Reigning Over the Posthardore Scene

The Dukes of Hillsborough smell a conspiracy. Those untouchable, ivory-tower assholes who decide who plays when, on any given bill, and are out to permanently saddle the trio with a reputation as a drunken, sloppy, edge-of-chaos show-closing spectacle. How else can one explain that for the overwhelming majority of gigs The Dukes have played, they've been slotted last? "People do seem to put us on last a lot. I don't know why they would think it's a good idea to put the guys that drink the most on last," says Dukes guitarist/vocalist Jeff Brawer with a laugh.

"There's usually just a pile of people on the floor by the end," notes drummer Phil Stanwick.

Not that they particularly care, mind you. It was a need to get together with friends, slam beers and jam outside the constraints of "serious" bandhood that spawned the Dukes in the first place. All three have roots sunk deeply into the Tampa metalcore scene and have been in various bands together over the years. Brawer and Stanwick currently provide vocals and bass, respectively, in noted Bay area metal/grind/doom act Nothing Promise, of which Dukes bassist Travis Malloy is a former member. (The multitasking Stanwick also plays for thrash upstarts Embur.) Two years ago, the often kicked-around idea of the trio doing something solely for themselves, and for the hell of it, came to practice-space fruition.

"Basically, we just wanted to have these three people in a band together, because we all have the same ideas," says Stanwick. "There's no stress involved. We can do whatever." While their other previous and current projects showcase more technical and metallic edges, The Dukes of Hillsborough ply a refreshingly straightforward and almost overwhelmingly powerful style. Stripping gravel-throated posthardcore of its characteristic riffs and time changes, they add an ominous down-tuned guitar sound, a rudimentary, guts-over-tech execution and the odd hook. The key to their allure lies in the uncomplicated. The Dukes take the shortest route to their goal, and the result is the sonic equivalent of being smacked in the face with a cinderblock — simple, emotive and instantly effective. But they really don't think about it all that much.

"We just showed up to practice," says Malloy.

"We never talked about what kind of stuff we were gonna do at all," adds Broward.

After a handful of rehearsals in the early fall of 2000 ("I know it was during football season, because Jeff couldn't practice on Sundays," Stanwick deadpans), the Dukes began playing shows at fringe-friendly venues like New World Brewery and the Seminole Heights DIY headquarters known as The Punkhouse. They also began making a name for themselves as the kind of band whose volatile onstage behavior was as much a reason to see them as the music itself.

But coming up in such a tight-knit scene, gigs are at first more about a group of friends partying than exposing a band to a wider audience, and the trio received much insular support. Their modus operandi received decidedly mixed reviews, however, from folks used to light shows, tight stage raps and, er, band members remaining upright for the entire set.

"I'm sure a couple of people look at us, shrug and think, "drunken idiots,'" Malloy reckons. "If people like that don't get it, it's kind of cool for us anyway. We want the people on our same page to like it." Case in point: Somehow, The Dukes of Hillsborough were inexplicably booked to open up for glam-metal has-beens Warrant at The Masquerade last year. Their usual chaotic and cacophonic set inspired one audience member, who ostensibly attended to enjoy the headliner's overblown crotch-centric nostalgia, to post on coffeestain.com that the Dukes "acted like a bunch of drunken monkeys released from the zoo." The band was elated.

Their debut full-length, Undefeated at Russian Roulette, might not kill the debate regarding their live set, but it certainly proves that the Dukes can deliver the goods when it comes to compelling and iconoclastic heavy tuneage. Uncompromising, straightforward and relentlessly bludgeoning, Undefeated offers up nine relatively short blasts of unifying, screamalong catharsis — it's long enough to get you through rush-hour gridlock without a road-rage incident, yet still short enough that you won't be wondering if track 12 might be the same song as track 3. The disc is out on Tampa's own Attention Deficit Disorder Records and distributed nationally by Suburban Home.

Though the album successfully blurs, even obliterates, the lines between metal, hardcore, stoner rock and the heavier regions of emo, the band denies any anti-genre crusade.

"We're not that goal-oriented," Stanwick says. "We're just trying to find a way to get free beer, really."

The Dukes have found time in the past, between multiple bands, day jobs and a marriage, to log in some touring miles regionally and up the East Coast. Now that they've actually got product to flog, one can safely assume that there'll be more roadwork ahead. The threesome assert that The Dukes of Hillsborough is no more or less a priority than their other endeavors, and that, so far, balancing things hasn't been much of a problem.

"Whoever calls me up and says "Hey, we've got a show on this date,' they win," jokes Stanwick.

"I wouldn't say that (DoH is) more important," says Brawer, "except for the fact that we go on the road more often."

"Which is easier, because there are only three of us," Stanwick adds. "In Nothing Promise, you've got a lot of conflicting schedules that way. The sheer numbers make everything a little easier for us."

The Dukes have made some long strides, in a relatively brief period of time, since they first got together to get loaded, make music and blow off some steam. Still, the three friends avow that those things are now, and forever will be, exactly what the band is all about.

"We just needed something where we could drink beer, go out of town and drive five hours to a show where we'd play for $10," Malloy sums it up. "Sleep in the van and not worry about it. No pressure."

Scott Harrell can be reached at 813-248-8888, ext. 109, or at scott.harrell @weeklyplanet.com

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