"On our first tour, our van caught on fire in Missouri," recalls Matt Beld, guitarist for Los Infernos. "It was the coldest night of the year, and the wind chill was probably about twenty below. Transmission fluid got all over the transmission, man--it just lit up. It was pretty hairy."
Neither Beld nor his fellow Infernos (frontman Derek Coon, guitarist Vince Maldonado, bassist Dan Manuel and drummer Reuben Rivera) are accustomed to dealing with frozen climes. They're based in Riverside, California, which Beld describes as "a town between Orange County and San Bernardino, mid-ground between the L.A. basin and the Mojave Desert. It's a city of about 300,000, full of date palms and meth labs." These days, however, the players are spending little time in the hometown that in Beld's mind is "one big 'hood." They've been too busy presenting their blistering brand of up-tempo rockabilly-and-roll to uninitiated listeners from coast to coast.
The act's debut disc, Planet Kaos (issued by Orange County-based Doctor Dream Records), more than lives up to the quintet's incendiary handle. On it, the Infernos deliver a dozen hard-edged ragers made up of equal parts rockabilly, SoCal surf music and heavy rock. The band has a way with twangy instrumentals, but it's just as adept at Western stompers and fuzz-toned boppers in which Coon's dark vocals smoke over the thundering rumble of his mates.
Beld, whose rawhide Telecaster tone provides many of the highlights on Kaos, admits to being inspired by a who's who of early rockers. "I'm a big-time Link Wray fan, and I like Dick Dale and the Ventures," he says. "I never really got into stuff like Duane Eddy. That was all kind of pop to me. I like the more subdued, minor-chordy stuff."
The presence of other artists on the Infernos' list of favorites helps explain the combo's aggressive edge. "There are a lot of different ages in the band," Beld points out. "Our singer grew up when the punk scene was really hitting, with bands like X and Black Flag and a lot of the early punk stuff. I've always been into rockabilly, and when I heard bands like X, the Flesheaters and the Blasters, I really got into that, too. But we're not some punk band, you know. We don't really have a lot to be angry about. I mean, we're not trying to change the world or anything.
"We all like different genres. So instead of saying, 'Let's be this kind of a band,' we just took everybody's influences and put them together. There was no premeditated stuff. It just came out that way. And that's the way it's most enjoyable. We don't dictate what's going to happen. We just get together and have fun as bro's, and write music. Hopefully everything works out for the best."
Indeed it does. The Infernos' cranked-up musical combination may be a tad tough for pomaded purists and new recruits to the growing swing movement, but it's perfect poison for believers in the Reverend Horton Heat's church of musical salvation.
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Likewise, the Reverend has a taste for the Infernos' style of cooking. After the musicians opened for an Ogden Theatre show, he invited them to join the lineup for his traveling ministry's recent jaunt across the West and Midwest. The ease with which this series of dates fell together stood in stark contrast to the band's previous journey, which Coon had to assemble pretty much singlehandedly. "He got on the horn, man, and for three months just hammered away at all these places and put together a six-week tour all over the country," Beld says. "We went all the way to Chicago, and it was all do-it-yourself." More recently, Cherry Bomb Booking, a Denver agency, was recruited to assist the Infernos in assembling a trip through the South. Beld says the response to this musical variation on Sherman's March has been generally positive, but he concedes that "it's hard to get people out because nobody knows who we are. On the West Coast, Midwest and Texas, we're pretty well known, because we've done shows with Tenderloin, the Supersuckers and the Reverend."
Still, Beld isn't complaining. "Touring has been good for us," he contends. "We've made a whole lot of connections and we're hooking up with some real cool bands that we wouldn't have met if we hadn't gotten out and toured." He adds, "It's all about creating a buzz and going out there. Even if people don't come out the first three times they see your name, if they come out the fourth time, it's worth it." His advice to other groups with the same goal? "No matter what, don't go out without product, because you've got to have something to sell. Put together your own tape or CD or whatever, and make sure you get it out. And if you don't have a booking agent, put together a tour yourself. Call the clubs and tell them, 'Hey, I'm in a band. I'd like to get booked there. I'll send you a tape.'" This tack has worked well for Los Infernos; Beld boasts, "We're touring madmen now."
Nonetheless, the Infernos plan on taking a break from the road toward the end of the year to record their second CD for Doctor Dream--and it's no coincidence that they'll be hanging out in sunny California during the coldest part of the year. "We learned our lesson," Beld says. "Don't tour in the winter."
Los Infernos. 9 p.m. Thursday, August 21, Bluebird Theatre, 3317 East Colfax, $5, 322-2308.