Blast From the Past: Hex Dispensers
This originally ran in MRR #318/Nov ‘09, which you can grab here
I’ve been buying punk records for 25 years. I’ve heard a lot of good shit. There’s only a couple of bands that are so good that they stand head and shoulders above anything thtas come before. The Hex Dispensers are one of them. Their new LP has been on my turntable almost every day since it came out. I wouldn’t be lying if I told you I’ve listened to a hundred times. The band defy genre…. They have the hooks of the Ramones, darkness of the Wipers with some fucking Danzig/Elvis shit going on. They are the sum of four parts; Alyse’s super tight tribal drumming, Tom’s guitar backbone, Dave’s rolling basslines and slick stage moves topped off with Alex’s crazy blues slides and unique vocals. I’m not even going to go into the ‘ex bands’ bullshit…. They have of course done a ton of good shit previous – how else would they be this good? On top of being a great band they are real fucking people. Along with the Marked Men this band would play my wedding or my funeral.
Interview by Logan Worrell
MRR: What do each of you do in the band?
Tom: I play guitar.
Alex: I sing and play guitar.
Alex: Dave sings too, sometimes.
Alyse: I sing backup
Alex: Alyse sings also.
MRR: Why’d you guys decide to start a band with each other?
Tom: We were already in a band together and it seemed like a great idea at that point.
Alex: Alyse, Tom, and I were in a band called This Damn Town, and it was winding down. We decided that we weren’t going to do it anymore because we just hit a wall with it, but we decided that we wanted to keep playing together.
Alyse: Because it worked great
Alex: Yeah, because we have a good rapport. I mean Alyse and I better have a good rapport, we’re married. But we like Tom, kind of, and we thought we wanted to keep playing with him. So we started another band to see how it would go and we liked where it was going,
Dave: You just wanted Tom’s brisket to be within arms reach.
Alex: Basically, yeah.
Tom: Brisket is going to come up in every interview.
Dave: That’s kind of a huge part.
MRR: Three years so far?
Alex: Yeah, three years. We just had our three-year bandiversary.
MRR: Why do you guys keep doing it? Is it still as fun as when you first started doing it?
Alex: We still like each other, yeah.
Alyse: Yeah. More and more fun.
Dave: We still like monsters.
Tom: Still plenty of minds out there to be blooown. [laughter]
Dave: Ohhhh. Mr Kodiak strikes again.
Tom: I blow minds for a living, I could give you my card later. [laughter]
MRR: So when you decided to start the Hex Dispensers what kind of stuff were you going for? Was it completely organic? Did you just go in a room and try to do some shit?
Alex: This Damn Town was very twangy and dramatic.
Alyse: And serious.
Alex: It was very Danzig doing country kind of shit. That’s what it ended up being.
Alyse: That’s what it turned into, but not what we wanted.
Alex: So I wanted to do something that didn’t take itself so fucking seriously, that was more fun. The whole horror shit it’s just—we’re joking, we don’t wear fucking eyeliner.
Alex: Well Alyse does. We just wanted to have a good time and play stuff that was catchy and memorable, so that’s what we set out to do. Initially, my first idea was maybe like, I wanted to do something that’s noisy and blown out like the Coachwhips, but that’s as thought out as the Marked Men. And so that’s what we set out to do. It didn’t end up sounding anything like that.
Dave: I don’t think they succeeded in that concept.
Alex: I don’t think we succeeded in that concept at all, but that was kind of the starting point. Everybody wants to do something and it always ends up being different, and it’s cool. If you embrace that it’s fine.
MRR: The songs definitely separate y’all from other catchy garagey kinda punk bands in the US. The songs seem well thought out…
Alex: I think an important distinction in a lot of bands is that people try to nail a style before they try to write songs. It’s just like, “I want to be this meets this” or “I want to be just like this band,“ and they typically succeed at nailing the style they’re going for, but that’s not enough. I really love bands that just get together and write songs, and then it grows and blossoms from there. Those are the bands that I’m drawn to. I hope that’s what we’re doing ’cause it’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t know if that’s the listeners’ point of view.
Dave: I think a lot of it has to do with trusting your instincts, too. A lot of people just over-think the songwriting process. It doesn’t have to be that hard, like you don’t have to concentrate on every single part and try to identify it with another genre.
Alex: Right, right. They’re trying to make sure it fits in a particular genre.
Dave: It doesn’t have to be an overcomplicated process, you can write something that people enjoy and that you enjoy too without just going crazy with 58 parts in a song and trying to tie it to a specific artist.
Dave: We have very short memory spans.
MRR: I think I can definitely tell how you guys have progressed as a band. I really think the first record is great, and so is the first 7” and the Lose My Cool single. And then this new LP (Winchester Mystery House) came out… I hate when bands stay stagnant for so many fucking years, and they write the same songs a thousand times and it doesn’t get any better. But you guys put out Winchester Mystery House and it’s so much better than the first LP, which I already thought was great.
Alex: It’s because more people are writing the songs now. Initially I was writing all the songs, and now we have more people participating and I just think it’s going to get better.
Dave: I was really worried about the second album because I really loved the first one…
Alex: There’s a difference.
Dave: I didn’t want to mess with the sound and what they already did. It’s kind of a dicey territory when someone is new in a band, and there’s a new influence and a new personality. And you know, you want to stay out of the process that already worked but also add to it in a way.
Alex: It was a safe bet, though, having Dave join. Dave hit the ground running because we’d all played together. We’d done the Brotherhood of Electricity. We’d played live as the Brotherhood of Electricity. We knew chemically that it was going to be a pretty easy.
MRR: You did it without Dave for about two years as a three-piece, right?
Alyse: Yeah, a year and a half.
MRR: People are going to see his face on the record and be like, “Who the fuck is this guy?”
Dave: They’re just going to see my eyes—they don’t know. It could be anybody. I was living in Seattle for a long time and I decided I couldn’t stand being wet and freezing nine months out of the year so I…
Tom: What better place to go than Texas?
Dave: What better, yeah, complete opposite. I did a little middle-aged soul searching and went to Germany for a couple of months and didn’t really find shit. And then I, uh, came here.
Alex: He took his dog with him to Germany.
Dave: I took my dog…me and my dog did kind of a Steinbeckian trip through Europe and just kind of figured out what was going on with my life. Then I moved here and made this a full time thing.
MRR: You got the call and got off the bench. You’re in the majors now.
Dave: Yeah, I got the call of the wild so I answered it, said, “I’m there.” [laughter]
MRR: And the rest is history.
Dave: And a month later I went back to Europe on tour with these guys.
MRR: You join a band, and then in a month you’re in Europe; you’re doing pretty good.
Dave: I kind of got lucky on that thing.
MRR: You earned that shit.
Dave: You want to know how many dues I’ve paid with interest on that shit?
Alex: He came from a privileged position because he’d already auditioned, so to speak.
MRR: You guys knew what kind of chops he had.
Dave: I edged out some other bearded bass players…[laughter] that I didn’t know about until afterwards.
MRR: Do you think the band is better received in Austin or outside of Austin?
Alex: Outside of Austin
Dave: We’re fucking way better received in Germany, man!
Alyse: That is our place.
Alex: Well, I mean, the first record came out on a German label so it stands to reason.
MRR: Is Alien Snatch German?
Alex: Yeah, he’s based out of Berlin.
Dave: He was originally from Stuttgart…
Tom: But the label wasn’t, the label was like Dusseldorf.
Dave: Much to the befuddlement of the Angry Samoans. Like, “Why does anybody like these guys? Ohh, the label’s German. I get it.”
Alex: We played with the Angry Samoans
Alyse: In Germany.
Alex: And they had never heard of us, so they didn’t know why people in Germany were singing along to our songs. And they were just like, “What the fuck is going on here? We’ve never heard of these guys and there’s all these people here really into them.” And then we were at this after party and they were there, and one of them said to the other, “Oh, they’re on a German label.” Like, “That explains it.”
Dave: And then the collective like “Ohhh.”
MRR: It’s not even the fact that Metal Mike’s been strung out on meth for fifteen years.
Dave: Nah, he’s straight, isn’t he? He’s sober.
Alex: They were fucking great.
MRR: Were they?
Alex: Yeah, they actually were.
Alyse: He’s my favorite one.
MRR: Okay, so I gotta ask the hot question…I’m calling it out. Why meow, meow, meow?
Alex: Why not meow, meow, meow?
Dave: If you could meow, meow, meow in a song, wouldn’t you?
Alex: If you need to ask, you don’t get it.
MRR: It’s funny because with punk bands there are a couple options you can do. There’s “system,” “society,” or “cops.” [laughter] And you guys have, doppelgangers, hemophiliacs, I believe? And meow, meow, meow, meow.
Alex: Well, Alyse and I love cats.
MRR; Like, what the fuck are your songs about?
Dave: I didn’t know that was a big contentious lyric.
MRR: You guys just fucking play and people are sitting there, and then “meow, meow, meow.”
Alex: It’s really divisive because…
Alyse: Well, we thought it was a cat!
Alex: There’s cat people, and then there’s dog people.
Alyse: And maybe that’s all it is.
Alex: Tom is a cat and dog person, and Dave is a cat and dog person, and Alyse and I are pretty exclusively cat people.
Tom: I was cat people first.
Alex: But yeah, then you fall in love with a dog, and then the laws of nature were broken.
Alyse: That didn’t come out right.
Alex: People have actually told us, “Man, I really like you guys a lot, but I really have a problem with that song where you guys sing meow.” [laughs] It’s this kind of weird, it’s all tough and it’s all leather jackets and switchblades until we start singing “meow.”
Alyse: I’m just upset that we don’t have a new song on the new album that has meowing in it.
Alex: If anything it’s proof positive that we don’t take it very seriously.
Alyse: I’m, always meowing songs, like any song, I’ll just meow instead of sing.
Alex: Some people just say “pineapple.” Like if you mouth “pineapple.” You can just about lip synch to any song if you just sing “pineapple.”
MRR: I always said “watermelon.”
Alex: Yeah, “pineapple” or “watermelon,” just any weird kind of cumbersome word.
Dave: Sister Christian, meow, meow, meow.
Dave and Alyse: Meow, meow.
Alex: Alyse just meows every song, so I think it was just an extension of that.
MRR: You guys are going back to Europe, right?
Alex: We hope to, yeah, in the spring, we’re gonna go back for a couple of weeks. We won’t do a month long tour like we did before, I’m just too old for that. I’ve done enough tours of that length.
MRR: Alex Cuervo is 50 years old. [laughter]
Alex: I’m actually not the oldest member of the band.
MRR: Who is?
Alex: Alyse. Dave.
Alex: You know, you reach the point where you think your back just can’t handle fucking sleeping on concrete floors every night for two weeks. I don’t need a hotel, but just like a sleeping bag on top of, like, you know? I don’t want luxury, ‘cause if I wanted luxury I wouldn’t play this kind of fucking music. I just want to like, be at home more often as I’m older. So it’s fun to just do weekend trips where we fly.
Dave: How come Rancid get luxury?
Alyse: Have you seen their hair?
Dave: Are we not punk enough? Or just tooo..?
Alyse: Not punk enough.
Dave: Not punk enough.
MRR: Alyse is punk.
Alex: We don’t fucking wear costumes.
Dave: That’s prohibitive.
MRR: Except for the all black shirts.
Alex: That’s not a costume.
Dave: That’s a lifestyle, man.
Alex: It’s a fucking way of life!
MRR: I love it. One of the first or second shows with Dave you were all wearing the black shirts, which, it’s organic, it just happens I understand…
Alex: It really does just happen, you realize that.
Alyse: We just feel more comfortable.
Dave: Okay, whatever, Mr. “I’ve been in a million hardcore bands and have played to a sea of black t- shirts.” [laughter]
MRR: Anyway, Dave was wearing white shoes and it was the coolest looking fucking thing. You guys looked real good that night, all black shirts.
Dave: Oh, in Miami? You can borrow them, man.
MRR: You guys play pretty regularly in town and you play a pretty broad variety of shows. You’ll play a house party, a bigger club show, and you guys play with different types of bands. What kind of shows do you guys prefer to play in Austin, and everywhere, really?
Tom: I like house parties.
Dave: We don’t really play that many house parties.
Alex: We don’t play that many, it’s really just a matter of wanting to play for the people that are going to have the most fun while we’re playing. And sometimes it’s a house party and sometimes that’s a show with a particular touring band that we like a lot.
Alyse: Yeah, sometimes that’s a big part of it.
Alex: If it’s a touring band that we would have gone to see anyway, and we get the opportunity to play with them, then we’ll do that. Really, we get offered a lot of shows that we’re not able to play because we don’t want to play too much. We don’t want to burn everybody out. I mean we’re playing a lot right now, but we got a new record, so it kind of it makes sense. But in general, we try not to wear out our welcome. We’re pretty picky about the shows that we play because…we don’t want people to feel like they’re fucking having to pick between three different shows that they might go to. We just want to play one that they might have gone to anyway whether we were playing or not. Everybody’s happy, everybody has a good time.
Dave: That doesn’t really answer shit.
Alex: No, it didn’t. We’re not very ambitious. We just want to have fun and if a show doesn’t sound like it’s going to be fun, then we won’t do it.
Alyse: Playing Tom’s house a couple of weekends ago.
Everyone: That was a great show.
Dave: That was the most fun show I think I’ve ever played.
Alex: That was great. We played with the Altars.
Alyse: I love playing house parties.
Dave: There were water balloon fights, there was an Ikea lamp, and there was brisket.
Alex: We were surrounded by a circle of light.
Dave: There was a moonbounce, there was…
Dave: Dogs, meows.
Alex: We’re fans of fun and we want to play when it’s going to be fun. It’s the whole fucking reason we do this.
MRR: Austin’s definitely a very incestuous musical scene. There are lots of people that have been in bands together and all that kind of stuff. What are some of the other bands in town that you guys have done? I know Alyse was in the Winks. What happened with that, is it still a band?
Alyse: No, wow, it’s been years now.
MRR: I’m getting everything, I’m comprehensive.
Alyse: I’m trying to think. That was my first band, for real band.
MRR: The first band ever or the first band that you played drums for?
Alyse: Yeah, I’ve played for fun and wanted to be in bands and stuff all through high school, but that was my first for real band.
Alex: Recording and touring band.
Alyse: Shows, that was it.
Dave: How many Austin bands between y’all? See, you’ve got the Winks, the Hatchbacks, the Kodiaks.
Tom: I was in Shimmy Smashups with the girls from the Applicators. It was all of our first bands.
Alyse: Whoa, I didn’t know that.
Dave: This Damn Town.
Alex: Tom played in the Golden Boys.
Dave: Really, Tom was in the Golden Boys?
Tom: I wasn’t in the Golden Boys, I toured with them.
Alyse: I was in Mangina.
MRR: So when you guys went to the West Coast how many shows did you play in the Bay?
MRR: How were they?
Alex: They were good.
Dave: There was this shitty band the Young Offenders—they were fucking terrible.
Alex: Yeah, terrible.
Alyse: Total assholes.
Alex: The problem with the Young Offenders is that they’re so standoffish…
Dave: They’re rude.
Alex: They’re really stuck up, they’re really fucking weird about us borrowing their equipment, but they used our shit when they were here.
Alex: And they just fucking peed all over it, and like what a bunch of fucking cocksuckers, man! No, the Young Offenders are fucking heaven sent. They’re so great and we had a great time. Those guys are amazing. Anyone who has ever spent more than five minutes around the Young Offenders can imagine what a fucking amazing time we had hanging out with those guys.
Alyse: Everyone was great.
Alex: Everybody was really fun to be around and showed us a really good time. The Oakland show was a little bit crazier and people were less reserved. I mean, in San Francisco there were a lot of people, it was well attended.
Dave: It was weird, because there were more people in San Francisco, but they just kind of stood there, and less people in Oakland, but they went crazy.
Alex: More reserved. The smaller crowd in Oakland was definitely the more enthusiastic crowd, but the crowd in San Francisco stayed through the whole fucking thing.
Alyse: Apparently they liked us.
Dave: They didn’t leave and they bought shit, but then you couldn’t tell.
Alyse: We had a good time.
Alex: If I lived in a city that cool I’d probably just ignore bands too.
MRR: Kind of more of a boring question but I find it interesting, what’s y’alls recording process like, do you stay in town, go somewhere?
Dave: It’s super fast, actually. Well, this is my first time. We went up to Fort Worth and recorded with Mark Ryan.
Alyse: It’s great.
Dave: And it took two days.
MRR: And the new LP is on Douchemaster. Is Douchemaster based out of Atlanta? Does someone from the Carbonas run it?
Alex: It’s Gentleman Jesse, who was in the Carbonas, and Brian and Greg from Carbonas are also involved in it. Dave Rahn helps. That was kind of the core group. It’s pretty much just Brian as the main guy and those guys help out as well.
Alyse: We recorded in Mark’s house.
Dave: In his living room.
Alyse: When we recorded there we kind of took over his house.
Dave: …And they were exceptionally accommodating and really cool.
Tom: Rumpus room, kitchen, dining room.
Dave: Do it all right there.
Alex: We live tracked all the instruments in one day.
Dave: Sent it off to what celebrity du jour for mastering. [laughter]
Alex: I farted that was so funny.
Dave: Note for the record, Alex sharted on that one. Dave Rahn was the lucky guy who was able to master this record.
Alex: The lucky guy.
Dave: The lucky man.
Alex: We are indebted to him.
[conversation turns to Danzig shopping lists and what not]
MRR: What’s next for you guys? Any other out of town weekends, any more records, maybe Europe in the spring?
Everyone: Europe in the spring.
Alex: If we get any opportunities to go play festivals, we’ll do that, but for the most part, we’re pretty much just going to save our time off so we can go back to Europe because we really had a great time.
Elyse: We would like to go to Chicago and play with CoCoComa.
Alex: Yeah, CoCoComa has a record release show coming up.
Dave: And the CoCoComa baby band.
Alex: That woud be awesome, but I don’t know if we’re going to be able to make it happen. CoCoComa is like a brother band, or a sister band. Any chance to play with them we want to, but we may not be able to pull it off this time.
MRR: Tom, final statement.
Tom: Final statement? Oh my goodness. Come back to me.
MRR: Dave, final thought.
Dave: You Jerry Springer-ed me.
MRR: Alex, final thought.
Alyse: Oh no.
Alex: Find something to do, but mean it. Don’t do something because you think it’s going to be cool. Do something that’s in your fucking heart.
Dave: Why don’t you say start your own fucking band?
Alex: No, I don’t want to say that,