I would like to start by saying, if you haven't heard Deconstruct by Hatred Surge, stop. Open a new tab and go listen to it . The album is the epitome of grind-powerviolence and a staple of hardcore music that deserves your attention. Over the years I've kept this record in constant rotation. I love sharing it and have given it as a gift. It is a frantic onslaught, relentless from start to finish. To me it is perfect.
The central creative force behind Hatred Surge and a prominent figure of the Texas grindcore community is Alex Hughes. His contributions to punk and hardcore span over ten years and include work in Mammoth Grinder, Insect Warfare, Iron Age, and Sungod. Alex's current project Holy Money is an amalgamation of sludge metal, hardcore punk, and experimental noise. Their albums can be found at https://holymoney.bandcamp.com/.
It was an honor to speak with Alex about his history in the Texas music scene, music in cinema, and the human condition.
Scene Point Blank: Tell us about your current projects and what we can expect in the future.
Alex Hughes: Holy Money is my main focus at the moment. I'm playing drums and doing vocals and noise as well as writing and structuring the majority of the output. We self-recorded and released a demo titled EgoDeathSludge in 2014. At the end of the year, we recorded for a 2 song 7" that was released by RSR Records and self-released a 4 song cassette titled Zygote that featured the 2 tracks from the 7". It's definitely the slowest band I've done. You could call it sludge but don't call it doom. It's not fucking doom. I'm very happy to be behind the kit again. Within the last year, our friend Davis started doing noise with us live and is featured on our next release. We finished a full-length recording last month that will be released on vinyl by Anthems of the Undesirable. We are very pleased with this recording. Chris Ryan engineered this session again and he did a killer job. We'd like to play more around Texas and outside of Texas once the full-length is out. We've talked about self-recording and releasing an instrumental tape as well as collaborating with some friends of ours. When I'm not doing Holy Money, I'm recording solo at home. I'd like to eventually begin scoring.
Scene Point Blank: I think a lot of people would like to see more collaborative efforts between filmmakers and abrasive musicians/noise artists. Given some aspects of the last Hatred Surge record, Holy Money, and your work in Sungod it sounds like you've developed quite an aptitude for incorporating experimental elements into your recent work.
Alex Hughes: If you've noticed that in particular songs or records, it's definitely intentional. I like for there to be a twist. At a few Holy Money shows, my brother has setup a video of clips from sci-fi and horror movies with loops in certain places. We will hopefully be doing more of that. I'm very influenced by sci-fi and horror movie imagery and sounds. I hope to evoke imagery in people's minds similar to those dark landscapes and settings in the music that I play. I want someone to feel like they are somewhere else. At the last show we played, a member of Concussive said, "That put me in a weird place." I like that.
Scene Point Blank: The theater next door to my apartment just screened Lifeforce. I feel like a lot of sci-fi/horror films carry overarching themes of corporate deviance and how feeling empathy is every bit a part of human nature as selling one another out. Those shows sound great and I've seen visuals really compliment live performance before. How has the reception been so far?
Alex Hughes: Lifeforce is great! People seem to dig it as far as I can tell. I'm sure there are people out there that are appalled that I'm not playing 1 minute grinders, but that's to be expected and, honestly, embraced. I don't do this to please anyone except myself. I'm making this music because this is what I hear in my head. This is what comes out of me when I pick up my guitar and beat up my drums. I do what feels right to me and if people like it or people hate it, it's all an incredible experience for me either way. Can't have the positive without the negative and vice versa.
Scene Point Blank: Well it adds another layer to the densely occupied strata of heavy music from Texas. A common topic of interest is the extraordinary amount of high-caliber extreme music that's come from your state. What do you attribute that to and could you give us a history of your role in that community?
Alex Hughes: Texas has produced all sorts of groundbreaking bands from the 13th Floor Elevators to D.R.I. to Scratch Acid and on and on and on. I could give the standard "something in the water" answer, but it's hard to say. I think Texas is the gateway between the West Coast and almost the rest of the country. It's not the "South," though some people think it is, and it's not the Midwest. It's hardly the Southwest either. It's the Gulf Coast. I think that might be the answer. A variety of cultures and people pass through and mingle in this state. I would say mostly Houston and Austin. Those cities are not like the rest of the state. That and it's fucking hot. For as liberal of a political and social climate Texas has, there are still plenty of rednecks and the Bible Belt looms not too far over our heads.
My first exposure to local extreme music was seeing PLF (Pretty Little Flower at the time) play at Sound Exchange with Grimple from the Bay Area in 1998. I was already into stuff like Spazz and Assück, but this was a band from my city and I was fuckin' stoked. The next year, I saw Lack of Interest play at Urban Underground with Manchurian Candidates from Austin (killer ripping hardcore like Disrupt). Society of Friends also from Austin were supposed to play but cancelled and I unfortunately never got to see them, though they are Texas powerviolence gods. I started playing bass and vocals in a band with a few friends called xPOWERBUTTx and we quickly played any show we could. I was headfirst into anything Slap-a-Ham, Sound Pollution, Havoc Records; all of this largely thanks to our friend Bucky who worked at Soundwaves and who now also runs a record store called Wired Up. Our first show was in the spring of 1999 with Tanari, a metalcore band who were ex-Rapport, [which is] a powerviolence band from Houston. This was also where I met two people who are still friends of mine to this day: Matt Blackburn who played in 50/50 (Houston Skategore) and the Houston artist Eyesore who recently did the art for the Holy Money 7". I filled in on drums in Tanari for a summer and through this band, our guitar player Mikey T and myself started jamming on our own as we both wanted to play something fast with blast beats and formed Machine Gun Romantics. Before the demise of xPOWERBUTTx, we had a split 7" with Frankenweenie from California and had also gotten the attention of Max Ward of Spazz/625 Thrash and had some tracks on the Barbaric Thrash 3 Comp. I sent Max the MGR demo and he asked us to do a 7". This opened the door for a bunch of Texas bands as not only did it allow us to leave the state, but I feel like it helped get people to pay attention to what was happening in Texas. From there, I started Hatred Surge while doing MGR and after MGR we had Knuckle Scraper and Insect Warfare. It's safe to say, we owe Max a lot for giving all of us a chance and releasing our music to the world in the still primitive times of the internet (MP3.com, Napster, Soulseek).
Scene Point Blank: PLF is a great way to kick things off. I feel your pain with Society of Friends, I missed Aus-Rotten's last shows when I was around 15, but was at the first handful of Caustic Christ and Behind Enemy Lines shows. I’ve read that you have an affinity for Nirvana and Sabbath. What have you been listening to lately? Do you have any favorite music outside of punk and metal subgenres?
Alex Hughes: Things I've been listening to as of late are Peter Walker, The Red Krayola, The Soft Machine, Henry Cow, Time, Tangerine Dream, Popol Vuh, Cluster, Michael C. Sharp, Fela Kuti, M.I.A., Meth Drinker, Intensive Care, Revenge, and Sect Pig.
Outside of punk and metal subgenres, some of my favorites are Hawkwind, Captain Beyond, CAN, Neu!, Public Enemy, Steven R. Smith, Grails, Dr. Octagon / Kool Keith, The Music Machine, CCR, The Kinks, Thin Lizzy, The Zombies.
Scene Point Blank: Oil by Meth Drinker rules. Also, good call on Kool Keith and Thin Lizzy. How do you feel about the relationship between music and social consciousness in terms of art and direct action? Is one more serious than the other? Do you think the best music is rooted in sociopolitical angst?
Alex Hughes: I think the two definitely can go hand in hand and when executed properly can be very powerful. I think direct action is obviously a more serious and sometimes dangerous way to take matters into your own hands, but then again, maybe the music one is creating is enough to move people to change, it's hard to say. There are definitely people in places outside of America that risk their lives just to play the music that they want to play. That's very serious.
Scene Point Blank: Speaking on that, what social issues move you the most and do you have any relevant literature you'd like to recommend?
Alex Hughes: The transgender equality movement. The legalization of cannabis. The awakening of consciousness that is pushing everyone to realize that we all need to treat each other better because we are all the same thing and we are all in this together. Relevant (to everything) literature: The Archaic Revival by Terrence McKenna, The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts, and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl by Daniel Pinchbeck.
Scene Point Blank: You've participated in projects worthy of a lot of touring. Where are your favorite places you've spent your time and played shows?
Alex Hughes: I love California. Always a good time playing in LA and San Diego. The Bay Area is one of my favorite spots to play and visit. I love Canada. Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, all so full of cool shit to do and great people. Poutine! Belgium, The Netherlands, Wales, and Austria were probably my favorite places to play in Europe. Good sights, good people. Mexico. Went for a two week tour with Sacred Shock. Some of my favorite times. Tacos every day. Got to see the pyramids in Teotihuacan. Drank a lot of mescal and tequila. Two thumbs up.
Scene Point Blank: Dude, that’s great. And it sounds like you've managed to see a lot. What do you do when you're not working on music?
Alex Hughes: When not working on music, I'm spending time with my wife Cate and our dog Steve. I like to draw and play with coloring books, [I’ve] recently been getting into role playing board games, and puzzles. For reading, mostly sci-fi / horror, philosophy, and various non-fiction. I enjoy going to the Alamo Drafthouse for movies. When the weather is nice, the parks in Houston are great. We like to travel a lot and it's been rad just exploring places in Texas recently that I have never been to before.
Scene Point Blank: You spoke about having a desire to get into doing scores. Let's talk about music in cinema. What kind of music and film are you envisioning? I like the idea heavy experimental stuff being used to compliment a visual piece or vice versa. Stuff like Prurient or even some of the Holy Money work for that matter.
Also, what scores really stand out to you? I think Johann Johannson's work on Sicario is some of the most menacing music I’ve heard.
Alex Hughes: I've been recording mostly with acoustic guitars, my upright bass and some light percussion. I've done a few things with my synth. I recently got a sitar as well and plan on recording more with that. The stuff I've been recording is very stark for the most part. I would be interested in doing music for obviously a sci-fi or horror film, but I'm eager to try just about anything. I still haven't seen Sicario, it's on the Netflix mail list. Some scores I really dig are The Shining, The Thing, It Follows, There Will Be Blood, Birdman, The Hateful Eight, Blade Runner, A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut, The Omen, Rosemary's Baby, and The Tenant.
Scene Point Blank: Oh man, great list. Johnny Greenwood's work for There Will Be Blood and The Master makes the cello sound frightening. The sitar can definitely produce some great atmosphere. I’d love to hear it over the backdrop of outer space. Have you considered investing in a waterphone?
Alex Hughes: Man, now I need to re-watch The Master. That was a good one. I had to look up a waterphone...that’s what that sound is?!?! Never knew until now! Now I will obviously be in the market for one of those!
Scene Point Blank: Do you have any thoughts or feelings that you'd like to air out on this current presidential election or just the contemporary state of politics in general?
Alex Hughes: Well, I would love to think something good will happen, I'll just keep it at that. Good things will happen if people want good things and I think a lot of people in this country know exactly what that it is. It's time to stop acting like no one knows Washington D.C. is not really that much different from Hollywood. It's all very petty and boring and obvious and we should stop acting so surprised about it. It's all rearing its ugly head.
Scene Point Blank: How much of that perspective bleeds into your lyrical content?
Alex Hughes: Some, but that's not the focus of what I write about. Most of my lyrics are about how I fit into all of this and how it's not necessarily a unique thing, and how people should be aware of that fact instead of the many distractions that are all around them at all times. Too many people do not want to think of themselves as having an experience. Too many people are ready to subscribe to anything and give themselves titles and think they are entitled to many things. But if someone else is telling you what to do all the time, in every aspect of your decision making that is not coming from within you, from your gut, from your own brain...then what are you anyways? You're not having an experience, you're not in tune with yourself and you just want to be what other people are or have what other people have or be and live what you think other people should think of you. You are constantly projecting yourself onto other people and other people are always doing that back. So you might as well not be a piece of shit unless you want to live in a world of shit where you can't do anything that you want.
Scene Point Blank: Alex, it's been a privilege. Is there anything else you'd like to say or promote?
Alex Hughes: Thanks Zach. I appreciate you and it was a privilege to talk to you and speak my mind.
Holy Money The Language Machine LP will be released on vinyl by Anthems of the Undesirable probably sometime later this year.
Listen to yourself.