Though local band Human Resources' upcoming album is titled "Champagne," they opened their interview with Irish Car Bombs... followed by Jagerbombs ... followed by Fireball shots ... followed by Old Milwaukees.
The band likes to party.
Part of that comes from the members' tight-knit relationship. Bassist Aaron Utterback and guitarist Dries Vandenberg hail back to middle school, while drummer Matt Zutell joined the mix in high school. Final member of the four-piece project, keyboardist Paul Chelmis, joined the motley crew during college in Boone, N.C., at Appalachian State University.
At this point, they were playing together under the moniker Donnie Dies (originally Donnie Dies a Horrible Death). Vandenberg's brother, named Danny, inspired the group to change the vowel from an "a" to "o" so as not to send any bad juju his way.
As Donnie Dies, the band played with now festival favorite Rainbow Kitten Surprise and rockin' pop group Nude Party, both big Boone breakouts. After moving to Charleston post-graduation, the old name still held for Lowcountry performances with Brave Baby, Stop Light Observations and Heyrocco (the "other Charleston HR").
They all lived in the "Lite house" (a Miller Lite reference) at King and Huger streets.
"We only drank Miller Lites for a year. We know what we like," says Zutell, sound engineer at The Royal American and producer and owner of Coast Records.
Human Resources was randomly tossed around as a new name by Chelmis one day, and it stuck. The members have since grown into that title as session players who have a rich artistic portfolio. Each wearing the hats of several other art and music projects, the members of Human Resources see this band as a personal passion project and experiment.
"We can get away with trying things that we can't try as comfortably in our other places or projects," says Utterback, who also plays in Brave Baby. "It's our mood board— stuff that may not be industry best practices. But since it's under our umbrella, we don't have to answer to anyone but each other."
The band whittled down 25 demos to 11 songs that actually made the cut for the upcoming album.
"I loved 'Stadium Arcadium,'" says Vandenberg of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' 28-song box set. "But I thought 'this is way too much' with the whole vinyl set. You've got to keep someone's attention span."
That comment led to a tangent about the resurgence and quality of vinyl — audio nerd facts that Zutell was eating up. Utterback might've said it best though. "It's like a Royal American hamburger. The farther you get out from the center, the less quality."
"Champagne" is Human Resources' second full-length disc and there's no denying it's a quality soundtrack. The followup to 2014's "En Route" and 2015 EP "Pizza Dreams" explores the boundaries of synth pop, from bubbly guitar licks and frisky keys to falsetto vocals over a catchy creamsicle symphony.
From the neopolitan nostalgia of intro track "Expectations," laced with icy spoonfuls of reverb and caramel-coated synth vibrations, to the hypnotic, swirling cotton candy composition of "Sri Lanka," the disc oozes sentimentally sweet electric energy.
While the other albums were self-recorded at Coast Records, this one has a few songs that were recorded in Los Angeles with Taylor Locke of "When Did Your Heart Go Missing?"-famous band Rooney.
Human Resources recorded both already-released single "Sylvia" and track "Caught Up" with Locke.
"It's the first time we've worked with anyone else, so it was different," says Vandenberg, who also plays guitar for Charleston breakout band Susto and owns audio and visual firm WAV. "We were pushed to the edge with how fast we had to work because of our three-day time constraint, so we were forced to let go of some of the little things."
Traditionally, the group's songwriting process is more of a collaborative effort. Often, the band goes into the studio with just a guitar riff — the main melody and lyrics missing. Then, it develops after the band presses record.
With the luxury of ample free studio time, thanks to Zutell, it's a process that involves 90 percent laughter and shenanigans and 10 percent work. Ultimately, that's how the band has stayed together this long.
"It's sustained our friendship and this project," says Vandenberg of the beers and bonding.
Utterback adds, with a mischevious twinkle in his eye, "If anyone wants to get drunk at Royal, hit me up. I desperately need friends."
To us, though, it sounds like he's already surrounded by great ones.
Listen to the exclusive premiere of "Casually" now below.