Taking a stand 

Black Halos’ Billy Hopeless doesn’t back down from a challenge

WHO: The Black Halos

WHERE: The Boot Pub

WHEN: Sunday, Aug. 19

Blood, sweat and piss. It’s the commitment The Black Halos bring to their music and their audience each time they step on stage.

The Halos are a return to the spirit and the danger of everything ’70s – and just a little more. Their growling sound and glam-black image has inevitably earned them comparisons to the New York Dolls in just about every review. But make no mistake, while the Halos admittedly admire the energy of their predecessors, they’re quickly gaining a reputation that could make the Dolls look like Big Apple cutie pies.

"It’s a nice comparison, but I don’t necessarily think we’re like the Dolls," says Halos frontman, Billy Hopeless. "The Dolls were so way ahead of everything, so original. They were encompassing everything that was good about rock and roll. They were taking things from the ’50’s and ’60’s, girl groups and doo-wop. Stuff that has been missing from rock and roll in a lot of ways – the fun aspect of rock and roll and the sexuality of rock and roll, the real sort of teenage kid feeling."

Interesting that a band typically classified as "punk" insists that it is "rock" that appeals to listeners.

"There’s a set of older people that really like us and young people that really like us, and then there’s the crowd that when they first see us on stage go ‘What the hell?’ And then they’ll hear us and say ‘My god, that’s rock and roll!’"

Hopeless draws inspiration from as far back as the birth of it all and The Pelvis himself, Mr. Elvis Presley. The King was the first notable sex symbol of the music world, an image that at the time was indeed dangerous.

"Was there anything sexier than Elvis in his black leathers? You could ask my mother and she would say ‘No, there isn’t’," adds Hopeless. "Back then they used to write songs about things people could understand. No one was trying to be deep and spiritual. It was basically boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy dies in car crash."

But the time warp and musical cross over doesn’t stop there. Hopeless really counts himself as a blues man, with emphasis on his lyrics. If you take a good look at the Halos’ songs, they really are an evolution of the traditional, "my baby left me, life is so sad and now I’m crying in my beer." Take 50 Bourbon St., for example, from their latest CD The Violent Years : "If there’s a Lover’s Graveyard, I’m sure she’s digging me a grave. I’m sure my marker will read ‘World’s Biggest Sucker for a Pretty Face’… Now I’m loving the bottle. I’m trying to kill the pain."

No hidden meaning there. Just blood, sweat and piss.

Those three nouns become verbs on stage – literally. The band’s fuelled up and slightly over-the-top shows have resulted in several trips to the emergency room, the injuries incurred of course with great sportsmanship. A Halos show really can be a bit of a blood sport and Hopeless persists in always coming out on top. He loves to recall a particular gig in which he and a friend were playing a little tete a tete called "Gonna Fuck You Up." As the name implies, the goal is to take your opponent by surprise using repulsive tactics, trying to induce even more hideous results. There are no rules. The story goes that on this particular night, the beer was flowing in great quantities, and no one is quite sure how or why, but Hopeless proceeded to deliver some of his performance face down on the floor.

"All I really remember is feeling this wetness on me, looking up and seeing my friend with an evil grin on his face, urinating on me. My first thought is ‘OK, I could stand up and spin kick him,’ but then he would win. So instead I just let myself go back into irrational thoughts and just rolled around in it and went up and hugged him."

Is that the end of it? Oh, no. Hopeless had to be unanimously declared the victor.

"The next day he was eating breakfast and we just happened to pull up to get gas next to where he was eating. So I gave him a Dirty Sanchez… I don’t know if I can explain this in print… OK, it’s when you smear feces under someone’s nose and make a little moustache. So I did that, but I rammed my finger right up his nose, which caused him to vomit. I ran out of the restaurant yelling, ‘I won, I won!’"

As simply disgusting as it is, the moral of the story, that sheer determination, is what has also earned Hopeless the title of "principled" by his peers.

"A while ago I was being screwed over by someone in the industry, and when I called them on it, they tried to keep me quiet by promising things in return," recalls Vancouver musician, Siobhan Duvall. "And I thought, ‘What would Billy Hopeless do?’ I put his CD cover beside my computer and wrote a letter that basically said ‘fuck you!’ Billy doesn’t back down or do things he doesn’t believe in."

"I learned that from the punk scene in Vancouver, especially Joey (of DOA). If you don’t respect yourself, you have nothing," says Hopeless. "There have been some shows where we’ve had the chance to play in front of really big crowds, but I haven’t really liked the other bands we were playing with. I just didn’t like the show. I talked to a lot of people about it, including Joey, and they said, ‘You’ll get to expose yourself to a whole other world, and whether they like you or hate you, be yourself. At least you went and stood there.’ To play in front of the already-converted is one thing, but to face the unknown, to stand up and face your worst nightmare, that’s the punkest thing you could ever do."

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