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Stranger Than Strange
The Amazing Plaid are a full-service multimedia operation with a wicked sense of humor—and they make intense music, too
By Shawn Stone

Three of the five members of the Amazing Plaid have gathered at their rehearsal space, an undisclosed location in the heart of what is less-than-affectionately known as Albany’s student ghetto. Outside, dozens of uniformly garbed frat boys and sorority girls are on a midday drunken spree. Inside, guitarist Thomas Wilk, singer Heater (pronounced “Heather”) Williams and guitarist Bryan Hamill are describing the multifaceted creative experiment that is the Amazing Plaid. (The rest of the band—drummer Adam Ciresi and bassist Joseph Hallmark—were unavailable.) The frat kids may think they’re wild and crazy, but what the Amazing Plaid create is truly wild.

Having fun with monsters: The Amazing Plaid. Photo by Joe Putrock

Case in point: their latest, as-yet- unreleased song “Life in a Jar.” Recorded by Jimmy Goodman at Leopard Studios in New Paltz for a multiband compilation, “Jar” is a cacophonous assemblage of guitars, drums and vocal screams. There’s no verse-chorus structure; it sounds like the broken shards of traditional rock songs joined together in an oblique but compelling order.

It wasn’t always this way. Until recently, the band even featured a string player. But, as Williams explains, “the music has totally changed, though. It’s a lot louder.”

As the lineup changed, so did the recording process.

“It used to be Tom and I would sit down and write all the songs, now it’s all five of us at once,” Hamill says.

Wilk elaborates: “The writing of it is very spontaneous—it’s like instant composition.”

The changes have affected their live shows, too. As Hamill remembers, people used to characterize them as a pop band, or an “arty” band.

“Now our music has gotten a lot darker,” says Hamill, “the stuff we’re doing now seems more real.”

Still, Williams notes, one thing hasn’t changed: Both she and Wilk often wear skirts on stage.

“We’ve done three great things. One is the tour we went on last winter, the second one is our fan club, and the third one is the bus we purchased,” Wilk asserts.

More about the tour and the bus later; let’s look at the band’s Kareoke Fan Club. (Like any other unusual spellings you will encounter in the course of reading this, “kareoke” is the group’s alphabetical construction of choice.) No matter what happens, Wilk muses, they will always be able to say they had a fan club. One, in fact, with members drawn from far-flung places like Texas, Wisconsin and New Jersey. This is a select group—one in three applicants is rejected.

“We’re elitist in the best sense,” Hamill says.

“We’re not elitist,” Wilk disagrees, but adds: “We feel the need to keep the fan club exclusive.”

It’s a Web-based club—you can apply at www.amazingplaid.com—run with a discipline worthy of West Point. “Colonel” Julia Hacker, who is not an official Plaidster but often plays keyboards with them as honored guest artist, administers the club. There is a brief application form that must be filled out; failure to follow instructions precisely will lead to immediate rejection. If your essay isn’t 50 words exactly, you’re out. If you can’t think up a sufficiently cool “KFC Secret Animal of Un-understandable Power,” you’re out. But if you are among the happy few, the benefits are, as Hacker promises, “insane.”

Wilk explains: “Every random month or so, we get everyone together at the house and we make piles of things, wrap them in colored construction paper and colored electrical tape.” The “things” may be anything, from amorphous “stuff” to mini-objects d’art to a free CD containing the group’s latest snappy hit. Next it’s off to the post office, where the strictly nonregulation packages give the counter clerk what Wilk describes as “a conniption fit.”

Club members will receive these mysterious gifts, according to the rules, for the rest of their lives. They also have to “house members of Amazing Plaid at any time, for any amount of time, with/out prior notice.”

It’s a trade-off.

For their next album (“if you want to call it that,” Wilk says), the band are planning a conceptually ambitious narrative work.

“We have a sort of skeleton story worked out,” Wilk explains.

“It starts off at the end of the world, basically, with vampires, and a guy who swallows a snake. . . . [The protagonists] are on their way to the future through a tunnel, in utter despair, seeing old friends along the way collected in jars and cans. It’s a [journey] to becoming mindless,” Wilk notes, adding, “I don’t think it will have a happy ending.”

Why the emphasis on the horrific?

“I started to notice that monsters make their way more and more into the songs,” Wilk says, “not like Lord of the Rings or Willow or Buffy the Vampire Slayer . . . more like Evil Dead.” The emotional idea, Wilk indicates, is “to provoke a hysterical response, make you want to tear your hair out.”

Following the success of their winter tour, which took them deep into the North Country, the band have mapped out an ambitious schedule that will take them across the state and into the Midwest starting Aug. 8. They will load up the new bus they are so proud of—“It was a prison bus,” Wilk says, “once filled with villains”—and travel from New York City to Milwaukee and numerous points between.

More immediately, they have six—count ’em, six—shows lined up in the Capital Region over the spring and summer, for which they have been practicing intently. This includes gigs at Valentine’s on May 20 with Cobra Verde and J Mascis, and May 30 opening for Ted Leo/Pharmacists.

In spite of—or perhaps because of—all the gloom of their world view and the angry power in their music (“Everything’s gotten much more intense,” Wilk says), the Amazing Plaid are a happy bunch.

Wilk sums it all up: “Everyone actually loves each other.”


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