Doug Scharin's resume reads like a concise history of post-punk indie-rock experimentation. The Chicago-based drummer has performed with some of the most influential indie bands of the past 10 years, donating his rock-solid skills to jagged math-rockers Rodan and June of '44 as well as slowcore minimalists Codeine and Rex. And for the past five years, Scharin has been exploring post-rock landscapes of dub and electronica under the moniker HiM.
"It started as a recording project," he explains over the phone from Chicago. "It was something to do in between tours with June of '44 and Rex. I was just fooling around with my minimal set-up in Brooklyn and teaching myself techniques to manipulate sounds."
But the lo-fi dub of those early home recordings is long gone, as Scharin has turned HiM -- now two years old as a touring act with full-timers Fred Erskine (bass), Carlo Cennamo (saxophone) and Josh LaRue (guitar) -- into a shapeshifting musical collective of players from the worlds of post-rock and jazz, including cats from Rex, June of '44, Royal Trux, Tortoise, Hoover, Crown Hate Ruin and Isotope 217 (just to name a few). 1999's "Sworn Eyes" (Perishable) was a hypnotic slice of gently drifting post-rock that featured Scharin and a handful of players from the always-busy Tortoise/Isotope 217 axis. The most recent and fifth HiM release, "New Features" (Bubblecore), has Scharin and a new crew of Chicago musicians performing a groove-heavy take on contemporary jazz.
The imposing shadows of Fela Kuti and Miles Davis loom over the recording, but so does dub maestro King Tubby, as the lengthy Afro-jazz explorations are treated with a heavy dose of ear-twisting electronic trickery. Despite all the manipulated studio effects, HiM sound more like an actual jazz group than a ProTools creation. Using the open harmonic template as a venue for far-reaching solos and ensemble interplay, the group's members are not afraid of stretching out past the 10-minute mark or veering into free-jazz splatter. In the live setting, the ambitious group recreates that layered studio magic of "New Features" by utilizing samplers, FX boxes and mikes spread around the stage to pick up source sounds.
But because of Scharin's rockist past, HiM are still treated as some sort of indie-rock spinoff.
"The world that we tour in and the circuit that we're on is definitely an indie-rock one, though I'd be hard pressed to call "New Features" a rock record," says Sharin. "There's a whole lot of other audiences out there that would like what we're doing but are not getting to hear it."
"I'd love to play to a place with a lot of hippies in it," he says. "I got no problem with that; I think that it's really cool. People who dance to Phish would probably be really into our stuff."
Scharin's right -- there's a definite similarity between the more instrumental, jazz-oriented wing of the indie-rock scene and the groove-jazz side of the jam-band movement. They share a love for long-form song structures, trippy electronic textures, danceable rhythms and, dare we say it, jamming.
"We played a show out in Eugene, OR., on our last tour, and it's got a big hippie population," he says. "About 80 percent of the crowd were, I hate to say hippies, but they were, and they loved it. It was a blast -- everybody was dancing and getting down. You go to so many of these indie-rock clubs and people are just standing there, staring at you. Come on, get with it, have a good time! I like to see people dancing and getting down."
Prepare to get your swerve on.