Hip Hatchet is an easier name to remember than that of the man behind the sepia-tone sounds of the one-man band, Philippe Bronchtein. Jersey-born, Bronchtein is a traveler with a grizzly beard and close-set bookworm glasses—a cross between a fur trapper and a Renaissance man. It wouldn't be surprising, as the band name suggests, for Bronchtein to pull an ax from his guitar case, but he is equally likely to pull out a John Steinbeck novel.
That hybrid is how Hip Hatchet's music sounds—a mix of rustic prairie and Romance poetics scribbled on glass-stained bar napkins.
What makes Hip Hatchet immediately listenable is Bronchtein's voice—a smooth mahogany baritone that sounds a bottle of whiskey deep with the honesty of a thousand Abe Lincolns. There's a Nick Drake clarity to his low vocal melodies that reach a near growl at the bottom of his expansive range.
His genuine lyrics draw listeners in. He writes about what he knows, the charm of hard drinking and the unlikely poetry of blue-collar life. "Cadillacs, heartbreak and pretty girls," he croons in his song "Misdirected Man."
Bronchtein plays the guitar like a piano—fingers dancing over cleanly plucked strings—which makes sense; he's amulti-instrumentalist who also plays mean keys and accordion. He's teamed up with Sean Spellman of The Quiet Life on tours and projects since moving to Portland in 2010, and was on his way to the airport when he interviewed with the Source for a joint Alaskan tour that kicks off what Bronchtein reckons will be nearly eight months on the road.
"I'll be on a DIY tour across the country—dive bars, coffee shops, nothing glamorous," explained Bronchtein. "I'll probably lose some money."
Bronchtein then joins The Quiet Life on keys as the band opens for unground-favorites turned mainstream-success The Head and the Heart this fall.
"I'm playing around 160 dates in the next eight months, ranging from two people in a shithole dive bar in some weird town to 3,000-person gorgeous theaters. It's a breadth of experience," said Bronchtein.
Hip Hatchet's most recent release is a split with soft but striking cello/guitar collective Alameda, casually recorded over the last year in basements and living rooms and across Portland. Hip Hatchet's two tracks, (especially the second, "Beautiful Day") possess a distinctly Springsteen sound.
"I'm a huge Springsteen fan," confirmed Bronchtein. "The last week and half I've been listening to a lot of early '80s Bruce. Tunnel of Love is my favorite record right now, which people might get upset about. [Loving Springsteen] is about where you're from, but it's also about universal themes. It's cinematic, it's very easy to listen to, it's accessible, but extremely well-done."
Easy to listen to with a well-written polish is what Hip Hatchet strives for.
"Lately I've been going full-blown dad rock," laughed Bronchtein. "But I'm down with dad rock; Wilco is a great band. Plus, dads have more money than hipsters; I am trying to make a living."
Thurs, Sept. 19
7 pm, $5
Tin Pan Theater, 869 NW Tin Pan Alley
Bill More opens