Getting schooled by the Hard Lessons
January 3, 2011
Its a pretty well known fact that Detroit has one of the best music scenes in this beautiful country of ours. With a Rock and Roll history based off the unforgettable bands of Motown, to legendary artists like Bob Seger and The MC5, its easy to see why we have such a plethora of raw talent currently in the Metro-Detroit music scene. With a sound engineered from the heart of Detroit and a midwest work ethic, The Hard Lessons have built a name for themselves as one of the best live bands in Detroit. Recently Hard Lessons Guitarist Augie Visocchi took a few minutes to answer a few questions about the past, present and future of The Hard Lessons.
MDCD – How did your band The Hard Lessons get together?
We started the band as students at Michigan State University. We recorded a demo for free on campus, won $400 in a battle of the bands, had a song in rotation on campus radio, booked a tour, and put out our first 45 all in a matter of months.
MDCD – How did you originally get started playing music?
Augie – My grandfather lives in Italy and taught himself to play the mandolin. One summer when I was in sixth grade he came to visit our family in the US, and refurbished this old mandolin with parts made from toothbrushes and discarded tools. He taught me some Italian folk songs, and then from there I started figuring out Nirvana songs on that ancient instrument.
MDCD – What are some of your favorite local Detroit music venues to play and see shows?
Augie – Growing up I went to a lot of shows at St. Andrew’s Hall, The State Theatre (now the Fillmore) and the Magic Stick, so it is pretty cool that The Hard Lessons play those places on a regular basis. We also played Cobo Hall, which is something I thought would never happen. I still really like seeing shows at places like The Lager House or The Belmont, though. It is great being able to hear the guitars directly from the amplifiers.
MDCD – Who are some of your favorite Detroit bands?
Augie – One of the things I like most about being in our position, is we get to selfishly pick opening bands for our shows who we really love and want to see live. We just played a show at St. Andrew’s Hall and got to put our friends Frontier Ruckus and Secret Twins on that stage, a first for both bands, and they sounded so amazing! The new Copper Thieves album is ruling our turntable right now, too. I’m also pretty fortunate to currently be playing in some Detroit bands I was a fan of prior to joining, like Mood Elevator and Millions Of Brazilians.
MDCD – How much influence does Metro Detroit have on your song writing?
Augie – I think it has a huge influence, even if it is subconscious. We did an interview with an English reporter from the BBC last year, and she mentioned how a couple of the songs from our new album Arms Forest almost sounded like an assembly line in action. I had to agree with her! Rock N Roll is built on a repetitive downbeat, just like a stamping machine in a factory.
MDCD – A lot of us in Michigan were raised on money from “The Big Three” – Do you have any direct ties to General Motors/Chevrolet? If so, do you have any fond memories that involve Chevrolet?
Augie – Michigan’s auto industry is the reason I’m doing this interview in English! I’m not sure if my family would have wound up here in the US, or for that matter Michigan, had it not been for assembly line jobs. In fact, I worked on the assembly line for about 4 months putting fuel canisters on Chevrolets and Pontiacs. I’ve only owned two cars in my life and they’ve both been Chevrolets. I guess it is a similar thing as to why I only play Telecasters on stage with The Hard Lessons. I like how they work, I like how they look, and there is a history there.
MDCD – Who would you say your biggest influences are when it comes to writing music? What really inspires you?
Augie – Inspiration comes from everywhere! You have to keep your eyes and ears open to the experiences you have in your life. I get inspired watching a band kill it on stage, but I also get inspired helping my dad with some construction or fixing an amplifier. Music is about creation, but it is dangerous to seal yourself off from other kinds of creation or expression. That’s why I often cite Neil Young as an inspiration, even though I don’t love everything he does musically. He has a fearless attitude toward creating music, or movies, or art. He throws himself into whatever he tries.
MDCD – What is one of your favorite Detroit shows you’ve ever played? Who was it with? Why was it so Memorable?
Augie – Last summer we played a show at the Majestic Theatre complex to raise money for Tyree Guyton and The Heidelberg Project. We got added fairly last minute, but we wanted to do our best to lend some help the fundraiser as well as perform in a way that would nod to the creativity of the project. We ended up doing this “fluid” set where we started on the main stage, worked our way to the upstairs bar, moved down to the Garden Bowl, and ended our set literally in the middle of Woodward Avenue before jumping into a van and pulling away. One of the things I love most about this band is that even after 600 some shows, we can still completely reinvent what we do and have one of the most memorable shows of our career. Our fans recognize this too, and that’s why we’re still able to do this year after year, as other bands fall by the wayside. We’re grateful for that.
MDCD – What is next for The Hard Lessons?
Augie – We’ve never taken more than a few weeks off in 5 years, even when we’re writing our albums, so I’m sure we’ll be playing plenty of shows this coming year, but we also want to figure out a theme for the songs we’ve been writing that will take us into another direction to keep things interesting. After progressing so far from where we started, I think we’re getting excited to purposely regress a little bit and do a record that is a little more raw and frenetic – not over think things. That’s sort of what we’ve been doing all along. Pedal to the metal, throw it in gear, and go for it. It’s taken us to 6 countries and through 3 albums countless singles and EPs, so I think we’ll stick with it. The plan is to have no plan.