My Straight article on the Black Halos went up on Wednesday; everyone's really happy about it (as am I to be back writing features for the Straight - it is my first since the start of the pandemic). Ox Fanzine in Germany got another big chunk of the interview, and theyeach wanted exclusive content, so if you want to read what Billy had to say to me about "Tenement Kids" or his description of his nighttime dayjob in the DTES of how the Black Halos came to name an album after a lyric by Television (which seemed incongruous to me, because I think of the Black Halos as being more Dolls/Dead Boys than Television, but...), you'll have to learn to read German. But there's plenty left over for another feature for my blog. I'm stoked to see the Black Halos again tonight--last year's shows at the Rickshaw were awesome. Plus the Spitfires! Alien Boys! It's going to be one hell of a night... and How the Darkness Doubled is one hell of an album (My favourite tracks are "A History of Violence" - talk about coming roaring out of the gate! - "Forget Me Knot," and "Better Days" - and the cover of "Ready to Snap" (original here) with Michael Monroe on guest vocals, more on which below! Check'em out, if you want to know what to expect...
All live photos are by Gord McCaw, from February 2020 at the Rickshaw. Thanks, Gord!
Photo of Billy at the Cottage Bistro in Gastown, where our conversation took place before Christmas, are by me!
And Michael Monroe photo by Rich Jones, I believe. None of it is to be re-used without permission!
My conversation with Billy Hopeless began – as I finished a turkey-and-avocado
sandwich and Billy tucked into his soup at the Cottage Deli, mentioned in the Straight - with my mentioning that it’s kind of startling to be back to work
as an English tutor after my oral cancer surgery. I always feel like I need to
warn people, in case they have trouble understanding me. But Billy was
immediately reassuring about my weird new voice—“What are you talking about,
you got this,” he says. It ends up being an interesting avenue into the
interview, so—though it is an unorthodox starting point, that’s where we will
begin. I am in italics, Billy is not.
Allan: ...my voice is okay, but some of my students need
help with pronunciation, and I now have problems making some of the same
Billy: That makes it better, in a way, because, like, say we are
touring and stuff—Spain is so great, but Spanish people mostly just speak
Spanish, and the last time [the 2016 tour that reunited Hopeless and Rich Jones]
we had Star Mafia Boy on guitar, and he was just starting to learn English. He
had that embarrassment of, "I don’t understand," and we were using an app on
the phone to translate. He’s laughing, and I said, "It’s a good way for us,
too, because I should really know your language, coming here, y’know? And touring
here, all I’ve ever learned the bad words – show me something good!" It was
funny—I was looking for pet stuff for my dog. "How do you say pet store?" And
he’s using the translator, and he’s like, "Oh, pet store!" "Yeah, now, teach me!”
Do you bring Bean [Hopeless’ much-loved little dog, and
frequent subject of his Facebook posts] on tour?
No, but in Spain, everyone loves him: “Donde es Bean?” Everyone
knows Bean – fans in Japan and stuff, people love him. He’s the real star
power, but we can’t let him know that, because of his ego…
Is Spain where you have the biggest following?
No, it’s all over the place. Germany’s really been good to
us, Italy, France… there’s patches everywhere; but in Spain, they love rock’n
roll. They’ve got a Dictators street, named after the Dictators. They’ve got an
AC/DC street in Spain. They love art of all forms. We’ve played festivals – we
played with Danzig, Arthur Lee and Love, and Zen Guerilla; and there was a
zydeco band on the bill, too. It’s all mixed up, but people don’t leave, they
don’t go, “I’m only here for this type of music.” Europe’s a lot more like
that. They openly appreciate art. While here, people have subdivisions,
everyone gets into little groups here, makes little sects. There, like I say
it’s more open, they’ve got Arthur Lee and Love, and I’m, like, going, “This is
the history of rock, right here! I’m hanging out with Arthur Lee!” It’s all
respected there – I like that.
I just did an interview for Spain, for Popular 1
magazine, and the guy asked, “So why did
you guys get back together?” And I said, “I was you, it was Spain!” I did that“Gutterball” solo single, and asked Rich to play on it. And he played on it—he
said it was a good song, and we were back talking, so… “Why don’t I go tour
Spain as a solo gig… Want to come? We’ll do some old Halos songs.” “Well, if
we’re going to do it together, we’ve got some Spanish musicians who will play
with us, who are willing to be the rest of the band.” We called them the Basque
Street Boys. Great guys. And that was it—we went and played Spain, and we had
such a good time, me and Rich were like, “We should start writing songs; this
is really good, that fire’s back.” So it’s Spain, really, that got us back
Did you say “the Basque Street boys”?
Yeah, the Basque country is the oldest country in the world,
basically, the separatist area in Spain. I love the Basque area, they’re really
passionate. When they changed to the Euro, they were like, “No Euro! No
European banks coming in here, no American banks coming in here! We’re
Spanish!” They stuck to the pesada. But they get sometimes a bit too
passionate. We played a festival in the Basque country, it was called “the
Nights of Terror” on the news, and we’re playing, and this guy comes up on
stage and he grabs the mike and starts going bah-bah-bah-bah in Basque, and he’s
yelling; they’re pulling him off the stage, and I’m like, “No no, let him
speak, I’m okay, we’re Canadian, we believe in freedom of speech!” “No, he’s
saying he wants to kill you because you’re British.” And I’m like, “No, we’re
Canadian, we’re from British Columbia. Our ancestors are, but – tell him we’re
Canadian! What’s he pissed off about?” And yeah, it was the invasion of the
British and the banks and stuff, taking over. And I said, “I can get that –
fuck the government!”
And I got a rubber ball that the riot police were shooting
at the protestors, who they called terrorists. I remember our tour manager came
up and said, “Well, there’s the choice: terrorists or disco?” She walked us
into this discotheque and there was this fucked up music playing and we were
like, “We’ll take the terrorists and the riot police.” But we ended up going to
a different bar and drinking with Charlie Harper [of the UK Subs] into the wee
hours of the morning – we walked in and he was like, “Hello” [Billy dons a
British accent]. “Charlie Harper! We’ll I guess since we’re not playing tonight,
so we might as well sit and drink…”
I was thinking about the darkness you had in mind with
the album title, because this is one of the most positive fuckin’ rock albums
I’ve heard in awhile. Even “A History of Violence” is exciting and fun and
Well, there’s some positive, but there’s also the negative,
right? It’s not all black and white, it’s the in-between of everything, how you
look at things in life. There’s good and bad, so let’s focus on the mid. It’s
like with kung fu, I always say… there’s the right wing and the left wing [Billy
demonstrates, holding his hands out to either side]; well, I like breasts
and legs, so let’s get to the body. Why are we so concentrated on these wings,
everybody? I’m a breast and leg man, and thighs: let’s go straight to the body.
I think that’s the problem. Everyone is so focused on right wing and left wing,
but find that happy medium in-between. You know what’s right…
I want to dig into the darkness a bit, though. “You Can’t
Take Back the Night,” is that autobiographical?
That was written way back, actually, during The Violent
Years’ time. That was the last song we ever wrote with that lineup as the
Black Halos. We recorded a demo of it that never got released, because we broke
up. I remember that I was working at a store on Granville Street, Cheap Thrills
– an oddities and punk clothing store—and there was a “Take Back the Night”
parade going on, actually, out front [a feminist/ female empowerment march
protesting violence against women, among other things] and the girl in the lead
was like, yelling “this is our town! This is our town!” And I looked and they
had black balloons: “Hmm, I want a black balloon.” I went up and said, “Hey,
can I have a black balloon?” And she looked at me and said “No you can’t” and
started going at me, saying “We’re taking back the night from men in this city!”
And I looked at her and said, “You can’t take back the night – it belongs to
lovers! That’s what Patti Smith said. It doesn’t belong to you or me, it
belongs to lovers, to all of us, and you can’t take it back—you never owned
it!” And she walked away: “Grrr!”
But I was young and full of foolish fun spunk back then. I
have grown to have more understanding and respect for people's feelings and
causes. Though I still would want a black balloon.
And [the song] was kind of autobiographical, too, because it was
around that time where we were so beaten down from touring: “Looking back now I'm sure you have your doubts,” and that. And the
breakup, type-thing, me and Rich splitting: a lot of that was like, “You can’t
take back the night, buddy.” It's a classic, tragic “person meets
person, person has disagreement with
person, person loses person, person is left with the weight of the loss of a
person” story. Everyone loves a tragedy except the ones involved…
You seem like you’re a lot more solid than you were. I
remember you being a little out of control.
A death in the family will set you off, and also just being
on the road like we were, and drinking like we do, and you’re doing it every
night… and the fact that we’re never home… it got to where it was two
twenty-sixers a night, and you’re looking at yourself like, “Yeah, if Steven
Tyler saw me, he’d be shaking his head! What are we doing to ourselves, living
like this?” But it’s the best times of our lives, right?
We didn't check the pic, so you can't read the t-shirt, but that's for Eating Miss Campbell. Cool shirt! Photo by Allan MacInnis, taken at the end of the interview.
[Billy, continued...] We’ve got to talk about this. [Billy points at the
t-shirt he’s wearing]. Eating Miss Campbell. This is one of the
thrills for us happening right now—the new album is one thing, but for personal
thrills for us… [Liam Regan], this friend/fan from Yorkshire, England, it turns
out, he got hold of us. He’s a big fan. He’d made this movie called My Bloody
Banjo, an independent horror movie, and it did really great, toured and got
cult status. So Lloyd Kaufman from Troma saw it, and went, “I love this.” So he
went to Liam and said, “I want you to do a movie and I want to produce it as a
Troma film.” Liam said, “Oh yeah? I want to do a sort of 80’s bad
high-school-girl movie, like Heathers, but I want to make this movie
about a Goth vegan girl in a school where they’re basically promoting suicide
and murder because the population is so high, who gets seduced by her female
teacher, gets into lesbianism, then gets seduced into cannibalism. And the
question is, “Is cannibalism vegan?” But anyways, it’s a great Troma film, but
Liam goes, “Can you guys write a song for the soundtrack?” He’s got all these
great bands on the soundtrack. We were like, “Write a song for a Troma film
produced by Lloyd Kaufman? Sure, Liam, of course! We’ll write a song only for
It's coming out on vinyl this year on the soundtrack for the
album. It’s one of the only places you’ll hear it, the song “Don’t Thank Heaven
for Little Girls.” Little girls are nasty, evil things—they’ll wear you down.
Never trust them, especially if she’s smiling. I love that song, I think it’s a
great song, but how is exciting is that, we have a song in a Troma film.
Opening night was at the Prince Charles theatre, in London. It’s been touring,
it’s getting great reviews. I watched it, it was over the top, repulsive,
disgusting, totally un-PC, as any good B-movie should be. I just told Joe Bob
Briggs about it, from The Last Drive-In, told him “You gotta check them
It turned out Kaufman was a fan too, he tweeted when I did
our first single that, “I can’t believe the Black Halos are back!” I went to
Rich, “See? Lloyd Kaufman tweeted!”
Very cool. Could you talk a bit more about your job in social housing?
I’m the overnight “Brother Wolf,” the all-night werewolf in a vampire shift, working with people who have gotten into zombie drugs, or with mental sickness. [Again, if you want to read about Billy administering NARCAN and waiting for the paramedics, you'll have to learn to read German]. And people seem to like me, they respect me. A lot of the time you get these young, fresh faces in there [ie., as staff], and people on the street see that a mile away, and they look at you and go, like, “How can I relate to you? You don’t understand what I’m going through, you’re telling me what I’m going through, but also, you’re not street. And they see me coming in, and go, ‘Oh yeah, he’s one of us.’
I gotta tell you a story. I'm always amazed by how much community there is in the DTES. I was on the bus the other day,
going down East Hastings, and some woman who had bummed a ride got back on
saying she’d lost five dollars. She couldn’t find it, so she got back off,
grumbling, but there was this old Chinese man, and he pointed under a seat and
said “There it is!” And everyone looked to see if the five dollars was there,
and he’s laughing at us. Then everyone is laughing with him - "good one!" - and telling stories,
complete strangers telling stories about finding money, losing money. One woman
had a story about finding balloons of cocaine. Everyone was having a great time
sharing on the bus. You wouldn’t see that on a bus going down Granville Street. You wouldn’t see
that kind of community anywhere else in Vancouver.
No. When you’re down in the bottom, you have to. You still
get people who don’t, the assholes, and part of my job is dealing with them.
“Oh yeah, you called me rat goof again? Oh yeah. Go ahead! Do you know who
you’re talking to? Google me!” I’ve had tenants look at guys and go, “Oh, no.
You don’t want to go there with him.” When I worked security at Army and Navy
with Geoff [AKA Caller of the Storms] from [Vancouver Satanic "war metal" band] Blasphemy… we’ve known each other
for a long time, but I’d always say, if people were stealing from Army and
Navy, “No, no, no, you don’t want to do that. Do you see that pit bull over
there? [indicating an imaginary Geoff]. Do not poke the pit bull.” And
at certain times, tenants have done that with me, jumping in, where I’m [dealing
with a problem person] like, “I’m not legally allowed to do anything until
you touch me, but I don’t even want to go there, why do you want to go there? I
don’t need it, you don’t need it. I don’t want to have to call the cops, but
I’m going to have to call them if you keep this up.” And then a tenant will
walk in and jump in. But that’s the thing, I can’t do anything, but they can.
Am I going to say anything, be like Willy Wonka: “Don’t—oh, please don’t,
please stop?” And that’s my reputation. These young fresh faces, they can walk
all over, but they look at me and, “Oh, that guy might go a few rounds!”
Let me ask about Michael Monroe’s guest appearance on the
album. Did you get together physically with him?
No, originally I recorded it in Hamilton [Ontario] with
Rich, but Michael Monroe was in Finland, and Rich went and played with him in
Finland. They didn’t have a mike stand in the hotel room, so Rich set up one of
those rolling suitcases, lifted the bar up, and they taped the microphone onto
the bar, and you have Michael Monroe singing into this thing. Rich sent me a
picture of it: “Look, Michael’s recording right now, that’s his mike stand!”
It’s just beautiful, it’s so rock ’n’ roll.
For me it was huge. I mean, I know for Rich… like, Rich was
the biggest Hanoi Rocks fans I’ve ever met in my whole life. If we saw an album
at the time, he’d fight me over it, he’d grab it, even if he had multiples of
it, so his playing and writing with Michael Monroe makes complete sense,
because it’s like his dream come true. But I laugh, because even for me, I got
to talk to him once on the phone, when he was on Century Media, when we were on
Century Media and Hanoi did a comeback on Century Media, and even then I was
like, “I got to talk to Michael Monroe! This is awesome” And now it’s like, “I
did a duet with Michael Monroe! I know the guitarist! (Cough, cough). ” I joke
about it, but really, it’s huge, right. Let’s face it, the guy’s amazing, and
Like, I thought Peacemaker was one of the best TV
shows to come out in ages, one of the only superhero shows besides Deadpool
that I thought was worthy, and when he’s going through all his old
records, all this 80’s cock rock, and he puts on [Saxon’s] Dogs of War
and then pulls out Hanoi Rocks and goes, “Best band in the world!” And one of the
other guys in the FBI team goes, “Are you talking about Michael Monroe?” And he
has an “11th Street Kids” tattoo on his arm, as a sleeve, and they start
singing “11th Street Kids” by Hanoi Rocks. I’m like, “This is bloody amazing,
not only did they play The Dogs of War, by my other favourite band of
that era, but now you’ve just played Hanoi and said that Michael Monroe is the
best frontman in the world!”
(photo courtesy Rich Jones, not to be reused without permission)
I’m so happy for you and Rich.
It's so good. And having Jay [Millette] back… this whole new
lineup, I gotta say. I’d been talking with Rich about who we wanted to ask back
in, and I was like, “I don’t care, I won’t care. I don’t about anyone else
really, some I might want, and some I don’t want, but I want Jay! Man, I miss Jay.” And Rich was
like, “Me, too. ” Just having Jay around... I love that guy. I
stay with him whenever I’m in Ontario, and it’s just the best. I think he’s
everyone’s favourite Halo, probably mine.
Does he have another gig, too?
Yeah, he’s been doing a couple of things. He has his own
solo stuff, he has a side band. [Billy says something about an AC/DC tribute band but the recorder kinda missed it]. He’s always up to something, but I think he knows
that now it’s Halos time.
Jay Millette, onstage with the Black Halos, February 2020, by Gord McCaw
No! See, I didn't know either. You should talk to Rich about it, but it's this movie, about these two criminal, gangster brothers. I forget what it's called! [Rich and I end up interacting to clarify that the film is Legend, with Tom Hardy in the role of both Kray brothers - "It's a pretty good one!" Rich says, explaining that "Frankie is his wife (Frances), the song title is actually a line in the movie when she's finally had enough of his shit and she leaves him." I'm not sure which Kray is being talked about, but I agree with Rich, it's a great little film, if you're a Tom Hardy fan; it can be usually found for five bucks on blu-ray in Walmart DVD bins, note]. He goes, "It kind of reminded me of you and me." I watched it -- I'd heard of the movie but I'd never watched it; "It's a good song, but what's it about?" It makes complete sense if you watch the movie. It's a great song. It's something I would have written, which is exciting to me. Rich and me, we write really different, I think. When we write together, it's amazing, because the parts come together. But if I write a song, it's really different than when Rich writes a song. It's really cool.
Do you have a favourite lyric of your own on the album?
It's hard, it's like... I really like, "I was drinking til she looked like you." It's crazy, because we haven't put that song ["Forget Me Knot
"] in the set yet, that song, and I keep bugging Rich. It's just such a great line, to point at a girl and go, "I was drinking til she looked like you." I've been there, right? I've had my times. when love has left, and I'm sitting drinking going, "Yeah, what am I doing, I don't love you, you're a rebound, you're a ricochet, and God - I'm just getting wasted with you because I don't know what else to do."
It's a profound line. Did you write that for that song, or was it kicking around for awhile?
No, it just came out. All the stuff just comes out. And I like "windshield trajectories" in "A History of Violence
." It's the same, what came out of my mouth, and I was like, "Oh yeah!" Because I remember me and Rich and the guys in the van were in Washington DC or Colorado or somewhere and we're going down a spiraling road down a mountainside. And it's snowing, we have no brakes, and there's a hole in the bottom of the van, with the gas fumes coming up. It was freezing. I've got an old video of it somewhere. And I was sitting there in the front with Rich, everyone else was asleep; we had a Cliff Burton loft in the van, a little space where you could lay down, where we wrote "Cliff Burton Memorial Loft," after how he died
in a car crash. And Rich is looking at me, going, "Well, this is it, we're gonna die." And we saw this semi-trailer truck on the side of the road that had tipped over, and there's this motorhome that had crashed into a tree, and this couple hugging, they were embracing each other in the snow, like, "Thank God we're alive," and I remember going, "Yep, this is it." So when that came out, "windshield trajectories," I was like, "How many times in this band have we felt that?" I think Matt [Charmichael, previous bassist] said once, in the van, "I wonder what the windshield tastes like?" That's it, "windshield trajectories." And pointing out of the van: "where are we going? THAT WAY!"
Ha. I had thought of both of those meanings, reading the lyrics, and I wondered which applied. Now I know: both of them!
The things I’ve seen with this band—being the only guy who has stayed all the way through—are insane. What we survived personally, and then as a band… I look at it and go, ‘And we’re back doing it again? Are we too stupid to quit or too smart to say no? …Or just too in love?’ We’re trying to be smarter this time.
See you at the Rickshaw tonight? For tickets and more information, go here!