“We wanna make you dance, we wanna make you think. We want to make you think about dancing.” That’s the philosophy of indie electro-pop act Hell and Lula. Since their formation just over two years ago, the Los Angeles based band has graced the stages of several venues in the South Western U.S. and released two EPs, 2010’s “Catch Up! Catch Up!” (Re-released in 2011 by HYPE and “Left Behind,” an EP split released with Sevonica in 2012. In addition to making rocker friendly dance music, the members of Hell and Lula are also proud activists, who bring their causes on the road with them. In every way they conduct the business of their band, Hell and Lula lives strictly by their motto.
Hell and Lula formed after singer Michael Alan Kolb (aka “MAK”) met guitarist Devon Culiner in May 2009, when he was still a resident of Austin, Texas. By 2010 MAK had relocated to Los Angeles, and the two had put together a full band that was playing live.
Their nonsensically fun moniker is the result of “ridiculous word association games” designed to come up with the most search engine friendly name. MAK explains that when naming a band in the 21st century, “You not only have to decide on a name that you’ll be happy with for the rest of your career, but the name also has to be something that Google doesn’t already know very well. In other words, you want a name that, when searched, will return absolutely nothing of importance except for your band name.”
The current line up includes bassist Russel Henson and drummer Alexandra Vega. Before Hell and Lula came to be, MAK’s musical resume included a band called Goodnight Goddess, a rock band who meddled with contrasting genres, much like his current group.
“What I liked about it was that we combined some super heavy guitar riffs with some really catchy vocal melodies, so you had this juxtaposition of nasty guitars and screaming, then super sweet pop moments.” I wouldn’t exactly call Hell and Lula’s pop moments “super sweet,” but they do a good job of balancing light and heavy sounds.
MAK credits the band’s “electronicism” to Devon. He describes why he decided to work with the guitarist/programmer, “He’s also a DJ and has a love of the electro. Devon sent me a few tracks to work on when we first met and right away, I knew I could work well with his stuff. Even when I was in bands without dance beats, I was having fun dancing while playing. Being in a dance band meant more dancing, so I said ok.”
Being in a dance band also seems to suit MAK’s high voice. His vocals are strongest on their most aggressively paced track, “Set the World on Fire.” He does have a tendency to wander into nasally territory, which hurts otherwise good songs like “Cold Black Widow,” but he makes this work for him on the more recently released beat driven “Life Can Bust You Up.”
I have yet to see Hell and Lula live, but footage of their shows, even with bootleg level sound quality, suggests that this group can give a good performance. MAK especially appears to have a good time leading by example when it’s time to get the crowd moving. When musicians employ electronic instruments it’s really easy to lose connection with the audience, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem for Hell and Lula, though. And when it comes to judging musicians, I will always take a band that is better live over one that is better on record.
Hell and Lula make it clear that their mission goes beyond music. Alexandra, for instance, co-founded Autostraddle, “a progressively feminist online community for a new generation of kickass lesbian, bisexual & otherwise inclined ladies (and their friends).” The site has gotten so much attention that she’s currently utilizing Indie Go Go to raise funds to handle the abundance of traffic. Most of the time for the members of Hell and Lula, though, they often, “don’t have time after our jobbing and banding to go-a-activizing.” They solve this dilemma by using their band as an outlet for the issues they are passionate about.
They recently converted their tour bus to run on bio-diesel fuel, with the help of a Pledge Music campaign to raise funds for the mechanical work. Now the “Cool Bus” is running like “a sweet lady champion” with a quieter engine and better smelling exhaust. Other sustainable touring innovations include a “Recycled Merchandise” bartering program in which fans exchange old clothing items for hand screened Hell and Lula shirts. The donated shirts can also be purchased, and MAK says that they’ve sold as many second-hand as “traditional” shirts.
They also sell whistles at their merchandise booth to support Falling Whistles, an organization raising money and awareness about child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The band are currently working with Falling Whistles on a campaign to raise funds for a radio station in the country, Mutaani FM. (While I admire Hell and Lula’s passion for what seems like a good cause, I’m not so sure I feel the same about the organization themselves. After finding stories like these, I can’t help but wonder if Falling Whistles is Kony 2012, version 2.0)
Hell and Lula are currently working on their second EP, “Fermi’s Paradox,” which was originally set for release earlier this year. MAK says the delay was “because we’ve decided to rework some of the songs, which has turned out to be a good move. Some labels are showing some interest, now, so we may not release the thing on our own. In short, I really don’t know when to expect its release, but I do know it’s gonna be accompanied by pyrotechnics and a great big disco ball.” Hopefully it will include some good dance music too.