A musical roller coaster

Guitarist and songwriter Hayden Turek and singer Jeff Hancock form the local band County, which released its first EP, titled Homewrestle, on Oct. 17. Mr. Turek and Mr. Hancock, a pair of RHS graduates, both participated in several bands in high school before partnering together to create the folk duo. —Diego Alacron photo

Guitarist and songwriter Hayden Turek and singer Jeff Hancock form the local band County, which released its first EP, titled Homewrestle, on Oct. 17. Mr. Turek and Mr. Hancock, a pair of RHS graduates, both participated in several bands in high school before partnering together to create the folk duo. —Diego Alacron photo

From screaming and slashing death metal to singing and strumming country-folk, Jeff Hancock and Hayden Turek have been on a musical roller coaster since their first collaboration together in high school up to the release of their first studio album last month.

The duo, which is now performing under the band name County, is making a return to “how music used to be” in their debut EP, titled Homewrestle — a six-track record the Ridgefield High School graduates believe is a significant improvement from what they’ve done in the past.

“One thing I feel that really makes our music special is that we’re not trying this to be cool anymore,” said Mr. Turek, the group’s songwriter and guitarist. “Our music speaks very plainly, it’s not incomprehensible — it’s stuff anybody can understand and relate to — and we’re not dressing up and prancing around making a scene and it’s starting to work out because of that.”

“We both feel a lot more comfortable and it’s easier to be honest and bare my soul now than it was before,” he said. “It didn’t work out when I was younger because there was always something in the way, preventing me from doing that.”

The partners met at RHS through the band Green River Mourning, which was competing in the Battle of the Bands in 2009.

Mr. Hancock, County’s lead singer, was brought on to be the group’s “screamer,” shouting indecipherable chants during loud, deafening performances.

However, Mr. Turek made a discovery during practice one day that would alter both their musical careers.

“Jeff and I always liked all types of music — we were never just metal heads or punks,” he explained. “So we thought about adding a soft song to our set list because Jeff was like, ‘Yeah, I can sing,’ and we found out soon enough that he could really sing, which came as sort of a surprise, because all he had been doing was screaming into the microphone for six months.

“That was the first time I heard Jeff sing,” he said. “We were really blown away, we had no idea.”

For Mr. Hancock, returning to singing actual lyrics, as opposed to screaming noises, proved to be a gift, sparking what he calls a “crucial connection” with Mr. Turek that’s he’s had ever since.

When Battle of Bands ended that year, the duo went their own separate way and haven’t looked back.

“We’ve both been in plenty of bands with other people, and we figured out that it just didn’t work,” said Mr. Hancock, who had been in two bands before joining County. “There was always something — people disagreeing with each other or seeing the direction of the band differently — so we knew when we branched off from them after Battle of the Bands, it wouldn’t be a problem.

“Working in a smaller group is so much easier to see stuff through.”

Mr. Turek, who currently attends the University of Rhode Island, said he usually agrees with Mr. Hancock, which saves them time that other bands spend having creative clashes.

When Mr. Turek made his return to music earlier this year, he said, it took him a long time to write the songs, “probably a lot longer than normal songwriters.”

“It always comes to me in a different order,” he said. “Sometimes you write the first line and flow from there, sometimes you get the chorus and work around it to create the song, and then sometimes you get the last lyric and you have to work back and figure out the rest, which is always the hardest method.

“You walk around and do all this other stuff, but the whole time you are mulling over ideas in your head and thinking about the music,” he said. “I don’t really ever sit down to write these songs, it just sort of happens  — it’s like a pastime almost, and it’s easier that way.”

The third track, titled “Go and Love,” Mr. Turek describes as a coming of age song about someone struggling to find himself.

He perfected the lyrics while singing them out loud in the shower.

This internal struggle was so embedded in the lyrics that it ultimately became apart of the record’s name.

“I was just walking, and those two words — home and wrestle — just came to my head and it sounded cool, and I looked into it to see if it could be an album name and it wasn’t, so we went with it,” Mr. Turek recalled. “It’s not about broken homes, it’s more soul wrestling — something that’s completely inside you, your internal battle — and that’s how the CD name was born.”

Although Homewrestle is their first studio album — produced by Ridgefielders Justin Roth and Chris Penny under the record label Intrinsic Audio — the partners put out two CDs before their Oct. 17 debut.

“Those first two records, we were still kids who didn’t really know what we were doing,” Mr. Turek said. “I think this is a new thing. The other stuff was us growing up — now we have something to work from.”

Both artists give credit to a production team that “helped us see it through to the end.”

“I desperately needed a fresh set of ears to make it fresh again, because I was pretty close to giving up,” Mr. Turek said. “Chris and Justin gave us the reassurance and the great studio work that really ended up saving us.”

Mr. Hancock said County had worked on about 20 songs with which the duo went pretty far, but they never could perfect them for the album.

Those tracks that didn’t make it onto Homewrestle will be material for the band’s second album.

“We don’t give up on those songs. They get recycled and worked on later — nothing is ever thrown away permanently,” Mr. Turek said.

The partners arrived on the band name because it was short, simple and catchy.

“We were looking for a one-word band name for a while,” Mr. Hancock said.

“I didn’t want the band name to be something too epic and be too much of a big deal,” Mr. Turek said. “I didn’t want it to have too much meaning, rather have it be a name that is sound-good and would catch on easy, similar to our music.”

Mr. Turek first started playing guitar in fifth grade as a way to do what he’s specifically trying not to do these days — be cool.

“I wasn’t cool and I wanted to be, and I thought the guitar would help me, so I started practicing,” he said.

His first band — the Cross Keys — was a “Beatles-type” pop band that dissolved in elementary school prior to his “emo band” in middle school.

In high school, he taught himself to play the piano, but spent a majority of his time focusing on developing his heavy metal skills.

However, he’s doesn’t like to be defined by one genre and takes inspiration from a wide variety of artists, from the Scottish folk band The Corries to the hard rock band Black Sabbath to Woody Guthrie.

He also cites Elvis Presley, the Almanac Singers, and Paul Robeson as artists who have sparked his imagination.

Add in Mr. Hancock’s musical taste, and County has perhaps the most diverse sources of inspiration of any two-man band ever.

“I draw a lot of inspiration from singers who give a lot of emotion,” he said, citing Aaron Lewis from the band Staind, Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters and previously Nirvana, and Maynard James Keenan of Tool. “Those kind of guys give me goosebumps up and down my body.

“I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but one day I realized that was the type of music I wanted to make for others.”

The two said they make music because they want others to feel it. “My favorite part is when you get the shivers,” Mr. Turek said. “When you hear your own music and that happens, there’s a good chance it’s doing it for someone else, and we’ve heard some of our listeners say they get the chills listening to us, which we love to hear.”

Mr. Hancock added that County hopes to produce a full-length album in the future, but neither band member has an eye set for a live performance of their first record.

Mr. Turek said more practice time is needed and the band would like to build a following online before it takes a show on the road.

“Our music is weighted heavily on lyrics, so people should know what we’re about, what we’re saying before they come to see us play live, and you need to establish yourself before that happens,” he said. “This thing is a true partnership between me and Jeff — without one of us we’d sound totally different.”

For musicians who once perfected the art of screaming as a form of expression, this singer and songwriter seem to be maturing at a rapid pace so that one day they can be heard loud and clear. And no, not that loud.

To hear County’s first studio album, visit county.bandcamp.com/ or facebook.com/countyband .

 

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