Few people find their calling in high school. Roger Houdaille is one of those few.
The Sunny Isles Beach resident, who records under the moniker Ex Norwegian, knew where he’d focus his energy when he joined the Miami Beach Senior High rock ensemble 20 years ago. The group taught by the late Doug Burris gave Houdaille a foundation for a life in music.
“I practiced all summer before high school to get ready for the audition,” Houdaille tells New Times. “I was able to be in the program all four years of high school. It was like being in a rock band with a very grueling schedule. We played 40 shows a school year.”
The discipline and musical execution he harnessed from the program carried into what now numbers a dozen years of Ex Norwegian.
He took the act’s name from a Monty Python sketch.
“I knew I wanted something that was geographic like Of Montreal,” Houdaille says. “Wherever we played, we’d end up getting Norwegians coming up to us telling us they love the name.”
Though few of his eventual bandmates were Scandinavian, almost all of them were fellow Beach High alumni. Ex Norwegian started in 2008 with Carolina Souto and Arturo Garcia in the lineup. Subsequent arrivals, including Michelle Grand and Adam Perez, also played with the school ensemble.
“I guess I figured if they can pass that audition, they would be good for the band,” Houdaille says.
Though collaborators have come and gone, Houdaille was resolute for Ex Norwegian to continue releasing new music.
“I wanted to keep things going whatever the circumstances. Right now, it’s just me again,” he says. “I put out a ‘best of’ last year to catch people up with some of our music that fell through the cracks.”
Much of the previous releases are what Houdaille describes as power pop.
“There were experimental tracks on every album, but it was more straight forward pop-rock.”
Next month, Ex Norwegian is back with not one, but two new albums — and in the spirit of its name, they’re something completely different. Dropping June 5, Hue Spotting and Spotting Hues exhibit a much more psychedelic bent than any of Ex Norwegian’s previous releases.
The leap into a new genre sprung from an invite Ex Norwegian received to play a psych fest in Wales. Owing to COVID-19, the event was postponed to 2021, but the festival milieu gave Houdaille the impetus to move in that direction.
“Let’s make it still poppy, but more old-school sounding,” he says.
For purists who might accuse Ex Norwegian of being a mere day-tripper in the world of psychedelia, Houdaille is happy to recite his psychedelic bona fides. As a teenager in the late ’90s, he’d would scour the aisles of Yesterday & Today Records in Miami for hidden vinyl nuggets from the ’60s and ’70s.
“That was the spot to get the old psychedelic acid-rock music. This was before Spotify,” he says. “[Yesterday & Today owner] Evan Chern would recommend albums. I’d go by covers too. But the main way I’d find music was from this compilation book, Tapestry of Delights. It was this great reference that had all the releases from 1965 to 1975.”
Both new albums are love letters to psych-rock. Hue Spotting consists entirely of original compositions by Houdaille. If you’re looking for a modern-day point of reference, Hue Spotting is the kind of record that will please fans of Tame Impala, with modern technology creating sounds influenced by a more lysergic age.
Spotting Hues is a different animal. It’s all covers of bygone psych-rock songs. Houdaille says he tried not to go the obvious route. You won’t find any household names like the Beatles, the Beach Boys, or Jimi Hendrix. Instead, he flashes back to obscure acts like July, Dr. Strangely Strange, Gruppo Sportivo, and the Nice.
Part scholar, part fanboy, Houdaille reached out to surviving members of those groups to get their thoughts on his interpretations.
“Whoever’s still around got to hear them. Most of them liked it. Some even shared it on social media, which was amazing,” he says.
Only one artist accompanies Houdaille on the tracks: Fernando Perdomo, a friend from (where else?) Miami Beach High.
“He would go with me to Yesterday & Today,” Houdaille says. “We were the only ones in high school listening to King Crimson.”
In preparation for a European tour this summer, Houdaille was putting together a live band to perform Ex Norwegian’s new material. But like every tour planned for 2020, it was scrapped.
“We just started up playing and figuring out the live arrangements in February right before everything shut down,” Houdaille says.
With touring on the shelf indefinitely, Houdaille hopes listeners will enjoy taking a trip courtesy of Ex Norwegian’s two new albums.