What fresh Hella is this?
Hella has three new members, one new album and an international tour schedule. Too bad Sacramento’s not on it.
Hella couldn’t be a more ridiculous yet apropos moniker for the duo featuring drummer Zach Hill and guitarist Spencer Seim. When something is really cool, it’s hella cool, and Hella’s songs, an indescribable hodgepodge of musical calisthenics juxtaposed by memorable melodic sequences, exude everything that could be considered cool in experimental music and then some.
On its new album, There’s No 666 in Outer Space, out this week on Ipecac Recordings, Hella actively de-categorizes music with head-scratching tunes like “Anarchists Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Friends Don’t Let Friends Win.” If we have to label it, let’s call it “ritalin rock” for its multiple time signatures and over-the-top arrangements. Although the music has changed drastically since Hella’s initial, self-released demo CD—which came crudely packaged in duct tape—the progression has been for the better.
Uninhibited by binding, long-term contracts and record-label intervention, Hella has done things its own way. The band has left a trail of releases on indie-boutique labels such as Suicide Squeeze, the 5 Rue Christine imprint on the Kill Rock Stars label, and its current home at Ipecac—Mike Patton’s self-indulgent yet highly successful label. Hill and Seim also have collaborated, separately and together, with other projects, including Tough Guy Fantasy, Team Sleep, the Holy Smokes, the Advantage, and Orthrelm guitarist Mick Barr.
Hella already has started promoting the new record. A preliminary run of shows included Visalia and Los Angeles, but the tour grind really starts in late February and will last for the better part of 2007.
After years of touring as a duo, the band has morphed into a quintet. Hella integrated three new faces into the fold and holed up at Retrofit Studios writing and recording the new album for the better part of 2006. Josh Hill, Zach’s cousin and former leader of Playing to the Grandstand, has assumed guitar and various other musical duties. Grass Valley native Aaron Ross joins the fray as the band’s first full-time vocalist. Carson McWhirter, former member of Ent and current bassist for the Advantage also makes his presence known.
“We always had this manifestation in our mind for a long time, but the timing was never right until now,” Seim said.
While the members of Hella have managed to revel in semi-obscurity in their native Sacramento, the band already has developed a fan base in countries as far-reaching as Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Holland and even Slovenia.
“It would be nice to play Germany and Australia this year,” Seim said.
Sure, but what about local gigs?
“We actually play here [in Sacramento] all the time … four days a week to be exact, just not in front of people,” Seim said. “It hasn’t seemed like the hometown really gives a shit. The last few times we have, it seems like we are the afterthought. It’s weird to go to Oklahoma or Florida, the East Coast or random cities all over the world and people are fucking psyched you’re there. Then you play back home and people just yawn and would rather be on Myspace or some silly shit. Maybe we’re not good enough for this place anymore.”
As yet, there’s no Sacramento stop on Hella’s tour, although word has it a guerilla-style show may happen before the end of February.
Not a band to sit idle, Hella already has “a stockpile of songs and parts that we will be saving for the next record,” according to Seim. “We all love [our] songs equally and kind of think the [current] record is one entire song.”
Whether you believe the new album is hella cool is your decision. As for there being no 666 in outer space, that’s thoroughly debatable.