Hot Food To Go!
KROQ of the 80's style Techno-pop, layered with Synths, Simmons Drums, Great Bass Lines, Hot Sax and Guitar. Features the androgynous vocals of Laura Pickle and the unique production of John "Chris" Christensen
The Middle Years: In 1981-83 things were looking good for Long Beach “Avant-Punk/Pop” group Hot Food To Go! KROQ’s Raechel Donahue, nationally syndicated legend Dr. Demento, and Jimmy Christopher at KNAC, were all beginning to champion the band. Attendance at gigs was up, good venues were actually calling the band to play, and they were filmed for a new TV show. At that point HFTG had two indie releases under their belt; the infamous “Fries” shaped picture disc, and a cut on Mystic Records’ “The Sound of Hollywood Girls.” They had done a Dr. Demento concert with Weird Al Yankovic, and a major label was expressing interest in the group. With all of that going on, the unthinkable happened; Ruth Less left the band just as things were about to jump to the next level!
Back To The Beginning: The band originally started in 1979 because John “Chris” Christensen had mentioned to Michael Ely (Hey Taxi and Red Wedding), that he was looking for a lyricist; Michael suggested Laura Pickle. To Chris the chemistry was immediate. Songs were written easily and quickly, and then the duo decided to demo the tunes. Chris turned to local pros and lifelong friends, bassist Don Wittsten, and drummer Bob Ernest to complete the rhythm section. After a few rehearsals, demo recordings were started, and it seemed to be a very good fit. Noises were being made about actually doing some gigs, and it was felt by all the participants that some keyboards would add atmosphere and texture. Auditions were held, but no one really clicked. Out of the blue, Chris remembered a concert he had done in the 60’s with The Town Criers, opening for Gary Lewis and The Playboys. There had been this remarkable sound coming from the accordionist in The Playboys. Chris thought that might be really cool, and something radically different for the time. Bob Ernest said he knew someone perfect for the gig, and suggested Ruth (Nix) Less. Again, the chemistry was immediate, and the sound was just enough off of the ‘acceptable’ radar that the band loved it. During a rehearsal Chris suggested the name “Food To Go,” a phrase he had seen on buildings everywhere, to which Don responded “Hot.” So, “Hot Food To Go!” it was. This HFTG (mach I) lineup only played one or two gigs. Just as the basic tracks were being completed, Laura left to become the singer with a Journey-style, Guitar-Hero rock band.
What To Do?: Left with what they felt were some really great songs, HFTG (mach II) decided to move forward, finishing the demos with Chris, Don, and eventually Ruth, taking over the lead vocal chores. At this point the sound really began to evolve. The guitar got more distorted, the tempos got faster, the time signatures got weirder, the subject matter a little more twisted, and a stage show began to develop using props (including E.T. heads and plastic lawn mowers), sound effects, tape loops, percussion of all types, and the addition of an exotic dancer named Karen More. The music got a whole lot tighter and stranger as the band began to flex their musical muscles and stretch out. Just as it was getting good, the aforementioned departure of Ruth Less took place!
The Return Of Laura Pickle: Intrigued by the promos she had heard for HFTG on the Raechel Donahue Show on KROQ, Laura expresses interest in “returning” to HFTG. Part of the “return” package would be the inclusion of her friend, multi-instrumentalist Debbie Roemhildt. A few rehearsals take place, and again the chemistry is good. New tunes are written. This time the direction is completely different. Chris decides to put the guitar in the back seat, opts to use synths and keys, and pledges that they will write an album full of hit songs. Around this same time he starts working at Rocshire Record’s Recording Studio. A side benefit of this job was that he can use the studio down time for his own projects. Some songs are built up completely in the studio. There are many late nights, sleeping on the studio floor, only to begin working again early in the morning. The “Adrenaline Drum” CD begins to take shape. At this point things in the band are beginning to get a little tense; there are personal problems that begin to interfere with the musical dynamics. Certain members are becoming uncooperative. The ‘pro’ side of the band is really unhappy with the attitude of the ‘talented amateurs’ live performance delivery. While HFTG (mach III) is great with ‘direction’ in the studio, “live” is now interesting, but uneven. As the bad vibes come to a head, Rocshire Studios is sold and Chris has only 24 hours to mix the entire Adrenaline Drum album.
Enter The Benefactor: Colin Gillis is a talented stand-up guy. He likes the mixes and sets out to get HFTG a record deal. Chris and Colin make the rounds and get the usual music biz crap: that is, the only thing any one knows how to do is follow what’s already been done; they say, “Put burning guitar all over the album” - “Change that name!” - “The image is all wrong” - “What you should do is...” etc, etc, etc, - all this instead of actually hearing what’s there! Colin decides that they are all full of s@#t and decides to put up the money for an EP himself, using three of the songs produced for “Adrenaline Drum.” Then, records get pressed, promotional performances are set up, and Debbie quits/is fired/leaves the band. Scott Rosner becomes the new band member, and as the new line up solidifies, Laura Pickle leaves the band (again) just as the record is released. So, without the group that ‘made the record’ being able to follow through on the promotion, the record dies, and then HFTG sadly, ceases to exist.
The Funny Thing: People are still interested in the music. Many people have expressed interest in all phases of the band’s repertoire over the years, and because of it “Adrenaline Drum” is seeing it’s first complete release 23 years after the 24 hour marathon mixing session that finalized it.
The Future: There are two to three more releases planned of Hot Food To Go’s recordings. Let’s hope it’s not another 23 years before we all finally get to hear all the rest of the output of this amazing little band’s juggernaut.
About The “Adrenaline Drum” Album: People who are familiar with the earlier work of Hot Food To Go! from the Dr. Demento Show, the Fries EP, or the quirkier stuff from “Worse Than Slime” will be amazed that such a radio-friendly, atmospheric, beat-driven collection could come from essentially the same group of musicians. A conscious decision was made by the members of the group to create a new palette and use different colors and brushes to fashion a new sound.
Even so, the quirkiness still pops up here and there.
Adrenaline Drum track synopsis:
“Streetcar Named Desire” benefited greatly from the input of the late Curt Boettcher. Moving along with a great driving bass part by Don Wittsten, the conflict between between the lyrical content of “I’ve acquired a taste for bittersweet love - the kind that’s done but never spoken of” and shouts of “Romance!” in the chorus add to the depth of the deceptively simple dance-groove. Most people are surprised and amazed when they find out that the vocalist is a woman. A perfect album opener.
“Pretty Little Boy” has the subject matter of sexual tension between an older women and young man. It opens with an almost ‘western movie’ string theme - and is accompanied with a solid back beat of six-foot-thick handclaps, it has a surprisingly pretty chord progression and dancing groove considering the subject matter. Again, the androgynous lead vocal gives the whole piece a twist.
“Powder Blue” is propelled by industrial percussion supplied by the found objects of drummer Bob Ernest. It has a middle-eastern sounding opening theme, a jazz-tinged chord progression, smoky vocals by Pickle, and a completely ‘deconstructed’ guitar solo. A very forward-looking composition.
“Present State of Affairs” is driven along with a rhythm-melodics Simmons Drums figure, growling bass by Wittsten, and latin percussion supplied by drummer Bob Ernest and guest percussionist Stephen Taylor Hodges. The screaming lead guitar by Christensen has a wonderful, creamy, overdriven sound.
There are a couple of nods to Raggae and Island Music that really have their own character and flavor in “Joey” and “Almost Home (I Do, I Do).” The latter tune features the trombone talents of Debbie Roemhildt - this on an instrument she had never played before and only picked up the day of the recording; she plays it with surprising authority. "Joey" features great sax work by Debbie Roemhildt, more latin percussion by Stephen Taylor Hodges and Bob Ernest, and multi-keyboard work from Christensen.
“Crashing Drums” has it’s ‘nightmare music’ psychedelic middle section, fueled by the clocks’ tick-tock percussion, and an oddly angular guitar part. It's the saga of a cheating woman and the man that’s losing his grip!
“Never Come To Blows” is a brooding mood-piece, opening with church bells, and punctuated by a sensually atmospheric sax section and tremoloed guitar part. Fretless bass by Don Wittsten, and sultry vocals by Laura Pickle add to the atmosphere.
“In The Crystal” is the pop-iest tune on the album. Featuring finger-snapping rhythms, catchy synth melodies by Christensen, and another cool bass part. Highlights are the guitar, supplied by Amazing Rhythm Aces’ Barry “Byrd” Burton, and the voice of The Oracle in the coda.
“Adrenaline Drum (It’s What Drives You)” contains some more of that great 'adrenalized' Simmons Drum sound by Bob Ernest, another strong set of lyrics and dynamic vocal delivery from Pickle, and possibly the best sax solo by Debbie Roemhildt on the album. There is also interesting guitar work, PPG Wave, and production from Christensen. A popping bass break by Don Wittsten closes the record.