Tyler, the Creator Inspired Three Plano Teens to Play Jazz-Rap Fusion

High school kids, like Herrick & Hooley, don't know how to smile. Duh.EXPAND
High school kids, like Herrick & Hooley, don't know how to smile. Duh.
David Spector

When the lead singer is sick, the show must go on. Such is the nature of show business. So, on this Sunday night at Club Dada in front of a room full of fresh-faced teens with X-marks-the-spot hands, Herrick & Hooley have to put something together even though their lead singer, Ian Olney, is feeling under the weather.

They are young, just graduating from high school weeks ago, but the kids in Herrick & Hooley aren’t a bit perturbed. Their plan B is to perform a few sultry songs from their new record, Famous Honey, and rap for most of the set to avoid straining Olney’s vocal chords. You’d hardly know it was the fallback: His raps are as slick and clean as the beats produced by drummer Hunter Lewis.

Crisis averted.

Adaptability is nothing new for this trio, even if they’re only just now old enough to step out into the world on their own. Herrick & Hooley are from Plano, not exactly the type of place where you expect to find a three-piece band that plays a smart mix of jazz and hip-hop on the come-up. The “come up” here refers to a growing local fan base — the show at Dada is a fundraiser for a DJ whose computer had been water damaged at a house show, but most of the audience is here for Herrick & Hooley. A mention on the FADER’s blog, the current pulse of cool magazines, didn’t hurt, either.

When the guys tried to share the wonderful news at school, they were hard-pressed to find anyone familiar with the publication. “I’m in a crowd of people who have no idea,” says bassist Michael Barnes. It’s definitely time to leave Plano.

How did three kids from Plano get into making soulful jazz? It was thanks to rowdy Odd Future rapper Tyler, the Creator.

“Tyler, the Creator came into our lives in a very formative period,” Lewis says. They say they were introduced to his music when they were 13 and full of the typical prepubescent, suburban angst. Hell, Barnes was in it deep, listening to marquee emo rock acts like Brand New, Blink 182 and All Time Low. After they learned of Odd Future, they became privy to BadBadNotGood, a jazz trio from Canada that’s played covers of Tyler, the Creator’s songs. BadBadNotGood has even performed their jazz renditions with Tyler himself.

For all of Tyler, the Creator’s many transgressions, he’s at least partly responsible for helping a generation of kids shatter the boundaries between creeds, codes and genres. It’s weird that the members of Herrick & Hooley discovered jazz because of him, but such is the power of music.

Naturally, their take on jazz owes a lot to hip-hop. The backpacker rap and neo-soul movement in the ’90s and early aughts particularly inspired their sound. “Hip-hop is fucking amazing,” Olney says. “I’ve listened to hip-hop since I was really little. I listen to hip-hop as much as Coltrane or Brubeck or whatever.”

Herrick & Hooley, three white kids from the suburbs, are quite obviously inspired by music that’s predominantly and historically performed by black musicians. They say they’re drawn to its freedom of expression and, well, its consummate trillness. There’s youthful idealism at play, but above all else, these three musicians demonstrate a refreshing degree of awareness about the world around them.

“The expression that’s been highlighted in the past by artists like Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def — you know, Black Star — the whole movement has a strong message that can resonate with anyone,” Olney says. “With all the fucked up shit happening right now, it’s important to be aware of what’s around you and see how you can help that.” It’s also just satisfying music: “You can’t deny the beats and shit that came out of that,” Olney adds.

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For all their self-assuredness, the band is still a little green, as can be seen during the rap songs at their Dada performance. Their movements onstage are a bit awkward and stilted. They look like puppets. Yet Lewis is truly into it, red in the face as he screams the lyrics without a microphone and waves his hands in the air. He’s the perfect hype-man, garnering enthusiasm from his young peers in the audience. Barnes wraps his arm around Olney with a smile, and you can’t help but be hypnotized by their earnestness.

As great as the rap stuff sounds, Herrick & Hooley shine brightest when they perform their smorgasbord take on jazz, soul and R&B. Olney’s vocals have just the right amount of rasp and his work on the keyboard makes the music as warm as a fresh cup of steaming green tea. On the drums, Lewis is so skilled and confident that if the totalitarian drum instructor from the film Whiplash scolded him about his tempo, he’d probably reply, “Screw you man, this is my tempo,” and keep it moving. Barnes provides the integral deep notes that give the music its groove. It’s all as sweet as honey.

More and likely bigger challenges lie ahead for Herrick & Hooley. Now that they’ve all graduated from high school, they’ll be heading to college soon -— two of them in Colorado and one in New Mexico, because they want to travel and get out of Texas for a while. Heading to different schools at a time like this seems tricky, but they plan on keeping the music going by recording some remotely and getting together for shows whenever they can.

Plus, they’ve already overcome plenty of challenges, starting with their very first show.

For that show they traveled 40 miles to Grand Prairie. They recall spotting a rundown building and joking it was a musty dump, only to discover they were playing an even mustier, more rundown bar. “There [were] 20 bikers standing outside smoking with their bikes and we’re just these white kids,” Barnes says. The bar was a haven for country, blues and rock, but mostly country. Barnes was so nervous that he doesn’t even remember playing, but they did their set and earned the love of the room.

One of the large, hulking bikers grabbed Olney’s shoulders and confessed, “I wasn’t ready for that shit man, that tripped me out.” What a frightening but eye-opening experience. “The walls of genre are broken when music is good,” Barnes says. And once they’re broken, something as small as a cold can’t hold you back.

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