LA HELL GANG: BLOOD, SCREAMS AND LOUD MUSIC
Chile’s La Hell Gang let it bleed on their very first release—on their 2009 debut Just What Is Real, some lucky someone carved HELL GANG into his chest and took a photo for the cover. Turns out that it was an exact fit for the music, which was like Ron Asheton helping Spacemen 3 discover another way to the other side. After that, however, La Hell Gang seemed to fade away. Drummer Ignacio “Nes” Rodriguez devoted himself full time to his BYM (Blow Your Mind) label, which uses a custom lacquer cutter to produce short-run psych albums that match a Burger Records-level cult following to Creation Records-style taste, and guitarist/singer KB began his also-awesome Chicos de Nazca project. But out of nowhere this fall came Thru Me Again, a new Hell Gang record on Mexican Summer—deeper, darker and happily hellish, although this time no one cut themselves up for the new album cover. La Hell Gang will be doing their first U.S. tour this fall and Nes emails us from BYMHQ in Chile. They play Permanent Records, Los Globos and Long Beach’s 4th Street Vine soon. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
What happened the night you made the cover for the first Hell Gang LP? Who’s the lucky person who carved up their chest?
Ignacio “Nes” Rodriguez (drums): Wow, that was awesome—actually KB the guitar man do it himself in front of mirror. It represented a lot of what we were doing that time. Very ‘knifey’ music and style of life. KB still has the Hell Gang mark forever. We were digging a lot of garage and rock ‘n’ roll stuff so the blood, screams and loud music was the motivation to make that kind of ideas.
So how much blood have you spilled for the sake of art?
Not so much. Sometimes Sarwin gets very into the live gigs and he start to spill blood from his fingers. That’s usual.
What exactly made your lives knifey? And your music? How was La Hell Gang was living on the edge?
In music it’s kind of simple and minimal construction, like using the minimum elements to create and to perform. In those years almost all the new bands were using tons of FXs and production. It was more show than real music. In life, it’s kind of the same—take the risk! Make the decision and the determination to get something! And for us as well—not to get involved in complex relationships. Like KB said, flow as much as possible. Everything flows. It’s living in the edge with the minimal supplies, just the necessary food and things for living. And to try to make risky things. The new record, it’s kind different from the first one, same as the third one is gonna be different for sure—not for the press or for the attention of the mass.
Who are the members of La Hell Gang? Did La Hell Gang come before BYM, or did BYM come before La Hell Gang?
In Hell Gang we are three. People has passed thru the time, but always there are collaborations. In the begining I first started BYM. I was working with two bands, Vuelveteloca and Föllakzoid, with their first LPs. And someday in a yonki house was KB’s first band Cindy Sisters, Watchout! and Föllakzoid playing. I was playing drums for Föllakzoid dudes that night and all the three bands were astonished with each other. After that night the first words of KB were, ‘We should play now together—let’s start the next week…’ Next week we were in a awful rehearsal room and KB brought Sarwin who was supposed to play bass. That first days playing the three of us were awesome—full jam, too much flow. In that place took form the first LP. Now we are in the same line up—a trio.
Why did you settle on ‘Hell Gang’? Were you just picking the coolest English words you could find?
Nothing was too much thinked. That year that we met each other and start to play on the new year, from 2008 to 2009. We went to Valparaiso, a big party and everyone was crazy in the street, and we have a encounter with Watchout!’s drummer. He was totally pissed off, and he saw us with leather jackets and very filthy and said, ‘Hey, look—that hell gang!’ We took that name. And the sound also suggest the name.
What happened to get La Hell Gang playing out and making music again? I was under the impression the band was on hiatus, maybe? And suddenly—a new LP on an American label!
After we made Just What Is Real album, we played a lot—did a bunch of gigs and a friend Ivan Daguer (Yellow Moon Distro, Pasta Base Records) was living in New York and he expand all the music that we were making at BYM—Hell Gang included. Plus the fact that Pink Reason was playing in Chile at that time—we play with him as support musicians and when Kevin come up to U.S. he was trying to get us to U.S. for a tour. He showed us Mount Carmel and other chances to tour, but we were like waiting for some big bands or thinking to go with a superb band, and we passed on that chance. And then we all start to slow down and we split energies. Then KB starts Chicos de Nazca project, and I start to work in BYM stuff 100% and Sarwin is finding his way. There are many songs that we recorded in that period that are in tapes waiting for the release. It was about two years from that—til the moment that we start to play again with full new vibes. The recording was not easy. We recorded in 3 moments—in the summer, fall and winter—and made a final cut from the 3 sessions. After the album was complete I didn’t want to release it on BYM, cuz we feel that we need more expansion. And Mexican Summer listen to that recording and liked a lot!
The new album seems to have less of a Ron Asheton feel and more Anton Newcombe—what changed in between?
We tried to expand more the sound after the first album. The first recordings were very raw—no effects, almost no overdubs. Then KB start to use more colors in the guitar, more overdubs in the studio, a little bit less of knifes and guns. We were listening to a lot of Sundial, Darkside and also classic 90s such as Primal Scream, first Verve stuff, Spiritualized … We start to ‘shoegaze more the 13th Floor Elevators vibe.’ This new one also got a darker mood, maybe a different than the first one—like underwater state all the time, more dreamy-dark vibe. We are in another state of mind right now, in another moment of life. More stories has passed through all three of us. Less impulsive ideas, more thinked ways.
Why is this kind of music what you connect with—what draws you to these kind of ideas? Or maybe—what does psychedelic mean to you, and how do you live up to that with your art?
It’s funny that so many people now use the word psychedelic for almost everything, like everything it’s psy here, psy there!? But for us it’s not that literally, it’s more a way of life—more a mystic way, and that influence in the music that we made … but its not necessary psy music! Now the bands that we work with, and Hell Gang itself, use and mix a different kind of styles and moods. It’s more a hidden message, not so in front of you face.
You said Hell Gang has ‘more a hidden message, not so in front of you face.’ Probably you don’t wanna say what the message is if it’s hidden, but what kind of people do you think Hell Gang most speaks to? And why do you want to keep it a little secret? What is lost when things are just obvious?
To literally lose the magic? Yes, maybe—it speaks to people who don’t really take it too serious to live in this world. Maybe one message could be different for people that are creating their own cool world?
Why did you decide to sing in English? What made that an interesting artistic choice for you?
It’s more familiar expression—for KB, it’s more easy to say more things with less words. The flowing of the English words together are more likely for us, I think—it’s a worldwide language. With only couple of words you can say much more, or express yourself more. For us, it’s a way of expressing ourselves. We dig bands where the lyrics are an important part of the art that they try to expose—War on Drugs or Kurt Vile are two projects that we like in that way. But for us, now, it’s in the other way. Still, we are still developing our sound.
What are La Hell Gang songs about? To me, they seem very impressionistic—like the overall ‘feel’ is as important the lyrics. But they also seem to set little scenes or tell little stories. And they also seem to hit some pretty important topics in life—love, death, loneliness and happiness.
They talk about many things of life—not so deep, but in a simple and zen way. Some talk about a sort of come back to the road with Hell Gang, some love songs, like messages to different women. And also simple solution to apparently difficult questions in life that many people get crazy about.
Like what? What’s a Hell Gang solution to a problem I probably have?
Ha—I don’t know which exact problems do you have, but there is 100 ways to solve or move forward. We always think that we try to don’t have any expectations at all, just see the opportunity and move to that space. Listen the songs—if not, you are gonna be let down. We don’t take too seriously all that is happening right now with Hell Gang cuz if something goes wrong, the same thing happens: we gonna be let down. It’s like a permanent state of drug depression, a dependence on the glory …
How did you first come in contact with the music of the Stooges, Spacemen 3, etc.? You mentioned Napster and the Internet before—is that what happened? And you also mentioned Hugo, the old producer of Sun Dial. How much of an effect did he have on the kind of music you would end up making?
Internet obviously gave us a bunch of info. I start to dig a lot of music when Napster and Soulseek start, cuz at that time almost no music was imported in Chile—only the pop stuff. That was the only way. After that we met Hugo … he was an important dude who show us very good and inspiring music, Spacemen and Sun Dial included, but lots of rare psy music that’s very hard to find. He brought that to Chile when he came from London.
What are some of the Chilean records that you feel paved the way for BYM and La Hell Gang? Who do you look back on as your ‘ancestors,’ and why?
There is a lot of Chilean bands from the late 60s that I dig a lot, and all in BYM but not necessary inspire us musically in Hell Gang—inspire us maybe cuz they played also music directly influenced from the music that was happening in US at that time. A lot of psy, rock ‘n’ roll, beat and folky jam music, singing in English and making great art covers. And obviously pressing vinyl records in the Chilean pressing plants—bands like Vidrios Quebrados, Aguaturbia, Los Macs, Los Blobps, Kissing Spell, Escombros, Los Jaivas … and lot of unknown bands that are very difficult to listen cos there are almost no records left. After that period there was a BIG empty time that almost no bands appear—until the 90s.
Where do you feel BYM fits in to the history of music in Chile? You spoke before of the rebuilding that came after Pinochet. Do you feel you’re part of that?
We will see in the future the impact of BYM.Luckily we start in this era cuz 20 years ago it would be a hard almost impossible task. We came just after that rebuilding of Pinochet. We now work with some bands that start in the 90s when it was difficult to grow and produce music. Now everyday the music industry in Chile its growing cuz people see us making records, going on tour, catching the attention of press outside and more musicians and people involved are making the same and coping in a good way. And it’s good for all here in Chile.
You talk about the generation between you and the Pinochet years as a ‘big empty space.’ Do you remember those years when you were young yourself?
I dont remember at all—I start to remember almost when Paul McCartney came to Chile in 1993. One of the BIG live shows after all that period. A few years before Iron Maiden couldn’t play cuz people think that they were real satanic people—imagine the minds of the people in that time! So the 90s were all too precarious. Only the transnational labels could afford recording studios or manufacture records. All the indie world was relegated to a backyard place. And we are proud to release fantastic records like Yajaira’s Lento y Real LP and the Ganjas stuff.
What is the BYM home like? It’s an old monastery, I know, but I can’t picture it. Where exactly do you live? What do you do all day, and what do you do at night?
BYM house is in the territory of a religious monastery. It’s not a church, it’s a house—very old, built with some noble materials which help a lot in the recording! In the first days we were living and working in the second floor house, mixed between work and life—difficult, but now the second floor is only for work, like the studio and space for bands who came to play to Chile. Like Cave, Blues Control, Psychic Ills … and the first floor is for living. Hell Gang members, Holydrug Couple dudes, and some artists living downstairs. Mostly all day it’s for work, night it’s for sharing—make some fire and talk about life.
Where did you get your lacquer cutter and how has that affected the growth of BYM? What does the ability to do your own short-run vinyl pressings allow you to do?
I get it from some mystic place—a secret place!—and it has helped a lot in BYM productions. We control our stock and can make limited releases. That’s a very unique way of work. I don’t know where would I be without it. Maybe doing more cassettes and pressing records? But now it’s an important part of BYM development.
Where else do you record? You talked to me before about going mobile out in nature.
Yeah, in the past we recorded almost all the first albums in outdoor places—the beach, the mountains, country-farm house. Outside the city mostly. We brought all the equipment that was strictly necessary, the reel recorders and went out some days working exclusively for the records. We made the first album from Hell Gang, the EPs from Holydrug Couple, Follakzoid [Sacred Bones Records], the Watchout! second album [Flashbacker, reissued by Permanent] and they were some awesome days. Not only for the benefit of the music but also cuz we were knowing each other and making the brotherhood that we maintain to this day.
What three records do you hope to find over here when you do this first US tour?
I dont know—now you can get every record everywhere. Mexican Summer release a record from Fraction that is awesome, like religious rock, great packaging also. I hope to listen the new Ty Segall and Foxygen records. I listen some of Manipulator and notice that not so many people made good reviews but I like the exploration of his music. Foxygen catch my attention—the production of the record is interesting. Also the new record from Zig Zags, what a great rock band! I saw them last year and was great. Waiting for Endless Bummer too!
What’s something about life and music in America that you hope to see for yourself?
I hope to see the awesome landscape thru all the time—we are in car all the way! Getting the good vibe of all the guys that knew our music, getting a new inspiration to bring to Chile … it’s like a beginning of real good new times to come for Hell Gang. We hope to create part of the new record up there, and would record in the return. Beside all the bad reviews and things that most people said in the world, the U.S. always will be a good example for us in music and ways of doing the right things.
LA HELL GANG ON SAT., NOV. 8, AT PERMANENT RECORDS, 5116 YORK BLVD., HIGHLAND PARK. CONTACT VENUE FOR TIME / FREE / ALL AGES. AND WITH GUESTS TBA ON SUN., NOV. 9, AT LOS GLOBOS, 3040 W. SUNSET BLVD., SILVER LAKE. 9 PM / $10-$12 / 21+. AND WITH THE MOLOCHS AND MORE ON FRI., NOV. 14, AT 4TH STREET VINE, 2142 E. 4TH ST., LONG BEACH. 8 PM / FREE / 21+. 4THSTREETVINE.COM. LA HELL GANG’S THRU ME AGAIN IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM MEXICAN SUMMER. LAHELLGANG.BANDCAMP.COM.