The Bill Bondsmen are not happy gentlemen. Not happy at all. Just one look at their faces is enough to confirm that there's no small amount of barely suppressed rage boiling just beneath the surface. Of course, that's the way it should be for a Midwestern hardcore band. History, in the shape of Negative Approach and the Necros among others, has proven that, if there's anything this part of the country does better than most, it's that combination of art and anger at its most pure. Take a gander around Detroit, the landscape reflects that.
There's plenty to be pissed off with in Michigan. Those lucky to have employment undoubtedly know others who're aren't lucky. A high foreclosure rate is a foregone conclusion now, crime is rife, and some in a position of power never stop amazing us how intent they can be about abusing it. Pay any amount of attention, and it'd be easy to allow that rage to manifest itself in a destructive way.
Not the Bill Bondsmen, five Detroit-based men into their 30s who are turning that aggression into some of the dirtiest, most in-your-face hardcore punk rock heard in recent times.
On the surface, their sound is straightforward, boot-to-the-head hardcore. Vocalist Tony Bevaque is a crimson-faced disciple of Black Flag's Henry Rollins and Negative Approach's John Brannon. However, there's a craft to guitarist Amado Guadarrama's playing that lends a subtle groove rare to this genre of music outside of Poison Idea or Void, as heard on any of their six singles and their 2008 debut album, Swallowed By the World. The Bill Bondsmen is what happens when teenagers don't outgrow a sort of accidental nihilism — rather, it festers inside of them and erupts all over their audience.
Live, the Bill Bondsmen are a machine. Unrelenting and unforgiving, Bevaque will spend the set with one foot on the edge of the stage, screaming at his crowd like a deranged politician. It's an impressive sight and, with song titles such as "If You Want a Picture of the Future (Imagine a Boot Stamping on a Human Face Forever)", this band genuinely has something to say.
Initially, the interview is a fairly intimidating experience. While this writer sits on a sofa, the rest of the band surrounds him, pacing like a pack of wild dogs. Get them talking though, settled, and they quickly reveal themselves to be big old pussycats, a switch that's like the Incredible Hulk in reverse.
The band's rehearsal space, with its black ceilings and red walls, is decorated with a variety of posters, including the Clash and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. A huge, beautiful bull terrier called Cuda (short for Barracuda) jumps around the room, panting ...
The band, completed by bassist Rob Dziak, drummer Mark Sanchez and guitarist Jeff Arcel, are down-dressed unspectacular. With black T's, plaid shirts and beanie hats, they could be about anyone with a fist around a Pabst at Small's in Hamtramck on any given night. But that's kinda the point. It was while DJing at that Hamtramck venue in 2003 that Bevaque and Guadarrama met. Mutual musical influences were acknowledged and, with the addition of Sanchez shortly afterwards, the Bill Bondsmen were born.
Bevaque picks up the story. "At the time, I don't think we wanted to do much more than play some shows," the vocalist says, so animated in conversation that, if he's standing still, his feet are tapping and his teeth are gnashing. "We did a shitty demo and I sent it out. Got one response from Acme Records. That's how we wound up surviving, because from that, we went to New York and Boston and it snowballed from there."
Snowball it did. The band isn't about to fill the Fox Theatre, but they have an enviable, committed fan base, a contingent who'll purchase anything the Bondsmen release. And they're pulling in fans of metal and garage, as well as the hardcore kids.
This band is rough around the edges, unpredictable and charmingly ugly, the musical definition of Detroit-by-night, though some of the energy initially perceived as pent-up fury during the interview is actually nerves, which is rather sweet. (And that might be the only time you'll see the word "sweet" associated with the Bill Bondsmen.) When Dziak lifts his leg and lets out a trio of chair-shaking farts, the band members barely notice. Dudes are bullish and open, verging on vulgar, yet they don't give a shit what anyone outside of their own crowd thinks of them. Don't mistake that forthrightness for general apathy though. If the Bill Bondsmen are built on anything, it's caring and, in turn, anger. Anger at the general state of the world (just listen to "Generation Landfill") and anger caused by events in their own lives ("Dear Debt Collector").
The band dynamic fascinates, an easy descriptor is that they're a pissed-off, functioning dysfunctional family. And Bevaque would happily talk forever if he were allowed. Dziak will sit and scowl while Sanchez and Arcel largely remain in the background. Guadarrama, an immensely talented guitarist, isn't averse to speaking, and he never wastes words; hence, he's the most interesting (based on early impressions) and articulate band member.
Bevaque is typically forthcoming: "We try to do things the right way," he says, barely taking a moment to take a breath. "We're all very careful about how we put songs together and put them out there. It might sound like we threw it together, but there's more to it than that. Mark's a great drummer, Rob is one of my top five favorite bass players, and being in a band with Amado is awesome. I'm in a band with my favorite guitar player in Detroit."
Each brings his own element to the messy plate. Any one question causes half-formed ideas to bounce around like a pinball, the ball admittedly hitting Bevaque more than the others, before the band can concoct some kind of pieced-together sentence that they're semi-satisfied with. They know what the other is thinking. You only get that with earned camaraderie, and being generous enough to take each other seriously. And this is the complete band idea — in the very traditional rock 'n' roll sense: It's these five guys against the world. Now that's a proper rock 'n' roll band.
It's the same in the songwriting, Dziak says. And it's articulated thusly: "We're getting together right now to throw shit against the wall and see what sticks."
The Bill Bondsmen show no signs of letting go their anger. Why should they? Like many, they're toughing it out in Detroit and, whatever means of earning coin they do have, they rather suspiciously opt to keep it to themselves. But life ain't easy.
Like the real local ham-celebrity Bill Bonds, the band's namesake, they're simply telling it like it is. "[Living in Detroit] definitely gives us inspiration," Bevaque says. "I wouldn't want to live anywhere happy. The lyrical content is what's going on outside the window. Reading Notes from the Underground by Dostoyevsky and at the same time watching foreclosure signs go up. It's Michigan. If you're not pissed-off, you're not awake. Outside the state, there's that representative [Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords] who just got shot and was on Palin's list. There's always going to be something. I write most of the words but I try not to write 'fuck government' lyrics. I try to be more eloquent."
Arcel, who has been pretty quiet till now, looks up and grins. He says, "While there are other people in the world, there's something to be angry about."
The Bill Bondsmen play Blowout 14 on Saturday, March 5 at Gates of Columbus Lounge, 9632 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-871-8888.