HUMANWINE (1.25.06)

Posted on July 28, 2008


You can take the geek out of the theater…

According to Holly Brewer, there exists an alternate reality populated by a crazy evil ruler, some floundering mole-men, revolutionaries in constant battle for “YerYer,” and some Dark Crystal-ish Hordes who snatch people up to press their corpses into wine—hence, HUMANWINE (which is all-caps under all circumstances).

She calls this mirror-world “Vinland,” and it’s where her band spends most of its time, tending to props and lights. Brewer—a sprite with tricky, piercing eyes and a generally tattered Dickensian-gutterpunk wardrobe dragging behind her—doesn’t actually mention any of this during HUMANWINE shows. It’s not until you start getting down to the nitty-gritty of “how the band works” that she divulges these details. Even then, they’re just, you know, things to keep in mind.

“Each song is a movie,” she says. “Once the lyrics are down, it becomes its own entity involving actors, color schemes, a plot filled with antagonists and protagonists, a battle and often a resolution of sorts.”

Brewer started the band with guitarist and artistic comrade M@ McNiss (that’s how he spells it, alright?). Both cite a long list of musical influences—from opera to jazz to Indian to punk to Celtic—that, when combined with their lengthy performance experience, well, who knows where they get this shit.

The HUMANWINE crew, now up to official quintet status with the recent addition of Beat Circus leader Brian Carpenter, is at heart a scrappy bunch of theatre expats—even their drummer once played the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. The band (or “project,” as you might say if you were a member) is an exercise in escapism. Slinky strings and crotchety beats swirl around Brewer’s fluttering vocals, which could pass for the wail of the shadowy cartoon queen of the underworld. The band wrenches creaky waltzes and boneyard marches out of splintery wooden instruments and shout-along vocals led by Brewer’s hammy inflections and M@’s town-crier vocal counterpoint.

Carpenter says, “At first blush, it was very easy for me to relate to the sound, obviously.” But his real connection to HUMANWINE comes from the imagination behind the songwriting: “I started seeing all the characters and storylines unfold. They created that whole world you can inhabit in the context of the songs. Which is what I think the great lyricists do—they are playwrights.”

[Originally Appeared in Boston’s Weekly Dig 1.25.06]