Its about time to feature more of a ‘dancy’ band for all of you out there who love to shake your ass to a little more poppy tunage. This band does Rock n Roll with a New Wave electronic edge that forces you to get on your feet and move along to it. Badass Band 45 is Hell&Lula. Not only does this band play kick ass music, but they have some environmental/human rights programs they are involved in that just add to their allure.
I first saw Hell&Lula (HL) over a year ago at a High Voltage Magazine showcase at The Mint. I had originally gone to see Toy Bombs, then was blown away by Eli James, so I decided I better stick around to see the last band. They set up all kinds of crazy gear, and looked like a damn interesting group of people. I can’t remember what their first song was, maybe ‘Set the World on Fire’ or ‘Razor Love’, either way the whole crowd was moving and singing along within seconds. It is hard not to dig on their tunes. Their combination of edgy vocals, a multitude of instruments- including a chick on drums (Bonus!!), and the insanely high energy of their stage show, just makes this band ridiculously likeable. They do a live show better than a lot of bands I have seen, and that is really a key component, not just to create/play great music, but to outwardly have fun doing it and create that fun, energetic, relationship with the crowd. Their album “Catch Up!!! Catch Up!!!” has been out for a while now, and they are currently on the verge of releasing a new EP entitled, ‘Fermi’s Paradox’.
The band itself is comprised of MAK- vocals, Devon Culiner- guitar/programming, Russell Henson- bass/synth, and Alex Vega- Drums. These musicians are all talented in their own right but together form a combo of 80’s style dance rock that sells itself easily. Their tag line is “We wanna make you dance, we wanna make you think. We want to make you think about dancing.” which is the perfect description of what their music does to the audience.
Another amazing thing about this band that needs to be brought up is their involvement in many different environmental and human rights campaigns. HL is involved with Falling Whistles (which spreads the message about war in the Congo & helps rehabilitate war-affected children), a Recycled Merchandise Program and they can created an environmentally sound tour vehicle. They call it the ‘Cool Bus’ and it has been converted to run on waste vegetable oil. Just another few reasons to dig on this band.
MAK was kind enough to take some time out of their touring schedule to answer some questions for BBB, so read on to find out where they will be during the summer, how he became comfortable with his dance moves, and how they cook up a healthy helping of dance at each show!
When and why did you start playing?
My uncle bought me a guitar and a little practice amp for my 14th birthday. I wanted to be Kurt Cobain, who had died just a few months prior. It was that awkward, rebellious stage and the whole darkness and tragedy that the media portrayed surrounding his life and death was really appealing. Eventually, everyone convinced me to lay off the angst and self-loathing, because it was no fun and to stop playing guitar, because I sucked at it. And once I did, I was finally free to develop a singer/performer persona that felt like it was my own.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up? How does that differ from what you listen to now?
My earliest memories are of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, The Eagle’s Hotel California and various Beatles’ records, Billy Ocean, Billy Squire, Foreigner. Then, briefly, hair metal stuff like Slaughter and Motley Crew and the Scorpion’s. When MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice hit the scene (I was around 9 or 10), I found an interest in dancing. I wasn’t able to do any of the regimented dances very well, but I learned that when I just let my body move freely, weird and interesting things would happen and I felt more connected with the music. Watching all the other kids who had more control over their bodies and were able to move in specific and calculated ways made me insecure, but eventually, I learned to be comfortable with letting my body do what it wanted to do and not trying to force it to do something else.
Which musicians do you admire? Why?
Anyone who does something fully. I enjoy performers who lose themselves in their task, without pretension or melodrama, without trying to do anything. The moment when the instrument, the player and the music become one. This is something I strive for and friends who have watched me for a long time will sometimes say, “you weren’t in it tonight. And you’re not very good at faking it.” But the truth is, I’d rather not fool anyone. Either I’m fully present and the real thing happens, or I’m distracted and mostly just going thru the motions. Observant people will know the difference and recognizing the real thing will be that much more rewarding.
I also admire songwriters who can write complex melodies or musical pieces that are coherent and rise and fall and deftly move you from one place to the next. My mind can only hold on to a very brief melody or run of notes before it becomes overwhelmed and shuts all the doors of possibilities. So my strategy is usually to come up with lots of short bits that are often disjointed and radically different and seemingly incongruent. Luckily, I seem to be getting away with it, so far.
Do you get nervous before a show?
Usually. I think a healthy level of stress makes your senses sharper and better able to perform, but I’ve been doing this for a while and I still get more nervous than I would like to most of the time.
Any rituals before a show?
Not really. I used to spend a lot of time stretching and warming up my voice or meditating before a show, but I seem to have utterly no control over how a show is going to go, no matter how much I try to prepare myself. So many other factors are at play. Mainly the elusive and mystical “energy of the room.” Whether the room is electric or stone cold and dead is largely out of my control. We always seem to liven up a room by a noticeable degree, but I haven’t quite learned how to fully bring the dead back to life.
Describe your show visually & musically for those who have never been.
How does your creative process typically work? What inspires you?
Our energy level is pretty high. I’m pretty wild on the mic and I like run around and flail my limbs and free-dance. We have a custom light show that’s built mainly around a quartet of 4×12 guitar cabinets that have been repurposed as light cabs. We’re currently working on some new custom stuff light-up gear for each band member, as well. I’m trying to build a mic stand that hints at a light saber. Or at least a glow stick.
Custom lighting goes a long way at a show. I saw Dillinger Escape Plan at Emo’s in Austin, years back, with a strictly backlit custom light display. Simple, dramatic, powerful. It was one of the most intense things I’d ever seen. Emo’s is a total dive, but those guys looked like gods in front of all those bright white lights. You never saw their faces, never any details, you just got their silhouettes, their essence, the phantoms of the men, themselves. When I saw them with the house lights on after the show, they looked normal, plain, dorky, even. Mere humans. If there was ever a moment that illustrated the importance of lighting to me, that was it.
What do you think you biggest break or greatest opportunity has been in your career so far?
Yeah, nothing to speak of.
What has been the biggest challenge for you so far?
Balancing creative/band time with the time needed to make money and fulfill social obligations is always kinda tough. In order to keep up with the pace of professional bands, you need to commit to your project full-time, which is really difficult to do, in the long-run, when you’re living in a city where the cost of living is so high. I cut myself a little slack by living in our Cool Bus, but even with my rent cut down to next-to-nothing, money still has to be made.
What are you working on now, and what can we expect from you in the coming year?
We’ve just converted our Cool Bus to run on waste vegetable oil, so we’re excited to start touring as much as possible. Running on WVO means that we should be able to at least supplement our living expenses with tour income. It won’t be enough to support us. We can’t quit our jobs, but at least touring won’t cost us money, as it did before. We’re also releasing our 2nd EP, Fermi’s Paradox, this summer and possibly another yet untitled EP with a European label later this year. We just landed a slot at Summerfest in Milwaukee July 6, so we’ll be hitting the road the last week of June and hopefully touring throughout the summer.
Why should people listen to your band? What makes you unique? If your band had a slogan, what would it be?
Haha, I don’t think that people SHOULD listen to our band, at all. I think we make cool music and I know that we create and perform from genuine place. I hope people dig it.
I think that we are a bit unique in the combination of things that we throw into the pot. You can equate creating music to cooking food, in a way. No one will truly ever create any new music any more that a chef will create new food. You can combine ingredients in a new way and create a new dish, but all the basic ingredients have always existed and have been used by other chefs for eons. It’s the same with music. There are only so many notes, so many time signatures, so many bpms. With electronic music, we’re creating lots of new and fun sounds, these days, but we’ll never create a new note, just the way we arrange them. I think we’ve come up with some really unique recipes that are worth sampling. We do a little light, a little dark, a little fun, a little introspection, the genuine, with the tongue-in-cheek. We love dichotomies (in fact, that’s one of the reasons we ended up calling ourselves Hell & Lula. It’s the light and the dark). But every dish we cook up has a healthy helping of dance thrown in, from disco beats, to latin rhythms, to club bangers. Our slogan is: we wanna make you dance, we wanna make you think, we wanna make you think about dancing.
If you had the opportunity to change something about the music industry, what would it be?
I don’t know that I’m quite informed enough to answer that with any useful response. The industry is changing so rapidly and in so many ways. No one really has a grasp on it. It’s like the stock market. Many people claim to understand it or to be able to predict what will happen next, but no one really knows. It seems like the stranglehold the majors once had on the music industry is finally being broken away from, but what we’ll do once we’re free (and even what we SHOULD do once we’re free) is anyone’s guess.
One song you never get tired of.
O.N.E. by Yeasayer. They nailed that one.
What is the best live show you have ever gone to?
So many for so many different reasons! But the last one that really made a strong impression on me was Jonsi (of Sigur Ros). So tight and big and powerful. Epic is a word that is way over-stated, but it’s true sense applied to the show I saw at The Wiltern in LA.
Favorite things to do NOT musically related.
My current obsession is audio language lessons, which are so fun (and so easy to pirate!). I studied in France when I was in college and have resumed my French studies as well as Spanish. I’m also into zazen and gardening. DTLA is a stressful place. Things like meditation and gardening and yoga are what keep me from having a nervous breakdown.
If you could be a fictional character, who would you be?
Ender Wiggin from the novel series Ender’s Game. He’s so sharp, fierce, perceptive,intuitive, kind, tragic and dynamic. If you’ve never heard of the books, they’re like a much richer, much deeper and better-written version of the Hunger Games series.
Best prank you have ever pulled?
I suck at pranks! Devon is our champion prankster. He got me good once. I was convinced that a friend of ours was strung out on hallucinogens and wanted to drip-dry me in his closet. And he did it all from his phone.
What kind of jobs did you have before you were in the music industry?
I’ve worked in the service industry, most of my life. It’s tough to find part-time jobs with the sort of flexibility that bartending, catering or waiting tables can provide. Russell (bass) and I both currently work for Coolhaus Ice Cream Sandwiches, which is a gourmet food-truck-based company that’s making a huge splash. It’s fun, super flexible and has gotten us access to a lot of interesting L.A./Hollywood type events that we’d otherwise never be exposed to. Even if that’s not your thing, it’s still more interesting than the average low-wage gig.
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