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Psychedelic band La Hell Gang blossoms from fertile Chilean scene

In an attempt to shine light on local music, The Lantern’s “Columbus’ Own” is a weekly series that will profile a new Columbus band each week. 

“It’s the most important thing,” said K.B. Cabala, guitarist and vocalist of psychedelic rock band La Hell Gang, at Cafe Bourbon St. before a Thursday performance.

“Playing music for livings, it’s like a job for us,” said Nes Rodriguez, drummer of the band.

“Like something that you need more than something that you want,” said Juan Sarwin, bassist of La Hell Gang.

The three Chileans were referring to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle they’ve laid out for themselves, resulting in their first big headliner tour.

Based in Santiago, Chile, La Hell Gang is currently touring through the U.S. in support of their sophomore release, “Thru Me Again.”

A couple of years ago, La Hell Gang was among the frontlines of bands delivering on the later-named psych-scene of Chile, Rodriguez said.

“Each band has its own terms and we’re friends – most desert is psychedelic – but (La Hell Gang) is more under way with life,” he said.

Columbus venue Cafe Bourbon St. provided a place for the band to play Thursday under the guidance of promoter and musician Kevin Debroux.

“The guys from La Hell Gang were the most prominent, active members of the psychedelic scene (in Chile) which was pretty big at the time. I think it’s still happening pretty big, the bands from (Chile) are still touring the world,” said Debroux, who had also toured as Pink Reason with La Hell Gang as a supporting act in Chile during the winter of 2010.

“This band lives and breathes what they do, they are rock ‘n’ roll musicians every single moment of their lives,” said Debroux. “These are people who just struggle every day to make rock ‘n’ roll. You can tell that this is the only thing they do.”

“(Chile is) very similar to (the U.S.) with rock ‘n’ roll music or new things that (people) want to hear,” Sarwin said.

“Most people say that,’oh, I want to go to a big place with big cities,’ but Chile’s still few record stores, few bands, places to play. It’s just growing up,” Rodriguez said.

“When we went to New York,” said Rodriguez. “It’s too much of everything.”

“But in the south and the north (of Chile), it’s like nothing and that is good ‘cause it is still (space) to make whatever you want,” said Rodriguez.

There was the time we had 20 years of nothing (since the ’90s) – nothing cultural,” Rodriguez said. “So now the people are starting to new stuff, new music.”

In a Facebook message preceding an interview, Debroux described Chile as a “psychedelic place.”

“And when I say that, I don’t mean like drugs were floating around – that people are trying to push drugs on you on the street – I mean that you’re walking around and psychedelic drugs (literally) grow around you,” said Debroux. “They just naturally occur there.”

“Because of that, the culture there since the beginning of time – there’s been a very deep thread of psychedelia that’s run through (Chile) as part of their indigenous folk culture,” Debroux said.

Band members, however, said that psychedelia hasn’t permeated to mainstream music.

“In Chile we are not public,” said Rodriguez. “(In) public singing “Kumbaya” or radio listening, we are still underground. We released the single album (in the U.S.) with Mexican Summer, but we are still on our terms.”

La Hell Gang records their music on their own, and the songs are based upon the band’s jams, Cabala said.

La Hell Gang’s July release, “Thru Me Again,” came five years after their debut record.

The record offers a prominent shift from the group’s 2010 straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll debut, “Just What Is Real,” venturing into the realm of psychedelic compositions, shoe-gaze textures, and prolonged guitar instrumentation.

“There’s some new, open tunes for the guitar solo,” said Cabala of La Hell Gang’s new record.

“K.B. brings some tunes open, like he said, and we were joining him on the travel,” Rodriguez said.

“They’re not just into the aggressive kind of Stooges, Blue Cheer form of psychedelic rock,” Debroux said, “They’re very well-versed in psychedelic music and they like all forms of it, it doesn’t surprise me that (“Thru Me Again”) is more mellow (than their first album).”

Live, the group excels with improvisations in their instrumentation.

“They can feel it out, they can improv. They’re a band that lives together, they’re a band that practices all the time, they’re a band that’s always around each other, they’re living the traditional rock ‘n’ roll, ‘f— yeah’ lifestyle, and as a result of that, they know how to play live.  They know how to give it their all,” Debroux said.

La Hell Gang’s members live together in Santiago, Chile, with a space for recording (provided by Cabala’s studio), Rodriguez said.

“In Chile, the thing I really appreciate there was that the people are extremely outgoing, they’re very friendly and welcoming,” said Debroux. “You hear that about the Midwest, but it’s nothing compared to how it is in Latin culture.”

LaHellGang_header6“It’s awesome!,” said Rodriguez, referring to La Hell Gang’s signing onto New York-label Mexican Summer this year.

Being among several bands recently signing on to other U.S. labels such as Captured Tracks and Sacred Bones, Chilean bands are climbing into a worldwide position.

“It’s true that a lot of bands from Chile are growing,” said Sarwin, “Being part of where we want to be (in the world) – where people where want to listen to us on the radio some day – it’s great.”

For La Hell Gang, being able to start touring in the U.S. represents an expansion of their sound.  The group already plans to travel to Europe after the current circuit.

“It says something that they have the confidence to come from Chile to tour the United States, that an American label would put up their record,” said Debroux.

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