Before I had ever seen Super77, I was already hearing good things about them. Mainly about how nice they were. This is usually a compliment relegated to skirting a band's lack of talent, but compliments about their aerobic live show were just as plentiful. Could a band be this genial and rock out?
All it took was one show to vaporize any doubt. Super77 serves their pummeling style of Hard Rock via Pop/Punk with boundless energy and disarming humor. The band is mottled with splashes of Superchunk, Weezer and Alkaline Trio, all influences name-checked by the writing team of Matt Mooney (guitar, vocals) and Rick Wichmann (bass, vocals). Together, they weave sublime melodies with lyrics that range from comical to inspirational.
The crunchy, kinetic sound comes from Chuck Ball (lead guitar), who adds the requisite guitar harmonies and occasional shredding solo, and Max Andrews (drums), whose hands are firmly on the wheel as the band hurtles through syncopated runs and snap turnarounds. And they are indeed nice.
Between songs, an out-of-breath Mooney will crack jokes and thank the crowd profusely for their enthusiasm. They're serious about songwriting and playing, but refuse to take themselves too seriously.
Their love for the audience, however, is very serious. Downright divine, in fact, as all four of the band members are devout Christians.
"It's really made for a tighter bond," says Wichmann. "There's not as much attitude and ego."
Beyond their brotherly interconnection, Super77 will challenge your notions of a Christian band. They don't really even like that descriptor. While they are proud of their faith, their songs aren't filled with explicit praise, nor do they bury the message in sludge and banality.
"It's there, but we don't put an exclamation point on it," explains Mooney. "We don't want to shove it down anyone's throat, because there's no good in that, you know? We like to have a good time with music, which is why we're doing it this way. We could just go be preachers if we wanted to do that."
Super77 began playing together over six years ago and before Ball's arrival in 2001, they were known as Simpleton. They came to realize they were a "The" and an "s" away from another popular local band's name, but the duplicity didn't come to a head until they went into the studio for a session that happened to be engineered by Jamie Hurtubise (formerly of The Simpletons).
"He looked familiar," recalls Mooney, "and when he told me who he was, I was like (pointing), 'YOU!' A month after we changed the name, The Simpletons broke up and we were like, 'Why didn't you tell us, man?' "
Super77 is an Oliver tractor designation and, as Mooney explains, the band connects to the name because it is "trying to plant some seeds of goodness."
Super77 is also a popular spray adhesive, which they like to claim represents their cohesiveness, but that was pure serendipity. The original name they picked was Super88 (another tractor), but they discovered another local band named Super8. Determined not to repeat the previous name debacle, they simply picked a different tractor model.
Their upcoming CD release brings with it the question of how much effort they will expend promoting it and what their hopes for the project are. Considering everyone in the band is married with children, their expectations are ultra-realistic.
"Who knows," offers Mooney jokingly. "Maybe we'll play Dayton someday."
Which is fine for a band that has roots in Cincinnati and has made plenty of friends performing locally. After playing on the church youth group circuit for a while, Super77 has found the secular scene to be a refreshing change.
"The Christian thing became a bandwagon, and a lot of bands jumped on that," Andrews explains. "We didn't want to be lumped in with bands that may be fake."
Wichmann agrees, adding, "All the bands we've played with in the clubs have a whole lot more heart and are nicer guys."
When asked what fuels their exhausting live performances, Wichmann replies, "It all depends on how much coffee Max has. If he has nothing, it's all easy listening. We had to find the right balance. Is it two lattes or three lattes?"
"Too much (coffee) and every song is 45 seconds," adds Ball.
"I'm all about some broccoli," interjects Mooney, eliciting chuckles from the other three regarding the vegetable's well-known gaseous effects. "Listen, nobody here can talk. That's all I'm saying."
SUPER 77 (super77.org) hosts a CD release party on Saturday at the York Street Café in Newport with special guests Paperback, Montclaire, Adam Wolf and Stephen Sunday.