A CVLT Nation exclusive! HEX DISPENSERS “III” LP preview + interview
Austin, Texas horror garage punk institution HEX DISPENSERS will be releasing their third LP, aptly titled III, on June 6th, 2015 (the 9th anniversary of the very first Hex Dispensers rehearsal on 06/06/06, by the way). Below is an exclusive streaming track we’re excited to reveal, as well as an interview with Alex Cuervo, the vocalist, guitarist, and mastermind behind the power trio. III is a hook-laden, spooky rocker in the best tradition of bands like the Spits and the Marked Men, but unlike them, and in keeping with the tradition of Hex Dispensers’ previous two LPs, there is a decidedly dark and supernatural tone to the album. III is an all-out, raging, melodic, purist garage-punk beast of an album from the dark side.
III will be released on Alien Snatch! Records from Berlin. LPs and CDs will be also available soon on the Hex Dispensers’ bandcamp page. Listen to the new, exclusive CVLT Nation track, “I Hope the Sun Explodes Today,” and read the interview below!
The brainchild of horror movie aficionado Alex Cuervo, Austin’s Hex Dispensers have been going for one year shy of a decade now – a much longer time than a lot of folks realize. I’ve had the privilege of seeing them several times, and it’s always been a high energy, galvanizing, back to basics punk rock experience. Their first practice session was on the auspicious date of June 6, 2006 – 6-6-6 – and since then the group has cranked out one hook-saturated garage punk track after another. Their first LP’s cover art sported a Rosemary’s Baby-type baby carriage sprouting Lovecraftian tentacles, and that’s a pretty good indication of the band’s themes: all things haunted, paranormal, otherworldly, mysterious.
III is a dark, garagey journey further into the Twilight Zone. While some tracks, like the arresting “One Less Ghost,” have an off-kilter and even sort of Twin Peaks-y feel (I can’t explain it other than that), more typical of III are anthemic rockers like “House of Secrets,” the kind of melodic punk that might have come about from stirring elements of the Misfits’ Static Age and the Spits’ first CD (2000) into a bubbling witches’ brew of classic American punk aggression. It’s the sort of anthemic punk that doesn’t deny the importance of catchy, pop hooks but rams those into your eardrums with a three chord punk attack. I asked Alex how he’s kept the well-liked band going all these years, about his fascination with horror movies, and where he thinks the Hex Dispensers’ music fits into the big scheme of all things punk.
The Hex Dispensers’ Alex Cuervo was interviewed by Oliver in April, 2014.
Hey Alex, can you give some background information on Hex Dispensers? How did you choose the name and who’s in the band now?
ALEX: Sure. The Hex Dispensers had our first practice on 06/06/06. We could have practiced the week before, but we couldn’t pass on the opportunity to launch the band on that date. Our first (self-titled) LP was released in 2007 on Alien Snatch! Records from Berlin, Germany. The original lineup was myself, Alyse Mervosh, and Tom Micklethwait. We were later joined by Dave Bessenhoffer on bass and that lineup recorded the second LP, Winchester Mystery House, which came out in 2009. Tom and Dave left the band around 2011 and Rebecca Whitley joined soon after. That 3-piece lineup did some singles but started playing less frequently. Tom came back for a short time and played some shows with us, but didn’t play on any more recordings. We were joined late last year by Drew Schmitz on bass and that lineup recently recorded our third LP, titled III.
Mentally, I tend to file the Hex Dispensers into a category of garagey, purist US ’77-sounding punk bands like the Ramones, the Misfits, the Spits, or the Pagans. Do you think this is a fair way to characterize the Hex Dispensers’ sound? What bands have been the chief sonic influences on you all and what would you tell interested listeners you all sound like?
ALEX: I think that’s a fair assessment. I’m happy to be compared to any of those bands. We weren’t really going for a specific style as much as we just set out to do something simple and raw, but catchy. My initial aim was to try and combine the raw, fucked up & blown out energy of the Coachwhips with melodic hooks like the Marked Men. I honestly think it fell a bit short of the mark on both counts, but I’m happy with where we ended up all the same.
I’ve been tempted, but also loathe, to call the Hex Dispensers a “horror punk” band. Tempted because you guys have songs like “Channel 13 is Haunted,” “My Love is a Bat,” you’ve covered the Misfits’ “Hybrid Moments,” and a lot of your songs have horror or film noir or supernatural elements. But I’m also loathe to do that because there are a legion of bands out there, like Cancerslug or Blitzkid or a lot of bands that want to sound like Tiger Army and the Nekromantix – stuff that really wishes it was the Misfits – and you all don’t fit in with those guys, to me, either. What is your band’s relation to that modern “horror punk” scene, if any…?
ALEX: Yeah, I’m not into horror rock as a genre. I mean, I love and prefer dark sounding or dark themed music, but as a genre – I just can’t get into most modern bands that identify themselves as horror rock or horror punk. We get lumped in with it a lot because of the subject matter of the lyrics and the visual themes I’m drawn to – but we don’t really dress the part. Ultimately, people are going to call us whatever they want and I have no control over that, so I try not to worry about it.
On the new record I noticed the guitars seemed to be turned down a bit. The songs are still as fast as they were but it seems like the bass is driving the tempo a lot more than in the past. What were you trying to do on this new LP, sound-wise, that may be different than past efforts?
ALEX: Really? That wasn’t intentional, but I can see what you’re saying – although I view it as a subtle shift more than a deliberate new direction. I think my guitar sound and Rebecca’s blend a little differently than mine and Tom’s did – but I like they way they turned out on this record.
You all took some time off from playing for a while there. What happened with the band and will you all be playing out more regularly now?
ALEX: We’ve been around for so long, I think it’s better to just pop up every now and then. We don’t tour in the States any more, but we go out of town for weekend trips every so often. We’re headed back to Europe for a couple weeks in the fall. I guess we’ll need to do some shows when the record comes out – but I still like to keep it to a minimum. For me – this whole thing has always been about writing songs and recording. The live aspect just isn’t a big deal to me. I enjoy it, but I’m 44 years old and I’ve been doing this for close to 30 years now, so playing live just isn’t as exciting for me as it used to be. I think the rest of the band would be happy to play a little more often than we do, but I get to be the cranky curmudgeon that says “no” all the time.
I mentioned this to you once when we talked, but when I first got into punk it was by way of bands like The Damned, 45 Grave, and the Cramps – hard-charged rock and roll bands where the singers wore spooky makeup and black leather and just looked kind of scary. And that’s what I thought punk was, at first – creepy and menacing people making abrasive rock and roll in garish, monster movie costumes. When I discovered bands like Minor Threat or Negative Approach not too long after, the t-shirt and blue jeans hardcore groups, they seemed relatively conservative. Hex Dispensers remind me of the the former group of punk bands musically – is there still a place for that sort of punk in a scene that can be mainly obsessed with austere, raw, d-beat type crust from Scandinavia and Japan and that sort of thing?
ALEX: Well, I like some of that stuff quite a bit, so I can understand the obsession. As far as where we fit in the grand scheme of that, I guess I don’t really care. It’s a big world and there’s something for every taste out there, further facilitated by the accessibility the internet offers. I do what I do because I enjoy it, not because I want to be popular. But I love that you’re viewing it from a perspective where Negative Approach is conservative. I mean, how fucking cool is that landscape? How lucky are we that there’s such a wide range of musical styles and combinations to explore? And an endless stream of young, energetic and creative people happy to pick up the torches but not be as bogged down with the strict genre guidelines of previous scenes – making all kinds of new combinations. Then, when they get all caught up in their own hangups about what’s cool, and what’s not, they get older and tired and another new batch shows up and shakes the whole thing up again. I love it.
What are your primary literary and/or film inspirations for Hex Dispensers songs? Are you the primary songwriter and lyricist? If not, who is?
ALEX: Yeah, I’m both. I’m a huge science fiction and horror nerd, so all the subject matter comes from that. Sometimes it’s telling a short story like an anthology comic book or TV show, and sometimes it’s a more metaphoric cloak around something more personal. Early on, I approached each song like an episode of a TV show like the Twilight Zone, but that’s evolved over time.
When and on what label will the new LP be coming out?
ALEX: The new LP is coming out on June 6, 2015 on Alien Snatch! Records. We’ll have copies for sale on our Bandcamp page soon after: http://thehexdispensers.bandcamp.com
Also, care to let folks in on your electronic horror movie soundtrack side project? I remember really liking what I heard when I first heard it a year ago.
ALEX: Thanks! My instrumental horrorwave project is called Espectrostatic. There’s a couple LPs out on Trouble in Mind Records, and some digital-only EPS available on the Bandcamp page (http://espectrostatic.bandcamp.com). It’s been a really rewarding project, as my aspiration for many years has been to score horror and science fiction films (which it’s given me the opportunity to do). I recently signed on to score a remake of Umerto Lenzi’s Nightmare City directed by Tom Savini, which I’m really excited to be on board for.
Anything else you’d like to add that I forgot to ask? Here is the place to do it! Thank you!
ALEX: Thanks Oliver. I realize that some might consider our sound to be too tame by CVLT Nation standards, but I’m a huge fan of the site – I’ve been turned on to so many great bands reading it, so it’s really an honor. And I thank you very much for all the support and encouragement you’ve shown us.
The Hex Dispensers III LP will be out on Alien Snatch! Records on June 6th, 2015: http://www.aliensnatch.de/