It's been years since I've tortured a defenseless, undersized piece of vinyl with the same remorseless vigor I have the new Unrequited Like seven-inch by Don Hellions, subjecting it to relentless turntable rotations that will inevitably wear out its fragile little grooves. Don Hellions are Portland's princes of lounge-laced punk 'n' roll, a comet of excited desperation propelled by songwriter Chris Hoganson's organ and vocals, his brother Thomas' saxophone, and drummer Vinh Nguyen's trapkit. I spoke with Chris on the occasion of Don Hellions' release show for Unrequited Like, a terrific record that melts down the ore of Hüsker Dü, Mudhoney, Van Morrison, and Rollerball, and builds something urgently new in less than 10 minutes.
When did Don Hellions form, and what were the circumstances?
Don Hellions was originally a 10-saxophone, drums, and shouting band that only existed on four-track recordings. We turned into an actual band around May of last year. After recording the original songs it occurred to me that it's practically impossible to get 10 saxophones together to play live. So I figured that an organ playing nine lines and one saxophone playing the main one would make for a pretty reasonable translation. I think our songwriting is pretty traditional; we just use different instruments.
What is your songwriting process like?
To be honest, I usually just drink as much as I can, hit "record," and start smashing keys down while shouting at the top of my lungs. When I wake up the next day I'll usually edit my lyrics and add a few parts. If Thomas and Vinh like the song, we start playing it, and if they don't I put it into my dresser.
You and Thomas live at and help run what has been one of the most important and active unofficial community music venues in Portland over the past few years—Dekum Manor—and Don Hellions has served as something like the house band there. How has running a DIY show space affected Don Hellions as a band?
We try not to play there too much. It feels a little tacky like, "Hey, do you guys wanna come over and watch my band play?" If it's somebody we really like, or a friend's band from out of town, we'll play there, but for the most part we've been looking to play new places.
Where did the name Don Hellions come from, anyhow? I picture an effete Spanish demon.
That is precisely where it came from. No, it actually came from this really quiet, mild-mannered regular at the bar where I work, the County Cork. I was talking to him about trying to think of a band name when he said, "You know, I've only ever thought of one, and you can have it if you want... it's THE FUCKING HELLIONS." It was amazing. I was totally caught off guard. I really liked the name but it seemed a little over the top, so I decided to use his first name "Don" instead of "fucking."
Don Hellions release the Unrequited Like seven-inch on Sat, July 11 at Backspace, 115 NW 5th, 8 pm, $3, all ages.