Relative newcomers, Hellbirds, out of Brooklyn, NY, released their debut album 12 Songs On Film two weeks ago after earlier this year we put them on our list of 20 Debut Albums to Look Forward to in 2017. The three piece band is rock ‘n’ roll at it’s core, but on their debut, the band proved to be unique in multiple ways.
12 Songs On Film is exactly what it sounds like. The band’s main format for release that they have been pushing is the unique release as a visual album on YouTube. Hellbirds recorded all of the takes against a green screen and then combined everything together to reveal the studio process in one visual presentation. Through the visual album, you see each member taking on different instruments and parts on each song making it appear that the band is way bigger than the three piece they are. Sometimes you will see the members wearing the same clothes, other times new uniforms are revealed, while you will also notice the drums are changing colors throughout and appearances from multiple types of gear. It’s a fascinating look at how the three piece band comes alive in the studio and created their songs.
The album itself seems like a perfect summer album offering upbeat, rhythmic songs that get it’s listeners dancing and moving. The album feels like a throw back to the good ole times of rock ‘n’ roll, yet it never completely lives in the eras gone by, instead feeling sensational and new to 2017. On 12 Songs On Film, Hellbirds blend a mix of styles with everything from 50’s doo-wop, to Surf Rock, Psychedelic Rock, and even some 90’s-alt rock. Hellbirds are rock ‘n’ roll; it’s the sweltering guitar riffs throughout that never lose sight of that.
The guitar riffs are crunchy and filthy at times; they sing from the walls of the rooms as the speakers blast them. But what makes Hellbirds unique where a lot of bands fail – they are able to keep their pop sensibility throughout. The pop is a compliment to the rock. Neither one overpowers the other. Frontman Jasno Swarez’s lyrics and vocals are never lost in the shuffle, living front and center in the songs, all while the other band members continue to standout throughout. Hellbirds bring the cool of underground Brooklyn and the sunny vibes of LA.
The band was nice enough to meet up with us in Brooklyn last week to speak about an album that’s had a major influence on all three members, Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland. Check out what they had to say on the impact of Jimi Hendrix, photos by Bryce Center:
It is so strange to think about the relationship I’ve had with Jimi, in my teens and now. It feels to me like we are good friends, like I can talk to him in my head but the fact is he never knew me and never could have even known that I would exist. My mom once told me that there comes a point in knowing someone that you will have said all that you will say to each other, and when they die you can still have those conversations with them as if they are still alive in your mind. When I was young he touched my mind and lit me on fire, he ripped opened my soul with his fingers.
Now that I have toured, played hundreds of shows, and made a handful of studio albums with different bands, I have walked in his footsteps to some degree. Living the life of a musician, especially surviving and truly living in New York, which is difficult to say the least, I have had many moments where I’ve thought about Kurt Cobain or Lou Reed’s historical reactions backstage and in everyday life. Those experiences have changed my relationship to those artists. In some cases I’ve stopped listening to them, but unlike The Beatles or The Ramones, my relationship with Jimi hasn’t changed now that I have similar life experience. The only other person I feel the same way about is David Bowie, both of their songwriting and lyrics. Something about the emotional truth that came from Jimi’s mind through his fingers, into the desk and out of my headphones as a child revealed the walls of the universe; and made me realize that we are all one. Everyone thinks he or she is somehow not normal or is different from everyone else, an outsider, but the truth is we are all having the exact same experience of living and Jimi opened my eyes to that fact with his self expression from the very first note I heard.
I got it all in the first notes of the national anthem, and within weeks of hearing that performance on The Ultimate Experience I went to Tower Records and discovered Electric Ladyland, which changed me forever. I am here today because of that album. I retreated into headphones for the greater part of my early teens, living with the strokes of his fingers deep inside the solo of “1983…( A Merman I Should Be)”. “And you’ll never hear surf music again.” There was a point when I was seventeen that I could sit and listen to Electric Ladyland all the way through without having the album to put on. I just knew every moment all the way through. One summer when I was fifteen I went away to camp and somehow forgot my CD case on my bed at home, I called my mom and begged her to overnight it to me and she did. My mother is amazing, she would put up with me blasting my guitar everyday after school in my room for hours on end. I was studying his playing.
If Jimi put everything into his hands, his humor, his perspective on living, his emotional experience, then maybe I have actually known him like a close friend who has died and I can speak to him in my head. I speak with him on stage when I close my eyes and let my own fingers take over the fret board. Today I put on Electric Ladyland and my hands remember his mind through my playing, we are having a conversation across time without words. That to me is the meaning of my playing and possibly the reason why I am so driven to make music. I want to pass on that legacy of living vibrations. I am completely compelled to do so, it is my reason for living and he gave me that purpose with this album. – Jasno Swarez, guitarist
Almost fifty years ago, in 1968, my father listened to a record on his record player and it changed his life forever. Thirty years after this life changing moment took place for my father, I put that same record on, now in the form of a CD, on my Walkman, headphones on, and it changed my life forever. I was only about two years younger than my father in our respective discoveries. I think about this often. My father and I sharing a hauntingly similar experience to a piece of art, thirty years apart.
Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix highlights his in-studio perfectionism, far different from his live performances where he was a fucking extraterrestrial to the audience, a flamboyant mercenary of passion, a tsunami of sound. That juxtaposition, the in-studio introspective perfectionist versus the on-stage voracious extrovert, catapulted me to an unknown territory I most likely would have never explored on my own, simply because I was unaware such an area existed.
Who knows? Maybe in ten to twenty years or so I’ll be a father and my child will be so moved by Electric Ladyland it will guide their hand on the helm, the way it did mine, the way it did my father before me. What listening platform of the future will that be on? I don’t know. Time will tell.
What I do know? Electric Ladyland is a masterpiece, and masterpieces far outlive our lifetimes. Thankfully. – Neko Soto, Hellbirds/bassist
Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland is one of the best rock and roll records of all time. Growing up in the Northwest, Jimmy is regarded as a hometown god, but to everyone else, he is a rock and roll legend. Listening to Electric Ladyland will take you back to an era, sound and a feel that today is basically impossible to emulate even by the best of musicians/microphones and instruments. I have so much respect for Jimi Hendrix and all of his recordings. This album in my opinion, is his best. He was in great company with Mitch and Noel. Both of them are flat out amazing on their instruments. In my opinion, Mitch is one of the best drummers of all time and him playing with Jimi is pure gold. This album will be introduced to my children as early as possible. I can only hope they appreciate it as I do. – Abdon Valdez – Hellbirds/drummer
Listen to Hellbirds’ 12 Songs On Film via their Bandcamp and find them on the interwebs below: