Not to be confused with EX HEX, EX COPS or X AMBASSADORS – EX NORWEGIAN is not a fly-by-night indie sensation; it’s more of an institution for non-inane, melodic, smart pop/rock.
ROGER HOUDAILLE, MICHELLE GRAND, LUCAS QUEIROZ, GIUSEPPE RODRIGUEZ, ANDRES BEDOYA
The band officially launched in 2008 at the CMJ Festival in New York City but its genesis was a little record called Ginger, Baby released under the guise Father Bloopy in 2007. This was singer-songwriter Roger Houdaille‘s best solo effort to date, and resulted in his formation of a band to promote the record live.
Recruiting classical guitarist Carolina Souto to play bass guitar (for the first time in her life), the band Father Bloopy soon found themselves with a busy local schedule. Producer and friend Fernando Perdomo brought in Roger and Nina to record new material at his studio with drummer Derek Cintron and tracks like “Sad Wonder,” “My Name Is Paul” and “Something Unreal” were born. Everyone involved knew they not only had achieved a different sound, but had enough strong material to successfully launch a new band. After the critics’ harsh response to the moniker Father Bloopy, Roger wasted no time in coming up with a new (an in some critics’ humble opinion, equally unfortunate) band name: EX NORWEGIAN.
It was the summer of 2008 when Venezuelan drummer Arturo Garcia auditioned and immediately joined the band, who Roger stated knew the songs better than the two did. The new trio set out to get themselves together without any rush. With plenty of new songs to work out and a couple shows booked to warm up. This plan was not to be. The same week the song “Something Unreal” hit MySpace, the band was contacted by a radio station in Hawaii who had been streaming it all week directly from the social site for a copy. This immediately sent the band to fast-track itself. One of the first moves was to welcome additional singer Michelle Grand on board, providing harmonies and the occasional lead vocal along with the infectious cheer and dance moves featured in the “Something Unreal” promo.
BAND OF THE HOUR (Miami.com, August 2008)
Another recruit immediately added just in time for their showcase show at the exclusive Bath Club (August 28th) in Miami Beach was a childhood friend of Arturo’s, Guillermo Gonzalez, who played a mean guitar. For reasons lost to time, his name was changed to simply Billie G. The group now found themselves with a full live sound and a busy schedule. Local promoter Steev Rullman started booking and hyping them all over South Florida. And after a pit-stop in Atlanta, Ex Norwegian showcased for that years CMJ Music Festival. It was a huge leap for a band that literally just formed. In fact, listening and watching tapes from these early shows one can hear a shakiness to their performances which having more stage time would correct.
Work began quickly on what would become the debut album, Standby. A couple of the new tracks were previewed on a 45″ single, “Dance Trance Pants/Don’t Bother” out on Dying Van Gogh Records. Without very little promotion, this failed to have the impact “Something Unreal” did; however, it bought more time to get the album right, get funding and a promotion team together.
At this time, Ex Norwegian were a constant fixture in the local venues – playing countless shows and events, building up their stage sound and confidence. By February 2009, the new album was ready to go, but the label was not. Without wanting to lose the buzz created, a buzz which even had Columbia Records keeping tabs on the band, Ex Norwegian did something which it would repeat several times in the future, release the record themselves. Standby initially appeared in March and was heavily promoted on college radio. A short but successful East Coast tour to promote it earned the group new fans and better gigs back home. By May, the album received a full physical and digital release via Dying Van Gogh Records. The rave reviews were in, even if sales were nothing to get excited about.
The debut album remains a fan and casual listener favorite and boasts set list staples “Don’t Bother”, “Fresh Pit” as well as arguably the most popular Ex Norwegian song, “Something Unreal”. Dan Goldin of Exploding In Sound summed the LP up best as “…an incredibly eclectic mix of powerpop, shoegaze, indie rock, and even hints of stoner rock.”
The band were progressing fast. Faster than anticipated by anyone involved and by the summer of 2009, work began on what would become the second LP, Sketch. Written with the new line-up in mind, the new material reflected the live energy and had more emphasis on clever time signatures and complicated arrangements than easy breezy catchy pop hooks. It also was a group effort with production duties credited to the band as a whole. Arturo wrote the horn arrangements and co-wrote songs with both Roger and Nina. Noticeably absent were both Billie G and Michelle Grand, who were unable to commit to the group full time.
The single “Mind Down” was released via bittorrent followed by the full LP in June 2010. Unable to secure a deal with Dying Van Gogh Records, Sketch was originally released on Roger’s (resurrected for the occasion) Dippy Records. A tour in July was booked to help promote it, but this time around press and radio promo was very limited. Still, great reviews did appear and hope was high for the band as they continued getting television, blog and magazine features. Revue West Michigan’s boldly proclaimed Ex Norwegian will be “the next big indie thing.” Esd Music stated that “Sketch is the sound of a band with limitless potential.”
Back home, this limitless potential was feeling more and more limited, however. Despite having no trouble getting gigs, there was no real local scene to attach to. To make matters more complicated, by focusing on songwriting and recording, there was not an easily identifiable sound. It was this acknowledgement that led the band, now operating as a power trio, to develop something more accessible. With no obvious direction and a democratic band process, this would be no easy task.
At the end of 2010, Roger brought in guitarist Lucas Queiroz along with the return of Michelle Grand, effectively turning the power trio into a 5-piece line-up in a conscious effort to go back to the powerpop roots. A couple high profile shows, one as brand ambassadors for Evian water, were duly performed before it was mutually decided to call it a day. Part of the reason was lack of direction, but the other more importantly was Roger’s decision to move up to New York City without the band. An emotional farewell show was performed at the Stage in Miami, FL. It would be the last time the three founding members would play together live.
It was, as luck would have it, not the last time Ex Norwegian would play live. Dying Van Gogh Records scheduled to re-release Sketch, this time with proper promotion, for November. This prompted Roger to reform the group, albeit with different people. Unable to find the right musicians in New York, Roger returned to trusty Miami Beach and brought back the last two to come in, Michelle and Lucas. Switching to bass, Roger recruited drummer Alex Ibanez and dates were set to play in Miami, New York City and Boston to promote the new Sketch release as a four-piece.
“It was a weird transitional phase, especially considering very little of the second album material was being played. We were already working on stuff that would become House Music,” Roger said. Indeed, fans did not get to hear much of Sketch live second time around but made available at the time of its original release was a DVD with the whole album performed live by the trio that made it. Worth checking out. Anyway, back to the story…
Sessions were booked to finish what started out as a Roger Houdaille solo album, but became the next Ex Norwegian LP. Arturo and Nina would get married next year. And Arturo (known as ‘Toro’) teamed up once again with Guillermo Gonzalez (GE Perez), forming the heavy progressive doom metal band Cave Of Swimmers.
Work was completed on House Music, the third LP scheduled for October release. The single, “Original Copy” was released in February along with a music video shot around Lincoln Road, Miami Beach and a tour dubbed “Original Copy Tour” was booked along the East Coast. The tour was almost canceled and inadvertently ended up as an acoustically affair due to drummer difficulties. Joining the fray was bassist Giuseppe Rodriguez, fresh off his stint with Fernando Perdomo’s Dreaming In Stereo. What could have been a disastrous set back turned out to be a memorable tour, highlight being performing “I Want Cheesecake” with BJ of the BJ Experience in Chicago’s Wrigleyfield.
For upcoming shows, the band brought in Derek Cintron, who had drummed on the initial Standby sessions. A celebratory release show in October at Miami’s Tobacco Road launched the House Music album, released once again on Dying Van Gogh Records. Once again, press fell in love with the record, with the Ripple Effect blog stating “House Music…is Ex Norwegian’s most accessible and, perhaps, best work. Laden with great lyrics, catchy melodies, musical hooks and huge harmonies this is one effort that demands to be noticed.”
The album was a hybrid of the best tracks from Roger’s aborted solo album which features Eric Hernandez (Wrong, Kylesa) on drums, and the 2011 sessions with Alex, Michelle & Lucas. “It was an attempt to go back to the original sound but at the end became something else,” stated Roger.
Looking for a full-time drummer in order to commit to more shows, Alex Ibanez was asked to play again just in time for a big ‘End Of The World’ showcase, December 21st. After a highly energized performance, and a couple of mishaps, Lucas was asked to leave the band effectively seeing the return of a 4-piece Ex Norwegian just in time for the new year.
Alex’s return to the fray did not last long. By February he was out after abandoning the group at an important gig in St. Petersburg, Florida. The band continued to occasionally gig throughout the spring and summer, using Derek or newcomer Adam Rhodes on drums.
Meanwhile, April saw the release of Crack, the first LP on Limited Fanfare Records. The album consisted of leftover tracks and polished demos that has since been described more as a compilation of sorts than a proper album. It still received some decent coverage on the blogs, with babysue championing the record and band stating that “Ex Norwegian is easily one of the best pop bands of all time…and Crack is yet another resounding success.” With the new label and management on board, Crack did in fact reach a bigger audience and sales than the previous House Music did, despite it being relegated to a digital-only release. And unlike the previous three albums, there was no release show and much of the Crack material remains unperformed live to this day.
Another release slipped out to the world via cassette tape on Michelle’s tape label Cheap Miami. The 5-track EP, Hot Pants, featured more out-takes and oddities which were at home on the underground label.
Constant band struggles, both financial and personnel, were at an all-time high. When a huge lack of interest within the group over a high profile gig at Miami’s Vagabond (Sep 20th) occurred, Roger called upon some friends to fulfill the date. A line-up featuring singer Myrnelle Singh, guitarist virtuoso Danny Hayoun (Professor Parkinson) alongside Lucas and Derek played a radically different set that night, and ultimately changing the course of Ex Norwegian. The one-off experiment proved the final blow to the current band while simultaneously brought on a serendipitous encounter between Roger and Lucia Perez, who unbeknownst to him was not just a huge fan of the band but an excellent singer.
Lucia & Roger teamed up at a time when the groups future was looking rather shaky. The unlikely new pairing hit it off immediately, and spent the next couple months working out new material as well as fulfilling Ex Norwegian concert dates. Meanwhile, Michelle went on to form her own band Red Nectar.
“Feelin’ It”, the debut single to feature Lucia’s vocals, received over 6,000 SoundCloud plays and over 3,000 on Spotify only on its first week of release. This organic enthusiasm kick started a fresh buzz, landing the group a national TV appearance on Fusion Live after heading off to Los Angeles to work on a new album at Fernando Perdomo’s Reseda Ranch Studios. The results came out in that years Wasted Lines LP, co-produced byr Roger and Fernando and released by Limited Fanfare Records in November.
Yet another major transitional year wrapped up with a couple shows to promote the record, but without any substantial press or radio support or even a music video, the album did not reach its audience and bubbled under.
It may not have helped that Wasted Lines came as a major surprise to those who heard it. Many knew of the addition of lead singer Lucia but did not expect her to sing the entire album herself. While the songwriting was there and as strong as ever, the style and approach drastically changed with the new vocalist. Adding fuel to the fire, the album was mixed in an experimental fashion by Roger himself. The results were not surprisingly far removed from the accessible single “Feelin’ It” and the original game plan that was set.
Amazingly, Ex Norwegian carries on to this day, albeit in a looser musical collective format more than ever before. The collaboration between Roger and Lucia slowed down, playing their last show in January. A series of 7 singles were released in one week (April 5th-11th) in celebration of the upcoming 7th anniversary to all digital retailers featuring previous unreleased (digitally, for the most part) tracks. This was promoted only to fans and received favorable response. More recently the band reconvened with Michelle, Lucas and Giuseppe to play shows and were persuaded to record their 6th full-length album, Pure Gold, released by the band via BandCamp in December. A track off it, “It’s A Game” appeared on a very limited split 7″ on Fruits de Mer Records – which easily fetches over £200 – and instant collectible.
The band embarked on the #PureGoldTour, hitting up cities across the country – Chicago, Memphis, NYC, DC…and recorded a Daytrotter session and THRDCoast Blue Room along the way. Currently putting together a new record and playing locally.