If classic albums like Zen Arcade or Daydream Nation have taught us anything, it's that intelligence is a surprisingly under-utilized, and important, weapon in a rock group's arsenal. And, when looking at alternative rock band Hubris' ability to spice up their energetic, pop-influenced songs with an ambush of thoughtful lyrical themes, it's safe to say that it's a weapon they use often. Now releasing their second EP, titled Wicked Creatures, the guys in Hubris don't seem to be letting up on their surprise-attack smarts.
And it's not overdramatizing things by calling it a "surprise attack." The proof is right in front of anyone who listens to the new EP's "Mechanical Ghost." The tune starts in a familiar place with a lively, over-driven chord progression before taking a left turn into philosophy-ville through a portrayal of heaven as a bureaucracy run by God and Lucifer rebelling against his kafka-esque institution. "It's a fictionalized version of Lucifer's view on the whole [Fall of Man]," says singer-songwriter/rhythm guitarist David Lynn. It's an interesting perspective change that leads the listener to feel sympathy for the devil — After all, who hasn't had a boss that they wanted to give the finger to?
The band expands on the points made in "Mechanical Ghost" when talking about "Black Mass," their other religion-dissecting song. "I think that religion is something that is good and bad at the same time," says bassist Will Moore. "Understanding what it does wrong is the key to understanding what it does right."
"Black Mass" in particular was inspired by Lynn and drummer Rhett Roberts experiencing life outside of their Catholic school upbringing. "A lot of the songs are almost like journal entries, to a degree," says Lynn. "Just thinking about big topics and trying to reconcile them with your worldview." The song captures that feeling with a triumphant, melodic chorus and lyrics that don't come off as bitter or offensive despite the potentially tricky subject matter.
"You could argue that some of the songs are anti-religious, but they're not. It's just recognizing that there is nuance there," says Lynn.
Of course, not all of Hubris' songs will make a church-going mother speed-dial her priest of choice for an impromptu visit. The wistful Southern-rock swing of "Gold Rush" shows a reflective and emotional side, while remaining scholarly. "You're always going to have songs about girls. It's inevitable," says Lynn. But, most songs about girls don't have lyrics like "I'm not Mussolini, I'm not Chairman Mao/ I guess your dreams went further than I could allow."
"It's almost an anti-love song," says Moore.
Astute opinions and book learnin' are great and all, but rock music was formed at the back of the class, and Hubris' sound has the energy of a punk playing hooky. Rhett Roberts' bass drum curb-stomp and aggravated hi-hat assault on tracks like "Cut Rite" and "Looker" mesh perfectly with the charged power-pop voltage supplied by Lynn and the band's new lead guitarist, Jake Hennessy.
The members of Hubris have personalities that match their sound perfectly, too. They're the kinds of guys who will talk in detail about the lesser-known impact the crusades had on Jewish people, then go on tangents about The A-Team. They'll talk about race in the South, then make a dick joke for good measure. All four behave rather brotherly to their fellow bandmates — they undermine each other constantly — but have an apparent affection for each other.
When asked to describe the band's sound, that familial attitude shines. "There's a little party groove there," says Moore. Lynn immediately disagrees. When Roberts references early Blink-182, even though he notes their music is "not quite pop-punk," Jake jokes about crucifying him.
The influences they agree on are pretty varied. Alongside post-hardcore poster children Hüsker Dü, Hubris cites pop-rockers Big Star and Southern-rock critical darlings Drive-By Truckers as impacting their music.
The big point of agreement for them is their belief that it's a mistranslation to call them punk, despite their heavy involvement with (and love for) Charleston's local punk scene. After putting Wicked Creatures on, it's easy to see why they're skeptical of the label. The band still has the college-rock feel of their last EP '16, but there are plenty of hints that they're embracing some of their other influences.
"We're a pop band in disguise," says Moore.
Roberts adds, "We'll be a boy band by 2018."