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23 Feb 2016

Holy Hellions: Together for Almost 20 Years, the Iconic Local Band Has Never Released a 'Proper' Album—Until Now

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The Hellions. The Hellions. Frank Skalsky

After almost two decades of making music in the Coachella Valley, the Hellions are finally releasing what the band is calling a “proper Hellions record.”

On Friday, March 25, the Hellions will play at a show featuring for former Misfits frontman Michale Graves at The Hood Bar and Pizza, ending the band’s recent break from live shows.

During an interview the band members dubbed “Tacos With the Hellions” at Pueblo Viejo Grill in Palm Desert, I tried to nail down how long the album has been in the works.

“Two months,” said frontman and guitarist Angel Lua.

“A week,” said guitarist Jamie Hargate, before changing his answer: “18 years.”

The joke answers kept coming as the drinks started to arrive. For Angel Lua, it was a Michelada; for Travis Rockwell, a non-alcoholic beer; drummer Bob Llamas stuck to Budweiser; and Jamie Hargate went all in with not only a michelada, but a shot of Patron Silver.

“Realistically, I’d say it’s been about a year,” Hargate said.

Lua agreed. “We were getting songs down the way we wanted them, and figuring out who and where we were going to record with, as well as what songs we were going to keep.”

Some of the songs had been recorded previously, before guitarist Jamie Hargate and bassist Travis Rockwell joined the band.

“We wanted to do a proper Hellions record for people who have been around us for the trip so far,” Hargate said. “The stuff we did before was pretty good, but it wasn’t what we currently have now. We have seven songs that are old and three that are newish.”

Llamas said it was important to make the older stuff a priority while recording.

“We really wanted to get a proper recording of our old songs first,” Llamas said. “We want to have that done, and we’ll put a lot of the new songs on the next record. It was important to do a proper recording and packaging of the old stuff. We have an EP that we recorded at Rancho de la Luna, but we never mastered it, and we burned the copies ourselves.”

The man they chose to record them was none other than former Kyuss bassist Scott Reeder, at Reeder’s studio in Banning. They discussed the various aspects of recording at the Sanctuary, an 84-acre property that includes a lot of animals.

“The peacock was the best part,” Hargate said. “We were standing and talking one time when we first went up there to start recording. (Reeder) went, ‘Hey, we gotta move!’ We were like ‘Why?’ He went, ‘Look up!’ There was this big-ass peacock in the tree. Then he said, ‘Look down.’ There was all this peacock shit everywhere, and he said, ‘She’s going to shit right now, so we have to move.’ He has all this crazy stuff there.”

Llamas said recording at the Sanctuary was quite a relaxing experience.

“I don’t like recording. It’s weird, and it’s awkward. We’re a live band; some bands are better in the studio, but we’re a live band,” Llamas said. “The studio is really uncomfortable for us, and that’s why we avoided it for so long. But I think what was good with Scott is if we would have done it with our friends, we’d get too comfortable and start hanging out. With Scott doing it, we felt more pressure to do a better job. We felt that pressure. Time is money, too, so it made us play tense at times.”

Lua emphasized the fact that the Hellions, first and foremost, are a live band. “I think in the studio, just the pressure—it gives you a different sound. Some of the critiques we got from our previously recorded stuff was it didn’t capture the live sound. We’d hear it, and we’d agree it didn’t sound like what we sounded like live, but it was a good sample. The vocals were pretty faithful to our live recording.”

Reeder—who tried out to be the bassist for Metallica, as shown in the documentary Some Kind of Monster—gave Rockwell’s sound a boost.

“He has some tools in his studio that probably enhanced the tones of my bass. He’s just a wizard when it comes to that stuff,” Rockwell said. “He knew what to do with what I was doing and what I contributed.”

The title of the record is Hymns From the Other Side. Hargate explained the album will be released on both CD and vinyl—but it will be awhile before there is an official release party.

“We’re going to release our CD at shows, and it’s nothing special. People can buy them, and we hope to save some money up for vinyl production,” he said. “Our official CD album release party is going to be (around) Halloween. We’re going to release the CD in March, and we scrapped the idea of a release show, because CDs aren’t that special anymore. We also have a lot of merchandise available now.”

The Hellions will perform with Michale Graves, Fight Like a Girl, The Kathys and Ritual Rastrero at 8 p.m., Friday, March 25, at The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. Admission is $10. For more information, visit the event page on Facebook.

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