Party of Two
by Sorrel Westbrook/
In 1977, Derek Holcomb and Tom Dans were playing gigs in the Hamptons’ breezy, beachy Dune Road scene. But something didn’t fit. “We had these leather jeans made, which was very flash,” Holcomb says. The pants were a dead giveaway—these kids were headed somewhere big. “Somebody said, ‘You should be playing in the city.’”
So Holcomb and Dans went to New York, joining the feverish music scene led by bands like The Ramones and Talking Heads. They soon migrated up to New Haven, where they’re known as cultish local legends—manic mascots of a music scene that once was. “We’re one of the last bands standing,” Dans says.
Holcomb and Dans, together, are called The Furors. In a career that’s spanned over 40 years, and which Holcomb calls “endless,” the two of them have accumulated an irregular discography of singles, cassettes and 45s that began with a 1978 release: a two-track flexidisk in Lisa Baumgardner’s cult magazine Bikini Girl.
With Holcomb on lead vocals and guitar and Dans on drums, they’ve created a sound that’s equal parts sweetheart surfer and shouting punk. Holcomb warbles like Jello Biafra after a spoonful of sugar and Dans’s sparse, toe-tapping percussion backs lyrics ranging from Beach Boys innocence (“I know how I feel / Cuz I looked up the meaning / Of the word ‘love’”) to frenetic eroticism (“I’d be all over you in seconds / If I had a free hand”) to gothic and spooky (“I went out at night / And the wind filled my coat / So I held it tight / I saw tall houses shake”).
Through it all, there’s a bubbly sense of play. Impertinent rhymes (“When I get fond / I get it for a blonde”) and circular logic (“I like to hear it said / I say it cuz I like it”) are legion, and when it comes to speed, the Furors are furious. Most songs clock in under three minutes.
Holcomb and Dans met when Dans struck up a romance with Holcomb’s sister. “He would come over to be with her, and then when things weren’t going so well for them, I’d be in my room and I would put on 45s and he would come in and talk to me,” Holcomb says. Since they began, they’ve experimented with adding a third person to the band, “but we keep coming back to two,” Holcomb says. “Because we learned to play together, it’s sort of a left hand-right hand kind of thing. We’re very free when we’re together, and the minute you add a third person, then we have to behave ourselves. That’s no fun at all.”
While some of their earlier work was recorded in studios, now The Furors record in the basement of Holcomb’s Hamden home. “There’s a lot of pressure when you go into a studio,” Holcomb says. “And we want to get that special take—the one where we do what we do live. Our strength is what we do live.”
Their stage presence has been honed over decades of performing—often, in the early days, an exhausting four sets a night—in storied local venues like Toad’s Place, The Shandy Gaff, Ron’s Place and The Grotto. “We had the advantage of learning by playing… to bars full of people who didn’t want to know anything about us,” Holcomb says. “So we learned to put on a show and put in the energy and get people’s attention and get them up dancing. No matter how exhausted I feel, the starting pistol goes off and it’s ‘waha!’ It’s rock ’n’ roll.” His best stage trick is what he refers to as the “jump and sweat show,” an exuberant performance topped off by his signature grin. If smiles are infectious, Holcomb might be patient zero.
It’s an especially exciting time to be a fan. The Furors say they’re planning to release a new album within the next few months. All the songs have been recorded in Holcomb’s basement, the centerpiece of which is a slick drum set that sparkles like a disco ball. It’s been 11 years since their last album, but Holcomb only laughs when asked if The Furors’ sound has evolved. “Not at all,” he says. “I likes what I likes.”
“We start each practice session as if we were just born that morning,” Dans chimes in. “And when you listen to a recording session, it sounds like it.”
They gave me a CD with three tracks from the new record, all of which are familiar in the best way—quick, witty, bright. “Happy, Happy, Happy,” which starts off with a train whistle and a “chugga-chugga,” deftly weaves the serious with the irreverent—“I keep myself in cookies and cake / Whatever I want I’ll take! / Happy, I’m going to be happy,” and “If I knew now what I knew then, I would be so happy.”
The new album will be called Psychozoic, a word Holcomb stumbled on in a dog-eared reference book. “It’s the age that we live in,” he says. “The psychozoic era. I saw it and thought, ‘That’s a great word.’”
It’s a fitting title for a band that’s become the standard-bearer for a period of time in the New Haven music scene that fostered experimentation and verve. “It was the DIY scene—people made their own 45s… The local bands were all different. Some of it was very punk, and you know, thrash about and pretend to throw up, and some of it was very pop with the bouffant hairdos,” Holcolmb says. “Sort of anything went as long as you were making your own music, your own statement.”
Holcomb is still holding the reference book open to the page about the psychozoic era. Dans glances at it and laughs. “If I’d known that we were in an era,” he says, “I would have been paying attention.”
This article originally appeared in The Daily Nutmeg.