Whether or not you hold noise rock in as much regard as you should, Hella's technical skills—and resultant kickass live show—are worth reverent observation.
Hella churn wildly throughout the noise-rock spectrum, veering from relatively straightforward efforts like Hold Your Horse Is and The Devil Isn't Red to more static, hazy offerings like the Bitches Ain't Shit But Good People EP, and Church Gone Wild/Chirpin' Hard. One constant: They always pepper the din with videogame-like electronics and accents, riddling the results with drummer Zach Hill's inhumanly fast percussion.
"Our main thing is we never want to repeat ourselves," says Hill. "So if we can always achieve that, we're very happy."
By that rationale, the duo's ever-growing discography should render them pretty damn chipper. Between touring, recording, and side projects—Hill is in Goon Moon and Nervous Cop, and guitarist Spencer Seim drums for Nintendo-soundtrack relayers the Advantage—their schedules and resumés place the pair among the busiest players in independent music.
As Hella, they've toured Japan, playing with some of the nation's most inventive and avant-garde acts; followed that with an arena tour opening for the Mars Volta and System of a Down; hit a spate of shows with Les Claypool; and recently hooked up with Dillinger Escape Plan—all in the past year.
With such a disparate roster of tour mates, Hella have brought their music to increasingly larger and more mainstream audiences. "It was obviously bizarre playing to the audiences that were way different," Hill says of the recent Hella/Mars Volta/SOAD tour. "But we were most surprised at how good the response was. You always get a few kids flipping you off and yelling 'you suck,' but that's just natural. I mean I would have been kind of disappointed if that didn't happen [laughs]."
Release-wise, Hella are nearly as productive as Hill's uncanny BPM count—since 2002's Hold, they've released two EPs, as well as last year's metal-rock deconstruction opus The Devil Isn't Red, and this year's ambitious double LP, Church Gone Wild/Chirpin' Hard. Somewhere in their overcrowded schedules, they found time to release the Homeboy/Concentration Face EP/DVD.
The real prize of the package here is the Concentration Face DVD: filmed on Hella's 2004 Japan tour, it culls live footage of the band and their various bill mates. The all-female trio Nisennen Mondai deploy surging noise barrages with blindingly fast rhythms; the frontman of the trio Oshiri-Penpens delivers histrionic theatrics on par with Iggy's heyday; and Ari Morimoto extracts melody from dozens of Game Boys, effects processors, and a mixing board. Still a duo at the time (Hill and Seim have temporarily recruited extra members to help out with the pile of instruments used on Church/Chirpin' and Homeboy, and they're currently touring as a foursome), Hella execute material from the decidedly harder-hitting Hold/Devil era, and the stuff here is no letdown. Plus, spliced along with the footage of bill mates' performances is a visual montage of Japan.
"Japan is a crazy place," says Hill, with obvious affection. "That went into how we conceptualized Concentration Face. It was almost more about the trip than just about our band, because there were so many elements that couldn't go unrecognized."