By Avinash Mittur
If you’ve kept up at all with music from the Bay Area, you’d know that the place has a habit of producing some of the weirdest and most unique bands you’ll ever hear. From the psychedelic rock of the ‘60s to the pioneering thrash of the ‘80s to the amalgam of rad heavy rock and metal bands of today, the Bay Area has always offered something fresh to the table. One Bay Area band that is doing just that is Hazzard’s Cure, a self-proclaimed epic blackened stoner thrash act. It’s an apt description for a band that incorporates everything from shredded shrieks to burly bong-ripped riffs. They released their self-titled debut two years back, and have completed a new EP entitled The Ugly. It’s a special release for Bay Area metal fans, because it accurately encapsulates how diverse and eclectic influences can come together to create a cohesive and downright rad musical statement.
By the band’s own account, the self-titled Hazzard’s Cure was a success both sonically and creatively, albeit one that took more time to achieve than they may have liked. It was recorded and mixed by Greg Wilkinson at Earhammer Studio in Oakland. Guitarist and vocalist Chris Corona reserves words of praise for Wilkinson, who went the extra mile to ensure a quality release. “I think the first album came out great and I’m really grateful that Greg Wilkinson was into recording it,” Corona says. “[Wilkinson] even offered us a complementary re-mixing of it to suit his standards, which turned out to be excellent.” Drummer Clint Baechle offers insight into some of the issues with the first record however. “The biggest problem [with the self-titled album], like many albums that I’ve been involved with, is that we couldn’t finish recording it during the original three or four day session and we couldn’t afford to book more dates immediately, because of course we were self-financing it. So the process of recording guitars and vocals was drawn out over many months. When you drag the recording of an album out over time like that, you don’t actually capture the mood of what the band was doing at a specific time and place.”
Looking from primarily a financial perspective, the band sought to spend a shorter amount of time on tracking for their next release. They would book only a single summer weekend with Justin Weis at Trakworx Studio in South San Francisco to track the new effort; this time, the pressure was on to knock out the songs in time. Bassist Shane Bergman cites the band’s budgetary constraints as the reason for the tight schedule. “We were paying for the recording off of what we had made off the first record and shows,” Bergman explains. “We were (and still are) dirt poor when we did the first record, so it took forever for us to get the whole thing recorded and we all agreed to never do that again.” Baechle elaborates further- “It was a financial necessity. We could only afford two days of recording. Whatever effect recording it in two days had on the music is a direct result of our poverty.” There were silver linings though. “It was incredibly satisfying to have our project completed from start to finish in such a short amount of time,” Baechle admits, while Bergman states that musical cohesiveness and raw energy were further incentives for the short sessions. “We focused on recording these three songs together because they all feel similar to us in their overall feel and sound… we did want to capture a more live feeling for the record. Our goal with the EP was to make a record that kicks your ass for seventeen minutes and I think we got it.”
The sessions would see Hazzard’s Cure knocking the three songs out with few overdubs and punches. Perhaps as a result of the time pressure, the band would consume alarmingly large quantities of coffee that weekend as well. Guitarist Corona takes lead vocals on two of the three tunes: the short and snappy ‘Terminal Frost’ and the title track to the EP, ‘The Ugly.’
‘Terminal Frost’—the leadoff track on The Ugly—is driven by Baechle’s frantic blastbeats, while Corona and guitarist Leo Buckley’s descending riffs act as sonic glue for the song. Corona penned the track and attempted to relay a frost-bitten feeling both lyrically and musically. “’Terminal Frost’ started with just two minor chords, our tuning’s equivalent of G minor and E-flat minor. The combination sounded cold, like fucking frozen arctic shit,” Corona says. “I had been reading about all these absurd tragic mountain climbing expeditions where all these rich inexperienced ‘hobby climbers’ are paying sherpas to get them to the top of Mt. Everest. They were stepping over frozen dead bodies on narrow paths littered with discarded oxygen tanks near ice caves where fatigued climbers stopped to rest and froze to death because everyone else was too dead set on their goal of reaching the summit. It’s all just a perfect metaphor for climbing the corporate ladder and where our selfishness, competitive culture and society are leading humanity. It’s interesting how people describe it- every second you’re in that environment at the top, you’re slowly dying. There’s so little oxygen that the blood starts to thicken. People lose their fucking minds and do crazy shit. There are dead climbers that have been perfectly preserved up there for decades. They’re still there today.”
The title track to The Ugly is a collaborative effort from the band- Corona offers an informative, yet imaginative description of the track. “I came up with the main riffs pretty randomly. Leo had this ethereal sounding part that fit really well in the middle of the song and gave us a chance to take a musical departure, but left us kinda stuck in no man’s land completely fucked up and wasted off our asses with no way back. We had to crawl on our hands and knees through the desert in the brutal sun for miles with very little water and terrible cottonmouth. By the end we were near death, badly sunburned and covered in blisters but some how we made it. It sucked!” Buckley breaks it down for the listener rather simply- “Chris wrote the beginning and end, I wrote the middle, Shane wrote the bridge between the two heavy parts at the end and Clint writes his own parts,” Buckley explains. Corona also reveals the cinematic inspiration behind the music itself. “I was kinda obsessed with the concept of mixing the feel of an epic spaghetti western with the stylings of black metal thrash. Just add ‘The Good, The Bad,’ and you got it.”
The final track on the EP is one that is sure to turn heads, especially for ardent followers of the Bay Area’s metal community. Making a special appearance with Hazzard’s Cure is Laurie Sue Shanaman- the former vocalist for one of the Bay Area’s all-time greatest heavy exports, Ludicra. Shanaman tackles lead vocals on ‘A Body Amorphous’ and assists Corona with harmonies on ‘Terminal Frost.’ The members of Hazzard’s Cure, like a great deal of metal fans in the Bay Area, had long been admirers of Ludicra and Shanaman’s mesmerizing stage presence. Buckley implicitly tells us just how tight-knit metalheads have been in the bay- from the perspective he shows here, the line between a fan and a close friend is a rather blurry one. “We all knew Laurie when we first started playing music in the Bay Area because we were all Ludicra fans,” Buckley states. “It wasn’t a stretch to ask her if she would be interested in doing vocals for a song that was stylistically similar to Ludicra seeing that she hasn’t done anything since then. There will be a really good chance that she will do more songs here and there.”
Corona, who wrote the music for ‘A Body Amorphous,’ reveals that he had to swallow his pride and hand the vocals off to Shanaman for the sake of the song. “I had actually written lyrics and attempted to do the vocals for that track. I soon discovered how difficult it was to play that song and do vocals at the same time. It was like running from a tsunami and jumping hurdles while juggling chainsaws and being shot at. I asked Leo if he thought Laurie Sue would be into trying some vocals on that song so we made a demo of it for her and she said she wanted to work out her own lyrics.” Shanaman’s performance in the studio would prove to be one of her fieriest on record, despite suffering from some congestion on the day she came in. Though she is sweet and mild-mannered from day to day, Shanaman unleashes one of the most terrifying and visceral howls one may ever hear when her lips are put near a microphone. After nailing a flawless take for ‘A Body Amorphous,’ the gentle Laurie Sue that everyone knows returns and shyly asks, “Was that okay guys?” Jaws are on the control room floor as the members of Hazzard’s Cure witness Shanaman make this incredible transformation. “We were floored,” Corona says. “What she did with that song was fucking perfect. It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.”
Perhaps even more than a great many Ludicra tracks, ‘A Body Amorphous’ truly shows off Shanaman’s intense and dynamic live presence. The vocalist appears to agree with the idea. “I always attempt to give my absolute all when recording because I want to capture the live energy as much as humanly possible. I don’t want it to sound sterile and lacking in emotion,” Shanaman says. “This recording with Hazzard’s Cure was easier but only because it was just one song and a few harmonies added on another. The whole process gave me much more confidence than I allowed myself while in Ludicra. The Hazzard’s Cure guys were all really supportive and thrilled to have me, so I am quite grateful for them.” Fans of Shanaman that have missed her voice in the three years since Ludicra disbanded will be delighted to know that she is anything but finished with music. “I am now forty-four years old, but I realize from doing this song with Hazzard’s Cure that I am definitely not done with performing and doing vocals. Prevail! Quitting cigarettes finally after being a heavy smoker for over twenty-five years has been a huge factor as well… I miss Ludicra so much, so any opportunity to scream again makes me incredibly happy,” Shanaman admits.
With musical fingerprints tracing back to the likes of Destruction, Celtic Frost and High on Fire, some may wonder if people are willing to give Hazzard’s Cure and The Ugly a shot. Baechle, despite taking a more humble stance when it comes to his own band, harbors some resentment toward bands that fail to break the mold and the machine that encourages the act. “I don’t think we’re very musically diverse, unless you want to nitpick metal sub-genres,” Baechle says. “But some people, some critics, never the less seem to think that we’re mixing up too much different stuff, which I believe is actually a symptom of the sad state of the music industry and music press at this time.” Baechle ultimately sums it up as such: “You don’t break any new ground by recycling old stuff note for note, you have to combine a few different old things to make something new.”
Good thing the members of Hazzard’s Cure reside in a part of the world filled to the brim with bands and musicians that attempt to try something new. A small network of cool bands can even be mapped out from Hazzard’s Cure alone. Every member has at least one other project operating simultaneously but the other acts remain distinct musical entities according to Buckley, who also plays guitar in the sludge/doom/crust band Badr Vogu. “Clint, me and my bandmate in Badr Vogu, Bryce Shelton, were all in the same band when we started playing music in the Bay Area, and we all knew Chris and Shane from their other bands which we really liked, so there will always be that common thread musically for us, and so those styles will have a tendency to pop up in whatever we do just because each one of us have our own styles of playing.” Playing in multiple bands seems to be the norm for a scene made up of some of the most talented, creative and downright weird musicians America has to offer. “What’s special about the Bay Area music scene is that there’s so many great musicians here, so whenever a band decides to call it quits there’s always another band that will be formed that will be awesome,” Buckley says. “Not to mention, there’s a great mix of well-known bands that are here and underground bands popping up on any given weekend that there’s almost always a good show with amazing bands to check out and be inspired by.”
“There are so many diverse musical styles and scenes that cross over [in the Bay Area],” Corona explains. However, apathetic crowds (or perhaps a lack thereof entirely) remain a sore point. “The only thing missing is the sound of enthusiastic clapping and cheering when a song ends. No one wants to be that guy,” he jokes. It’s a problem that is perhaps more easily explained than one may think. The musicians that comprise the Bay Area’s heavy metal community are frequently in their thirties and forties, and have lived in the area since the time when rent in San Francisco and Oakland was reasonable. Unfortunately for them however, young metal fans that would normally pack shows can’t afford to live in an area that is increasingly being taken over by high-tech. Sadly, it isn’t an industry ripe with raging metal maniacs. Gentrification hasn’t stopped the bay’s best from producing great music however, even if it has cut off the supply of rabid fans to shows. “I think the Bay Area is still a special place with a large pool of talent to draw from, but it’s not a world entertainment center like New York or LA,” Baechle says. “Bands move to New York and LA to get famous. Bands move to the Bay Area because they want to be good. It’s a world-class metal scene; the best bands in the Bay Area are some of the best in the world for their respective genres.”
It takes more than yuppies, high-tech and gentrification to silence a great metal band, and Hazzard’s Cure refuses to be anything less than ear-shatteringly loud. Ultimately, the band stands as a shining example of the great Bay Area bands that keep one eye towards unexplored musical terrain, and the other on the classic sounds perfected by the masters. The Ugly is an immediate studio representative of that idea- three tracks of thrashy, raw, kick-ass heavy metal with a little help from a titan of the scene. Give it a listen, and gain a glimpse into the treasure trove that is the Bay Area heavy music community. The weird and rocking are welcome, and the generic and bland swiftly eradicated.