Hognose sprouted in 2001 while Engram and his buddy Jeff Pinkus (he of the venerable Butthole Surfers and now Honky) were nine-pin bowling. Through Pinkus, Engram met singer-guitarist Shane Herring and bassist Sol Morris. They got to talking and Herring mentioned an idea he'd had about starting a Butthole Surfers "hoot night" (read: tribute) at a club in their hometown of San Marcos, Texas. They (everybody but Pinkus, that is) found a drummer and started rehearsing but "the hoot night never materialized," says Engram. It seemed something altogether better was coming from the quartet's sessions.
They replaced the drummer (his modest abilities would've worked for the casual hoot night, but not the new stuff), cooked up a demo and sent it off to the organizers of the stoner rock festivals Shodfest. Hognose wound up on the Phoenix bill of Stoner Hands of Doom, a new three-day show produced by the same people and featuring second-wave stoner legends Unida (featuring ex-Kyuss vocalist John Garcia) and Dixie Witch. That was November of 2002-by the following June, the band headed into Austin's Republic Studios to record their debut album. Close to the end of recording, engineer Dave Elizondo mentioned he liked it and wanted to help the band put it out. Longhandle was released in August in a joint venture with Arclight Records.
Elizondo recalls what appealed to him most about Hognose. "The first time I saw Hognose was in the fall of 2002. They were a very tight band...and sounded a lot like the album I did with them-just very loud. They play true rock and roll. I wanted to see them again and again because they can play very well [and] the songs are fun to hear live."
The strength of these live shows and Longhandle's warm reception in stoner rock circles led to a full-fledged deal between Hognose and Arclight. The outcome is El Sombrero, a taut nine-track one-up on its predecessor. The band (now armed with new drummer Todd Dillon) held pre-production at "Hog House," a converted home/party house/studio in the hill country outside San Marcos. "It's a weird kinda neighborhood," Engram reveals. "You're just as liable to have some dude cookin' up speed in a trailer as a rancher with a 6,000 square-foot house; hippies and speed freaks and rich people coexist there." Engram says the relative isolation (and you-don't-bother-me-we-won't-bother-you atmosphere) was especially conducive to working out the songs that comprise the album, and that the pre-production time more than prepared them to again enter Republic Studios with Elizondo, demo in hand.
"The album turned out great," Engram enthuses. As for how it sounds, he views discussing influences as banal, but then acquiesces. "I think the answer to that is everything that has happened before today has influenced us in some way. We're as influenced by the good stuff as the bad stuff, and 'good' is completely up to your own judgment; you gotta have bad food so you know what good food is." That said, he offers this summation: "It's typical rock n' roll for somebody that grew up in the '70s and '80s. But that's the same thing everybody says."
The thing about that is it's true. With El Sombrero, Hognose has taken everything you've heard before-the good stuff-and distilled it into a handful of songs. It's powerful, heavy, visceral rock n' roll...and that's that. If you want influences, just throw darts at a poster pantheon of rock music...you'll hit something appropriate. Hognose has the doomy riffs of Sabbath, the Southern-by-the-grace-of-Texas swagger of ZZ Top, the expansive atmospheric sensibilities of Pink Floyd (and not just because El Sombrero closes with a cover of "Breathe") plus the epic tendencies of the stoniest of the stoner bands. Hell, if you listen closely, you can pick out a few dozen more references.
But that just boils down to the bottom line: as much as Engram kids about "nothin' to tell" about Hognose, their "nothin'" is everything. And to paraphrase the Bible (or rather, a quote heard secondhand and attributed to the Book), "it is good."