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05 Dec 2018

Twenty Years, One Album, Countless Amazing Shows: The Hellions Are This Year's Best of Coachella Valley Legacy Award Honoree

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The Hellions. The Hellions.

Two decades ago, a group of friends who grew up together started a band called The Hellions—and they’re still rocking the local music scene today.

Although the Hellions have endured lineup changes at various points, the current group—Angel Lua (vocals/guitar), Bob Llamas (drums), Jamie Hargate (guitar) and Travis Rockwell (bass)—has been around for a while.

The Hellions will be receiving the Best of Coachella Valley Legacy Award on Wednesday, Dec. 12, During the Best of Coachella Valley Awards Party at the Copa Nightclub in Palm Springs.

During a post-rehearsal interview at Bernie’s in Rancho Mirage, I asked them how they’ve managed to keep playing, rehearsing and writing for 20 years as marriages, families and career moves have taken place.

“That was all part of the plan,” Hargate joked.

“You never start something hoping that it’ll end,” Lua said. “We had a common taste in music, and we thought, ‘Let’s do something with it.’ I think everything falls into place, and we just keep it going. If we ever felt like we were forcing ourselves to do it, we probably wouldn’t be doing it anymore.

“It’s something that’s second nature to us at this point. We grew up together musically, and we all got better as musicians playing together and learned off each other. You have to like the people you’re around to do that; otherwise, forget it. Everybody is on the same page for the most part … or at least 65 percent of the time.”

Over 20 years, the Hellions have written some songs, but have released just one record, 2016’s Hymns From the Other Side. Dali’s Llama frontman Zach Huskey told me once: “The Hellions are kind of the slowest songwriters in the world.” The members explained the lack of prolificacy.

“I don’t think we put the effort into finishing a song,” Llamas said. “Right now, we probably have at least a dozen songs that are almost done. Why? I don’t know. We’ll work on new music, but then we’ll have a show come up, and we’ll focus on our set instead.”

Rockwell said the band worked hard to make a professional recording, with former Kyuss bassist Scott Reeder recording and producing.

“It costs money to put an album out when you do it the right way,” Rockwell said. “Anyone can go out and buy a computer and record shit in their bedroom right now. We planned to go into the studio and put in the work and put in the time and money to have Scott Reeder produce it. That was probably the tightest we ever were, when we went up to Scott’s place to record that album. That was about $6,000, and when we play a show, usually we make $100. So how many shows do we have to play to make that? Then we have to pay for mastering, and then we have to pay for the production. It’s a lot of work. Our whole philosophy is whatever money we make as a band goes back into paying for that.”

Lua said he had personal reasons for wanting the album released.

“I wanted to give my mom something,” Lua said. “She always asks me, ‘When do you play again?’ ‘Oh, we’re going to play at 11 p.m. tonight,’ and she’s like, ‘Oh, that’s too late!’ So I gave her a record and said, ‘Here’s a record. Go play it on your phonograph!’”

The Hellions are known for being generous with their time: If they’re asked to do a benefit show for a worthy cause, and they’re available, the Hellions are always in.

“People enjoy our music and want to come and see us play. The least we could do is give something back to our community,” Hargate said.

“People who wouldn’t normally come out to see us get to see us, and we play to an entirely new audience,” Rockwell added. “Some 18-year-old kid’s mom comes out, and she’s fucking re-living the ’80s. She’s done a ton of shots; she’s dancing; and the skirt gets a little higher up.”

The Hellions have played with many national tour acts as they’ve come through town.

“One of my favorite shows we ever did was with the Dwarves,” Hargate said. “I was always a big fan when I was 15 years old and going to their shows. To bring them out here as our friends now is pretty humbling.

“We’ve even been fortunate enough to meet a lot of musicians who have done some great things. For me later on in life, and having been a fan of them when I was a kid, it’s very comforting. But I’m not starstruck anymore.”

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