The Hefners return to Lawrence after sowing their oats overseas.

Just Push Playboy 

The Hefners return to Lawrence after sowing their oats overseas.

Quite simply, it is only one step removed from flabbergasting to note how many Lawrence residents not only have the last name Hefner but also how many of them are coincidentally young white males who share an interest in garage rock. Four of them play together as, well, the Hefners, natch. There's L.J. Hefner on guitar and vocals, Bryce Hefner on organ and vocals, and the rhythm section of bassist Josh Hefner and drummer James "Dr. J" Hefner, who recently replaced departed Billy Hefner and Bobby Hefner, respectively.

"I used to buy coffee from him," begins L.J., explaining how he met Dr. J. (James' title of doctor allegedly stems from his acquisition of a degree in "sexology.") "We started talking about music one day, and I found out he plays drums. He came over, and next thing you know...." At this, L.J. pauses to indicate the unspoken words: It's history.

"And the other guy is Josh," L.J. resumes. "I've known him since '94, I think, or '95. I actually remember sitting on a porch in Lawrence when I was just starting to learn the guitar. Josh was showing me some chords and different stuff like that, and he's a hell of a bass player. We've been friends ever since then, so he was a natural choice, an obvious one."

Come January 2002, this lineup will march into a studio dubbed Crabby Road, which belongs to former member Billy. (L.J. says he's still on good terms with both former members, attributing their departure from the Hefners to those oft-cited "creative differences.") The record that will in theory emerge from these sessions follows two full-lengths on Germany's Middle Class Pig Records (the more recent being 2000's Repop!) and other assorted odds and ends, such as the seven-inch Hefner Style. All of the group's releases come packed with short, sleazy songs that feature trashy guitar riffs and trashier organ accents, and these tunes become even naughtier live, fueled by a healthy diet of cocktails and cigarettes.

By the time work on the new tracks begins in earnest, about two years will have passed since Repop!'s recording, with the band's European tour fitting into the interval. During that time, not only has L.J. improved his vocal chops, but the group has sharpened its instrumental prowess as well. So are the Hefners, like, good now?

"Oh, I don't know about good," L.J. says cautiously. "But we've gotten a lot better, that's for sure. I've figured out a lot about songwriting. We used to never have bridges or intros or anything like that. It's not all baroque now, but it's just a little bit more complex. I think all the energy is still there, which I think was our charm for a long time, but now I feel like we can back that up."

And the Hefners will do just that at its big comeback show, its first as a band with James and Josh and the first in its hometown in more than a year. "We decided we hadn't played Lawrence since August 2000, and since we're rehearsing stuff all the time and learning stuff really quick, why not just show what we've got the first night?" L.J. says of the homecoming gig, which will offer two sets and no opening act. "We're only doing three or four songs that have been heard in this country," he continues. "We are playing some of the old favorites that people ask for -- pretty much the ones that get played on the radio -- but they've been completely rearranged. They're not so much 'one-two-three-four,' you know, Ramones-like, that wall of noise the whole time. They're a little more dynamic."

But that doesn't mean that the Hefners have abandoned their dedicated mission to rock you and your ilk. "I would say we're even harder now," L.J. asserts. In fact, he's got a gauntlet to throw down for any interested parties. "In the friendliest competitive way, the Hefners are open for any kind of rock-off challenge to see who can rock the hardest." For details and to start setting up the musical combat, L.J. offers his e-mail address, ljhefner72@hotmail.com. Any surfacing thoughts of the ill-fated Tournament of Rock that left many a band burned should be quashed. "Our rock-off would be for free," L.J. promises.

Also on the Hefners' drawing board is a New Year's pah-tay, with to-be-determined special guests and a Lawrence location that will be announced at Saturday night's concert. This event should cause quite a stir, because really, who wants to miss a party thrown by a Hefner? And let's face it, you're never going to get invited to one of Hugh's.

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