Haakon Lenzi seems to be causing quite a stir in Morningside Heights. Not only is his name scrawled across the old Radio Perfecto sign in anticipation of Haakon's Hall, a new restaurant that bears his name, but he is also the namesake of Haakon's Fault, a rock-funk-prog outfit that includes Doug Berns, CC '10. "He embodies the sort of mischievous ethos of the band," explained Berns.
The band is very much "New York"—a seven-piece grouping of six college students and one high-school student from five different New York schools. In fact, last spring they had the distinctly Morningside Heights experience of finding themselves in the middle of a Manhattanville expansion protest. The band had been invited to play the Tablet Art Fair on Low Plaza and, Berns retells, "we're doing soundcheck and this lady comes over and says, Could you not play? We're having a protest,' and so we said we'd give them time." After delaying their start time, the band began to play but, singer Harry McNamara continued, "this guy sneaks up and unplugged the power source."
Berns was not happy. "I was fuming, I was yelling at everyone. This older gentleman comes over and I start yelling at him and saying we have a right to be here," he said. "Turns out it was Dean Columbo [former Dean of Student Affairs Chris Colombo]."
Berns and McNamara tell the story with amusement and recall a good end to the set. Once they reclaimed their electricity, figuratively and literally, "some of them [the protesters] were responding really well to the music," McNamara said. "We should have gone for something edgier that day."
The band was founded in 2003, and the original members—keyboardist JJ Lindenthal and guitarist Mike Serman—are still a part of it. The other members include Berns on bass, McNamara on lead vocals, Zach Koeber on tenor saxophone, Miles Arntzen, who joined in June, on drums, and Davy Levitan on guitar. All are jazz musicians, and all grew up in New York with the exception of McNamara. The original members founded the band in 10th grade, but according to Berns "weren't too ambitious with it." Berns met the first members through a mutual friend. They hit it off, and he began pushing the group to write more cohesive songs. When Berns met McNamara in New York City and in 2008, McNamara went to see a Haakon's Fault show at Don Hill's in SoHo. After the show, "we were partying down a little bit and they asked me to come sing at a rehearsal," recalled McNamara. He performed with Haakon's Fault for the first time the same week and soon started writing music for them as well.
Their sound falls into no obvious categories. It can perhaps best be described as the product of applying the skills and predilections of jazz musicians to classic rock with a progressive attitude. Their influences range from Tower of Power to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to The Who. At their show at Sullivan Hall on Oct. 16, they played songs like "The Siren," a perfect illustration of their proggier tendencies, referring to Odysseus' trip with decidedly epic lyrics. They also treated the small crowd to an energetic cover of Michael Jackson's "Beat It." While Haakon's Fault has made some recordings, their obvious strength is in live shows, which have a bold, layered sound and include improvisation and solo opportunities for every member of the band. Depending on the song, their sound can be more or less heavy, but the constant is the seven members' smooth synchronization. This is a polished act with obvious chemistry and musical skill. Arntzen appears to be a high-school prodigy on the drums, which are a noticeable driving force in the songs. Koeber employs a number of pedals to distort his saxophone, resulting in an unusually flexible sound that has the listener peering over the amps to watch him work.
For now, the band is playing in New York and staying in school, but they have plans to continue in the band after college and, barring a sudden shoot to the cover of Spin Magazine, tour the country. "These days you can't expect to make a lot of money selling records, so the plan would be to be a live band and be on the road most of the year," explained Berns. They hope to keep growing: "My dream is to play at Bonnaroo," said McNamara. "The festival scene is a good fit for our sound, playing outside in front of hundreds of people. That's the dream."