by Eric Baylies
Human Sexual Response existed as a Boston-based new wave- and punk-inspired band from around 1978 to 1982. They released three classic albums during their brief career, Fig 14, In a Roman Mood, and Pound. Along with Mission of Burma, they defined an era in underground rock ’n’ roll in Boston. While never quite achieving national stardom, they had some major college radio hits in “Jackie Onassis” and “Land of the Glass Pinecones” back when I was first listening to Boston and North Dartmouth college radio. Human Sexual Response was Rich Gilbert on guitar, Malcolm Travis on drums, Chris Maclachlan on bass, and Larry Bangor on lead vocals, with extra vocals provided by Dini Lamont, Windle Davis, and Casey Cameron. A modified version of the band recorded one album as the Zulus for Slash Records in 1989, produceed by Bob Mould of Hüsker Dü. Malcolm later went on to drum for Mould in the band Sugar. They are spread all over the country now, but amazingly enough, we will be treated to perhaps one last Boston show on November 10 at the House of Blues. I found myself very lucky to have the opportunity to speak to Malcolm Travis, Rich Gilbert, and Larry Bangor about one of the best two or three Boston bands of all time—Human Sexual Response.
Noise: You’ve got a lot of schedules to juggle. Is the whole band able to get back together to play? How much rehearsal will you get in?
Larry: Yes, all of the band will be back together for the Boston show, as well as for the show the Wednesday before at Club Helsinki in Hudson, New York, where we are planning to congregate to rehearse for a few days prior. Years ago, we responded to a question regarding how much we rehearsed by explaining that there was “no need to practice when you have natural talent.” Well, now we’re putting the assertion to the test, at least to a degree. We are all practicing our parts individually, but we’ll have only a few days to rehearse together as a band. It might sound audacious to say that I’m confident we’ll sound great, but after so many years of playing together we know what we’re dealing with.
Noise: About 10 years ago I went to see Mission of Burma at the Paradise through a blizzard, missing the New England Patriots defeat the Raiders en route to their first Super Bowl victory, because that was supposed to be just a couple of shows in New York and Boston. Will this be more of the same for Human Sexual Response?
Larry: This will probably be a one-off, or maybe two-off show (counting Hudson), but you never know. If folks are appreciative enough, we can easily be lured back. Any audience member from our heyday can affirm that we were the easiest band ever to coax an encore from.
Noise: If you are so easy to lure back, then why come back now? Why wait so long?
Larry: Why now? We have to thank Jan Crocker, who enticed us into releasing a DVD of a live show of ours that he shot in 1982. The footage looked too good to be ignored, and the occasion of its being released on DVD seemed too good not to get back together to promote it. (The DVD, by the way, is called Unba Unba, and our main goal for our upcoming shows is to sound better now than we did in ’82.) In all honesty, any excuse to get back together is a good one.
Noise: Why did you break up? Where is everybody now?
Larry: Well, for reasons that did and didn’t make sense back then, but seem less and more important now. Rich is in Nashville; Malcolm’s in Rhode Island; Casey’s in California; Chris is in Boston; I’m living in New York City, and Dini and Windle are a couple of hours up the river from me.
Noise: What have you been up to all these years?
Larry: Since leaving Boston I’ve worked as a Bible salesman and a psychiatric control specialist. My religious drama, Hansel and Gretel, was well-received when it was staged about ten years ago.
Noise: Why is now the right time to get back? Any new songs or surprises?
Larry: Because we can. We started the Humans because it was fun, and that’s exactly why we’re doing it now. Because we love our music, because we love our fans, and because we love ourselves. New songs? Not sure; I can’t promise. Surprises? Yes.
Noise: What can we expect?
Larry: Have you seen us?
Noise: Yes, when I was pretty young.
Larry: If you have, I’ll say, “more.” If you haven’t, I’ll say, “blasting ecstasy.”
Noise: I also spoke, albeit briefly, to drummer Malcom Travis. Malcom, what the heck have you been up to?
Malcolm: For the past ten years or so I’ve been playing with Richard Davies in Cardinal and on his solo projects. He’s in the middle of raising a family so there’s not a lot of touring—mainly recording projects, one of which was a collaboration with Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices in 2007.
Noise: What can we expect at the big reunion show? Do you think it’s a one-off show?
Malcolm: I don’t know what to expect from this upcoming show at HOB. a lot of high-falutin’ carryin’ on, I imagine. HSR staged a very under-the-radar re-union show a couple of years ago and it was like riding a bike. We remembered all the songs we needed to and played them great. This was in Hudson, New York, where we’ll be going back to on Monday, November 7. Time will tell if this is a one-off show. I”m hoping for more, but we”ll see. See you at the show?
Noise: I will be there. I also spoke to guitarist Rich Gilbert. Since the untimely demise of Human Sexual Response, Rich has been an in- demand session player for Frank Black of the Pixies and Tanya Donnelly of Throwing Muses, among many others, and moved to Nashville a couple of years ago. Rich, how in the world are the singers going to hit the high notes on songs like “Land of the Glass Pinecones” 30 years later? Will you lower the keys of some of the songs or play them differently?
Rich: Without a doubt, there will be no lowering of keys for us. When I saw the Everly Brothers play a free show in the ’90s at City Hall Plaza, though they were still impressive (it was the Everly Brothers!), it kind of brought me down because they lowered the keys on a lot of the songs to be able to sing some of the notes. It just didn’t sound as good. I repeat, we will not lower the keys! I have complete confidence that Larry, Dini, Windle, and Casey will shine as brightly as ever.
Noise: Have you even gotten together to rehearse yet?
Rich: No. We’ll get to that when it’s closer to showtime. I don’t think we’ll need a lot of rehearsal. I’m confident that the chemistry will bubble up pretty quickly. I’d rather rehearse one time too little as opposed to one time too many. It makes for a more exciting show, probably a week or so before. I have gigs booked pretty much up until then and I know that everyone else’s lives are also pretty filled up.
Noise: Thanks everyone. Please do yourself a favor and go see Human Sexual Response on November 10, or I’ll see you in 30 years.