SCR: The first thing that many listeners notice about Hella when they first hear you is that you guys play really, really fast. Where did you guys learn to play like that?
Zach: Well, we didn't really learn. It wasn't something we set out to achieve, really. Actually, it's usually something that we write pretty slow, and then it gradually gets faster and faster...sometimes I play faster than Spencer even likes. I would say, yeah, it's pretty much something that happened gradually, and naturally. It's just how, a lot of the time, I play, but the way the things are that I play -- I could be playing as fast as I can play, but the thing is, if you listen closely, it's the slowest beat in the world, but between each one, it's whatever you can do. I don't know how to count it, but for example, wherever you can put the one, and wherever you can put the four, between those beats, there could be, literally, two hundred hits, just between the one and the four. So it's actually the slowest beat that you could imagine.
Many people would describe your music as extreme, or at least unusual. Do you think that that's a fair characterization?
Ehhhh, I guess. I mean, I guess, well, what does that person... I dunno, if you listen to Lee Hazelwood all the time, I can imagine you would be like, "Whoa, this is a lot of information for me to digest right now." Other than that, in my mind, when I hear our stuff, I just hear pop songs. Naturally, I play very unorthodox, crazy stuff. It just comes naturally to me, and it doesn't feel crazy when I'm doing it.
Hella -- http://www.hellaband.com/
5 Rue Christine -- http://www.5rc.com/
Photos courtesy of Hopper PR.
When musicians talk to each other, it's easy for the conversation to dissolve into hip nonwords; obviously, many of them are more skilled at nonverbal communication. But isn't the idea that pop music is supposed to reach out to us lyrically? That it's supposed to capture something of the teenage experience, or something like that? You can't write a pop song with this kind of craziness -- not the kind of pop song that got Lester Bangs all worked up, that spoke demandingly and unsatiably of sexuality and boredom, and most certainly not the airbrushed frat-boy pornography that passes for rock and roll today.
But Hella evokes, so simply, the confusion of young people, overstimulated, benumbed and frenzied by video worlds elegantly contrived in plastic idea factories and crisply displayed in dingy, cluttered apartments and run-down houses all over the country, driven to the edge of insanity by political brinksmanship, culturejamming and unadulterated semi-anonymous shit-talk on the Internet -- jaded, tempted, disdainful, and joyous all at once. That's a fucking freakout, all right, and it's too real for words, daddy-o!
We're frothing at the mouth, here; there's no language coming out. But it's true, we have to get used to it, and eventually you get tired of the abuse and learn to rise above, but without forgetting about it. You pack the sputtering nonsense of life into a steady repeated rhythm. Micromanage and you'll lose it all -- but sadly enough, the larger your scale becomes, the more difficult it is to control the direction of your thoughts: the dread Attention Deficit Disorder.
Let's talk about your new record a bit. Hella went in a very different direction last year with the EPs, Bitches Ain't Shit But Good People and Total Bugs Bunny On Wild Bass. Now you're back to the intense prog-rock that characterized your first record. What's the reason for the shift to the more electronic stuff and then back?
We're just very interested and fascinated in doing anything we possibly can do. We don't want to stay comfortable in any sort of thing, and we're up to challenging ourselves with all sorts of stuff. Plus, we make music 24 hours a day...we like being vulnerable and naive. We just don't want to be afraid to show everybody, to be open with our experimentation. Our experiments, sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. We just want to make stuff and say, "Oh, this is an experiment, this is the music we've been making," and then let people who actually enjoy [our music] say whether that experiment worked or not.
A lot of bands, I think, are afraid to do things like that, because they won't live up to their past work. They kind of keep themselves from doing things because it doesn't match or whatever, whereas we, if we actually make stuff, and we make it together, then Hella made it, and so whatever kind of music it is, we're just going to put it out.
What are you guys going to do in the future? Are you going to continue to do the prog-rock thing as your main style and have other offshoot projects, or are you going to do more electronic stuff?
We have some stuff up our sleeves...our next record's going to be different from anything we've ever done. But I can't really say what it is.
It's a state secret?
Uh, not really a secret, but, well, it's just kind of early to talk about it, even though we're already working on it. It's going to be conceptually a lot different from what we've ever done.
Can you give us any sort of sneak peek?
Well, we know it's going to be a double record.
Is it going to have a different idea for each CD, or is it just going to be so long that it'll require two CDs?
There's more of a concept involved, but yeah, it's going to be long.
A whole lot of short songs, or normal-length?
Oh, it'll be regular. It'll be like our Tommy.
The kids are alright. Hella is an underground band, a dirty hippy "indie" band, the kind that grown-up, money-grubbing urban hipsters love to hate. This kind of act can't fill an arena, or even, most nights, a large club, but it's part of a secret lineage running back twenty-five years or so to the glory days of SST records and the beginning of DC hardcore.
In the Pop world, rock music exists like a wave; there are peaks of creativity and joy interspersed and intermixed with troughs of cynicism and negativity. Fans of the Darkness or the White Stripes -- you'll notice I didn't say "and" -- say we're currently in one of the former, when real rock and roll is connecting again, when originality lives in '70s knockoffs, when the fat is trimmed by doughy gimmick-mongers, when the bullshit is done away with by rich prettyboys.
They're right, in a way. The glitzy hypocrisy of Real Rock Music is welcome. The flawedness of rock heroes makes them far more realistic -- and therefore interesting -- than the self-righteous blockheads from L.A. But their fame will tarnish so fast that pop culture will no longer remember what they were like when they were young. Their image will age with them, and in the public eye they will become not wise but pathetic. The spiritual power of their music from ever again becoming imminent to young people. And the slogging, maddening earnestness of Hollywood hacks will return. That's the way it was throughout the '90s, and it's why rock music needs "saving" in the first (second? fifth?) place.
But beneath these molehills of Good Music and mountains of Crappy Music is the seething hive of the underground. There's a relative quality of originality. Next to Creed and Nickelback, the White Stripes and the Darkness sound positively revolutionary. But in the grand scheme of things, all four bands are basically playing the same kind of music in the same way. That's the way popular rock music has always been: afraid of the avant-garde. (Radiohead flirted with it, but by 2002 their reflexes were dulled by their coldness and ten years of distance from everyday life.) Throughout the supposedly barren '80s and '90s, there were people making rock music that was truly revolutionary, pushing the boundaries of rock to include new and different sounds and structures. What these people did and do is more connected to real life, more nimble, and therefore far more relevant to what we as a culture are going through than a big Rock and Roll band can ever hope to be, however humble their beginnings may have been.
And yet, in the attempt to express with sound what we feel every day, we have built-in limitations.
Even the underground isn't truly cosmopolitan in style, simply because it's an essentially local phenomenon. Hella's music is extreme, difficult and amazing, but in the vast constellation of worldwide popular music, it is merely a tiny planet orbiting a young -- yet admittedly bright, hot, and powerful -- sun.
That orbit makes my head spin. Hella is a whirlwind of ideas.
You guys seem like private, introverted people. Does it make you uncomfortable to talk to the press?
Not really, we just watch what we say. It's a weird thing... I mean, I answer honestly, but I don't elaborate too much. It's hard for me to say exactly what I'm thinking. Er, I mean, a lot of the things I think, like, about these questions -- to be honest, I could write an essay on each one, really getting down to matters of spirituality, like, crazy...things that I actually do believe. What I really perceive as music is things like education, animals, much more primal shit, dinosaurs and shit.
There are things that, in an interview, I can't talk about; I mean, I could, but those things are for me. It's probably be boring to someone else, maybe it wouldn't be, but if I was really going to try to explain where I was coming from, it would take a long time. So in interviews and stuff like that, we probably seem a little reserved, because we are holding back. It's kind of a necessity to keep things to yourself if you want to keep playing the way you play.
Well, that seems like a pretty good place to cut it out...
I'm into dirt and shit like that.
You're into dirt?
Well, I'm talking about things that make things like dirt, hair, and teeth and all these kind of things, like the sky... I don't know how to explain it. Jimi Hendrix... Like weird shit, dude. I've got weird ideas on a lot of...whatever, it sounds like nonsense to you, but that's what I mean. My real answers to all this stuff have to do with so much more intricate, weird things. The perception in my brain of everything is a lot different. It sounds like babble. We're weird...
I don't want to give you the impression that I'm giving you bullshit answers. "Oh, just another interview. I'll just give them some bubblegum shit," or something. It's just like that. I'd rather if every person who wanted to interview us could just hang out with me for a week, to see how I live, what I talk about. I'm just comfortable with the fact that I don't think anyone will ever really know, or a lot of people will never know anything about certain musicians. You have to know the person to really achieve an accurate underestanding of why they do what they do. But I don't know, maybe you'll find out.
I wanna say one more thing: "Don't be a cyclops." END