Hellcats is a local rock ‘n roll band that exudes energy and contagious enthusiasm. They’re shows are great to watch, their music is great to listen to, and their members are fun to talk to. Before they release their next EP and head out to play a set at The Republic of Mieliepop, I managed to fit in a chat.
There’s an American cheerleader television drama series you often stumble upon when googling South African rock bands. Okay, it’s just when you google Hellcats. Which, if you’re anything like me, is waaaay too often. But you kinda have to, if you want to keep up with Hellcats, cause they’re gigging the hell out of any calendar, and releasing EPs like it’s going out of fashion: Their fourth one in 14 months is being released at the end of February.
“Sure, we get mistaken for hot blonde cheerleaders all the time – haha.”
“But for reals,” Hellcats guitarist Warwick Rautenback explains, “if you google Hellcats, there are pictures of us sprawled in between all of these perfect American cheerleaders. We look like we are the sif cousins that got written out the show in episode two of season one – so we’ll take that I guess. There’s also an all-female Swedish metal band called Hellcats, but we’re not them either.”
“At least I don’t think we are anyway… Oh god, are we a Swedish Metal girl band…?”
They’re not. The Hellcats I’m talking to are the Joburg-based two-piece rock band with a singing drummer, who’s due to perform at The Republic of Mieliepop this year. They put on a loud, thrilling and energetic show with its roots in 60’s and 70’s rock ‘n roll – from a time where the “roll” was still an important aspect of the genre.
“Led Zep, Sabbath, Hendrix, Bowie, The Stones, Cream, Pink Floyd and the like,” is the influential bands Warwick lists. “It’s what our fathers passed down to us.”
“I was a teenager in the nineties so I had so many great rock influences like Rage Against the Machine, Nirvana, The Pixies, the Breeders, Soundgarden, etc.”
“Of late we are into some known and some lesser known bands like Death from Above 1979, Blue Pills, Rival Sons, Black Keys, White Stripes, Reignwolf, Queens of the Stone age, Arctic Monkeys, Band of Skulls, The Death Ramps as well as local greats like Sol Gems, the Moths, Black Math, Fokofpolisiekar, Pollinator, the Tazers, Van Coke Kartel, Ruff Majik, Beast, Shadowclub and more.”
“We’re seeing great new bands coming out all time lately, the local scene is stronger than ever.”
Hellcats songs rely heavily on beats and riffs. It’s old-school rock ‘n roll like that.
“We’re way more concerned with vocal melodies than actual lyrics. Alessandro has a real gift for putting great melodies to riffs. When we write, we usually get a riff, add drums and then nail a vocal melody. This usually all happens on the same night, and then we tend to leave the songs as is, so most of the time, Al just freestyles the vocals on stage to fit the vocal melody. The trick comes when we’re recording the tracks and we have to decipher what the songs mean, and not just how they feel. So we write words on the day of recording. It’s kind of a reverse way of writing, but it works for us.”
Speaking of recording, their fourth EP (and the final in the series of ‘A Coffin Full of Hellcats’ releases) is coming soon. End of February, they say… “just in time for Mieliepop.”
“However, we are also releasing a 9 track B-sides album alongside it. It’s a collection of tracks from the past 2 years which are important to the band and moulded us into who we are today. We decided to record them as a cool little extra for the last EP, but they have come out amazingly, so we’re basically releasing a full album of our favorite unknown music at the end of the month, so we’re pretty psyched for that.”
“Of course we dig playing to big crowds, it’s a trip to see a 1000 people heaving to rock n roll like some sort of swaying beast. That being said – there’s nothing like the raw intimacy of tearing through a smaller crowd where you can hone in on singular people’s reactions to your music. It’s incredibly gratifying and Mieliepop has this beautiful thing, because of its size, where you kind of become this weird drunk family with everyone by the end of the weekend. We played last year on day 2 and it felt like we were playing to friends more than strangers – fuck, talking about it gets us so lis.
“Every show is different for us, and we always feed off the energy of the crowd at each show, regardless of size.”
“I’m taking a friend of mine who’s never been to Mieliepop and I haven’t shut up about all the rad shit there is to do there. The organisers really do make an effort to get the best relevant acts on all stages (and caves) so that will be amazing – the day acts are a great segue into the night and the line-up is really well thought out.
Then there’s the day missions: beautiful lakes [take a lilo], there’s forests, barge booze cruises and I have to say my favourite thing to do in the day is to float around in the pool by the bar and get dagdronk. Best.
And with Mieliepop having become an important establishment in the local music scene, Hellcats specificly plan for it:
“We have a ton of new material we’re saving for Mieliepop, so there’s that. We also have a secret surprise which we are amped about, but you’ll just have to wait for that ‘ish. Otherwise, shit, I dunno, we always just play our dark hearts out so if you dig watching two dudes having the time of their fucking lives on stage, I guess you’re in for a treat.”
Hellcats is a two piece, stripped down, bare knuckle rock n roll band from Johannesburg. They are Alessandro Benigno on drums and vocals, and Warwick Rautenbach on guitar. They’ll be performing at The Republic of Mieliepop in April. Get your festival tickets here, or enter our ticket giveaway.