Touring burns me out. Drive. Load. Play. Load. Drive or sleep, depending on what's happening.
Just a month before Blackout Pact called it quits, Justin Hackl posted those lines and other excerpts from Henry Rollins's memoir, Get in the Van, on his MySpace blog. Although Rollins wrote those words over two decades ago while on tour with Black Flag, some of the things he'd said hit very close to home for Hackl.
In his post, written at his mom's house in Wisconsin between dates on what ultimately became Blackout Pact's final tour, Hackl seemed slightly despondent and fatigued. At the same time, however, the touring experience was clearly invigorating and fulfilling for the 27-year-old guitarist, who's been playing around Denver for more than a dozen years. Although his previous bands, Qualm and Cost of Living, were well regarded locally, when he was asked to join Blackout Pact this past March, for the first time in his life Hackl was part of something bigger -- or, as he puts it, a "phenomenon." Little did he know then that the whole white-knuckle, nerve-shattering hell ride was about to come to a screeching halt in a most messy way.
Thanks to a post on the band's MySpace page, Blackout Pact's breakup is pretty well known in the punk and hardcore communities. Officially, the members -- Hackl, vocalist Mike Herrera, guitarist Mike Delmonico, bassist Billy Joe Bailey and drummer Wisam Alshaibi -- say the catalyst for their split involved a laptop stolen from tourmates Scary Kids Scaring Kids. That incident took place on Thursday, November 2, in Anaheim, California, a few dates into a tour that also included Silverstein, Aiden and It Dies Today.
When the Kids realized the laptop was missing, they approached the House of Blues security staff and determined via closed-circuit video that the last person to leave the dressing room that night with a bag was a member of the Blackout Pact's camp. A few days later, at the House of Blues in Las Vegas, Kids drummer Justin Salter confronted Hackl about the missing computer. Believing that he and his bandmates had nothing to hide, Hackl agreed to let Salter search the van -- where he found the laptop in a bag belonging to the Pact's road manager, Seth Piracci. Pact was unceremoniously kicked off the tour shortly thereafter.
At the time, everyone in the band assumed Piracci was the culprit, Hackl says, which was bad but bearable. But then Piracci came clean to the group: He was covering for Alshaibi, who, fueled by booze, had pilfered the gear. Crestfallen at the revelation, the members decided to break up pretty much on the spot. While they could have opted to just soldier on with a new drummer, that wasn't even a consideration.
"We've never really kicked anybody out," explains Herrera. "We're really strongly against that, because we've known each other for so long and gone through a lot together. I just knew instantly. I wasn't about to kick Sam out, but I also wasn't going to keep playing with music or be associated with someone who had done that."
Alshaibi accepts their decision and makes no effort to justify his actions that night. "All in all, I made a huge mistake," he says. "I'll ultimately take the whole blame for it. Anyone who's like my real friend will know it's just a mistake that I made and not a defining thing of who I am. I have nothing to say in my defense, because that would be stupid. I'm just like owning up to it, and I'm being punished for it for sure. There's a lot of people who dislike me now. I'm just going to let things unfold as they should. I'm not going to go around trying to convince people to stand by me or anything like that."
As he considers the aftermath, he seems genuinely contrite -- both for his bad decisions and for the strain they put on his friendships with his bandmates. And although Hackl and Herrera are disheartened, neither bears any ill will toward Alshaibi. In fact, they seem somewhat relieved and ready to move on.
From the sounds of it, Blackout Pact was adrift long before the laptop incident. When news of the act's demise broke a few weeks ago, the only people truly surprised were those unfamiliar with the volatile five-piece's infamous reputation. "All our good friends," remembers Herrera, "when they found out about it, they said they were really sorry, but there wasn't one person who didn't see it coming. I think everybody saw it before us."
That's because the band's story so evokes the reckless, self-destructive tendencies of Appetite for Destruction-era Guns N' Roses that even Jeff Healey could've foreseen the inevitable collapse. In 2004, the musicians -- all outcasts in Denver who no one else wanted to play with -- moved to New York City and later New Jersey, where they squatted in an abandoned warehouse that doubled as their rehearsal space. The guys were gritty and combustible long before Thursday's Geoff Rickly discovered them at a hot-dog stand.
"We're a really volatile group of people to be doing this together," Alshaibi points out. "Part of what made us good was the fact that we were so bad."
"When we first started, the way that we all knew each other was that we were all the biggest drunks at the party," says Herrera. "We were in different bands, and we were always the biggest fuckups. And then when everything around us started getting serious, we still had the same stupid mentality. We had so many illnesses and hospital trips on tour due to drinking or stomach pumps for, like, overdose, it was ridiculous."
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Not as ridiculous as, say, taking trips to the hospital feigning sickness and giving fake names in order to get painkillers, another alleged band antic. Then there were detours to detox, no doubt inspired by days of drinking until they puked blood, followed by the shakes of alcohol withdrawal.
As out of control as things got, the band's chemistry was something special, unlike anything he'd seen, Hackl says. He and his bandmates rarely fought, but even he -- hardly a straight-edge proponent -- occasionally admonished them for their erratic behavior. "It's not like I didn't drink and I didn't party," he confesses. "Yeah, I fuckin' got rowdy just as much as the rest of them. But there's a difference between partying, getting nuts, doing stupid things and then just being complete idiots."
So what's next for these musicians post-Pact? Some are talking about moving, while others are looking for steady jobs. Mostly, they're trying to adjust to not being on the road for the first time in quite a while.
"I don't regret any of it," Hackl concludes. "I had a fucking blast."