Thursday, June 28, 2018

LES HERNANDEZ


LES HERNANDEZ

How did you develop a love for music, and what was your first exposure to rock music? When did you reach a point where you wanted to play and write songs, and how did this come about? Were your early attempts private or shared with others, and did you receive encouragement from friends/family?

Music, rock and roll in particular, has always been a part of me. I was always surrounded by it and always glued to the oldies channel on my transistor radio when I was a kid, listening to classics from the 1950s and '60s. It's the type of music I was drawn to the most back then in the 1970s, until I caught the Ramones on Sha Na Na's TV show.
My dad managed a (then) contemporary rock/funk/soul band who rehearsed in our dining room when I was really young, and I'd sit in an watch them in awe, feeling the bass drum thump through my chest. I guess I always knew I wanted to do that--play music--so it was never a conscious decision. I wanted to grow up and be just like Buddy Holly, with becoming a priest running right behind that, based solely on the cool looking fascist-chic duds those guys wore. Of course, the priest idea was dropped in the fourth grade when I decided to read their bible and didn't like what was in there. That's when I started actually trying to teach myself chords, though I actually started taking guitar seriously later, at around thirteen.

I learned your basic open chords first, just from watching my dad play his acoustic and trying to replicate it later by myself. I taught myself simple tunes like La Bamba and Twist & Shout, writing my first song almost immediately. It was, of course, about a girl I had a crush on at the time. I won't even pretend it was good in any way, but it was a start. My friends and family encouraged me early on, until I was fifteen or sixteen and my mom found some very anti-Christian lyrics I had written. By that point I'd already been into metal and punk for a few years, but still loved my oldies music.

Was The Catalogs your first band? Were you doing any songwriting or recording prior to The Catalogs? How did you get together with those guys, and what were your goals? Which bands influenced the sound the most, and how did you end up connecting with Timbo's Mutant Pop Records?

My first band was actually a band I joined that a few friends started, called Trill. I was on rhythm guitar, playing a beast of a guitar my friends and I called my Bumper guitar, because it wasn't quite a Fender, but it had Gibson pickups and was cobbled together with a Fender neck and homemade body by a friend of my father. That band never made it anywhere the gigging stage, but we did make a whole lot of fun memories. I had a boatload of songs written by this point, but never shared them yet. Hell, I still haven't shared most of those tunes with anyone to this very day.

The Catalogs came about in either late 1993 or early '94. Some friends and I who were all heavily into bands like the Ramones, Screeching Weasel, The Queers, MTX, etc., were bullshitting over beers, as we loved to frequently pass the time doing, when we started talking about starting a band of our own. Our original singer, Pat, and bassist, Kevin, knew another guitarist and drummer, so I said we should do it--and we did. It came together immediately, and so I just kept pulling out more songs as quickly as we could learn them. We were playing shows in no time, and recorded our first demo, Viva los Muertos!, in mid-late 1995, just before we had a show booked with The Queers. The Queers covering Another Girl is what got Timbo at Mutant Pop interested in us.

The Catalogs didn't release a lot of material, but everything released was very solid. Were their plans to do a full-length? Also, what are your recollections of penning the song you're probably most known for - "Another Girl"? It's truly a timeless one!

Thank you! We did want to do a full-length, for sure! Things happen when everything moves so fast and stuff gets in the way, so we just never got around to it. Not long after we released our demo, our then drummer (who wasn't our original drummer, but whom recorded with us) quit the band to move away. Justin became our main singer a while before that. Another Girl was written about, let's call it bumps in the road, and that particular bump was affecting a friend of mine. I'll leave the rest of that one in the past for now.

Did Joe Queer tell you ahead of time that he was going to cover Another Girl? What did you think when you heard Don't Back Down and his version of it? Have you written songs for other bands before or since? 

The way it happened was, the night we played with The Queers in Honolulu, we had never played Another Girl live before in front of anyone, so it was the last song in our set right before they went on. Joe came up to me after the show and told me how much he liked the song--I was incredibly flattered! He mentioned wanting to cover it and I, of course, said I'd be more than happy for them to. So, Lookout! Records drew up a contract and the rest is history. I played their version on repeat countless times from cassette Joe sent me before the album's actual release. I loved it!

I never purposely tried to write for other bands, though I'm not opposed to the idea of writing material for others. If a band wants to cover something I wrote and are willing to go through the whole legal royalty thing, I'm cool with that!

How has being a resident of Hawaii impacted your goals in terms of touring and exposure as a musician? Is it daunting to try to plan shows on the mainland or elsewhere? Was there a significant pop punk scene in Hawaii at the time The Catalogs were active? How about since?

Living in Hawaii is pretty expensive, so that plus distance makes touring next to impossible. I moved to Washington State in 1997, when The Catalogs were prepping to record our 7" for Mutant Pop, and we played a few shows in the PNW. When I moved to Portland in 2006 and reformed The Quintessentials there, we toured. In Hawaii I prefer to keep shows few and far between because no one wants to see the same band week after week. It should be special and exciting.

The scene here today is very different from back in the mid/late 1990s. Poppunk has changed a lot as well. I can't say I really recognize it anymore. There's already a generation gap too wide to bridge the disconnect. The punk and metal scenes I grew up in are nothing like the ones active today. Needless to say, as much as I want to support the scene, I can't be disingenuous or phony about it.

When did The Quintessentials form and under what circumstances? Were you already interested in/studying Lavey's work and affiliated with The Church of Satan at that point? How did occult study and Satanism in particular become a central part of your life? Did you set out to form the world's first Satanic pop punk band? To me it's one of the aspects that makes The Quintessentials such a unique and interesting band.

Before I moved to Washington to reform and record The Catalogs, I played in another Satanic punk band called Crawling Chaos, which wasn't so poppy. When both bands dissolved and I moved back to Hawaii in 1998, I wanted to continue both, but under one banner, so I formed The Quintessentials. We originally went by The Products, but I found out that name was taken and quickly changed it.

I'd first read Anton LaVey's The Satanic Bible when I was around thirteen, and I had been corresponding with current Church of Satan High Priest, Peter H. Gilmore, since I was eighteen, so I had identified as a Satanist for many years before I officially joined the COS, receiving my membership packet in January of 1997. I had been publishing a Satanic 'zine called BLOODFIRE! and had been contributing to various other Satanic publications. When I first read the LaVey's TSB, it resonated deep with me, and I just knew this was who I was. From that point it wasn't a matter of really trying, but of doing what came naturally, you could say. I suppose that the very fact that I am a Satanist means I view the world through a Satanic filter or lens, and my Satanism spills out from me into everything I create, if that makes sense.

With both Crawling Chaos and The Quintessentials, I wanted to get real Satanic thought out there because I was tired of so many bands faking a Satanic image to sell records, plus the bands that didn't want to try to understand actual Satanism and just made up their own half-assed forms of self-styled devil worship and calling it Satanism, which it wasn't. Most of these bands were metal, but there were (and still are) punk bands trying to pass off Satanism's iconography while lyrically and idealistically they are anything but Satanic. I wanted authenticity, but authenticity that could still be a lot of fun!

What exactly is your role in The Church of Satan? Do you feel that your philosophy/spirituality informs your music and songwriting? I always found it interesting that the music of The Quintessentials is still essentially traditional pop punk in every way - there's no "dark vibes" melodically or anything that would immediately clue the listener in to the bands' Satanic themes before hearing the lyrics. 

Right now I hold the title of Priest in the Church of Satan, which is our third degree of five, and is by invitation only. It's a recognition of my successful application of Satanic principles in my life and my ability to inform others on the topic in an official capacity as a representative of our religion.

As I mentioned earlier, yes, I do feel my Satanism spills into everything I do. It's not so much a conscious effort as much as it's just who I am. It's not like "Satanist" is my sole identity, but it is an integral part for certain. Much like "Guitarist" doesn't solely identify me as a whole, or "Horror Movie Lover" or "Buffy Nerd." So yeah, everything I'm made up of comes through in the music, and I happen to be a very happy guy, so that comes through in my happy sounding music as well.

Getting back to songwriting, what is your typical approach? Do you tend to start with a melodic idea, a title, or something else? How do you catalog your ideas so you don't forget them? Do you tend to write on an acoustic guitar? How quickly are you able to compose new material? Does your inspiration vary, or can you churn songs out more or less at will?

With me, it varies. Sometimes I'll have an entire song in my head and have to record a demo before I forget it. Other times I'll just have an idea for subject matter or a melody and have to start with just that. A couple of songs formed themselves in dreams and I woke up needing to learn them right away. It's as if there's a Jungian collective unconscious that I sometimes tune in with and everything just flows from it into my head. When I try without that muse feeding my brain, it can work, but it takes a lot more effort and doesn't always come out the same or as good.

What are your impressions of the newest Lillingtons record Stella Sapiente? Are you aware that Kody and Tim are knowledgeable practioners? Did the music evoke anything spiritually that you related to form an occult perspective? I felt that the record had a certain atmosphere that certainly complimented the lyrical themes of the occult, rituals, secret societies, etc.

I love the Lillingtons, and I had a brief discussion with Kody that kept getting interrupted when we played with Teenage Bottlerocket our here not too long ago. Bear in mind that when I say "Satanism," I mean a very specific thing, and that thing in defined in The Satanic Bible and is by its very definition, atheistic and non-spiritual. That said, I think they and I are on different paths, but their bands fucking rock!

Can we talk about your guitar playing a bit? Based on the music videos I've seen for The Quintessentials, you play very badass looking instrument. Is that a custom guitar? How did your style of guitar playing develop? Who are some of your favorite guitarists? At any point were you inclined to play all downstrokes and do the Johnny Ramone thing like so many other pop punk bands?

Hehe! Thanks! I'm assuming you're talking about my red Halo Invert. That I got through an endorsement deal many moons ago. It was discontinued due to some legal issue Halo was having at the time, so you can't get 'em anymore. Beautiful instrument. I switched out the pick-ups and put a Diesel '59 Woodshred in the neck position and a Mighty Mite Motherbucker in the bridge position. Great combination for that guitar. I recently lost a volume knob and so I replaced them all with these cool black skull knobs with red gem eyes. I named her Ginger, and my black Epiphone Les Paul is named Brigitte--both after the sisters in one of my favorite werewolf franchises, Ginger Snaps. I also have a black Alvarez acoustic I like to write with at home--named Morticia.

I think playing with predominantly down strokes is a natural byproduct of being really into bands like the Ramones and Misfits and learning as much of their stuff as accurately as possible. It doesn't sound right otherwise. I also like playing full barre chords instead of power chords, for a fuller sound. That's the basics for punk guitar 101 right there, really. Musicianship-wise, my favorite guitarists are Chuck Berry, Randy Rhodes, Ace Frehley, Slash, Doyle, Yngwie Malmsteen, Brian May. Basically Yngwie is the exception to the rule for me because I generally like big fat Gibson-style sound through Marshall amps, blues-influenced rock playing, but he plays a thinner sounding Fender Strat, which usually I don't like at all, but he makes that thing his bitch. I can't stand Led Zeppelin, but I have a deep respect for Jimmy Page's playing. The guitars on the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack are top notch, too!

Recently you had somewhat of a health crisis from what I understand - what happened exactly and what is your current health status? Did the experience provide you with any new perspectives or give you any renewed musical inspiration?

On April 20 of this year I was diagnosed with small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma of the prostate. It's a rare form of cancer that usually shows up as lung cancer, but I got mine in the prostate. As of right now I've gone through three rounds of chemo and am about to start my fourth, followed by surgery to cut it out. I guess you could say that, as much as I've always loved life and doing everything I can to make my dreams come true, I'm even more determined to do so now.

There is no god in the sky that's going to make my life any better. No afterlife waiting for me. If that were true I'm sure such a benevolent deity wouldn't allow such a horrible thing like cancer to exist, so it's definitive proof that by cancer's very existence there can be no such thing as god. So it's up to me to be my own god and steer my life where I want it to go. I'm sure I'll get a few new songs out of it.

What are your future goals as a musician and songwriter? Do you feel satisfied with what you've accomplished so far? Do you feel that The Quintessentials have made enough of an impact despite being a largely local phenomenon? Are there any "bucket list" musical goals that you still hope to meet?

Well, I'm currently on the final edit and mixing phase of our sixth album and already have ideas for our seventh, so no signs of stopping any time soon. I'd like to tour again. In time. I really love being in the studio and making albums--everything about the process; from an intangible brain construct to audible sound to coming up with artwork and then a physical thing you can hold and smell and put in a CD player to listen to. I just love the entire process. I just want to be able to keep doing it. Folks seem to enjoy it, so hopefully I can keep making stuff they like.

Who are your all-time favorite songwriters? Do you still follow the pop punk scene at all? Are there any current or new pop punk bands that you're interested in? What other styles of music do you enjoy listening to/playing?

This takes me back to my love for the music from the 1950s and '60s. Lennon/McCartney were among my favorites as a songwriting duo. Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers, whomever was writing for all the '60s girl pop groups, Elton John back in the 1970s. Meatloaf. The entire 1970s powerpop movement. Neil Diamond.
I haven't really gotten into new music for quite sometime. There's an old-school sounding black metal band called Chapel that I recently got into that I really like--they remind me of old Venom. I like Flamingo Nosebleed and am excited to see what Hideous Monster is doing--both Portland bands. When I'm not listening to all of that type of stuff I like listening to classical music--symphonies in particular, though I'm nowhere near as knowledgeable on the topic as I'd like to be. Classical music has as deep a grit to it as any type of rock. It can drag you into the gutter and lift you to the clouds.

Do you feel that Satanism is connected to the style of music you play in any significant way? Do you think that Satanic themes or inspiration are a natural occurrence for artists and musicians? How do you define "evil" and what's your advice for living a fulfilling life spiritually and musically?

There's Satanically themed music--regardless of genre--and there's Satanic music, which is music that is larger than life in that it will move you whether you like it or not. You'll feel it to the core. Satanic music is timeless music. What I write is, generally speaking, Satanically themed and not specifically bombastic, so I won't fool myself into the pretense of creating the latter when I recognize it more as the former. That said, I do think that rock and roll in general has an inherent Satanic streak in that its very nature is rebellious and raw, lustful and angry. It isn't afraid to cover the entire spectrum of deep human emotion. That's the difference between genuine music and the plastic garbage on top 40 radio. Rock and roll comes from the blues, and the blues has always been associated with the devil, but rock and roll also has a classical influence, and Vivaldi and Paganini both have their infamous Faustian myths just like Robert Johnson. Humans have a way of labeling the parts of themselves they can't accept as "evil" and so they hide it away and pretend it doesn't exist, but rock and roll brings those parts alive.

I do think it's easier for artists to delve into darker themes because they have to reach deeper into themselves to come up with original subject matter, and that can be a dangerous undertaking for some people. Not everyone likes what they find inside. I'm lucky enough to be someone who really likes what I see inside myself.

I personally have two definitions of "evil." One is a pragmatic definition that basically means "evil" is what is bad for me or what gets in the way of my well-being, comfort, or happiness. It isn't a tangible thing, nor is it a living entity. It's a cockblock in the way of enjoying life. The other definition is the tendency toward doing malice, which isn't entirely solely a human characteristic, as we see it in many mammalian species, and it seems to be more apparent in groups. A good example of this is in Howard Bloom's The Lucifer Principle and displayed in the Derren Brown special The Experiments: Remote Control. Needless to say, I don't condone folks going out and being an asshole for the sake of "evil." That has nothing to do with living Satanically.

My best advice? For music: practice! For life: squeeze every last drop of joy you can from life while you have it. Drink that shit up while you can. Make the most of your life in the here and now and live as the god of your own subjective universe--and without being a dick just for the sake of being a dick. Then all of the things you're passionate about will begin to bear fruit and others will remember you after you die, fondly.

1 comment:

  1. I wish les can come to Portland,oregon, to play, I love les's music, thank you, les, waiting for new music, from you, thank you, les, H.S. \\m//.

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