Formed by Jimmie Romero, (vocals, guitar) along with the expert talents of Doc Ellis, (lead guitar) Al Serrato, (drums) and Sam Harman, (bass) The HellenBacks bring a unique bunch of seasoned rock n’ rollers together to create something special. The band started their rock-fueled journey in 2016, and hit the ground running with the release of two stellar albums, Vampires in the Desert and Harsh Environment.
The brand new album comes swinging like a wrecking ball with rock n’ roll swagger and unorthodox vocals that seamlessly matches the band’s unrivaled sound. Along with the 14-track album is their electrifying lead single, “Pleasant Doom.” Romero described the single, as well as their newest album in its totality, as a concept record with a rich story to tell. Each song compiles the exploration of toxicity and impersonating with beauty and recovery.
The album showcases its mature and cultivated sound with the band’s abrasive guitar skills and gut-wrenching lyrical moments. Romero, who produced and mastered the album mentioned how it was a pleasure working with fellow levels of musicianship as the album includes a feature from guitarist Todd Kerns from The Conspirators, and more.
We had a chat with Romero about the new album, their inspirations, what might come after the release, and more.
In seeing that The HellenBacks are a unique who’s-who lineup, I was curious as to how the band all came together?
We started off as a cover band playing all the hotels and casinos in Las Vegas. Doc Ellis (love/hate, Ratt), Al Serrato (Jetboy), Sean Koos (Joan Jett and the Blackhearts) and myself. We felt that there was some magic in how we played together, so I thought let’s try writing an original. One song turned into 13. The first line up was just us four and we would hire a second guitarist for live shows. After the second album, Koos had a heavy workload touring with Tony Lewis (The Outfield) so he needed to step back from The Hellenbacks. Now Sam Harman (Voidvador) is on bass and Rowan Robertson (Dio) is on second Guitar.
What does a day in the life of The HellenBacks’ songwriting process look like?
I usually write the basic skeleton of the song with some rough vocals, then Al comes in and writes the drum parts and gives the song a heart beat. Then bass, and then Doc comes in and starts adding the flesh to it. Then I record my final vocals last. Sometimes we track bass and drums at the same time. Sometimes the whole band records together but most of the time, it’s done in that order.
So you guys just released your newest album, III. What makes this album different from your previous two albums you’ve released?
The music is different- it’s more progressive. We moved away from our blues roots a little and started messing around with different pedals, different snares, kick drums, different guitars, different amps with different tones, all of which inspire players like us.
What does the III refer to, and what’s the idea or theme behind it?
Three, because it’s our third record together, and the core of the group has always been us three, (Doc, Al and myself). We’re family. We know each other’s families, kids, etc. Although we’re all busy, we still have our BBQ’s, dinners, or just meet up for coffee when we can. Now that we’ve added Rowan and Sam to the group, we can explore new uncharted territories. It’s a concept album that focuses on the perception of beauty and growth as a person with a movie to follow in (August/ September 2021) to help tell the tale.
Speaking of the collection, 14 songs is a lot. How long did it take to write all these songs, and what was the most challenging aspect of the whole process? (perhaps aside from the obvious Covid reasons)
I can’t give you an accurate answer as to how long it took to write the album; I was producing other records while I was writing it. I did Doc’s solo record first, then a few songs for Original Sin, and I worked on one song on Ace Frehley’s new record, and a couple others. But I wrote about 25, 26 songs in total. Then Al and I started dusting off the coal and picking the gems out. As a producer, I am always competing with myself, trying to outdo myself from the last production. So I guess the challenge would be trying to craft something that I felt creatively exceeded our last production.
How much time and thought goes into the order of songs on the album, and what made you choose to open with “Do What You Do” and close with “Town We Call Home?”
With this being a concept album, the order of the songs is paramount. “Do What You Do” is the beginning of our tale, and “Town We Call Home” is the final chapter. There are some cool collaborations on the new album including Todd Kerns and Sam Harman among others.
How did these collaborations come to fruition, and why did you feel it was necessary to include them?
I have always dug collaborations ever since I heard “The Battle of Evermore” from Zeppelin; it’s really cool to hear Sandy Denny enter the chorus of that song. I believe collaborations are just like adding another color to your pallet. Back when Todd Kerns and I met, we always thought we should work together, so since then we have done “Sugar”, “Ugly Day”, “Love Breeds Love” and he also played bass on “Evil Like You”. That list is not even including other songs we have produced and worked on together. I asked Todd to sing on “Sugar” off our first record because it is a good party song and I wanted to raise the intensity of it.
“Ugly Day” on our second album was the time when the hurricanes were destroying towns, and then the Las Vegas shooting occurred, so we all got together including Christian Brady from Hell Yeah and released that song early to try to raise money for both reliefs. We split it 50/50; half went to the Hurricane Relief Fund and the other half went to the Las Vegas Victim Fund. “Love Breeds Love” was a song Todd heard in the early production stages and he really liked it so I asked him if he wanted to sing on it.
“Evil Like You” is another song Todd heard that he liked and played bass on it. Sam Harman is a young bassist but with a lot of talent and a great personality. We liked him from minute one, and at the moment we’re finishing up a collaboration with one of my favorite rock singers, which I can’t name at the moment, which will be released by the end of June.
What made you want to release “Pleasant Doom” as the debut single as opposed to some others?
Every song in this album is part of a larger story that we are telling. Each step builds upon the story, and “Pleasant Doom” summarizes our entire journey perfectly by exploring our initial attraction to toxicity masquerading as beauty and the personal growth and recovery necessary to ultimately say goodbye to something, or someone, that would inevitably lead us to our doom.
What might fans expect from the band moving into summer? Any shows/tours lined up?
We have some dates for a tour but nothing concrete yet.
What are one or two pinnacle moments in your/the band’s career thus far?
Our first CD review in Vintage Guitar Player Magazine. There is nothing as exciting or memorable as having a review in one of your favorite magazines, except maybe having my Cousin Coco Motoya play on our song “Whiskey Man” that is on our second record. It was so much fun to play and record with him, and he brought a new flavor to the song that really brought it to life.