Ten years ago, Hans Eberbach was sitting in an underground bunker beneath the Sacramento County Jail watching a wall of video surveillance screens — just waiting for something to happen.
Sept. 4 | 4-7 p.m. | Free
Commons Beach | Tahoe City
Back in the 1990s, he’d landed a promising deal on Columbia Records with the roots-rock band Sweet Vine.
“We felt like the rock-star lifestyle was obligatory,” he says.
But their first record tanked like a vat of old grapes. He left Los Angeles for his native Sacramento to raise a family, get a real job and grow up.
“Nobody was really snatching up what I was putting out,” he says. “They weren’t dangling out another record deal. By the time I started working at the jail, I thought I was done.”
This fate must’ve seemed all too predictable to Eberbach. After all, he’d been raised in a conservative Christian family in the small, rural town of Dover-Foxcroft, Maine.
“Music is a safe place to light up the darkest corners of the soul and celebrate the best in us in the most communal way possible.” -Hans Eberbach
“I grew up on butt rock and synth from the 80s,” he says. “There was no real record store in my town. Just radio and MTV. The Beatles were the first thing that really blew me up. I could feel the emotion of those songs. It felt so dark and moody to me, even then. In terms of performance, I was really drawn to bigger, more flamboyant front men like Freddy Mercury and Boy George. Prince was huge for me. I know at one point, my dad was probably thinking I was going to be gay, which was (my parents’) nightmare because they were so conservative.”
Even from the depths of the county jail’s central control room, Eberbach couldn’t put down the pick for long. When a stint with soul-funk band, The Nibblers, finally fizzled out, he found himself at a crossroads. Cobbling together a new ensemble with members of his side project, Hans & the Hot Mess, Eberbach quit his security job to pursue full-time music once again. The result, like the process, came to be known as Joy & Madness.
“Not only do I feel like I’ve gone through this emotional renaissance, but to have people responding to the music, to be resonant and vital, to be considered sexually attractive in the eyes of both sexes. It blew my mind. I’m about to turn 46 and nobody is batting an eye,” he says.
As the colorful front man he’d always longed to be, Eberbach is now backed by an eight-piece band featuring the blissful, sexy Miss Nyxi on bass and Sacramento legend Bobby G on guitar. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, Bobby G played with a number of funk and soul acts, including Earth, Wind & Fire; Lionel Richie; Shelia E. and The Time.
“He does the kind of thing that you can’t teach,” says Eberbach “What he has is steeped in him. He knows how funk guitar should be played. In this day and age, there’s not that innate knowledge of how to lay it back. It’s a rhythm thing. He brings that unnamable thing that just is.”
This amplified and experienced frontline has given Eberbach the confidence to fully immerse himself into his energetic and eccentric persona onstage.
“I’ve got huge personality,” he says. “I’m a weirdo. People come up after the show and say, ‘You can move.’ But I actually have no clue what I am doing. I’m just the kind of person who has to put it all out there. I still feel like I have so much to prove here that I can’t just sit back here and relax.”
For Eberbach, it’s more than just self-expression; it’s about generating a genuine relationship with the audience.
“I live for connection and combustion,” he says. “I need to feel connected to the people out there and feel like they were able to lose themselves in the moment with me.”
On some level, the way Eberbach speaks about it, Joy & Madness seems to be the mysterious fulfillment of life’s purpose for a glam-rock kid from a religious family of backwoods Maine.
“I love that this is happening at a later stage in my life,” he says. “It’s not about the rock-star trip or debauchery anymore. In the time we live in, I feel the duty of being a musician. Music is a safe place to light up the darkest corners of the soul and celebrate the best in us in the most communal way possible. It allows people to get through it and release themselves from whatever is holding us back. Coming from a church background, I knew that’s what God had in store for me. If I’m not helping people get through what they are facing on a daily basis, I’m kind of wasting my time.”
Joy & Madness wrap up the free summer music series at Concerts at Commons Beach with The Beergardeners. For more information, visit concertsatcommonsbeach.com.