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Photograph by Felipe Buitrago

Sword Fight: HHLL induct new guitarist Ryan Madden with a ritual disemboweling.

Heavy Mettle

Is Heavyheavylowlow the best hardcore band in the South Bay? Ask the fans skipping around the pit in their underwear.

By Todd Inoue

THE LUPIN Lodge doesn't book hardcore bands, but clothing-optional Heavyheavylowlow could be the first. One January night at an East Side church recreation room, the six-member San Jose grindcore group set up its gear, checked the levels and tuned. As the lights went down, the members stepped out of their pants—exposing Daisy Duke shorts and tighty whiteys.

The soundman podded them up, and the band dropped a megaton of guitar skronk that transported eardrums to high holy heaven. Two klieg lights set up on speaker cabinets pulsed in time. Microphone cords quickly tangled from vocalist Robbie Dalla strutting around like David Johansen having a really bad day and second vocalist Matthew Caudle hitting multiple revelations via primal scream therapy. Their 20-minute set consisted of one- and two-minute staccato blasts that alternated between avalanche-causing grindcore, punk pop and disco rhythms and pants-pissing screamo breaks.

The short shorts and underwear would cause an uproar elsewhere, but the kids in the pit understood. By the second song, they, too, had shed their hardcore uniform and were running amok clad only in boxer shorts, white socks, bare chests or wife beaters. The dichotomy of a heavy pit taken over by the Sleepover Gang was not lost—"bipolar" is the operating word to describe Heavyheavylowlow. They possess the kinetic speed and energy of hardcore, goosed by goofy punk pop rhythms. The dual vocal dynamic—one screaming high, the other guttural—forms the crown point of the triumvirate.

Hardcore isn't supposed to be fun. Scan any hardcore website and the bands look like refugees from work furlough—meatheads with furrowed brows, ice grilling. The music mirrors this attitude—fast, loud and regimented, bleeding gum lyrics spit through gritted teeth. Hardcore shows are more about tension release by redirecting aggressive tendencies. Dancing goofily in your drawers requires a completely different school level.

It's refreshing that the members of Heavyheavylowlow talk about wanting to make hardcore fun. The band—Dalla, Caudle, guitarist Danny Rankin, drummer Chris Fritter, bassist Andrew Fritter and new guitarist Ryan Madden—want to take hardcore and—as an American Bandstand regular might say—give it a good beat and make it easy to dance to.

And people are responding. The band quickly sold out of its first EP (recorded with Andy Kugler from Plans For Revenge) and T-shirts. Now, it is celebrating the release of its full-length CD Courtside Seats this weekend at the Balcony.

"The CD was originally called Courtside Seats to the Greatest Fuck of All Time," says Dalla. "I felt our band stood for that kind of thing. We're not sluts or anything. It just works."

"It's not about having sex," corrects Caudle. "It's about getting fucked by relationships. It's basically a sad teen love song album."

A sad, teen love song album? No wonder they've been dissed by some hardcore purists for mixing beats into their breakdowns. Then again, how serious can you take nerds typing tough behind computers and aliases?

"The only kids who give us any resistance are the Internet hardcore kids—15-, 16-year-olds who think they're hardcore because they listen to Earth Crisis for three months," says Caudle. "There's never anything relevant said at all."

"It's silly jibber jabber," adds Dalla. "They don't like our band, so they waste their time on the Internet and say a bunch of nonsense."

Stripped of their guitars and personas in a Campbell apartment, the guys are about as rebellious as Halo 2 geeks copping a smoke outside of Fry's. Caudle is into Dungeons & Dragons. Rankin and Andrew avidly espouse "free flowing"—the recreational sport of jumping on and off objects and rolling around. Rankin enthusiastically demonstrates—leaping off the coffee table, clutching his knees to his chest and landing into a ball. At shows, the two can be found in the parking lot leaping off car bumpers and lampposts.

"We try to stay far away from typical hardcore mannerisms and activities," explains Andrew.

Three of the members attend Valley Christian High School. Dalla, 18, is unemployed. Caudle, 21, is the only member with a steady hustle—a graphic design job for a visual communications firm in Mountain View. He shows up to the apartment dressed in collared shirt, wool blend sweater and simple dress pants. He looks like the band's accountant, not the beet-faced leader of a grindcore band.

"I didn't like being in a position of a frontman or leadership role," says Caudle, explaining the dual vocal dynamic, "because I never thought about being in a band in the first place."

But for all the mellow tendencies, Heavyheavylowlow's decibel output carries a hearty headbutt. The members list Dillinger Escape Plan, Ed Gein, Slayer, Poison and TLC as influences. Lyrics—written by Dalla and Caudle—are odes to minutiae. "There's a Bat!" is about a bandana that looked like, yes, a bat. "You Killed the Bee but Broke the Light You Asshole" is about love lost. "Inhalant Abuse is Illegal and Can Cause Permanent Injury or Be Fatal" began as a tribute to experimental huffing of Dust-Stop in the studio, but it grew to encompass a larger metaphor. "'Inhalant Abuse' is about San Jose and technology," says Caudle. "How the Internet is replacing real communication between people. And how it's hypocritical and makes fun of itself."

Ironically, Heavyheavylowlow can thank the Internet for both its legion of haters and its nascent popularity. With San Jose's all-ages scene confined to a couple of small venues, the word-of-mouth buzz spread by the web, and in HHLL's case MySpace.com, has been invaluable. The website punks up Friendster's social networking model, allowing bands to stream music and videos and list tour dates. They blog, cross-reference their friends' bands and manage a growing fan base. "MySpace helped so much," says Rankin to much assent. "There are 1,600 people on our profile that we can reach at no expense from our pockets and not much effort," adds Caudle. "It makes it easier for us and other bands to get shows publicized."

With commercial radio airplay completely out of the equation, HHLL see the limitations of operating a band in an area unfriendly toward live music. They talk about how venues charge exorbitant amounts of money up front or tally audiences about what band they came to see and pay out accordingly.

"One of our major goals is to tour," says Caudle, "and not be one of those bands that just play around. Not that I don't like this area, but going on tour is a lot more fun than playing to the same kids for two years."

The band completed a summer West Coast tour with Hatchet and Annie. The reactions are different everywhere, they say, whether deprogramming metalheads in Fresno or jocks in Redding.

"We walk up there, take off our pants, rock out in our underwear without talking to anyone, and when we're done, everyone wants to talk to us," says Andrew.

"They think we're weird or retarded but then they're jumping around."

Stripping down is an effective way to get attention. So is playing in drag or in strategically placed Saran Wrap, which the band also has done. Heavyheavylowlow is rightfully marinating on the novelty tag because of their clothing optional ways. HHLL played 50-plus shows last year, and only a handful pantsless, but already fans shout requests for the banana hammock. HHLL should ride the novelty as far as they can—as long as it gets people to listen.

"We're like liquor," Dalla sums up. "It's hard to swallow, but once you do, you feel good."

Heavyheavylowlow celebrates its CD release with a Feb. 11 show at the Balcony, 2750 Yerba Buena Ave., San Jose. Tickets are $7 and the show starts at 6:30pm. Also appearing are Funeral Diner, Red Fall, Loftus, Peltier Road Massacre and At Risk. Visit HHLL at myspace.com/heavyheavylowlow.

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From the February 9-15, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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