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Salt Lake City Weekly Engine Work

Three years after 'Combustion,' Honest Engine follows up with a stable band, its own studio and 'Overhaul.'

By Bill Frost

FEBRUARY 23, 1999:  "Well, we hear this all the time: 'I thought you guys broke up,'" laughs Honest Engine bassist Rehan Jacob when asked about the three-year-plus gap between the band's first CD, Combustion, and their brand-new disc, Overhaul.

The perceived time off hasn't mellowed Honest Engine in the slightest: Sticking with the unwavering subsonic funk and metallic guitar-sheen attack they've been honing for years, the band has trimmed the fat and tightened down the nuts with Overhaul. They've performed steadily since the first CD, but lack of new product has fixed it in some people's minds that Honest Engine stalled-out somewhere along the way. The virtual revolving door of band members didn't ease confusion, either.

"We've had four drummers, four bassists and three guitar players," admits singer/guitarist/founder Tom Cram. Since the "we" pretty much means "me" (the bio/manifesto states that "Honest Engine will be around until Cram decides otherwise"), does the musician turnover rate suggest that he's, well, just a demanding bastard?

"Yeah, I am. It's the truth," Cram laughs, running a hand over his buzz-cut. "Rehan and I get along because he's a lot like I am. We have very specific ideas about what we want to do and we're hard on people. I guess if you asked any of the guys who've been in the band, they'd say I was an asshole--and I'd have to agree with them."

Cram's methodical focus has helped Honest Engine outlast practically every other Salt Lake City rock band that got its start in the early '90s, and the past two years have been considerably easier for him: With the addition of Rehan's brother, Pascal, on guitar and Craig Perry on drums, Honest Engine finally solidified as a unit. Cram still can't believe it.

"It's actually weird how well everyone gets along," he says, thankfully. "Every band I've ever been in, prior to what we have now, there's always been conflict. I figured that's how bands worked, with everyone at each other's throats. We can hang out with each other, it's bizarre."

"Pascal and I were in a band called Indivision together, but we were in musical limbo when Honest Engine asked me to come over and jam," Rehan adds. "Pascal was still free when Ben [Carter, now with The Given] left, so he was the obvious choice as a guitarist."

Landing former Mind At Large drummer Craig was nearly as simple. "We had seen Mind At Large a couple of times while we were auditioning drummers--every drummer in town, to be exact," Cram says, recalling the frustration. "Craig came to a Bar & Grill show we were playing with an interim drummer, and he pulled me aside and said 'I can do better than that guy.' He came in and clicked right away.

"Funny thing is, about a year before, the old band and I were having problems and fights like we always did. Honest Engine had just done a show with Indivision. Rehan and I were driving to Taco Bell and I said, 'You know what the ideal line-up would be? Me, you, your brother and some other drummer.' He said, 'Yeah, that would be cool.' So here we are."

While Honest Engine has changed faces, the band's musical approach has barely altered. The big, chunky guitars and low-end rumble churning beneath Cram's distinctive voice remain the same, akin to 311 without the clumsy rapping, a funkier Rollins Band with actual singing or, as one fan put it, "Black Sabbath meets Parliament/Funkedelic." It's what many bands shoot for, but usually miss by a mile: groovy and heavy, simultaneously.

Overhaul is single-minded and economical: no filler, no experimental side-trips and certainly no ballads. Twelve songs in 43 minutes, delivered with the strike-and-move-on accuracy of a sniper. The disc also boasts the most booming, heart-punching bottom-end heard yet from a local release. No commercial studio will get the credit, however, because Overhaul was recorded entirely at Cram's house.

"After our experiences with Combustion, we realized that we'd be better off doing it ourselves this time, so I built a studio in my house," Cram says proudly. "We used PARIS [a computer-based recording system by Ensoniq], and it was, initially, full of bugs, so we had to wait through a few upgraded versions. We did at least six months of preproduction on top of six months of waiting for software glitches to be ironed out, before we even got to record anything."

The mind-numbing technical details of Cram's Friction Studio and recording techniques can be found on the Honest Engine website, www.honest-engine.com. Warning: This page is for serious gear-heads and Musician magazine aficionados only.

Cram: "All of the recording, as well as the CD's artwork, was done at my house. For the mastering, I just loaded up my entire studio--which all fits into a rack--and took it to Oceanview Digital Mastering in Los Angeles and just plugged my gear into theirs."

Combustion received considerable airplay back in the day, but things were much different then. As commercially viable as it is, the chances of getting Overhaul on SLC's exclusively corporate (read: not interested in the locals) radio waves aren't great.

"No one's really playing much, if any, local music on the radio anymore--not unless you pay for it, anyway," Rehan says. Hmm, care to name names? "No, let's just leave it there," he laughs.

"Any of the songs on Overhaul could be a radio song. If we get some airplay locally, that would be killer," Cram concludes, smiling. "But it's not going to break our hearts if we can't pay 'em enough money to do it."

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