By alexander laurence
The Hiss formed in 2001 with Adrian Barrera (guitar/Vocals) and Todd Galpin (drums). They were in a previous band, Centipede, from Gainesville, Florida. Florida was a dead end then for music, as it is now and shall always be. There was no future for this band that needed to back out and break all the rules. Inspired by garage rock and Surrealism, the duo moved to Atlanta and hooked up with Ian Franco (guitar) and Mahjula Bah-Kamara (bass). Her name was too exotic for the band so they replaced her with Johnny Kral. The Hiss is dedicated to hard work and sweat.
Recently, the band was picked by Noel Gallagher to support Oasis on their German tour. The Hiss also supported The White Stripes at 99X's Big Rock Festival in June 2003. Their debut, Panic Movement was released in the US in March 2004. I got to talk with Johnny Kral and friends before they took the stage at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles. Anton Newcombe from Brian Jonestown Massacre and Jason from The Warlocks were hanging out backstage.
AL: When did you record the album, Panic Movement?
Johnny: We recorded it in February of last year. It is just about us in a room. Someone starts playing and then someone else starts playing and we work out everything right there. Once the music is all together, and then Adrian puts lyrics to it. He listens to what we have done on tape.
AL: Where are you all from?
Johnny: We are all from different places. Adrian and Todd are from Florida originally. Ian is from Fall River, Massachusetts. I am from Philadelphia. I met Adrian and Todd when I lived in Gainesville. They moved to Atlanta and that's where they met Ian. I had moved to New York City for a few years. They called me down from New York and asked me to play.
AL: How long did it take to create songs and start playing?
Johnny: Everything happened right away. They had played in a band before called Centipede. We knew what they had been doing. Ian and I were familiar with their material. We were friends with them already. When they finished that band, they started the new band immediately. We were ready to play already.
AL: What is Gainesville like?
Johnny: I lived there for a while. Gainesville is weird. It's a small college town with probably half a million people. But it's really tiny. Everyone is mushed together in this tiny place. It had a really good music scene for a few years. It dwindled down and was mediocre after a while. It's depressing. Everyone left.
AL: The good clubs closed down?
Johnny: There were only two good clubs there the whole time. One of them closed down. They started passing laws like you had to pay one hundred and fifty dollars every year for an entertainment license. Clubs had to close early. That killed the scene.
AL: How did you end up playing in the UK a year later and releasing Panic Movement there first last fall? I thought you were an English band at first because I saw you on MTV in the UK.
Johnny: Yeah. It happened because of James Oldham who used to work for the NME. We sent a demo tape to a friend of a friend who knew James. He passed it on to him. James heard it and said he wanted to do an article on us for the NME. We started talking to him. He was going to help us put out the record in England on a label. Then James got a chance to start his own label. He called us right away.
AL: You had all the songs written at that point?
Johnny: For the most part. Most of them were done. We had other ideas that we worked on while we were there.
AL: Did you tour a lot by that point?
Johnny: Not really. We had played some shows.
AL: How do you know when a song is finished?
Johnny: The way we know a song is going to be good is that we can remember it the next day. If we can't remember how to play it the next day we know it's not good enough to be a Hiss song.
AL: What bands have you played with? I guess that you have played more in the UK than here. What was that like?
Johnny: We have toured with The Sights a little bit. That was okay. We toured with BRMC. We toured with Jet for a little while. That was amazing. They are our best friends. They are super great guys. We had the most fun we ever had in a long time with those guys. We did a few tours on our own with local London bands. There was a band called Razorlight. There was another called Eastern Lane. It was fun. It is always fun touring England.
AL: What do you think of the audience reaction in England compared to America?
Johnny: I hate to go against the hometown team, but England is a lot better for music than the States are. It's not that they have a better ear. They just care a little more. People are not afraid to go out to a show and admit that they like something. When there is a show in England, English people will read the paper about what is going on that week, and if they read something that they like, they will go out to the show irregardless of whether their friends are going, or whether they are not going to seem cool. They don't care. They just like good music. Here in America, they could read something that grabs their attention, but if none of their friends are going, or they show up and there are ten people there, they will leave. They don't give new music a chance.
AL: What bands inspire you?
Johnny: I don't know why I started playing music. I didn't start listening to music till I was in Middle School. The first album I got was Megadeath. I used to listen to that stuff.
AL: Do you like to read books or watch films?
Johnny: Yeah, we all read. I read Band of Brothers the other day. We all like George P. Pelicanos. We love them. The last film I saw was The Pianist. That was good, but you don't want to be stuck on a plane with someone you don't know watching that.
AL: What other hobbies does the band have?
Johnny: I don't know if I can talk about it. We are all into weird stuff. I can't talk about it.
AL: The band has this whole dark side. It's mysterious. What is up with that?
Johnny: Anything I say will make us look bad. Ian is into gardening.
AL: A lot of models and girls show up to see The Hiss. Do you have comments about that?
Johnny: If you have really long hair like I do and you are shy, your hair goes directly in front of your face and you can't see anything. I rely on what Ian and Todd see because they are aware of what is going on. What they tell me may be lies. They told me that it was a bunch of old guys with canes out there.
AL: You are coming back on tour with Electric Six?
Johnny: Yeah. We are playing three weeks, which is a perfect amount of time. The record just came out here so we are trying to do whatever it takes.
AL: What is your set like?
Johnny: We are playing most of the album. Not everything. We have one new song that we play. We have an older song that didn't make it on the record.
AL: Any advice for young people who want to form a band?
Johnny: Don't learn how to play anyone else's songs. Don't ever learn a cover.
(Background noise in the room. Members of BJM, The Warlocks, and Starlite Desperation enter the room.)
AL: We have Anton Newcombe here talking really loud. I guess that means the interview is over. When did The Hiss start as a band?
Anton: I am not actually in The Hiss. I am a fan. I am a fan of really good music. That is why I am here. The show in San Diego last night was really great.
AL: You are following the whole tour then?
Anton: I have my own shit I have to do.
AL: You should be making your next record.
Anton: I am. My records are doing so well that I can come and see other bands and feel inspired. I can bring that back to the studio.
AL: You have this new single "We Are The Radio." Let's talk about that.
Anton: There is another song now. We have shit going off.
Jason: Everyone seems to know about that song.
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