Editor’s Note: The next chance to see Hanzolo locally is Friday, Sept. 20, at Brewery Ommegang’s Fire Pit.
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ALBANY – Driving to the PearlPalooza festival Saturday, Sept. 14, in downtown Albany, members of alt-funk band Hanzolo heard a familiar song come over the radio.
“WEQX was playing ‘Not Easy’,” said guitarist Carl Loewenguth. “I got chills. I turned and high-fived Nick” – Nick Summers, keyboardist and trumpet player. “It was a big moment for us.”
In August, the Cooperstown-based alt-funk band won two Battle of the Bands contests at the Skyloft nightclub at the Crossgates Mall – that won them the prestigious opening spot at PearlPalooza, last weekend’s annual Albany music festival.
“I was intimidated because the other bands were crazy-good,” said Loewenguth.
Crazy-good, sure, but not as good as Hanzolo.
“We won because we were a different kind of band than the others,” he said. “We’re funkier, dancier, and our fans really came out to support us. That really shows the judges.”
Hanzolo’s earliest incarnations came out of Cooperstown High School, where Loewenguth, Summers and James Matson (trombone) formed their first band, Cheese of the Misty Ceremony.
“We put the word ‘cheese’ into a random band name generator,” said Carl. “That was the first time we played a live show.”
Meanwhile, Joey Katz (saxophone) Nate Olmstead (Drums) and Carl’s brother Jack (bass), formed a jazz outfit called Goats with Narcolepsy.
They all graduated and went to college, but after graduation, back in Cooperstown, they formed Hanzolo in 2015. “We got back together and decided to take it seriously,” he said.
“Hanzolo is really just a melding of Goats and Cheese folks,” said Katz.
Their first major live show was the 2016 Cooptoberfest, and along the way, they added a second drummer, Sebastian Green, a Milford native. Though they initially started with covers, they soon began writing their own music.
“We all have similar tastes in music,” said Carl. “Jack and I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon, so that’s ingrained in us. It’s jazz and soul with a little weirdness.”
Similar tastes, even, in childhood pastimes. “We do a cover of the music for the character Pablo from the video game ‘Backyard Baseball’,” said Katz. “He’s the best player!”
The name comes from a combination of the ‘Star Wars’ character Han Solo and ‘Kill Bill’ character Hattori Hanzo. “For legal reason, we say it’s from ‘Kill Bill’,” joked Katz.
They bill themselves as “Upstate funk” or “Alt-funk.” “Even our covers fall into that mold,” said Jack. “Sebastian wanted us to play Justin Timberlake’s ‘My Love’ and he laid down this entirely different beat.”
According to Katz, Loewenguth writes “99.9 percent” of the songs, but he and Olmstead both contribute. “They’re all a little different, but they work in the same mold,” he said.
They released their debut album, “Table Butter” earlier this year. “A friend of ours came up with the title,” said Matson. “He described our sound as smooth enough to spread, but hard enough to hold together.”
The album is available on streaming platforms, including Spotify and iTunes, and in June, they shot a video for “Not Easy.”
“That song has a really romantic premises, to just keep dancing,” said Loewenguth. “We shot it at Innerskate 88, and the Hill City Rollers were our extras! The whole shoot was so fun.”
Katz lives in Boston and Green lives in Brooklyn, so they join the band when they can. “It’s just amazing playing with these guys, so I try to make it up as much as possible,” he said.
They’ll perform at Brewery Ommegang’s Firepit Friday on Sept. 20, and at the Schenectady County Funk N’ Jazz Festival on Saturday, Sept. 21 at Gateway Park.
And as winter settles in, they’re take a break from touring to work on their sophomore album. “We’ve got 15 new songs,” said Loewenguth.