His band has two hit songs, two major-label albums and a recent appearance in Rolling Stone, yet Jimi HaHa of Jimmie's Chicken Shack still pays $200 rent and drives a car he bought from his mother.
"If I figure how much I've made, hourly, over the last ten years," HaHa says, "it's not even close to minimum wage." Officially, it was about four years ago when HaHa (née James Davies), 30, stopped working a succession of part-time jobs and began working as a pop rocker full-time.
"Growing up, we all wanted to be jobless," says HaHa of his fellow bandmates, guitarist Double D, bassist Che Colovita Lemon and drummer Sipple. "I don't have a job [now], I have a life."
That theme comes through on much of the easygoing band's new album, Bring Your Own Stereo, like in the aptly titled song "Lazy Boy Dash" ("I'm a lazy boy / There's no doubt about it / Might take a miracle to get me started"). And it's also there in the Shack's recent hit "Do Right," a poppy rant about two insatiable ex-girlfriends of HaHa's. It's a veritable anthem for guys with girlfriends who never compliment them, and it's all over MTV rotation and even had a run on the station's puberty-intensive show Total Request Live. The Annapolis, Maryland, foursome appeared on Conan O'Brien last month, performing "Do Right."
That song is giving the guys mucho pub. The video for "Do Right" is actually a short music "mockumentary" of sorts, complete with fake band and Annapolis townspeople interviews. It's basically a three-minute sitcom about Jimmie's Chicken Shack. The band wanted to shoot it in Annapolis but ended up doing it in Los Angeles.
But the band's down-home vibe comes out in its music. There is a noticeable nonchalance to HaHa. He'll often punctuate a sentence with a sheepish laugh. And most of the songs, says HaHa, are tipped to the humorous side of life.
"I think our band takes pain and makes humor out of it," he says. "I think we'd feel dumb if things got too serious. I think we're just cornball. Hopefully [the audience] is laughing the whole damn time.
"The only thing that humbles me a good Nine Inch Nails record will make me go, 'My band is silly.' "
Shack's goal is not to "sell out" (the band members still live in Maryland and will hop on stage at Acme in Baltimore for an impromptu set), and the quartet will never sell its music short. Nothing is low-budget when it comes to the tunes.
Its debut, Pushing the Salmanilla Envelope, released two years ago, was mostly harder-edged guitar rock, typified by the group's breakthrough single, "High," a song that makes you want to max out your car stereo's volume and change lanes like Mario Andretti. It's also a song that HaHa says many fans misinterpret.
"A lot of people think it's a party song," he says. When HaHa moved to Portland, Oregon, after his father's death years ago, many of his friends burned out on heroin. "I was like, 'What the fuck were you doing? Why would you do something so fucking stupid?' " Such indignation to hard drugs is the premise of the tune.
But with the chilled-out ska/punk/ reggae-sounding Stereo, the band reflects its new personalities. The Shack changed its guitarist and drummer from the "High" days. Not that the bang-your-head-against-the-wall music is gone; it was just pushed aside for the recent LP. In fact, many songs from the two albums were written several years ago. The happy-happy sounding "Do Right" was written before the metalish "High" was released.
"We do all kinds of stuff," says HaHa. "You're not going to get one thing. We've always had this all-over-the-map kind of thing. Marketingwise, you want this picture [of the group] to be a perfect little box. It just takes longer to paint the picture."
Not that that's easy work. Even though the Shack sounds like a slacker band, it has been touring and working in the studio nonstop. After Envelope, the band hit the road for two years, then cut Stereo, and is now back on the road again. There hasn't been much free time since "High."
The Shack guys fill the void by goofing off with their pals on the road. The members of 311, in particular, are some of the band's best buds. During one Penn State-area show, Fuel had a female stripper get busy on stage during the Shack's set. In return, the Shack duct-taped Fuel's singer to his microphone during Fuel's performance.
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Not surprising, given the name, HaHa is just enjoying his job, er, life. "It's a life," he says. "Jobs, you punch in and out and you get a paycheck. Lives, you don't," he says, then pauses. "And it's 24 hours.
"One day it would be nice to buy a house. That would be the dream. For me, it's been living on a 45-foot hallway [the tour bus] with eight people."
HaHa thinks about this -- his vagabond, unstable, crowded living conditions. Then, staying true to form, he laughs it off. "Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha."
Jimmie's Chicken Shack performs Tuesday, November 9, at Instant Karma, 1617 Richmond. Call (713)528-3545 for more information.