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Never Mind the Bullets

Los Mex Pistols del Norte will put the spaghetti back in your Western.

Judging by the current lineup, Hartnell seems to be a decent teacher and recruiter. The ranks of the Pistols range from seven to ten players, and the group's arsenal includes a slew of instruments not usually found in rock venues. The list includes a guitarrón (the four-string bass used in mariachi bands) tympani, tuba and a set of homemade chimes -- fashioned from metal fence posts -- that provide some of the more cinematic touches in the band's mix. "That was an experience," Hartnell says, "going in and telling this guy we needed a certain amount of fence posts to make a musical instrument and watching his jaw drop."

Hartnell's day gig as a sound engineer at Eugene's Hult Center for the Performing Arts has helped him learn to manage his group's array of gear -- something that can be an onstage nightmare for soundman and player alike. "That came from watching symphony orchestras," Hartnell says, "and the day-to-day seeing of how big-time road acts go through their paces professionally. The important thing with all this gear is getting everybody to be able to walk into a room and say, 'Okay, this is how I'm going to work it.' It's worked out pretty well. See, people don't pay to see a soundman mix the symphony," he explains. "They pay to hear the conductor lead the symphony, so if I have to color the sound, it's detrimental to the performance. Our goal with the Mex Pistols is kind of the same -- to make it all sound good before a soundman gets to it."

Hartnell spares his fellow sound engineers a wealth of trouble by performing without stage monitors. "If the room is in such a shape that we have to use monitors, then we're doing something wrong. A lot of bands tend to stick to their stage plans -- the guitar's gotta be here, the drums here -- it's static. But we move people around to get the best mix on the stage. We play some gigs where we go out on the floor and set up."

Some might say that's muy loco. But the Pistols' investment in every aspect of their sound and performance is born of a desire to best represent the foreign genres they whip together. That listeners are drinking it up may also attest to Hartnell's vision. "The people that want to go out and just see the regular old rock bands -- you know, the Supersuckers every night -- that's great. But there's a huge, huge world out there, and we're gonna be entertainment for those other people. And I hate to use the word 'entertainment,' but that's what it is. It's customer service. And even if people might not be in the mood for what we do, we're gonna get up on the stage and we're gonna deliver the goods. The philosophy is, you only get one life -- you might as well just let go and go monster on it."

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