A friend once told me psychobilly was 80 percent fashion.
I disagreed. Psychobilly, I said, is 80 percent aesthetic—and there’s a big difference. It’s not how the band dresses that matters, it’s how the band creates an atmosphere. Psychobilly has a sort of haunted, fast, carelessly cool aura—a reckless mix of classic punk rock, rockabilly, surf reverb and a B-rated horror movie, both in sound and look.
Los Pistoleros, one of Reno’s go-to psychobilly bands, does the genre justice.
When I walked into their practice space—a small house on Valley Road—I was told by a gal out front, “It’s the door on the left that says, ’Stay the fuck out.’”
I grabbed a handful of the old T-shirt that was functioning as a doorknob and slipped into a bedroom humid with sweat. It felt like they’d been practicing for hours.
The band members briefly acknowledged my presence, but immediately jumped into another song, and ran through song after song while I sat on an amp.
A small PA system was set up in the room and the speakers tipped over near the pillows on the bed.
“This one’s called ’Macabre,’” said Chris Chamberlain, the band’s guitarist and vocalist.
They counted into a speedy beat led by the upright bassist, who goes by the name “Andy 86.”
The upright bass is another part of that psychobilly aesthetic. The bass has to carry the beat with a rockabilly-like slapping. Psychobilly is a rhythmic music.
The drummer, Spencer Eldridge, has the heavy-handedness of a metal drummer, and every crack locked in with the slaps on the bass’s thick strings.
Though the drums and bass were the backbone, what seemed to drive the sound is the guitar riffs. Guitarist and second vocalist Julio Giraldo dished out solid guitar lines, shooting from the lower strings up to the high notes with ease. He used simple scales to their fullest, and played his role well, complementing, not overshadowing, the rhythm section.
Giraldo and Chamberlain swapped lead vocal responsibilities, bouncing between Giraldo’s more refined rock ’n’ roll, croon-like tone and Chamberlain’s scrappy, classic punk shout—similar to the melodic rasp of The Quakes’ Paul Roman.
What surprised me most, though, was the tone of the practice. It was obvious they were enjoying it, but they were very serious. Los Pistoleros is a hardworking band.
They spent the winter writing a brand new 17-song album, titled Devil in the Mirror, that they hope to release in the fall, and when I asked what shows they had coming up, they seem to have more than one every weekend.
“We’re always writing,” said Andy 86, out in front of the house taking a smoke break. “Constantly working.”
The effort definitely shows. They play with a dynamic that’s only achieved with a lot of practice. When Andy 86 took a drag from his cigarette, I noticed a black blood blister on his slapping hand.
“Yeah, he used to bleed everywhere,” said Chamberlain.
“It’s more calloused now,” said Andy 86.
My friend’s initial argument—that psychobilly is 80 percent fashion—dismisses the genre as a gimmick. But it’s no more derivative than any other genre—psychobilly just doesn’t go out of its way to hide it. Los Pistoleros and the genre as a whole embrace the elements that created it and produces something honest from them. And that something is damned fun to listen to.