As he walks into my office, Ryan Serrano wonders aloud about the wooden beams that run above the courtyard of my building. It might be interesting, the frontman for Upcountry-based rock outfit Highly Unlikely says, to do a tune from up there during the band’s First Friday show (which, due to noise complaints from those who’d like the event to be more tame, has since been relocated to Market Street). Bass Player Alex Locke concurs. “That would be sick,” he says. Yeah, I would discourage that, I tell them.
Not that it wouldn’t have been cool, but Maui Time is categorically opposed to broken bones of any kind.
But going out on a limb in front of the crowd is what these guys do during their rare stage appearances. A huge part of Highly Unlikely’s act, Serrano says, is the visual aspect. The two may have stopped by my office in board shorts, baseball caps and slippers, but the look they sport on stage is the polar opposite of beach dude chic. On stage they typically don dress shirts (not the Chaz popped-collar variety) and vests, the whole bit. Dress may be lax in these parts, Serrano says, but “you shouldn’t look like you’re part of the crowd.”
Locke and Serrano accuse each other of being male models—and who am I to doubt them?—but stress the importance of being three-dimensional on stage. The worst thing you can do is stand still, they say. So they move. They interact with the crowd. They may even, at times, climb.
While stage presence is an important part of the band’s act, Serrano says that at times they get pigeonholed; that people often think they’re playing to the Twilight crowd when in fact they’d probably appeal more to fans of Alien vs. Predator.
Serrano writes the band’s lyrics, which he says focus primarily on drug addiction and relationships of various kinds—rock and roll stuff. Locke, guitarist Lewis Upfold and drummer Andy Quammen collaborate on the tunes’ instrumental components. Usually one will come up with a riff or hook around which the other guys construct the song.
The result is an extremely raw and musically simple brand of hard rock infused with punk rock momentum, primarily due to Quammen’s drum work. It’s no surprise that in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, Quammen drummed in bands that opened for the likes of NOFX and Bad Brains. You can hear Sandin-esque energy and precision in his playing.
Locke’s musical background is probably the group’s most interesting. His father is John Locke, former pianist for the psychedelic ’60s rock band Spirit, a band best known for the rager “I’ve got a Line on You.” (And from whom, legend has it, Jimmy Page lifted the opening bars of a song now known as “Stairway to Heaven.”) Despite being encouraged to play music from a young age, Locke says, it wasn’t until he heard Black Sabbath that the light bulb went off.
Serrano draws influence from a seemingly unlikely source: James Hetfield of Metallica. He recalls being floored after seeing the band on Oahu years back, and was determined to become a frontman—but his vocals don’t sound like those of Hetfield. They lack that demonic quality that defines Metallica’s sound. At the same time, they’ve definitely got a heavy dose of angst, as one would imagine given the band’s metallic leanings.
Highly Unlikely’s original lineup came together in 2006 when three of the guys, all working at Hailiimaile General Store, discovered that they all had similar musical visions. A year later they picked up Locke. Their decision to play only sporadically has endowed them with a certain mystique. They don’t want their act to get stale, they say.
This approach may have helped boost them into the final round of last year’s 92.5 Battle of the Bands, a rank they shared with two other Maui bands, both of which are extremely well known. It was JoJo, DJ for the since-reformatted 92.5 FM, that suggested they play after giving their tunes a spin on the air. Friday’s show will serve as a much-needed dose of the heavy stuff for Maui rock fans. It’s highly likely that they will deliver in style.
And without injury, we hope. MTW