Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

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.”

The Hellions have a fascinating history. Both times I’ve gone to interview them, the conversations—usually over liquor—have been a lot of fun. If you haven’t picked up their first official release, Hymns From the Other Side, hit up Record Alley in Palm Desert. Fun fact: Frontman Angel Lua also teaches English at College of the Desert. For more information, visit Lua was kind enough to answer the Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

The first big concert I attended was The Cult at the Orange Show Pavilion in San Bernardino with my uncle. They were on tour for their Ceremony album and Lenny Kravitz was opening. Another band called Stix and Stones, I think, was first. I remember the singer of that band yelling out, “We’re Stix and Stones, and we’re gonna kick your ass!” I’ve been using that when the Hellions open our set, as this clearly reflects our esteemed appreciation of the simplicity of true art.

What was the first album you owned?

The first cassette tape I owned was Eazy E’s Eazy-Duz-It. My grandmother gave me $10 for helping her install some tile in her bathroom, so I asked her to pick up a (pirated) copy of it from the Indio swap meet. She knew nothing about this gangsta-rap thing or what the “Parental Advisory” label meant. My sweet grandmother, though unaware, was complicit in my adolescent corruption (or enlightenment), and my growing and colorful use of expletives.

What bands are you listening to right now?

The Hangmen, Black Lips, Handsome Family, some Arcade Fire and composers like Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannsson, and Philip muthafucking Glass are in heavy-ass rotation at the moment.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

Taste in music, like everything else, is fatally subjective. Everyone listens to what defines or inspires them at a specific time in their lives and what they have been constantly subjected to aurally. That being said, fuck pop country.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

Wish I could see The Cramps perform again. Lux Interior’s live performance was amazing. His onstage antics and hilarious witticisms are still unmeasured—though often imitated. I’m pretty sure he’s wearing his black leather pants and high heels and drinking a bottle of cheap wine in a purgatorial, juvenile-delinquent dance party as you read this (or whatever post-mortal dance party you’re religiously inclined to believe in).

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Hmmm. Refer to Question 4. … Actually, ’80s disco, like Stevie B, Exposé and Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam. My uncle was a DJ during the ’80s, and I always hung around him. He used to lay a big piece of cardboard on the lawn and spin records while the neighborhood kids and I would practice breakdancing. Ah, memories …

What’s your favorite music venue?

I would say Pappy and Harriet’s right now. You can’t beat the ambiance, the food or the distance to my family and my comfy bed.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

Not necessarily a lyric, but a melody and a series of “NA NA NAs” from Pink’s “So What.” Every. God. Damn. Time.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Every artist I have listened to has had a hand in molding my life. Social Distortion was huge to me when I was a dangerous and young rebellious greaser—you know, always talkin’ about the good ol’ days when there were drag races, sock hops, and greaser-and-socs rumbles, and law-breakin’ was going on, like mailbox jamboree ’n’ such. You know, all the made-up shit TV and movies told us about the past that we believed (and some still do). I still have evidence of this influence on my shoulder in the form of a Social Distortion “skele” tattoo and a scar on my gut from a knife fight. I can’t remember if the knife fight was instigated by someone messing up my pompadour or trying to snatch my lucky rabbit’s foot.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

I would ask Iggy Pop what the secret to living a long life would be. And he’d better not say heroin, because I am too old and poor to be that reckless, dramatic and fatalistic! He’ll probably simply say, “Go ask Keith Richards.”

What song would you like played at your funeral?

I would like Nick Cave and Warren Ellis to score my life—this includes my funeral song. We can call it, “Finis Vitae: Angel Lua’s Odysseun Requiem” or something else pretentious like that.

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

Favorite of the time is Turbonegro’s Apocalypse Dudes. It seems like a safe answer, but it’s an honest one. Everyone who I had a hand in exposing this album to has never been let down. I heard it in ’98 when the band was kaput. I did not know much about them except for the creepy, black-and-white photos in the CD inlay, where they aimed their made-up and smudged, puckered lips at the photographer. The album was a perfect mix of punk and glam-rock pretentiousness with silly, juvenile lyrics thrown in for good measure. A perfect example of a band gratefully not taking themselves too seriously.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

Black Lips’ “Family Tree.” You’ll be humming the chorus and the saxophone hook over and over again. Oh, and stay away from “NA NA NA NA NA NA NA, NA NA NA NA NA NAH!” (Scroll down to hear it!)

Published in The Lucky 13

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.