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Chasing the perfect tone

Let's clear up a bit of confusion. In the hallowed halls of all things rock 'n' roll, big often gets confused with loud. Any band can be loud; just turn the sucker up. Plug in and peel out. The reality is that the bands we love aren't just loud, they're big. Rochester's Heatseeker is big. Yeah, it's loud, too, but it's the size and quality of any band's tone that trumps simply going to 11 any day.

Over the past 13 years, two LPs, and one EP — including the thundering new release "Heads Will Roll" — Heatseeker has played breakneck, fast, heavy, and, yes, big rock music. The band has seen itself fall in and out of popularity without compromising its principles to earn favor or fans. Heatseeker's adherence to what it loves and believes in is admirable.

I went through a labyrinth of electric gates and barbwire fences and deep into the bowels of a west side industrial park to find Heatseeker — Brendan Willem (guitar and vocals), Seth "City" Webster (guitar), Buzz K. Hymen (bass), and new drummer Frank Madonia — hard at work, swilling suds, and seeking the heat. The band paused for a few silly questions. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

CITY: Heatseeker has been around for a while...

Brendan Willem: I started it in the tail end of 2000. Seth came on board in 2001 and has been on board ever since. Buzz came on about 2005, and he's been with us on and off. Frank is brand new, this will be his first show.

How did it all get started?

Willem: It kind of evolved out of a punk-rock band I was doing at the time called Street Razor. We played out a little bit and the songs I was writing were becoming a little more rock 'n' roll. The guys slowly dropped off one by one, so I got new people to where it was a totally different band, changed the name, and started fresh. The idea was to do old-school rock 'n' roll, a lot of 70's influences, guitar harmonies, high energy, that type of thing.

Clearly you're influenced by Thin Lizzy.

Willem: That's probably my favorite band.

I knew it! In the whole menagerie of high-speed, loud bands — punk, metal, hard rock, whatever — where does Heatseeker fit?

Seth Webster: I just think of us as hard rock. And when people say "metal," I say think metal like old-school G'n'R, Metallica in the 80's, or something. I grew up playing in punk rock and hardcore bands, so it was kind of like reaching back and getting stuff I missed out on when I was more focused on punk stuff. The punk-rock energy is definitely there, but we're trying to add more of the classic influences, while still keeping the sound updated.

OK. Lizzy, Motorhead, etc. We get it. But what are some influences that may not be apparent to listeners at first?

Webster: I listen to a ton of old blues; 1920's wax pressings like Mississippi John Hurt and Robert Johnson. I started as a blues player and a jazz saxophonist. If you slow our shit down and listen to it, I think there's a lot of blues influences, just at a higher speed. If you listen to most heavy metal or hard-rock solos, you can break them down to blues basics. They're just throwing more notes in there. There's a ton of bends, a ton of double stops. I listen to everything from Coltrane to Satriani to death metal and anything in between.

So as a new drummer, what concerned you in joining an already-established band with an established sound? Were you worried?

Frank Madonia: I wasn't up until now... I just wanted to keep it high energy. All throughout the CD, it's high intensity, no let-up start to finish, all killer, no filler.

What excited you most about Heatseeker's music?

Madonia: The songs...they're big anthems.

Anthems that still fit in a beer joint.

Webster: We fit in places like Monty's Krown because we're normal dudes, we hang out there. We're just guys who want to drink some beers and play music. We don't put on airs, or act grandiose, or like something we're not. We're just here to kick ass and play some rock 'n' roll.

What kind of fan digs Heatseeker?

Webster: It's funny, but playing together the last 13 years or so, we've seen where we've been completely out of vogue. Like the early 2000's, what we were doing just wasn't popular. It seemed like you needed a rapper in the band or you had to have heavy chugging. We had a huge following in Syracuse, but didn't fit anywhere in Rochester.

Willem: We were too metal for the rock crowd and too rock for the metal crowd. We never worried about fitting in, though. We always knew what we wanted to do and we did it whether it was popular or not. We wrote the songs we wanted to write, we played with the bands we wanted to play with. And that's what we've always done regardless.

Webster: And that's all we've ever wanted to be. We've never wavered from that and I think the audience is starting to come around. We've almost had a resurgence in popularity the last few years. I don't know, I guess it's just the cycles in music. I mean, disco was popular at one time...and may be again.

Heetseeker: the disco album?

Webster: Who knows? Probably not.

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