He may be mellower than he was, but H.R. is still crazier than you’ll ever be.
H.R. with BEDOUIN SOUNDCLASH and ARKELLS at Sound Academy (11 Polson), Friday (September 12), 8 pm. $25. 416-870-8000.
Interviewing H.R. (aka Paul Hudson, aka Human Rights) is a confusing and disorienting experience, to say the least. The frontman of legendary hardcore band Bad Brains seems to live in his own peculiar universe, similar to the one that dub reggae madman Lee "Scratch" Perry inhabits.
For example, when asked about his heavy interest in and love of roots reggae, Hudson offers this as an explanation:
"You know, I was born in Liverpool. Ever since I was a baby I used to hang out with the Beatles, and we would make such beautiful music."
All right then. After some prodding, he goes on to explain that he has family in Jamaica and lived there for a while as a child, which makes me wonder if his weirdness is actually the result of years of drug abuse, as some suggest, or if it's just an act designed to help him manipulate the direction of interviews.
He's long been known as a true eccentric, but for too many years that appeared to be getting in the way of actually making music. His volatile personality led him to part ways with the Bad Brains at various times over the last 30 years, and live performances have teetered between inspired and shambolic.
Things are looking better these days, though. He's playing again with the Bad Brains (whom he inexplicably refers to as the "Big Brains" or the "Soul Brains"), and his upcoming solo album, Hey Wella (DC Hardcore), is among his best to date, bouncing between reggae and metal in a way few others can pull off.
Hudson describes it as "soul hip-hop love-a-dub love groove-on music," which might not be that useful in pegging the actual style but does give you an idea of the kind of headspace he's in.
His days of doing backflips off the stage into the audience are pretty much over, and by all accounts he's much mellower than before. Even when asked about allegations of homophobia stemming from a string of incidents in the 1980s, his response is surprisingly calm, although it's unlikely to appease anyone still angry about it.
"Well, you know, I don't hate anyone. The Lord says it's supposed to be Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, but I have no problems with any of the Lord's children. To each his own."
Besides being the only black rastas in the DC hardcore punk scene during the late 70s, the Bad Brains also stuck out for their impressive playing ability, which would have seemed un-punk had they not also been the fastest and most intense live act of their time. Starting life as a jazz fusion band is likely part of the reason for that unlikely instrumental prowess, but Hudson also gives credit to the environment from which they sprang.
"Growing up in DC, we were always listening to jazz groups and practising our instruments. There's not a lot else to do there - DC is kind of a boring place - but there's lots of top-notch musicians."
DC might be boring, but Hudson is clearly excited to be performing with the Bad Brains in their hometown again after being unofficially banned since 1979 (a tale recounted in their song Banned In DC). Of course, Hudson's version of their upcoming gig is a little bit different from how others would likely describe it.
"We're playing for Obama in DC on Election Day. You know, Obama is a very good friend of mine. I've been to the White House a number of times, and he's a very nice fellow. He has my support fully."