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Hooka Hey performs at Triple Crown on Saturday, Feb. 23.

Hooka Hey performs at Triple Crown on Saturday, Feb. 23.

by HAP MANSFIELD

Music, like painting or sculpture, can be immediately grasped by an audience without regard to its culture or language.

Van Gogh spoke no English. Neither did Mozart. But you don’t have to know Belgian or French to understand the loneliness of “Starry Night” and you don’t have to know German to love the surreal charms of “The Magic Flute.” So it’s no surprise that rock music has an international appeal or that other nations embrace it with the unbridled passion with which it was formed. Music isn’t a competition, it’s a lesson in co-operative culture. In the case of the largely French band Hooka Hey, they play a cultural blend of rock music that demands attention like few other bands. You can hear this for yourself at the Triple Crown on Feb. 23.

The members of Hooka Hey — Hugo Parrish, Heykel Fattoumi, Hugues Chauvin and Alexis Jaubourg — play with a savage intensity that mixes metal, folk and Americana into a satisfying and potent cocktail. Parrish, the band’s founder, started his own musical explorations with Sentenza and the Holsters, who had a rabid following in France, before evolving into the internationally acclaimed Hooka Hey.

Their eclectic roots are undeniable. Fattoumi is from Tunisia. Jauborg is an experienced heavy metal drummer. Chavin started his musical career writing jingles for radio and TV. Parrish lived in New York for a while, honing his songwriting chops. Mix all this together and you get one mighty tight, insistent, powerful band. Their EP “Little Things” is already making big waves with their single “Hush Me”.

We talked with Hugo Parrish about the beginnings of Hooka Hey, the differences between French and American audiences and what his music, and the band, is all about.

If you go …

What: Hookah Hey

When: 9 p.m. Feb. 23

Where: Triple Crown, 206 N Edward Gary St.

Listen

From the album:
“Little Things” (2012)

Hush Me

Little Things

From the album:
“Hooka Hey” (2007)

A Brand New Place

Roof Garden

Mercury: First off, explain the name Hooka Hey. It’s a Native American term isn’t it? How does it sum up the band?

Parrish: That’s exactly right. The name is an expression of our sound. I love tribal rhythms, heavy grooves and to me this name sounds like this. And the name is a celebration. When you say it it feels like an invitation to an experience, to try something different, something natural, something that will make you reconnect with your senses. In a way, it’s a fantasy.

Mercury: I don’t suppose many Americans have a firm grip on the French perspective of rock music, outside of perhaps Daft Punk, Blast Culture, David Guetta or Deep Forest. Who was popular in France when you were young?

Parrish: I agree with you, the French are more into electronic music, like Daft Punk, than rock music. This is one of the reasons why we came to Austin in the first place. It feels so good to be part of a scene where rock n’ roll is so legitimate.

When I grew up American bands who were popular in France were Guns n’ Roses or Lenny Kravitz or the Re Hot Chili Peppers. But there was also a lot of crap around at the end of the 80s.

Mercury: Who were your influences?

Parrish: The classics, mostly English bands from the 70s playing American music: Stones,The Who, Led Zeppelin… or songwriters like Dylan or Neil Young. Later, I dug the whole grunge scene like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, but I listen to a lot of music and in the end it all blends together.

Mercury: Your music almost seems to be a combination of the thick riffs of Fudge Tunnel and the jazzy freedom of John Spencer. Who do you listen to now for pleasure?

Parrish: I think Josh Homme is definitely one of the greatest songwriters and sound masters of our time. So it’s always fascinating to listen to what he does. I’m also psyched by The Mars Volta. Last year, I really liked the records of Dr. John or Nick Waterhouse. And I love Asaf Avidan’s new disc. He’s from Israel and not very popular in America, but you guys should listen to this man. He’s the real deal.

Mercury: The band is very cross-continental, I mean, you seem to feel equally at home in Europe and in America. What are the differences between American and European audiences?

Parrish: We definitely feel more at home here in America than in Europe. We really feel we belong here because we’ve always played and listened to American music. This is where I come from musically speaking. When it comes to audiences, I think people are more alive here than in France, especially Paris. People here have a way of enjoying the music, which is very physical, and Parisians tend to intellectualize what they’re watching.

Mercury: Your song “Brand New Place” has a country/Americana feel to it. Do you have any country music influences at all?

Parrish: You bet! I love country, folk and also bluegrass. I think it’s another expression of the blues. Blues is the root of everything I play so folk and country music have always been there too. Although, I drifted away from that with Hooka Hey. There are not a lot of Americana ballads out there anymore, even though I still love to play some from time to time.

Mercury: Who does most of the writing of the music? Is it a joint venture?

Parrish: I write the songs and I pretty much know how I want them to sound like in the end. The band helps me get there and get a clearer vision of what I’m trying to express. They help me visualize and test what I have in my head.

Mercury: You have a great voice. Did you take any voice lessons or are your skills just natural?

Parrish: Thanks for the compliment. I’m self-trained. Actually I still have difficulties in calling me a singer. I still doubt myself a lot. I’m a guitar player first and I got into singing because I never found anyone to sing my songs. So I’ve kinda learned on the way and as many singers I wish I had a different voice.

Mercury: Your former band, Sentenza and the Holsters, was known for its bluesy sounds and folk-like ballads –almost cowboy fierce. Is Hooka Hey a continuation of that sound or have you branched out from that?

Parrish: In a way, yes, but Hooka Hey is the extrapolation of this. It’s the true expression of what I wanted to get out there. When I started writing songs with Sentenza & The Holsters I was still very influenced by my idols. Sentenza was a good way for me to learn and experiment. I was caught in the middle of some rock songs, some folk and Americana numbers since I’ve always felt close to the genres. That’s why to me the first Hooka Hey record which is already 4-years old is more the last record of Sentenza in the way that it’s still very influenced and contains both rock and folk songs.

Mercury: And now?

Parrish: I hadn’t gotten to where I wanted to be at the time. I had not found my own groove, what it is I wanted to express. I was still digesting my influences. And this is what matters to me in the end. You have to create your own style because this is what this is about, but it takes time and persistence. So I think the real story of Hooka Hey starts with our EP Little Things we recorded last year. And it will continue with the record we will make with all the songs we’ve been playing live here.

Mercury: You were on the same bill with Built to Spill and Camper Van Beethoven at the famous La Maroquinerie in Paris. What has been your favorite venue so far?

Parrish: La Maroquinere is a great place indeed, but I think my favorite venue where we played could very well be Stubb’s in Austin. It’s always been a dream to play there.

Mercury: What is your most memorable concert experience — I mean, a concert you attended.

Parrish: I’ve been to a lot of shows but on top of my head I would say Them Crooked Vultures in Paris. It was a privilege to see these guys play. It was a total blast. I had seen them in Germany before but the Paris show was at the end of the tour and they were on top of their game. At the end of the show I was like “no more”. These guys had gotten to me. It was too strong and powerful,yet tight and groovy.

Mercury: And the most memorable concert experience of your own gigs?

Parrish: As for the most memorable show I’ve done — was back with Sentenza for The Ricard Live Music Tour back in 2007. It was in front of 20,000 people and I’ll never forget the unbelievable exhilaration of these performances…

Mercury: Why did you pick music for a vocation?

Parrish: Well, I did not pick music. It’s more like music picked me, and it won’t let me go. Trust me, sometimes it’s frustrating and a struggle to get it out there. Sometimes, I have wished I could do something else, but music just won’t let me go. Now, I embrace it.

Mercury: What do you hope your music does or says?

Parrish: I just hope people get it for what it is. It’s already such a privilege to have people being interested in our music. I’m just happy our music speaks to them. After it’s out there it’s not really my business anymore. Of course I have expectations. When I write a song I hope people are going to connect with it and it’s going to make them feel good and that they will see what I tried to put in it, but I mean, every band in the world feels the same. So I’m just happy when I see people connecting with my music.

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