GEN F: Harlem

Photographer Alex Wesh
July 16, 2011

Wildass—that’s how Harlem’s Michael Coomers describes bandmate/best friend Curtis O’Mara when the two first found each other in high school. Among other questionable adventures, they bonded over a love for The Germs and the way its members’ poor behavior prohibited them from just about every club in America. Inspired, Coomers and O’Mara started punk bands with names like Smart Pussy and Pink Extreme. They behaved poorly too, and in turn, were banned from just about every club in Tucson, Arizona. So, rather than dick around where their dicking was not welcome, Coomers and O’Mara skipped town.

After some tandem wandering, the two split, Coomers eventually ending up in the Bay Area, while O’Mara landed in Nashville, working in “some fancy restaurant” serving food to what were presumably fancy people. But the time apart felt like time wasted, and O’Mara convinced Coomers to make his way to Tennessee. Once reunited they named themselves Harlem and started writing drunken pop songs, rock ‘n roll noise reserved for bar room/crusty jukeboxes aimed at young hearts. They tried to get a gig in Nashville and couldn’t, but were able to book a show in Chattanooga. Unfortunately, it didn’t pay them enough to get back home, so they did the sensible thing and became hobos, hustling their way from town to town in search of a room to play, a place to stay, a few dollars and a whole lot of beer both warm and cold.

Coomers and O’Mara lived “on top of one another” like that for a while, sharing single mattresses and squats and stages/choruses, stumbling through as many miles of headlit interstate as they did bassists. You can actually hear all that American geography and all that troublemaking in the garage deviance of Hippies, a songwriting clinic by two guys you could easily write off as cowlicked scamps and their first album for independent giant Matador. Beyond the smirks and jerking of chains, however, is a sincere love of craft. “I think we just kind of came out of the womb and didn’t have our shit together in a really traditional way,” Coomers says. “But we work really hard and we really care about what we’re doing. There are a lot of bands out there with library sciences degree stashed away. We’re not one of those bands. We’re just not very talented.”

A few days before a recent tour stop back home in Tucson, Coomers spoke to his mother on the phone. They got to talking about the excitement surrounding Hippies and the band’s recent conquest of New York and its grimy youths. “It’s not that I thought you were doomed or anything,” she told him. “But I didn’t think you’d be quite as far from being a fuck-up as you ended up.” He thanked her.

Stream: Harlem, Hippies