It’s easy to fall in love with the ‘Hellgrammites’; if you ever get a chance to talk to these guys, you’ll find yourself hooked within seconds. In a night filled with witty banter, uncomfortable innuendos, and distressing outfits we get the opportunity to meet Erik Petersen (vocals, guitar, and bass), Lehi Petersen (vocals, guitar, keys), Troy Ten Eyck (bass, guitar) and Jared Petersen (drums, percussion). These guys aren’t your typical band who have spent so much time together that they are practically family. They actually are family. Lehi, Jared and Troy are brothers and Erik is their cousin so finding a band was probably easier for them then your typical musician. Nevertheless, the sound that comes out of these guys is second to none not only in the Denver music scene, but in the music industry as a whole. When the ‘Hellgrammites’ took the stage at The Marquis Theater on Friday night in Denver, Colorado, they outright demanded the audience’s attention with the first chord they played, and held everyone on the edge of their seats straight to curtain call. The energy that this band emanates when they play is contagious and easy to get lost in. It’s clear that these guys are not only in this for the shock value and the music; they are brilliant, funny, and well-spoken in their craft.
Give me a brief history of your band. I know you guys are family, but how did this start?
Lehi: “That’s a good one; we’ve been playing music together since we were kids growing up together. We all went to a family reunion in 2009 out in fuckin Idaho and it was rad. Troy lived in Georgia at the time, Jared and I lived in Virginia and Erik lived in Colorado. And we decided; the three of us brothers, that we were going to move to Colorado together and play with Erik. So we did six months later, and we were in a band called Be The Ant with [the four of] us, plus Erik’s brother Matty. And then that project failed, we didn’t play together for a few years and then just kind of started up again like jamming a little bit. I don’t remember exactly how that started up, and then it just kind of progressed into us taking it seriously again and writing original music again and here we are.”
What is the inspiration behind ‘Speakeasy’?
Jared: “Well high energy music I guess as far as music goes. But also embracing kind of different characters, different personalities that way we can make it more of an actual art performance where we’re taking on alter egos if we want to, more of a stage performance, that way it’s not just all about the music; even though the music is the most important part and aspect.”
Lehi: “Yeah, so ‘Speakeasy’ for me, and what’s really important to me about this project is that there’s a lot more when you’re making art then just making…….this is the problem with fucking music now a days if you ask me. All anyone ever writes about it trying to make someone feel happy about a song, trying to make someone feel sad. Trying to make someone feel jealous; there’s a very limited range of emotions that music portrays now a days, like modern pop music you know what I mean? And I feel like ‘Speakeasy’ what we try to do is we try to invoke emotions on our audience that they don’t even necessarily want to feel. Emotions that they would normally not feel when they go out on Friday night to a rock show. We want them to feel discomfort, we want them to feel shameful, we want them to feel disgusted, we want them to feel all these things, cuz there’s some fucked up shit in the world and no one ever talks about it and so it looks like we’re just wearing masks and wearing funny things and showing our asses on stage but really what we’re seriously trying to say is hey there’s a bunch of fucked up shit in the world, no one’s fucking talking about it and we’re trying to use this art in the best way possible because we don’t know any other way to try and make a difference in the world as far as all the fucked up shit……there’s chicks getting raped in India and it’s all fucked up and no one wants to go out on a Friday night and talk about that shit. So that’s why we try to do it in an artistic and entertaining way. But ultimately we want people to feel shit that they don’t necessarily want to feel.”
Tell me about your alter egos. Who are they? How does that play into this?
Lehi: “So mine is Jaundice Bukkake and he’s a sociopath. He’s very lonely, he’s very awkward with women and has to pay for sex most of the time. He works an IT job and on the weekend is very immersed in like this modern culture of the internet. He never goes out. He does a lot of fucked up things on the internet to people, he’s really mean spirited but at the same time it’s kind of like this playful attitude that he has but ultimately he’s just a very troubled and lonely dude.”
Jared: “Mines Arete, and he’s kind of similar. Somewhat of a sociopath as well where he’s very self-centered and wants to be the center of attention but at the same time is very disgruntled I guess, where as in he wants to project kind of this….well he wants to make people feel and hurt in a way as well.”
Troy: “Mine is Dr. Hardacus. He is a Doctor in penial research. He’s actually the complete opposite of these guys here, he’s very reserved. He doesn’t speak unless spoken to but at home he’s the type of guy that obsesses and overindulges in stuff secretly, but doesn’t really speak about it.”
Erik: “And I guess that leads to me last, and my character is Mr. New Booty (everyone laughs). Basically Mr. New Booty represents your traditional millennial growing up in the world now that is technology and internet based and social media based and it’s kind of a mockery of how people seek attention by you know like, he represents basically the girl that takes a million selfies and post pictures of them, and they all look the same, but she’s wearing different outfits because she wants to collect likes and she’s just searching for a connection and that’s what Mr. New Booty is.”
How do you incorporate these alter egos into your music?
Lehi: “It’s mostly the performance aspect. We do a lot of banter, we talk a lot in between songs in character, in costume. It hasn’t really come into the music a lot, well American Psycho that song is… Jaundice Bukakke is singing that song for sure.”
Jared: “For me I try and just incorporate that idea of emotion and try and make people receive that emotion. So in my playing, in the way I move just kind of the accent of the performance, and banters a big one.”
Erik: “I definitely want to add to that; it definitely hasn’t seeped into the music, it’s been something that we’ve talked about writing stories where they interact almost like on the level of a West Side Story type thing where there are competing forces but we’ve been developing a lot of that stuff and we’re actually talking about taking that to a whole other level and creating a whole other set of characters in which we’d be writing stories basically with our future releases. We’ll be writing a structured story and then there will be characters that we won’t necessarily portray when we’re doing a performance. We’ll have actors, actresses, you know dancers if it calls for it, but that’s kinda where we’re going with this is trying to make it almost a bigger thing, like a rock opera. I hate that word, but that’s kind of what this is in essence.”
So this isn’t just specific for ‘Speakeasy’, this is ‘Hellgrammites’?
Troy: “So, I’ll emphasize a little more on that. People weren’t exactly understanding what we’re doing with the whole ‘Speakeasy’/’Hellgrammites’. So it’s still the same concept as far as the duality and the split personality but moving forward it’s just going to be ‘Hellgrammites’. So we decided with this release of this album that we would call it ‘Speakeasy’ as an easier way of transitioning the idea and concept into one coherent thing.”
Lehi: “One band name essentially.”
Erik: “Because from a promotional stand point it’s been challenging getting people to really wrap their heads around ‘ok their performing a ‘Speakeasy’ show, or they’re performing a ‘Hellgrammites’ show.”
Troy: “Yeah, we’ve been booked as a different name, you know what I mean, well wait, this is a ‘Speakeasy’ show not a ‘Hellgrammites’ show?”
Erik: “Well we are definitely artists that nitpick ourselves and is rethinking what we’re doing on the regular too you know what I mean so, a lot of it too, we’re like not necessarily saying that we’re unsure of ourselves, but we think about it so much on the time that we’re not actually playing music that we tend to like, I feel like over analyze sometimes and that’s where we decided that this thing needs to be a bigger thing that’s called just one thing, if that makes sense.”
Jared: “And plus then it doesn’t just strictly limit us to being ‘Hellgrammites’ characters or ‘Speakeasy’ characters, but under ‘Hellgrammites’ we can be multiple different characters like he said, especially if we want to develop new alter egos so that we can return as Jaundice Bukkake and Arete and whatever else but we can also create new alter egos fitting whatever writing and we can just take on a certain persona for that specific album, then that’s kinda what we want to focus on. It’ll open up our options a little bit better and make it a little easier and simpler for the listener.”
So moving away from the alter egos, what intrigues you the most about a song?
Troy: “The roller coaster. The crescendo, the decrescendos and I feel like we’re kind of honing in on that more now, especially in American Psycho. I think that’s kind of laying the foreground for what’s to come in a sense.”
Erik: “Me specifically, I guess speaking from just my opinion is I love having an eclectic sound as a band so I love that we’re able to make all these different styles and incorporate, you know, rock, jazz, funk whatever in order to make a different unique sound for every song rather than, ok this band has a sound or whatever. I just hate that pigeon hole of oh they’re that sound, I like being able to surprise the listener and not be so predictable. What’s coming next? Who knows, you know what I mean?”
Jared: “That’s kinda what I like about what we’re doing.”
Lehi: “I mean every song is different.”
Erik: “Yeah, I mean I listen to things like a simple time signature that I like, like ¾ or a good groove. That’s something that intrigues me about a song, or a strong vocal presence, a good vocalist and good strong harmonies to back that, that something that intrigues me as a vocalist.”
Lehi: “Well I don’t listen to music.”
Jared: “I always listen to music. I don’t know, I just…..I guess this doesn’t necessarily intrigue me, but music to me is just comforting I guess, it feels comfortable when I listen to music, so I like that and I guess that could intrigue me.”
Lehi, how as a musician do you not listen to music?
Lehi: “That’s a great question. It’s pissed Jared off for years. I don’t know. I just don’t fucking…..I don’t enjoy sitting and just fucking listening to music. It’s weird. If I’m in the mood; I have to be in the mood. It’s kind of like someone gets in the mood for Sushi, that’s how I am with music, it’s like dude I really wanna just listen to some fuckin Mo-Town today, and I’ll just listen to Mo-Town all day and then a couple weeks later it’s like fuck, I need to hear some funk bass and it’s like it’s almost like I binge consume music. I don’t regularly listen to music and I never actively seek new music to listen to, it’s weird, I don’t know.”
How do you get your inspiration then? Where does that come from when you write?
Lehi: “What I’m really into when I write is, I have this whole hair brain theory that light and sound because they’re both waves, have a very strong relationship with each other and you can create different moods by using different keys, different scales, different notes, and it kinda correlates with that. So whenever I’m writing I first start with a mood, like what mood do I want to get across and beyond that, it kinda develops from there. So I really, obviously I’m inspired by other artists before me cuz I fuckin play a six string electric guitar just like everyone has for the past hundred years but really, I don’t know, I just kinda write. I don’t listen to music and I don’t try an emulate like I wanna sound like this person, unless I do it on purpose and I’m lampooning them, you know what I mean, because that happens a lot.”
So when should we expect an LP from ‘Hellgrammites’?
Troy: “An LP? Do those even exist?”
Lehi: “I don’t know if we’d ever do an LP. I think it fits in with how people consume music now doing the whole just six at a time, I just would like to do it more consistently because people consume music now very differently than they used to and we’ve talked about this a lot as to how we’re supposed to market ourselves. How we wanna do releases, because it used to be, even back in the 80’s it’s like someone buys a record, and everyone goes into this dudes garage, the cool kid on the block that has a record [player] and everyone as a community sits and listens to the record together from beginning to fucking end. Whereas now a days, I mean you could be at your house on a Saturday night at 8 o’clock, by yourself with headphones on completely detached from everyone consuming music that way.”
Erik: “Well and to add to that, people now a days too, get bored listening to an album front to back. They don’t want to hear an album front to back; they want to hear a song, they want to hear singles.”
Lehi: “Yeah, so I don’t know if we’d ever put out an LP. I mean maybe, but I’m really into a few releases consistently, is what I think is effective now a days.”
Tell me about these costumes tonight.
Lehi: “Mine is, so normally I wear this clear mask that looks really creepy because Jaundice Bukakke really enjoys dressing in women’s clothing whenever he fucks prostitutes and he wants to murder women after he’s had sex with them, and he wants to have sex with them after their dead. But tonight we’re just gonna all wear one of these [white half masks with beak like noses], and our horn players are wearing the white, so we’re just kinda going classy white and I’m going to be wearing a hospital gown and there is a back story to that tonight that, I’ll say tonight.”
(Jaundice Bukakke rented a hotel room and got a hooker. After disrespecting her in really awful ways she called her two hooker friends into the room and while he was in the bathroom the girls robbed him and beat him up so bad that he was hospitalized.)
Erik: “My typical attire as Mr. New Booty is just a pair of booty shorts with whatever…..I usually, every time we play a show you know, I switch that costume up for the essence of capturing that character, being that person that is always taking that same selfie, but just changing the outfit you know what I mean. Just putting my slutiness out there.”
Troy: “Shirt and tie. I’m a Doctor. Shirt and tie.”
Jared: “Yeah Arete he’s kinda trashy so he usually doesn’t wear a shirt, and he usually sweats a lot…..or is that me?”
Lehi: “Yeah, I was like is that your character? You do that on purpose? Really?”
Jared: “Well I make him trashy and wear trashing clothing so that is conducive of me as a drummer so.”
So on this EP you have two covers, you have Zoot Suit Riot and Jump, Jive & Wale. Why those songs?
Lehi: “Cuz, for me I really enjoy 50’s fuckin rock and roll. Like Doo-wop rock and roll to me is tits. I fuckin love it and I grew up being a swing/ska kid as well so their just really fucking cool songs. I really love, it’s a huge foundation for all of us too is the twelve bar blues you know what I mean?”
Erik: “Well for me I feel like those two covers are a bit softer than all of the material on the rest of the record but they still capture that essence of like you said, it’s the roots of rock and roll and a lot of the roots of punk are from rockabilly and stuff like that, so it kinda embodies that ‘Speakeasy’ persona I feel.”
Troy: “It makes for a well-balanced record too; hopefully we don’t get shit for it.”
Lehi: “Hopefully we do because then that means someone listened to it. That’s a good problem.”
The ‘Hellgrammites’ are currently working on their next project, but it’s a complete secret and even when the album is released, they don’t want to tell anyone what the music is about. Why, you ask? Well it’s simple; they want you to decide. These guys are going to write these songs from the perspectives of their alter egos, themselves, or someone else and they want their audience to connect to it by figuring out what it means to them personally. There might be new characters, costumes, and perspectives so if you’re looking for more of the same, you’ll be in for a serious disappointment. But what do you expect from a band whose favorite local band is named Activate Boner; seriously check them out. The summer will be spent writing new material and conjuring up new exciting story lines however, there aren’t any immediate shows on the books as of yet. That doesn’t mean you can’t follow the ‘Hellgrammites’ and get updated when the next show is booked, and I highly recommend that you do. Check them out at mychoirisonfire.com and make sure that you catch their next gig. These guys are not to be missed, and when the lights go out on their stage, you won’t know what to expect next.