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Friday, August 19, 2005

CU puts out its welcome mat
University students ring in fall semester with Norwegian band Hangface

By Valerie Singleton
The Daily Times-Call


From left: Dag Jorgen Helling, Tom Espen Pedersen, Bjørnar Flaa, Espen Høgmo and Hogne Rundberg are Norway’s Hangface.
Special to the Times-Call

In basketball, they call it a fake.

It’s the moment when the audience watches in anticipation as the man on the court raises his arms and prepares to shoot the ball. But it doesn’t happen; he makes a pass to the left, as swift as lightning.

The performance world prefers the word facade to describe its own version of pulling a fast one on audiences. For Bjørnar Flaa and his band, Hangface, that means inadvertently perpetuating the wild, rock-star persona through promotional flyers, such as the one advertising the band’s August performances at the Sturgis Music Festival in South Dakota. It translates to photo opportunities featuring the band — lead singer Flaa, guitarists Dag Jorgen Helling and Tom Espen Pedersen, bass player Hogne Rundberg and drummer Espen Høgmo — with carefully tamed locks and stern expressions that say, “We’re tough and sexy.”

Critics have bolstered the image by comparing the group’s debut album, “Freak Show” to work by Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, three bands notorious for members’ rendezvous with drug and alcohol abuse.

“We’re not gonna end up bringing ourselves down,” Flaa — a.k.a. Bee to fans — said last week while preparing for the band’s third performance at Sturgis. “You’ve seen so many bands go downhill because of alcohol and drugs.”

In fact, the band has made a vow to keep partying to a minimum, Flaa said.

A bit ironic, considering that Hangface is set to perform Saturday at the University of Colorado at Boulder, one of the nation’s highest rated party schools.

Fortunately, it is Hangface’s onstage persona and music — yes, reminiscent of Stone Temple Pilot’s guitar riffs and Eddie Vedder’s vocals — that draws crowds.

In Colorado, where Hangface has an impressive following, the group’s devout audiences have ranged from the mildly obsessive rock addict to kids being treated at The Children’s Hospital in Denver.

Humanitarians? Not quite. Instead, the members of Hangface, at least four of whom held jobs working with youth, have a natural inclination toward taking care of children.

“Some of the kids, I think it really brightened up their day just to have a rock band come and say hello — and to have a rock band from Norway,” Flaa said.

There does seem to be something particularly engaging about musicians who hail from the same country that brought the world the popular ’80s group a-ha.

Like that trio, Hangface was formed by childhood friends, in this case, Flaa and Jorgen.

“Our fathers played in a Dixieland jazz band. That’s what we grew up on,” Flaa said. “They were pretty famous, and they played in the jazz festival in New Orleans a couple times.”

During one gig, the fathers’ band donated its drum kit to a Norwegian church in New Orleans. Coincidentally, when Hangface arrived without drums to play its first New Orleans show in 2001, a call to that same church became the band’s saving grace.

Hangface has been remolded from its original form, a group of musicians who hastily created a band after Jorgen booked a local gig to play.

The group created its own word then chose it as a musical moniker: Hangface, a reference to either a sad, dejected look or the face of a Sunday-morning hang-over victim, according to Flaa.

By 1999, with most of the current lineup in place, things felt right, albeit, not perfect.

“I used to smoke, and I quit smoking because I couldn’t last two or three more shows a night because my voice was gone,” Flaa said.

The quality of his vocals has improved, he said. His band mates are not totally content, though.

“I do these exercises — the rest of the guys — it’s killing them because it’s so annoying to listen to,” Flaa said.

Of course, that critique can be taken as seriously as those posted by band members on the Hangface Web site — “... Bee often sounds like an angry dinosaur in its mating season, even though he quit smoking two years ago,” Høgmoas wrote.

And that’s the true essence of Hangface, a group of friends who care little about portraying an ideal and more about chopping each other’s chops. Beyond the airbrushed posters are five guys who want to have a good time.

Valerie Singleton can be reached at 303-684-5319 or by e-mail at