Smile Politely

Embracing the weirdness

Heyokas in the shower with McSweet — from left: Jess Greenlee (drums), Kelly McMorris (keyboards), John Hoeffleur (guitar), Marc Turner (bass and possibly bassoon)

Reading through the lineup for Saturday’s Block Party at Cowboy Monkey is like a who’s who of the current Champaign-Urbana music scene: Elsinore, Common Loon, New Ruins, Hot Cops, Mordechai in the Mirror, and Krukid have all made their mark locally, and Lonely Trailer is back from a decade-plus hiatus after being prominent in the ’80s and ’90s (more on that tomorrow). And then (cue the Sesame Street “one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other” music) there’s Heyokas. Who the hell are they? Well, let’s find out.

Heyokas (from the Lakota word, Heyoka, meaning “sacred clown”) are so new, even they have trouble categorizing themselves. Made up of former members of The Beauty Shop (Hoeffleur), Lorenzo Goetz (Greenlee), and Ambitious Pie Party (McMorris), and adding a bass player trained in bassoon, there are several directions that their sound could turn to, as well as preconceived notions from their audience.

“People are going to be like, ‘Who’s in the band? John Hoeffleur? It’s like Beauty Shop?'” said Greenlee. “But it’s not like Beauty Shop. It turned into playing five of Kelly’s tunes. We’re just hitting what our sound is … If you take the songs as a whole, I do think they have a sound, but I don’t know who they sound like really.”

Turner is also a little bit confounded by describing the band. “I’ve gotten questions like, ‘What does your band sound like?’ and I don’t really know what to say.”

Hoeffleur adds, “It’s not like super-groundbreaking, but it’s different enough that you can’t say, ‘They’re ripping off CCR.'” So, I guess that wasn’t super enlightening. The comments section is available for your personal evaluation of their sound and influences.

Heyokas has been focusing on polishing a 30-minute set for their first two live appearances — the Block Party as well as an opening slot for Withershins and Take Care at Mike ‘n Molly’s on Friday — before branching out too much. “We’ve been really hitting these five or six songs to get ready for these shows,” McMorris noted. “I’m excited to get these shows out of the way,” so they can get back to fleshing out their sound.

They may not be able to articulate their musical style, but they do have big plans for the theatrical aspect of their performances. Hoeffleur described it as “embracing the weirdness.” From miking up a sewing machine on their in-progress track “I Like to Sew” to considering wearing masks onstage, Heyokas seems unencumbered by expectations. McMorris wants to produce “Scowls on a Stick” to pass out to the crowd. He explains, “When [Hoeffleur] doesn’t like something, he doesn’t beat around the bush, he lets you know, and gives you that scowl.” So they plan, for a future show, to print off pictures of a scowl, glue them to popsicle sticks, and pass them out to the crowd.

Despite their short tenure, Heyokas exudes confidence. “I have big balls about it,” Hoeffleur said. “I think we’re a pretty hot band.” McMorris adds, “I think the worst that people could say would be, ‘They’re not my taste.’ But they won’t be able to say that we’re not well-rehearsed.”

Photos by Joel Gillespie

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