"I've always been half-assed at stuff, but music is like the blood that goes through me," Hodgson explains. "When the music is that important, I don't even worry about [personal injury]. If I fall off the stage, that's just going to happen."
In local indie-rock circles, Hodgson's antics are unprecedented; in Austin, Texas, where ... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead boasts an even more gluttonous appetite for destruction, they might not turn heads. But his next musical venture might not lend itself to such sprees, unless Hodgson re-enacts an old Art of Noise video by taking blowtorches and chain saws to baby grands and cellos.
"I've always wanted to do something a lot more organic, with drums, violin, cello and piano," Hodgson reveals, noting that he received a violin as a Christmas gift. Then again, he'd also like to explore the other end of the sound spectrum, playing "something a lot harder and more chaotic." Austin, the self-proclaimed live music capitol of the world, could certainly supply bandmates for either pursuit; in fact, if Hodgson wanted to form a group that swerved erratically from classical compositions to death metal, with occasional funk interludes, he'd still find willing volunteers. Trouble is, Hodgson will have to decide between his muses.
"There's so much stuff I want to do, but playing in more than one band is hard for me, because it's difficult to devote all my emotion to more than one thing," he says. Nonetheless, on February 21, Hodgson poured all of his energy into diverse entities, fronting the Hillary Step at Davey's Uptown before trekking to the Pub for To Conquer's final gig. It might have been an exhausting evening for Hodgson, the only member to play in both groups, but his fatigue was never evident, making To Conquer's farewell show even more bittersweet for fans. It was like seeing a runner in his prime navigate the curves and strategic pitfalls of the New York Marathon, only to be cut down by a stray bullet seconds after reaching the finish line.
Hodgson admits it's painful to see To Conquer, an innovative, progressive outfit that seemed to stop time with its engrossing epics, disappear without leaving any recorded memories. But that's not to say he'll miss the group's practices; the stretched-rubber tension made for memorable build-ups on stage, but then the loud snaps led to an uneasy environment. "We'd get there, play the songs and be really serious about it," Hodgson says.
With his other band, the Hillary Step, practices are informal affairs, goof-off sessions with Hodgson's longtime friends bassist Brian Frisbie and drummer Danny McConnaughhay that sometimes give birth to delicately noisy gems. "We'll practice for an hour, then spend the rest of the night playing video games," he says. "Music is a secondary thing, and I enjoy that."
Unlike To Conquer, the Hillary Step has translated some of its finest work to record, releasing 1999's stellar The Second Time Means Nothing. But other than a few tracks (the intricately melodic album opener "You and Me and This," the relentlessly propulsive "Damn the Luck"), the Hillary Step now fills its shows with non-album material. "Danny gets tired of songs so easily," Hodgson explains, "and I'm always forgetting the words." Fortunately, the altered set works to the audience's advantage, because tunes such as "Sychophant" and "Conan Song," powered by pummeling bass lines and stuttering tom rolls, outshine the Hillary Step's previous work.
The Hillary Step hasn't prepared any new numbers for its final show, though a few of its songs were unveiled at sparsely attended, poorly promoted gigs and thus will be unfamiliar to the majority of the band's fans. The trio has practiced just enough to provide Hodgson's hazy memory with a weekly refresher, and time constraints eliminate any opportunities for lengthy brainstorming sessions. After all, not only is Hodgson moving on April 8, two days after the Step's farewell gig, but he's also preparing for an April 20 marriage that serves as the catalyst for his change of scenery. His fiance, a fledgling guitarist named Amber Howell, already lives in Austin.
Once settled in his new surroundings, Hodgson wouldn't rule out a Hillary Step gig in Austin, with his bandmates visiting for the weekend. "I was always trying to get them to move down with me, take their families," Hodgson recalls with a laugh. He might also start a project with Howell, perhaps following in the footsteps of married music makers Mates of State, with whom the Hillary Step shares its last bill. But regardless of what his future musical life holds, Hodgson will always keep an ear on Kansas City's output. "So much great stuff comes out of here," he says. "It amazes me."