Securely gripping his drink with one hand and wildly motioning with the other, Jason Hendrix is imagining aloud his idea for "the greatest short film of all time." The vocalist and guitarist for San Diego punk band The North Atlantic is detailing a schizophrenic fight between his drunk self and his sober self, in which his clear-headed half wakes up to elaborate booby traps set by his inebriated nemesis the night before.
Hendrix giggles, well aware of the intrigues of contradiction. He is a strict vegan whose day job is wrapping steaks at the Turf Club. That kind of contradiction takes a sense of humor.
"Music, like most contradictory things, is odd because you can take it seriously or not, and it doesn't undermine how much you take away from it," Hendrix says with a sideways grin.
And so it is that Hendrix, his big brother Cullen (drums) and their long-time friend Jason Richards (bass) embrace all of their incongruities and ambiguities as The North Atlantic. It's a band that can crack you over the head with a riff and then make you dance till the blood happily trickles down your face.
"We only know one way to play-present and physical," Cullen says.
Listening to Richards and the Hendrix brothers, one gets the sense that they never particularly needed any proverbial (or literal) training wheels in their lives. After convening at Kalamazoo College in Michigan in the late '90s, their fifth show out was alongside Omaha's indie mainstay, Cursive. Only six years into their career-with a small break for Jason to attend art school in Chicago-The North Atlantic played this year's South-by-Southwest Music Festival, signed a record deal with We Put Out Records, re-issued a deservedly hyped album called Wires in the Walls and plan to tour well into next year.
If their good fortune seems a bit divined, luck was definitely on their side two months ago when their van was struck by lightning while the band was on tour in North Carolina.
"We thought that if we pulled over it would pass, but it hit us anyway," Cullen says. "We're alright. It didn't hurt any of us in the physical sense. But I'm not superstitious and I was still thinking about whether someone up there didn't like what we were doing. It made me think about turning around; I won't lie!"
When we speak for the first time, the lads are crammed into a small table at the Turf Club, passing around silly drinks ("99 Bananas anyone?") and laughing about Jason Hendrix's T-shirt ("Help! Papa is having a bad day, call 1-800-Grandpa"). Lest you assume that any of them are goofs, know that all three have been to college, and Cullen is currently finishing his doctorate in political science at UCSD.
"Art has to have a reference point-experience or relatability-and school facilitates your search to find an avenue to think differently," Richards says. "In that way, I think school can be good for creative art."
"But the smartest person I know on the planet has a GED," Cullen laughs.
And yet it is readily apparent that the band's intelligence thickly coats their art. From Jason's bitingly literate lyrics, to Richards' unrelenting layers of bass, to Cullen's meticulous drum accents (both quiet and mind-warping), the band embraces its aptitude to create something attractively murky, if comfortingly familiar.
"We totally feel like this is where we should be right now," Cullen says before the band's recent Casbah gig. "There is another generation of San Diego bands coming after Hot Snakes and I think we are part of that-making inspired music and actually enjoying it."
Check out The North Atlantic at www.thenorth atlantic.com.