La Hell Gang interview with Francisco “KB” Cabala
I’ve been tipped off to more music by Permanent Records than I can even begin to imagine, but it’s more than just the bands themselves. They’ve introduced me to entire countries and movements of music, to stuff like Chilean psych, and for that I will be forever indebted to them.
There’s been so many bands that have just melted by face from over there it’s crazy, but there’s a few that stand above the rest and I’ve got a series of interviews coming up exploring the region and those bands that have piqued my interest the most. I had a very short list of people I wanted to get in touch with and talk to in the beginning, and La Hell Gang was at the top of that list! Founding member, guitarist and lead singer Francisco “KB” Cabala graciously offered to take time out of his insane schedule to talk all things La Hell Gang with all us lucky folks here at It’s Psychedelic Baby. A warm, melting conglomeration of shoegaze and heavy, head drone psych, La Hell Gang have just loosed another platter of dystopian melancholy psychedelia on the world in the form of the Thru Me Again 12” for Mexican Summer. Throttling back from 2010’s Just What Is Real for BYM Records, La Hell Gang have settled into a sound that’s quite reminiscent of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club when they were at the top of their game, mellow, yet harsh, and meticulously and intricately constructed; and I mean that’s as a compliment of the highest degree! Raucous and spacious guitars paint a luscious landscape in which the bass and drums fill in the colors and bring the listener along for a demented Technicolor trip across the worlds of sound. Enter a universe devoid of self-consciousness or doubt. Enter the cosmos of La Hell Gang. Trust me; it’s much more pleasant than it sounds! Enjoy your stay. You can thank me when you get back…
What’s the lineup for La Hell Gang at this point? Is this the original lineup or have you all made any changes to the lineup since you started as a band?
The line up has been the same since the beginning, Francisco “KB” Cabala – Guitar and Vocals, Ignacio “Nes” Rodriguez – Drums, and Rodrigo “Sarwin” Sarmiento – Bass.
Are any of you in any other bands or do you have any active side projects going on? Have you released any material with anyone in the past? If so, can you tell us a bit about it?
I have another project called Chicos de Nazca, we’ve got four albums, released by BYM Records and Hozac Records in Chicago. My first band called Cindy Sisters I had with my friends from 2005 to 2008 had one single released by Hozac Records too.
How old are you and where are your originally from?
We’re from Chile. I’m twenty four, Nes is twenty eight, and Sarwin’s twenty four.
What was the music scene like where you grew up? Were you very involved in the music scene? Do you attend a lot of shows or anything? Do you feel like the local scene there played a large role in shaping your musical tastes or in the way that you perform at this point?
When I started with Cindy Sisters around 2006, we played in the Chilean scene with amazing bands like The Ganjas and then bands like Watch Out!, Föllakzoid or Holydrug Couple started to appear.
What about your home? Were either of your parents or any of your close relatives musicians or maybe just extremely interested or involved in music?
My big brother’s a guitarist; actually he’s playing bass in Chicos de Nazca. My father was a bassist in the 60’s as well, I grew up playing guitar, and Nes’ father’s a drummer.
What do you consider your first real exposure to music to be?
Was when I was sixteen years old in 2006, with my friend Vicente Schiesewitz. Together we formed Cindy Sisters, he now has his own project called The Psychedelic Schafferson Jetplane; really good music.
When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music and what brought that decision about for you?
I wrote my first song in 2006 which was released by Hozac Records. The song’s called “She Is Burning Inside”. I just felt that was my way, something I had to do. Now I’m always thinking of melodies and songs.
When did you get your first instrument? What was it?
I don’t remember when I got my first guitar, but I was a kid.
How did you all originally meet? When would that have been?
I met Sarwin in school and Nes around 2008. We met and recorded Just What Is Real, with songs that were written after Cindy Sisters broke up, some jams, and then two songs written by Sarwin on bass. We recorded this album in 2009.
When and what led to the formation of La Hell Gang?
In 2009, after Cindy Sisters broke up, there was no time to loose. So, I met up with the guys and we recorded.
Is there any kind of mantra, creed, code, or ideal that the band shares or lives by?
We like to jam a lot. The songs are extremely free, anything could happen when we’re playing live.
Your name seriously just sounds bad ass, like Samuel L. Jackson’s wallet in Pulp Fiction bad ass or something. What does La Hell Gang mean or refer to in the context of the band name? Who came up with it and how did you go guys go about choosing it? Were there any close seconds or runners-up you can think of?
We were a kind of Hell Angels when we were boys, but in the good way, ha-ha, walking around the city free with our psychotropics, boots and leather jackets.
Where’s La Hell Gang located at?
I’m living in Berlin now and the guys are in Chile. I want to move to Australia, so I’m kind of moving around and around and don’t have a home now.
How would you describe the local scene where you all are at?
We have a home in Santiago where the BYM Records studio is. I was living there with Sarwin and Nes, the drummer of Holydrug Couple, and some other artists, almost all the bands on the label play there. We all know each other.
Do you feel like you’re very involved in the local scene or anything? Do you book or attend a lot of shows?
In the past we’ve been very involved, playing all the time. Now we’re planning tours, and can travel around the world.
Are you involved in recording or releasing any local music? If so, can you tell us about that briefly here?
Nes is the head of BYM Records. He recorded almost all of the bands on the label in the BYM house, we do it as analog as we can and we always record on tape.
Has the local scene played an integral role in the sound, history, or evolution of La Hell Gang in your opinion? Do you feel like you all could be doing what you’re doing and sound like you do regardless of your location or surroundings?
Yeah, I’ve been influenced by a band here called The Ganjas. My friend Samuel Maquieira is the guitarist and I listened to their album a lot when I was starting… Also, when I was in the school we jammed a lot with some Chilean friends, an experimental jam band called La Bandas.
Your sound is fuzzy as hell, but there’s a lot of killer stuff that I can hear kicking around in there; traces of blues, garage and twisted psychedelia. I’m curious to hear who you all would cite as your major musical influences? What about influences on the band as a whole rather than just individually?
I grew up listening to Jimi Hendirx. Later, I discovered The Stooges, MC5, and then Spacemen 3 and The Jesus and Mary Chain. That was my school.
How would you describe La Hell Gang in your own words to our readers who might not have heard you all before?
La Hell Gang is a psychedelic trio. We respect the drone in the music, the psychedelia, and freedom of mind when we’re playing.
What’s the songwriting process like for La Hell Gang? Do you all get together for practice and just kind of kick ideas back and forth, kind of distilling a song from the process and then polishing it from there? Or, is there someone who usually comes in to the rest of the band with a riff or more finished idea to work out with the rest of the band?
On our albums, I wrote almost all the songs, but Sarwin wrote a couple. Then we started to play together and Nes gave the motor to the gang and there’s a lot of songs that we wrote together just jamming.
What about recording? I think that most musicians can appreciate all the time, work and effort that goes into making an album when they’re holding the finished product in their hands finally. But getting to that point, getting stuff recorded, and sounding the way that you want it to, especially as a band, can be extremely difficult and trying on a band to say the least. What’s it like recording for La Hell Gang?
I don’t think it’s too difficult getting the final album when you are telling the truth. I don’t like it when music is too controlled and planned. I like spontaneity in the music. You can see a real musician when they can record their music in one take, you know?
Do you all like to take a DIY approach to recording where you all handle most of the technical aspects of things yourselves so you can control the sound more precisely and don’t have to work with or compromise with someone else? Or, do you all like to head into the studio and let someone else handle that side of things so you all can concentrate on getting the best performances possible out of yourselves?
I like record our own stuff. When you record on tape there’s no too much work to do, you don’t need to mix a lot, the music sounds alive and it’s easy to take the control.
Is there a lot of time and effort that goes into getting songs to sound just so-so, with every part of them meticulously worked out ahead of time before you start? Or, is it more of a case where you get a good skeletal idea of what a song’s going to sound like in your head while allowing for some change and evolution during the recording process when you feel it’s necessary?
Almost always, we just do one or two takes of a song playing together and then the guitars come in and record overdubs, but those are the first or second take too. Almost everything is in the first take, the voice too, there are just some guitars on the overdubs, but there’s not too much to think about. It’s clear in the mind, just flow.
Do psychoactive or hallucinogenic play any role in the songwriting, recording or performance angles of La Hell Gang? I know there are a lot of people who really like to tap into the altered mind states that can be produced by imbibing substances and I’m always curious what they utilize and how it affects their music.
Of course marijuana always helps to make music and keep you flowing the right way, and hallucinogens, of course. In South America you can go to the jungle and take ayahuasca, or go to the desert and take San Pedro cactus, to clear your mind, the natural way.
You all released your debut album Just What Is Real for BYM Records back in 2010, which is a killer little slab of psychedelia. Can you tell us a little bit about the recording of that early material? Was it a fun, pleasurable experience for you all? When and where was it recorded at? Who recorded it? What kind of equipment was used?
We recorded the album in a wooden house in the country, on an 8-track reel-to-reel of Nes’, in just two days. It was just us, nobody else as there. It was really powerful… We just one take, it was really funny and real, ha-ha. I recorded with a vintage Vox Phantom guitar and a vintage fuzz pedal from the 60’s, and an old console. It was the first vinyl BYM Records released, recorded in 2009 and pressed in 2010.
You are just getting ready to follow up Just What Is Real with your sophomore album, Thru Me Again the end of this month (July 2014) this time for Mexican Summer Records. Was the recorded of the material for Thru Me Again very similar to your work on the first album? Did you all try anything radically new or different when it came to the songwriting or recording of the material for Thru Me Again? Where was that recorded? Who recorded it and when was that? What kind of equipment was used this time around?
We took more time to record this album. It was recorded by Nes in the BYM House. We played one take and then we did some overdubs. Songs like “The Beginning Remains The End” and “So High”, were jams. We’ll take a part of the jam and make a song. “Last Hit” and “What You Want You Got It”, were jams too, from beginning to end. I wrote the rest of the songs. It was recorded on 8-track reel-to-reel.
Does La Hell Gang have any music that we haven’t talked about yet, maybe a song on a compilation or a demo that I’m not aware of?
We recorded an EP in 2010, which will be released by BYM soon, it’s called “There Is The Place”. Also, we have a cassette called It’s Live In My Soul, released by Yellowmoon, which is a lot of songs we played live around 2010.
With the release of Thru Me Again on July 22nd (2014) do you all have any other releases in the works or on the horizon at this point at all?
Yeah, we’re going to put out some lost songs, that never been released, and we’ll probably record another album during the Chilean summer. Also, Chicos de Nazca recorded our new album, with me, Nes on drums, and my brother on bass, which is going to be released at the end of this year.
Are there any major plans or goals that you’re looking to accomplish in the rest of 2014 or in 2015?
We’ve got a US tour from October 7th to November 15th; New York to California in a van. I’ll send you the poster soon.
Do you all spend a lot of time out on the road touring? Do you enjoy touring? What’s life like on the road for La Hell Gang?
We’re really friends, so everything is right! I could live on tour. Every gig is different as we jam all the time. We love to play all the time.
Do you all give a lot of thought to the visual aspects that represent the band to a large extent? Stuff like shirt designs, posters, fliers, cover and that kind of thing? Is there any kind of meaning or message that you’re trying to convey with your artwork? Do you have anyone that you usually turn to in your times of need when it comes to that sort of thing? If so, who are they?
We’re trying to transmit, “Keep the music real”. I like anyone who’s making real shit. Our art is simple, to let the music flow, always on the good side of the energy. And it’s trying to explain what it is to be an outsider. The last art was made by a friend called Zsueño, he did a good analog feeling job, and I’m happy with the art and the way it represents the psychedelic aspects of our music.
With all of the various methods of release that are available to musicians today I’m always curious why they choose and prefer the mediums of release that they do. Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music? What about when you’re listening to and or purchasing music? If you do have a preference, can you talk a little bit about why?
If stuff is released with good intentions it’s all right. I like to sell albums playing live, to people who saw the band. Here in Berlin I’ve been playing in the street selling the vinyl and CDs of Thru Me Again, with my friend Vicente from Cindy Sisters and Psychedelic Schafferson Jetplane, anyway to try to get people to meet us.
I grew up around a collection of music and my dad would always take me out and pick up random stuff that I thought looked or sounded cool. I developed a deep appreciation for physically released music from a pretty young age. I would kick back with a set of headphones, read the liner notes, stare at the cover artwork and just let the whole thing carry me off on this trip. It’s something that I’ve grown a bit addicted to in my growing age actually. Just having something physical to hold in my hands always made for a much more complete listening experience for me. Do you have any such connection with physically released music? If so, can you talk a little bit about that?
Do you mean on vinyl? I collect all my music on vinyl. I like to feel all the frequencies, I love when I just listen to the recordings from the tape. The harmonics are alive, the bass is so deep. Anyway, these days it’s so easy to make an album, if you release it on vinyl, you actually feel that the process is complete.
Like it or not, digital music is here and it’s here in a big way. Digital music is just the tip of the iceberg though, in my opinion. When you team it with the internet, that’s when you have something truly revolutionary on your hands. Together they’ve exposed people to the literal world of music that they’re surrounded by and it’s allowed for unparalleled levels of communication between’s bands and their fan bases all over the globe effectively erasing geographic boundaries almost overnight. On the other hand, while people may be exposed to more music than ever they’re not necessarily interested in paying for it and for many people music is becoming this sort of disposable experience to be used and then discarded and forgotten about when you’re done. As an artist during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?
There’s a lot of digital music around and it’s so easy to make digital music and distribute it, at the same time it’s out there with all the standard commercial music, so it’s difficult to find good new music, but people who know about what’s real don’t have this problem. People are realizing this more and more. In my case I collected all my music on vinyl, so I don’t follow the digital world much.
I try to keep up with as much good music as I possibly can but I swear there’s just not enough hours in the day to keep up with one percent of the absolutely awesome stuff out there right not. Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening to I might not have heard of before?
I recommend listen some albums from Chile:
Los Vidrios Quebrados – Fictions (1967)
Los Macs – Kaleidoscope Men (1967)
The Ganjas – Laydown (2006)
The Psychedelic Schafferson Jetplane (2010)
– Roman Rathert
(2010) La Hell Gang – Just What Is Real – digital, 12” – BYM Records
(2014) La Hell Gang – Thru Me Again – digital, 12” – Mexican Summer Records