Matt Norelli and Robert Malta are the elder statesmen of Sonoma County’s indie music scene.
The two first got together to form Pawpawblowtorch in 1995. Then they created the power duo HUGElarge. And now they’ve made something they thought they’d never have: a record.
While HUGElarge doesn’t play many shows, and are steadfastly uninterested in touring, they remain beloved locally for their fast, three-chord garage rock.
Norelli was a founding drummer for slowcore pioneers the American Music Club. Malta played bass and slide guitar for San Francisco bands Bermuda Triangle Service, SF Mau Maus and the short-lived Dummy Heads with Penn and Teller. But they tired of the San Francisco music scene and touring, and settled down in Sonoma County. Norelli is general manager and winemaker at Preston Vineyard in Healdsburg, and Malta cuts hair.
“It’s hard to be in a band,” says Malta. “There’s a lot of stuff. We dropped out at the same time.”
But after Pawpawblowtorch broke up, Malta missed playing music with Norelli and approached him about forming another band. Norelli resisted. Malta suggested he play a pared-down, easy-to-transport “cocktail” drum kit.
Norelli agreed, but mastering the kick pedal and stripped-down set-up took time. Malta picked up a guitar instead of a bass and plugged into a Silvertone amp he found at a garage sale. HUGElarge was born.
“While he learned to play the cocktail drums, I learned to play guitar,” Malta says.
After playing several shows at the Russian River Brewery, owners Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo became fans and made them the de facto house band. Vinnie went so far as to create a pilsner in their honor: HUGElarge Sound Czech.
Fast and fun, HUGElarge played and rehearsed around Norelli’s harvest schedule. Making an album was not a goal. But then KRUSH DJ David “Big Dave” Gross got involved. Gross introduced them to Joe Poletto, managing partner of Indie Global, a media and technology company. Poletto made them a generous offer: I’ll produce an album for you. That meant covering the licensing costs of recording and playing music by the Stooges, T Rex, the Mysterians, the Kinks and others.
Malta always wanted to make a record, but didn’t want the headaches that go with it. “Out of the blue,” he says, “we had someone who said, ‘Let’s do it.'”
With the help of collaborator and producer Karl Derfler, they recorded 15 blistering cover songs and one great original. It’s an irresistible album of power chords, fuzzy guitars and crisp drumming and vocals.
The CD and download are available now on the Hwy 61 label, and Malta can’t wait for the special edition vinyl coming out soon.
“That’s all we ever wanted.”
HUGElarge play a CD release party at the Russian River Brewery Oct. 24.