"We're All Hoi Polloi in Some Way..."
An Interview with Jim Albrecht of Jersey's Own Hoi Polloi
Photos By Tracie Van Auken, Courtesy of Gladstone Tavern
They’re the pajama-clad party band that’s been rocking New Jersey and beyond since 1991. With a playlist of over 700 songs and the musical ability to master it, they’re the wedding band that you actually can’t wait to hear! From your favorite tavern or club to private gigs, they are the versatile, talented, fun-loving, frenetic, life-of-every-bash – HOI POLLOI (pronounced "HOY-puh-LOY)!
For those who are new to New Jersey (or get out even less than I do) – who are Hoi Polloi?
Great question, and we’re all Hoi Polloi in some way. Many think that Hoi Polloi means the upper crust of society, but by definition, Hoi Polloi means the common people or “the masses”. Years ago, some bands presented themselves as elitists. We felt much more aligned with the average drunken partygoer. Thus Jersey’s Own Hoi Polloi was born.
You started performing in 1991. What and where was the band’s first show and how did it go?
We started rehearsing in a Wharton NJ basement in the summer ‘91. Our first performance was a Halloween party that same year. We were well-received, probably because it was held in the same house that we rehearsed in! Of the 60 or so invited guests, we were an instant hit with the great majority of them because, well, we bought all the beer. Our first public gigs were at Pub 199 in Mt. Arlington the following February. They had beer, too! And a lot of things fell together for us then.
Did you envision the band staying together this long?
Not a chance! I was sure we’d by done by the Summer of ’92!! But we were having so much fun, and it felt right, so we just stuck with it. We’ve seen too many great club & party bands come and go, but somehow we outlasted some really great bands. I think we’ll be catching up with The Nerds soon!
We first saw you perform at a private party in 2001 and you had already been playing together for ten years. We just saw you recently at Gladstone Tavern with the same energy level you had 16 years ago. How do you do it and are you really having as much fun as you seem to be having?
The whole band is smoke & drug-free, but beer certainly helps with the energy level because we get nutty. Plus, it’s about the only exercise we get, so we have to put some energy somewhere. And we love being in a band! Who wouldn’t? We smile and laugh because the folks who dance around us and sing along are as genuine as can be. What a great way to spend an evening. What’s the expression? “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life?”
I often work in my pajamas but I work at home. When and why did you start doing some gigs in your pajamas?
We love this part. Back in ‘97, we were 5 years in and trying to think of ways to stay fresh. We needed to rehearse songs, and instead of going to a studio, we got together on my deck, playing acoustically. It was so easy and relaxing. We thought we could do our own “Unplugged” shows much like the specials that were popular on music TV at the time. Then one of us said, “We should bring a living room into the bar.” The idea made us laugh. So, we scoured the local thrift shops for any weird little thing that would go with the theme: A fake palm tree, a little TV that played nothing but static, a coffee table with milk and cookies, curtains, dilapidated recliners, you name it. The final detail was the pajamas – the stupider they were, the better! It really took route up and down the NJ shore for the next few years. We had a great run doing the Pajama Party every Tuesday at Cadillac Bar in Hoboken. Since people couldn’t possibly pronounce “Hoi Polloi” after a night of drinking, people would refer to us “you know…that pajama band.” It just kind of stuck.
Your playlist includes some venerable 70’s punk. Have you really covered the Sex Pistols in your pjs and do you think Sid Vicious is looking down (or up) from somewhere and saying ‘why didn’t I think of that?’
Knowing Sid, he’s throwing all kinds of four letter words my way if I’m covering his material dressed like Hugh Hefner. No, I think his wonderful movement would have been severely hampered if he hadn’t adapted the leather and zipper look. I love Sex Pistols. So raw and fresh. I can’t say with certainty that we played a Pistols song in PJ’s. When we’re not feeling naughty enough to slip into our night-wear, we’re equally fun in jeans or tuxedos for the right event! I do like your clever reference as to where Mr. Vicious may be currently residing.
You have an amazing repertoire that spans so many genres and eras. How do you keep 700 songs in your head?
Easy: We don’t. I have about 500+ -3-chord songs in my head ready to go at a moment’s notice. But our singer, The Reebs, couldn’t possibly handle the lyrics to 700 songs. The iPads help us there. We do try to put songs in rotation from a “cold status” as needed, to keep fresh as many as possible. When some start feeling dated, we retire them unless specifically requested. There are some songs I wish we could retire, but they just seem to work every time!!
Mention Hoi Polloi to anyone that has heard you and you always get an enthusiastic reaction, but there must have been a couple of performances that went wrong. What is the best and worst experience that the band has had?
The worst one by far was at a wedding. A groomsman requested “Bodies” by Drowning Pool as last song at a wedding. He assured me the Bride and Groom loved the song, and we’d end on a high note. Turns out it was a practical joke. The groom was well-known for going nuts when that song was played and had been dragged out of clubs by security or in handcuffs. The bride came up to me screaming to stop, and the groom said “you’ve ruined her wedding.” Wow! “Ruined her wedding.” A practical joke by a third party. It took me weeks to get over that. Later on, the groom called me and apologized when he found out what had happened. It’s still tough to hear those words, but we were vindicated. Our new rule at weddings is this: If someone makes a request, get the bride’s approval before you hit the first note.
The best experience happened right at Gladstone Tavern. The then recently elected Governor Chris Christie and family took a night out to enjoy dinner. We saw him at a table, and The Reebs went to him and sang “Country Roads” trading verses with our Governor and his wife! The security detail was paying very close attention, though. We’re pretty sure it was the first time a guy in a bar wearing pink pajamas got anywhere near New Jersey’s First Family.
Honestly, having the privilege of being selected to play a couple’s wedding is a great honor. Of all the choices out there, they chose us! We do a lot of weddings, and being there as families dance and smile and celebrate – you never tire of it. It’s great.
Do you think you’ll be invited to play Trump International in Bedminster, and if so, what will the play set look like?
That’s funny! We’ve played the great majority of New Jersey’s Country Clubs and Golf Courses, but somehow Trump International has eluded us! I’m fairly certain that a couple will eventually contact us to play that venue, and the playlist will naturally be what they want to hear. If I can inject my own fun into that list, I would probably open with a huuuuge cover version of REM’s “Orange Crush.” But remember what I said before: The bride’s approval comes first.
Is Joe ever coming back and if he does what will become of “The Reebs?”
Hah! You DID read our website! Joe has a standing invitation to return to the glory he left behind after those two gigs some 25 years ago. At this point, we’d be happy to inform him that he would be immediately vested into the Hoi Polloi 401k plan!
Hoi Polloi are: Jim - Guitar & Vocals, Ken - Bass & Vocals, Reebs - Lead Vocals & Keyboards,
Jon - Drumming & Vocals, Sue - Vocals, Flute, Sax, Piano
Visit njhoipolloi.com to learn more!