3/22/2012

Loving HELLA by John Clardy

The second installment of this tribute to Hella comes from John Clardy. He is an extremely creative and accomplished musician, having performed in various groups, and currently plays drums in Tera Melos. The band is working on a follow up to the outstanding Patagonian Rats and will undertake an extensive tour of Europe beginning mid-April and ending in late June, with a few US shows beforehand. Find out more through facebook or twitter.

"My freshman year of college was what I imagine is common for a lot of people.  I spent most nights of the week holed up in the painted cinderblock blandness of my dorm room, being generally miserable.  I had hardly made any friends save for a few that lived down the hall, but no one that I hung out with with any regularity.  In November 2002, my friend Dave, who was my spanish teacher in high school and the same guy that had told me about Lightning Bolt, told me that there was an even crazier band that I needed to check out called Hella, and that their drummer was the best.  They were playing at the venue that is the heart of Denton, TX: Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, in a week or so.
The night of their show rolled around, but I decided that, not even knowing how to get to Rubber Gloves from campus, I would just blow it off.  A month or so later I was home for the holidays and started looking around on the net for information on Hella after Dave had told me "Hella was amazing, he's the fastest, tightest drummer I've ever seen, and they play incredibly together.  At one point the guitarist's amp cutout; they both just looked at each other, and jumped back in perfectly synchronized!"  I ended up on the old 5RC website and found the free mp3 download for "Cafeteria Bananas" and probably ended up listening to it three times in a row right off the bat.  I'd heard some things before it that were similar, but this was definitely something new.  I knew that it was something important, and a few weeks later I finally ordered "Hold Your Horse Is" through the 5rc/kill rock stars website.  

It was a crazy experience.  I listened to it as I was driving up to Denton from my parents house in the suburbs and could barely believe/didn't know what to make of what I was hearing.  I knew it was going to take me a lot of listens to really get into the vibe of what was going on.  Even just the tones on the record were foreign in an enchanting kinda way.  There was a great blend of intensity peppered with a sense of mischievous humor, a kind of playfulness that made it easier to navigate through what could at times be a very dense, undulating and sputtery cloud.  

My initial Hella indoctrination has to onclude the first time I saw Hella live.  They came back to Rubber Gloves a few months later on March 17, 2003 (there is a pretty popular video on youtube of them playing "Biblical Violence" from this show, you can almost see me at the very beginning), nearly a year to the date of the album's release.  I'd been the Rubber Gloves a few times by now and got there right around the time doors opened, and just sat there in my car listening to the end of "Led Zeppelin II".  I remember thinking something along the lines of "Kinda funny that I'm listening to one of the most influential drummers ever, and I think I'm about to witness another in that line..."   I saw their van pull up and as Zach got out I introduced myself and, being the young drum dork that I was, asked him what kind of bass drum pedal he used.  "It's a... Tama Iron Cobra" but this was what I really wanted to know:  "Double or single?"  "It's a single pedal."  Now I knew he was truly the best.  

When Hella took the stage and was like nothing else, just a beautifully intense synergy of these two brilliant musicians, shattering what I thought was possible with music right in front of me.  As I watched Zach relentlessly pummel his drum set, I felt like I was watching the realization of the path I'd been on with drums, from the classic rock players I grew up on through the punk drummers through the prog guys to the jazzers, this playing was the next level in the instruments' evolution in my mind.  I remember thinking "This guy has either studied through every rudiment and drum book a thousand times over, or he's never taken a lesson in his life; I can't wait to ask him" and it was the latter; which was also a great inspiration to me as well, because I never studied drums in the academic sense either.  I was now fully immersed, seeing that these two guys weren't just about playing gnarly music but that it was more like getting to see inside their brains and watching them function, there was no pretense, this is just part of how they live and breathe. 

This was exactly what I had been looking for as a musician, I was beginning to grow out of my phase of fast punk music as being the greatest, and this was the future for me.

"Hold Your Horse Is" opened the portal to a musical dimension that I had been seeking out and set me on the path to work harder than ever at pushing my limits as a musician.  They set a new standard for combining superb musicianship with creativity and using all of it to create new sounds.  I listened to Hella constantly for years thereafter and even now they are a band that is in consistent rotation in my musical diet.  The world that it opened to me through other music past and present that I learned about thereafter was all encompassing and its difficult for me to imagine what life would be like without it.  Both Zach and Spencer have shaped my perception and appreciation of music in ways that I really can't overstate. It's something that has been a massive inspiration and something I can always go back to that is both comfortingly familiar and yet something I can hear and feel new things in each time.  I've been friends with both of them for 9 years now but there is still the the young 18 year old in me that is still picking his jaw up off the floor, and I can always think back and feel parts of that initial jolt to my system that came from their art.

Definitely one of the most life changing records I have ever heard."

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