Human Head Transplant Interview

Originally printed in Spinal Jaundice #10 – 1990


One of the few great, interesting Colorado bands. Their recorded stuff excels, garnering reviews in Spin and many other places as well; sparsely but usually positively critiquing the band’s huge range of sounds. And now with a CD on the horizon, there’s no local band worthier of your disc player! HHT is Kelly Cowan, Robert Ferbrache and Sheri VanDecar on an array of instruments. Kelly and Sheri recently visited the Virgin Islands and tied the knot. I talked to them upon returning to saunaville Denver.

MJ: How about a musical history? All the varieties of elements employed?
HHT: I think that at first we had a lot of analog equipment. And a lot of tape manipulation and stuff like that. Percussion that was the organic kind of thing. Electric guitar, trumpet, a little Korg keyboard, a bass, tons of effects pedals, oil drums and steel bars, that kind of stuff. Then we rented an EMU-2 to do “Hic Et Abique.” So that’s when we started getting into sampling more. We had a band called Beach Blanket Bingo here in Denver, and things would always be coming up in HHT that were borderline pop music or whatever, so we decided that we’d get a band together to do that kind of stuff and keep it separate. We did that for a while and it worked pretty good. Then we went back as just HHT to do other stuff. And when we decided  to do pop again we just kept is as HHT, because we had enough equipment to where we didn’t have to take on extra players. The computer could run the drums and play additional keyboard parts and really fill the sound out. We were just doing ‘pop’ stuff as HHT but now we’re kind of away from that for now. And we got some inspiration to try some different stuff when we were in the Virgin Islands and being in that atmosphere. Being diverse, as far afield as possible.

MJ: Is all your work studio done?
HHT: It’s been a good mixture of both live and studio stuff but we haven’t put out anything live in a while. We have access to a few studios in town for around $5 and hour and for free. There we try to be as perfectionist as possible. These days especially. But things don’t work out as you plan them all the time. Seldom actually.

MJ: What do you see happening in ‘offbeat’ music culture as being good or bad?
HHT: There’s a lot of it. I like Pablo Torrez, he just does acoustic guitar and sings. When I wrote a lot more letters I got a lot more tapes. And there’s a lot of stuff. I think that for me, often it didn’t have enough continuity for anyone to really grasp it, like the pieces wouldn’t really go anywhere. It would just be this sound. No base or rhythm or melody, really, or it didn’t take you anywhere. It’s easier for me to listen to that kind of stuff, I think, but for most people they would just shut it off immediately. I’m sure that there are new people everyday getting into that kind of stuff. But if you turn on MTV you can see where a lot of people are more and more probably not going to be into that kind of stuff. It depends on what you’re doing it for, I guess. If you’re doing it for yourself, keep right on doing it. If you’re doing it to get other people interested then you might want to examine what you’re doing.

MJ: Do you see experimental music having an impact on mass-produced stuff?
HHT: Sure. I see that totally. The things that I’ve seen happening around ’80 with the industrial records kind of stuff, S.P.K. and those kinds of bands, now all the time it’s real common to hear like a sample of a piece of metal or something in some Bobby Brown song or something. So it’s being incorporated. I think the advent of sampling has brought that about a lot. Cabaret Voltaire used to do that a lot, now I just hear it from rappers, a sample of someone saying something on the radio or TV.

MJ: A lot of the rap things sample off each other a lot.
HHT: Yeah. I like that actually. I think it’s neat when you see like a rap band that has a sample of a song that was a hit just 2 months ago. Already recycling it. That lack of reverence and respect for other music is admirable.

MJ: How well has the response been this far along towards HHT?
HHT: Varied. It’s been really good from Europe and Japan. We had real negative response here in Denver at first, people would just be angry. They’d be like, “Ooo, they’re scary.” The first couple of years people would just be angry with you, you know. Some people would just be like, “Wow, that’s really cool.” We’ve just not played live for little periods of time. If we’re going to play live a lot, which for us is like 3 times in a 2 month period, if we do that there’s not going to be a lot of time spent writing new stuff or recording. We’ll be busy focusing on shows. I’d much rather be getting something on tape. Plus like playing in Europe for us is a big deal. We won’t play live probably for almost the next year. Once in Denver before we go to Europe, just to test everything out. It’s a clean slate, starting from scratch. In the next year it will be just getting together the CD a few months before we go. I think we’re going to try to have a film that goes with it as well. It’ll be an interesting way to do it, making film for music as opposed to making music for film. It’s like watching TV with the sound turned down and playing a record and they always seem to go together.

MJ: What different things was HHT doing prior to HHT?
HHT: Bob Ferbrache’s been in tons of bands locally. And produced a lot of bands as well. Bert and I were in bands in Michigan together too. Like we were in a 9-piece jazz band when we were in high school. And we were in The Intolex, I’m not sure how to describe that, kind of like Crass or something. Very politically motivated, really raw. Sheri did this one thing that Bob engineered too, Trashed Out Lezbos and it was just for one night at the Mercury Café, all these local people. We just played these cheesy little instruments like Casio keyboards, one girl had a violin and guitar. And also I did The Tone Thugs. That was totally improv, but it worked out well, it was fun. Kelly played and recorded with Bumkon on their last record and some shows, and recorded with Burnt Fase as well.

MJ: What kind of personal discoveries led to your different musical involvements?

HHT: Drug use (laughs) would be a part of it. Sheri bought an electric guitar and played it a little bit, and this friend of hers said, “I met these guys from Michigan” because she was expressing an interest in doing experimental stuff. So we all got together and we called ourselves Burger King Next, because it was tight after the big McDonald’s massacre. So we did something at Christian’s and it was just a bunch of noise. There was a tape machine, and we were like behind this chain-link fence, we gave everybody Jell-O and they had a Jell-O fight. Then Kelly came down from Winter Park and it just kind of happened. Sheri and Alice Miller went to 7-11 one day and the Weekly World News had the headline “Human Head Transplant” and that’s where the name came from. Then a couple of years later in ’86 they had the same headline again. And it was after we’d taken quite a rest and we were just getting going again. Working on playing live and then all of a sudden there’s the headline again. An omen.