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A confused businessman recently got lost in the Capitol Hill area. Looking for help, he stumbled into the basement of a nondescript office building, which was at that moment being used as a practice space by the Denver-based punk quintet Hell's Half Acre. Clutching his briefcase, he looked around the room--its floor strewn with whiskey bottles, its walls covered with Makita cheesecake posters and set lists featuring songs such as "Bad DNA Recipe" and "Junior High School Pedophile"--and asked just one question: "How do I get out of here?"
The other workers at the building would likely be equally disturbed by Hell's Half Acre's brisk punk rock; that's why the bandmembers (guitarists John Briggs and Kyle Loving, vocalist Dan Rogers, drummer Mark Wells and bassist Brian Wendzel) use the space at night, when there are no occupants to bother. Fortunately, the musicians don't mind woodshedding at odd hours--when they finish up in the basement, they're just three blocks away from the Lion's Lair, the East Colfax joint that serves as both hangout and venue for the band.
According to Briggs, lingering at the Lair has led to several unexpected bookings. "A lot of times they'll have gigs fall through," he says, "and since we're sitting there at the bar, they'll ask us if we can play. And we'll take any gig, anywhere, anytime, anyhow, as long as it looks like it'd be a good time. We're always willing to exploit ourselves any way we can." This philosophy paid off for Hell's Half Acre several weeks ago, when the five-piece appeared at a Republican-sponsored punkfest on the Auraria campus. In short order, the band's TSOL-cum-Hee Haw brand of noise attracted a throng of teenage moshers that took the Republicans by surprise.
Briggs describes the music of Hell's Half Acre as "Nardcore"--meaning Oxnard-area punk. In short, the sound is proudly stuck in the mid-Eighties SoCal skate-punk scene. "We're not at all like the Offspring, which is college rock," Wendzel elaborates. "I have no problem with college rock, but it ain't punk. It dilutes the term to call it that. We're true hardcore punk rock."
"Our songs are short and sweet," Briggs says. "For short attention spans."
"It's better than old-school punk, though, in that these guys can really play," Rogers adds.
"I call it `hard-corn bunk rock.' Or `inbred drunk rock.' In a good way, I mean," Loving interjects. "I like all kinds of music--even country-and-Western. It's all good."
"Well, old country, like Flat and Scruggs and Hank Williams Sr.," Wells corrects.
"Our country-Western anthem is `Trailer Park Suck Slut,'" Briggs announces. "It's our white-trash tribute. A monster-truck-watchin', GPC-smokin', El Camino-drivin' love song."
"Some of our songs have points to them," Wells offers. "Though most are about drinking and trying to offend people."
Cases in point can be found on the new Hell's Half Acre vinyl release Six Now, Half a Dozen Later, on Wells's own Fermunda Junction label. Among the seven thought-provoking ditties on it is "Drunk on the Lord," a knock on televangelism. And don't forget "Turd Burglar," which Wells says is "about day-to-day life."
In their day-to-day lives, the group's players work construction jobs and paint houses. "I do stucco," Wendzel informs. "And we've found that KOOL 105 is the best construction-site music. You know, `good times and great oldies.' You can't be in a bad mood listening to that stuff. There's no depressing songs."
Not until they change the lyrics, that is. "We just wrote `Dealer of the Crack' after `Leader of the Pack' in one afternoon last week," Briggs admits.
Given Hell's Half Acre originals with titles like "Beer Goggles" and "Beer Is the Answer," it's not hard to guess what fuels the outfit's twisted humor. "Beer is our bread and butter--an essential part of daily life," Wells confirms. Another influence is Jim Beam, which Briggs points out is "aged a full four years. Many of us are registered members of the Beam Team--a group of derelicts who hang mostly around the Lion's Lair." Still, he concedes, "We had to cut back on our alcohol intake so we could learn to play a little better."
"You can't be too tense, though." Rogers notes. "Loose, but not sloppy."
"And," Loving says, "we straddle that really well."
Next on the agenda for Hell's Half Acre is the inclusion of a tune on Rocky Mountain Arsenal #2, a vinyl compilation disc to be released by Black Plastic Records. And this summer the combo plans a brief, undoubtedly messy West Coast van tour. The bandmates hope the jaunt will lead to more good fortune in the future--although they have a difficult time deciding what exactly that would constitute.
"Success would be to go to a place to play and know people would be there to see us," Rogers suggests.
"Being able to live off of our music would be success," Briggs says.
"A studio apartment and a Pinto that runs," fantasizes Wells.
"My own trailer in a nice trailer park," Wendzel concludes. "And not just any trailer, either. A Windstar.