The Black Halos… All Punk Must Rock and All Rock Must Punk
Written by Alison “MetalBabe” Cohen for The Best Unsigned
Rock and Roll Bands in America
Vancouver based punk rock band The Black Halos have released four CDs to date and are in the process of recording a fifth release. Even though they had all their gear stolen in 2008, (merch, signature guitars and all) they are still kicking a** and taking down names. The Black Halos are definitely a band worth checking out!
ALISON “METALBABE” COHEN: Congratulations on being chosen as one of the Featured Bands on Best Unsigned Rock and Roll Bands in America, even though you are based out of Vancouver! Let’s start off by talking about the name… The Black Halos. How did you come up with it and what does it mean to you?
BILLY HOPELESS: Well, when we started we were called The Black Market Babies, and the singer from an old D.C. punk band called Black Market Baby respectfully asked us to change our name. After that, we were playing Sub Pop party and this girl in Seattle dropped the name Black Halos on us. She said it was because of the eyeliner looking like black halos around our eyes.
METAL BABE: Oh wow. That’s cool. As far as I can tell, you and Rich Jones formed The Black Halos in 1993. The band broke up in 2008 when your equipment got stolen, (I’m so sorry about that!) and then you reformed in 2016 with two new members. Is that correct?
BILLY: Yeah… Me and rich originally started the whole mess in the very early nineties. We went through a long list of lineup changes until solidifying the lineup for the first two albums. We put out many singles, and were nonstop touring like hell. We then split up and Jay Millette, Robbie Z, and I were convinced to reform. During this time the band recorded two more albums, went through a few more lineup changes and then once again toured like hell until our gear got stolen and we split again. Years later, in 2015, I was recording a solo song called “Gutterball” (available on Little T & A Records) and when I was gathering a list of all-stars to play on it, Rich jumped in on guitar, thus relighting the new wick to an old flame and kaboom! Next thing ya know, we’ve written/recorded two new songs (available for a measly three dollars on Band Camp) and went out to tour Spain, London, and Portugal. The Black From the Grave Tour fire-gathered many great animal rock and roll savages to continue to hold their torches high and so we’ve decided to start working on writing and recording a full-length albums.
METAL BABE: That’s a crazy story. Glad it has a happy ending! What happened with your equipment getting stolen (in 2008)? Did they ever catch who took it, or did you get it back?
BILLY: Nope. It was in Montreal, Canada and I don’t like to even think of that day. It truly sucked. Our whole trailer and van were taken from a parking lot we were told was safe. What sucks even more is that Iggy and a band called Comeback Kid had the same shit happen right after us. The gear/ merch/etc. were never found and two of the guitars were signature, one-of-a-kind guitars, so they wouldn’t be hard to spot. Gear thievery is so low, like stealing a pet… It’s just truly uncool.
METAL BABE: I’m so sorry that happened. You would think at least the guitars would have turned up at some point. So, who is currently in the band and how did you come together?
BILLY: The whole thing was a random act of brilliant stupidity with no planning sessions. Rich grabbed family member C.C Voltage and some other boys from Berlin, recorded the songs, and sent them to me. I then went into House of Payne Studios here in Vancouver and recorded the vocals. The Internet is an incredible tool for recording long distance love affairs. As for touring, I figured since we were heading for Spain, why not play with some of our Spaniard rock mafia Bretheren. So we had Star Mafia Boy, Sue Gere, and El Beasto as our basque street boys. I’d really like to see Jay Halo come back to the fold, but who knows who will pop in and out. We got allies all over the world.
METAL BABE: Wow… I love The Black Halos sound! How would you describe your music to someone who isn’t familiar with the band?
BILLY: We’ve been called many things but I’d say well-crafted punk rock and roll. That still has a sharp raw edge. It’s kinda like proof that you can polish a turd if it’s hard enough, but it still reeks of the asshole who created it.
METAL BABE: Interesting explanation. (LAUGHS) How does it feel to be compared to bands like Dead Boys, New York Dolls, and Sex Pistols?
BILLY: Honor thy parents right, I think we have our own distinct traits, but your bloodline will always show through and we got a long bloodline full of many veins. Its like if someone said to you, Alison you’re as attractive as Bailey Quarters on WKRP ya know, ya gotta take a compliment with pleasure.
METAL BABE: Totally! (LAUGHS) What’s the music scene like in Vancouver?
BILLY: It’s the same as it’s been for ages, as is the rest of the world. You get a loot of mediocre at best bands that either don’t care enough about quality or just don’t have it, and they all think anything they do is brilliant. They say it all doesn’t matter because they’re playing just for fun and they don’t care what people think because their friends who they play in other bands with think they’re great.
Fortunately there’s always a few who rise up from the mediocrity and shine, such as The Jolts, Bishop Green, and the dearly missed Rebel Spell. I also blame the amount of live venues for the lack of quality control as it used to be that there was one cool place for rock and roll and you had to be good to get a gig there. But, my fave venue right now is the Smiling Buddha, which used to be the birthplace of Vancouver’s punk scene, and has been re-opened by two killer guys as an indoor skate ramp, art gallery, and venue.
METAL BABE: Oh wow. That sounds very cool! As far as I can tell, you’ve toured through Spain, London, the U.S…. Can you tell me more about where you’ve toured and how playing in Europe compares to the U.S.?
BILLY: Through the years we’ve toured extensively through Europe, the U.S., and Canada. In the U.S. we’d always joke about the lack of drink tickets and hospitality. You know, here’s your two tickets to paradise right. In Europe, it’s like here’s the meal before the meal, here’s your nice hotel, here’s your friends Jack and Jim. It’s way more civilized over there and they respect artists like us. London was sold out in advance on a Monday night, and Spain. Spreads and full-page ads in the biggest rock magazines, people recognizing us in bars and keeping us there far too early into the morning, fans at shows realizing we’re not egotistical, unreachable stars, but true lovers of rock and roll and a good time. I went into this cool store called Chopper Monster in Madrid and was stoked on being able to buy buttons like Screaming Jay Hawkins, Bo Diddley, The Standells, etc. When I saw they had Black Halos buttons, of course I had to buy one (They were sold out of shirts). There was a time in the U.S. when some places on Hollywood Boulevard and a few others carried Halos merch and even when bootlegged I always though it was real cool. Anyhoo, I’m just really stoked that our music has held a place in the hearts of cults worldwide, especially in this disposable age where short attention spans are just… Um what were we talking about … You still with me?
METAL BABE: (LAUGHS) That’s funny. Way cool that you saw your stuff in Spain, and here in Hollywood. So, what have you released to date, in regards to albums, singles, and videos?
BILLY: To date… Man, my dance card’s always full, but I’m open to advances. I put out like the Energizer Bunny. Let’s see, four full-lengths, a ton of seven inches, four videos, a bunch of compilation tracks, songs on Xbox games and TV shows, lots of appearances (TV, radio) and interviews in all kinds of rags, including Playboy and Metal’s Edge. I personally also do stints on TV and movie acting, and was honored by getting to narrate an amazing documentary on Vancouver’s original punk scene called Bloodied But Unbowed. And, I have a recipe published in a cool punk rock cookbook full of some legendary names called Chaos in the Kitchen. There’s been so much. I’m so grateful and I want more, so I’m beginning to record demos of some of my songs for the new Halos album as well as another solo track with Adam Payne’s garage band the Bad Beats as my backup band.
Also, Rich has put released music with The Loyalties, The Yo-Yos, DangerCans, and currently is putting out some of the best flash-boy rock n’ roll out there with the Michael Monroe Band.
METAL BABE: Wow. That’s a lot! Awesome on Rich and Michael Monroe too! Tell me about your two recent songs, “Fossil Fuel” and “Geisterbahn II.”
BILLY: “Fossil Fuel” was first, it’s about the state of rock and roll. The dinosaurs are heading to the tar pits and it sucks as I’ve always loved dinosaurs. Well we’re drinking it down and lighting ourselves on fire in their honor.
“Geisterbahn II” is named after an amusement park dark ride from my childhood that featured airbrushed paintings of the aurora monster model kits box art. It’s truly one of the greatest songs I’ve ever been part of writing. Lyrically, it’s kinda about where I’m at and was feeling about me and Rich as brothers and songwriting partners reuniting. Watching the dinosaurs leave and the stars burning out makes you know who your greatest allies are. Especially when your gods are dying and surrounded by worshippers of false profits.
METAL BABE: What final words would you like to say to your fans?
BILLY: Hearts and aces! We’re still F.F.T.S (Full-tilt F*ckin’ Twisted Sister) and it means so much to know we weren’t deleted from your retro world! Hope you dig the new stuff, and as our Spanish brother and ally Kike Turmix used to say, “all punk must rock and all rock must punk.”