Hammered Hulls. Photos by Chris Grady
Mark Cisneros is a laid-back fellow whose voice has a welcoming tone to it, effortlessly drawing you into his musical realm. Frequent bursts of laughter travel through the phone line to punctuate a rousing occasion.
Lately, the guitarist for Hammered Hulls said he's doing cartwheels inside while thinking about what the Washington, DC, band achieved within the walls of the legendary Inner Ear Studios.
The band recently unleashed its debut album, "Careening," on Dischord Records and it's only fitting that the vessel is adroitly guided by the snarling vocals of Alec MacKaye, was produced by Ian MacKaye and engineered by Don Zientara. It's got the familiar, potent DC post-punk and hardcore sounds rocketing out of its pores and into listeners' eager ears.
Hulls' singer MacKaye and Cisneros are joined by music scene stalwarts Mary Timony on bass and Chris Wilson on drums. They've made their mark in loads of influential bands like Faith, Ignition, The Make Up, Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds, Autoclave, Helium, Ted Leo/Pharmacists and more.
In the now, they're nailed together musically and through friendship in a band whose sound features bits and pieces of the past, while firmly wedged alongside their current architecture of twisting and turning riffs and vocals that Cisneros said organically became part of the Hulls' soundscape.
*** How do you sort of describe what's coming out of Hammered Hulls? I hear so many different sounds and styles and stuff like that. What's your take on it?
Cisneros: It's really just kind of everything that we do, you know? I think it's just something that's not really even thought about. We just do it. We get together and we start playing and then something might change, like take a different direction or we'll play and then somebody will be like, 'What if we did this right here? How about if this went this way?' Mary's really incredible in that sense. She's also a brilliant arranger and she's just got tons of ideas. So we'll be playing something -- I was like, 'Oh, yeah, well, I didn't really think of it as being like that, but, wow, that's way better.' They evolve and change and it's really just like, I mean, we're really just shooting from the hip.
*** So what's your take on everyone's performance on that LP? Do you think it came out the way you hoped... everyone put their hearts and souls into it?
Cisneros: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I've known all of them for years now. But Alec is a hero of mine. If stuff at all sounds like any of the bands he's done before, it's because I really love those bands and it's part of my DNA. There's some stuff where it just comes out the same with Mary's stuff, you know, like, I love Helium, I love her solo stuff. It's like that stuff is ingrained in me. They're my friends, but my younger self is psyched. But above all, they're just really beautiful people. I've had a lot of great opportunities to play with a lot of different people and I've also just played with a lot of people over the years. And this is a group that is consciously put together of just positive vibes and really kind, generous people that we all want to be around.
*** What does Chris Wilson (who also plays with Titus Andronicus) bring to the band to make things roll?
Cisneros: Chris is such a great drummer. He adds so much to whatever band he’s playing in. I’ve been lucky to see him play a bunch over the years and I’m always blown away at his creativity and ability to elevate the music. He’s got all kinds of power and chops but he really excels at playing to the song. And he’s an absolute sweetheart.
*** So were these songs all written collectively? Did you bring some of those to the table, or how did the whole songwriting process happen? What was your approach to your guitar parts on the songs?
Cisneros: Well, it's been a thing where they're tunes that I've had or written lately. Usually I'll demo them and bring them in, and then we just play on them and jam on them (and they evolve from there).
There's some stuff on there that I've had since high school. There are just songs that I've had that I've never been able to use. And there's some stuff that I've kind of, like, held onto just because the people I've played with... there have been a lot of situations where if I was to try and use that in a group, it would end up getting changed so much. That's not something I wanted to put those tunes through, so I just held onto a lot of stuff and then this was just this really great opportunity to get it all out.
*** And then lyric-wise, obviously, Alec is bringing his lyric game strong, so that's good to see him put himself out there.
Cisneros: (One time after he was at an impasse) he'd come back the next week with this amazing, amazing set of lyrics, and we're just completely blown away. And the vocal parts and stuff, it's like, where is this coming from? He's a genius.
*** What about the live experience? What's it like bringing these songs to the stage and how are people reacting and such?
Cisneros: I think that, well, having the record completed is huge for us. And I think that the record release show (Nov. 5), it almost feels like we're a brand new band. It was the most songs we've ever played. There were songs that we've never played in front of people, and now we're playing all the songs we have. For us, that's new territory, but it feels like it's a whole new thing from the last time we played live. It's like we've got this fire and the record is out and we've got all these songs, and we're doing it, and it feels great.
*** And obviously it's getting great reviews and from the crowd as well. Are people bouncing their heads? Are they into it? Are you moving them?
Cisneros: Absolutely. Yeah. It was a great crowd. It was incredible. There was a dude who was in front of me, and when it came time for the third song, I go up to look at my set list and the set list is already gone and crumbled up and in this guy's mouth, and he's chomping on it and looking at me like, 'Ahhh!' It was intense. It was great. It was a really great hometown show (at the Black Cat in DC).
*** It sounds like you've got a good solid vibe going, which is key.
Cisneros: And it comes out in the music, I think. It's like when you have an environment like that, we're all so comfortable around each other. It's like when we get together, it's almost like a break from reality -- from the rest of our lives. We get together and it's just like this amazing, amazing time. And it's like stepping into another dimension.