By Mike Shanley
Pittsburgh Current Music Writer
Art Imitates Life, the new album by Pittsburgh’s Hepcat Dilemma, includes a track titled “The Hepcat Motto.” Its sole lyric warns, “If you’re not careful/ in five years/ you will only/ listen to music like this.”
The stop-start groove of the song turns at one point into a quasi-classic rock guitar solo, but just as quickly shifts back to an odd time signature riff. If the band is referring to their sound as “music like this,” maybe it’s not a bad thing.
Hepcat Dilemma hasn’t released an album since 2002 and the band’s origins date back nearly a decade earlier. It’s hard to talk about the group without referencing the band Special Ed. During the second half of the ’80s, that McKeesport-based trio boldly merged the members’ progressive rock upbringing with the brevity of punk rock, frequently delivering it with a surreal lyrical outlook. After a few records and cassettes, bassist Bob Loiselle switched to guitar and started Hepcat Dilemma with bassist Chuck McPherson, a longtime friend and former bandmate who had run lights for Special Ed.
Loiselle says his approach with the new band was similar to Special Ed. “The only difference was now I was writing the lyrics,” he says. “Other than that, it wasn’t any conscious way to change anything or reinvent the wheel. It was just an effort to continue what we were doing – just in a new way.” They pumped up the volume a bit when they decided to use two drummers.
But like many groups, things slowed down after a while. Then McPherson passed away and Loiselle went into musical retirement for a few years, later playing in the more straightforward group Junk Fingers. But he got a call from E Hood, the former drummer #2, expressing a desire to play some old songs one more time. Loiselle agreed, and they recruited Junk Fingers bassist Chris Colpo and sealed their fate. Colpo, who also sings in the REM tribute group the Reckoning, has the perfect set of pipes to belt out – and harmonize – Loiselle’s lyrics. “It was one of those magical things that all musicians have one time in their lives. The first time E, Chris and I played together it was so strong and so perfect that [we knew] this has got to be more than one show,” Loiselle says. “Now seven years later we’re finally putting out a record.”
With Colpo now living outside Washington, D.C., they don’t get many chances to perform, but they’re already looking forward. “Our priorities are to play when we can and write the songs for the next album,” Loiselle says. “We’ve got about eight songs written for the next one.”
Considering that Art Imitates Life has nine songs, they’re ahead of the game.