Local Noise: The Headlocks

It’s feel good music. And it’s thoughtful at the same time.” So said Rob Carey, singer/guitarist of The Headlocks, regarding their unique brand of Americana. “It’s the kind of music that appeals to just about everyone. We play all ages shows. We play shows down in our local scene made up of 20 and 30-somethings and we play at your local old man bar. Good responses all around.”

The band’s latest CD, Cuckoo Bird, was released in late 2009 and is on its second pressing. The songs carry themes of the working class, and living in America in the wake of a cultural revolution that has been eaten by its exploitation. The group has promoted the release with over 70 shows around the area.

“We are based in Staten Island and have been playing steadily all over the city now for the past three years or so,” Rob said. “We’ve played some great rooms such as The Mercury Lounge and The Bitter End. We’ve also played in parks, Irish bars, festivals and colleges. We love playing in front of anybody, pretty much… We’ve played a few fantastic shows in Asbury Park and Red Bank. We’ve been booking a lot of college gigs in the region, as our album is showing up on radio station playlists nationwide.”

Rob is joined in the band by guitarist Frank Duffy, who previously was in a jug band called the Wahoo Skiffle Crazies, drummer Frank Cavallo, who was formerly in the group Tryptophan, guitarist Nick Purpora, from the legendary Staten Island hardcore band Muddfoot, keyboard player Steve Pepe and bass player Joseph Brancato.

“Frank and I began playing and writing a handful of songs on a porch in a local park,” reminisced Rob. “People kept showing up on the porch until it was a party. We started doing that in bars, at parties, in clubs and at colleges.”

While they come from a varied musical background, they share a common interest. “There’s a line in the final track, ‘It’s A Wonderful Life,’ it goes ‘You say I’m a Cuckoo Bird, but I never sing on time,’” said Rob, about the title of the CD. “It comes from there, but is also a reference to the old American folk song of the same title. We love Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.”

Besides the folk anthology, the group can’t pin down anything in particular that influences their collective sound. “As a band, we don’t ever say. ‘Hey, let’s write a song that sounds like such and such a band.’ It’s a very organic process, and our collective influences have the same effect on us that soil does on the plant that grows out of it,” Rob added.

The songs initially grew out of Rob and Frank sitting together and coming up with ideas, but more recently they’ve started with the whole group. “Traditionally, Duffy will play a riff on the guitar and I will say, ‘I have something perfect for that,’ and start flipping through one of the books I always write in,” explained Rob. “Melody ensues. Lately though, the music has been developing more and more from jams as well.”

Both the songs from the album and the new songs they’ve been performing have been getting well received from fans. “We have gotten very strong responses from literally every song we play out,” Rob related. “One that’s been coming up more and more lately is ‘Freeze The Frame.’ We’re going to continue to write and record music that feels good and resonates with listeners. Our second full-length release is in preproduction and we’re picking songs from a list of nearly thirty new originals in order to put together another strong concept album.”

One interesting aspect of the live shows is the way they sometimes start out, with each instrument starting separately until the whole band is playing. It had an accidental beginning that seems to have caught on. “We got lost on the way to playing a jam band festival in upstate New York this past summer,” Rob recalls. “By the time we got to the stage, following a six hour drive, it was time to go on. The audience waiting for us to play started to clear out, but as we set up, one instrument after another, we were able to keep the crowd who stayed, and a huge crowd packed in behind them. The song we played is really danceable and upbeat, so when we finally were ready to play, we looked up and a ton of people were dancing already. We’ve started a few shows since then with that song, using what we call the extended intro”

The name of the group was actually a happy accident as well. “It comes from a misunderstanding,” Rob laughs. “We were listening to Bob Dylan’s ‘Jokerman.’ He says ‘padlocks’ in a line, and we thought he said ‘headlocks.’ We’d been looking for a name for months, and that one stuck long before we realized that we had mistaken the line!”

You can find out more about The Headlocks, as well as upcoming shows and the status of the new release, at theheadlocks.com. You can also get in touch with them by E-mailing the group at contact@theheadlocks.com.