy the lyrics he asked, ‘How am I supposed to sing this? I don’t know anything about this.’ I told him that it’s not like we’re not trying to make a stance that this is who we are, this is just what I was thinking and what I’ve seen as I was growing up. So it wasn’t meant to say that Hard Karma is from the streets. But you take reality on the news everyday…that’s just what I see. I may be twisted. But the point is, this is what is out there. And there’s a night and day difference between Denver and L.A.”

This wasn’t Al’s first time writing the words behind the music, “The lyrics to the “Game” are about a young boy turning into a man. Going through the whole thing of sleeping with women to get to the ultimate goal. But I don’t know what the ultimate goal is,” and that last statement was met with a backlash of grief, as his band mates roused him about it. Al defends himself, saying the guys don’t give him credit for the “sensitive tunes that I’ve written like “The New Life”, “Understanding You”. See, they always want to attack me.”

It’s obviously all in jest. There’s a really brotherly chemistry that surrounds the table, which would have to exist to make it work, especially with six people involved, all with their unique personalities and musical tastes. For two of the members, they use their differences to challenge each other in various ways, and to tease each other mercilessly. Al points out, “I think if there’s any competition in the band it’s between Andy and myself. Everyone else is pretty chill with each other. See, Andy’s a woman and I’m not. I’m shallow and have no depth.” Then he gets serious for a brief moment, “I think we get a long really well for seven guy with so many different influences and opinions.”

Now that they have the CD done and a release party coming up this Saturday night at Herman’s, they’ll look to start hitting the other towns around the state, in addition to penetrating local retail and radio. Bassist Bill Bohlen says, “Getting the CD out there was the major goal for a long time. Now were anxious to get going and touring other places. But it’s limited, because we all have jobs…and we’re working on transportation too, like a van.”

“We’ll be living in a van down by the river,” Al says, as more laughs ensue, “I think touring in Boulder, Springs, and locally is the goal we have before we’d even think of getting out of the state of Colorado ’cause you gotta realize, as the band sits with the six of us – it’s less than a year old. We’ve made some pretty big steps to where we are today. I would quit my job tomorrow to tour.” Since they don’t have other sources of income relating to their band, that’s not going to happen for them anytime soon.

The challenge they see for Hard Karma is the same challenge most bands deal with – getting people’s attention and getting them to listen to something different. Derek Holscher, their drummer, feels as most of us do that, “the majority of people just get into a rut and listen to the same thing all the time.”

Joe adds, “One of the difficult things with a smaller music scene her in our own town is to let people know that there’s cool stuff out there that they should go see.”

As far as this goes, they’re doing well with music fans in Denver as a start. When Hard Karma last played at Herman’s with the Fabulous Boogienauts, “we were told that it was the highest selling night of the whole entire summer. We’re reaching a lot of people. The music is rockin’ enough, and has variety in it that if we can hit somebody somehow, that’s the formula that we’re going to go with.”

Saturday, Septemer 28 – Hard Karma, Judge Roughneck – Herman’s Hideaway


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