Rocket Queen: Tough & Shy Guys

Discussing Jeff McNulty’s heavy new band, and remembering Ben Hills.

Hills died in a house fire last week at age 24.

Accompanied by his 19-year-old daughter, Sky, Android Hero frontman Jeff McNulty sits in a booth at the Mecca Cafe, discussing the long road leading to the band’s debut, Broken Hearted Love Songs for Sensitive Tough Guys (jointly released this week by Algerbay/Mustard Pack). McNulty chooses the Mecca not only because of the Lower Queen Anne institution’s superior mashed potatoes and gravy, but because of its proximity to KeyArena, where KISS will shortly take the stage.

Father and daughter have snagged last-minute tickets to see the blood-spewing, fire-breathing icons, and Sky is visibly stoked—but quick to point out this is hardly their first rock show. “He used to take me to shows when I was little,” she asserts, dipping a chicken wing into ranch dressing. “We went to the Melvins when I was little.”

“She saw Fang when she was 8,” interjects McNulty. “She’s seen Teen Cthulhu and Akimbo about a hundred times.”

Android Hero is the punk-informed, metal-minded trio that McNulty began to nurture on the side three years ago while playing with literature-loving metal mavens BlöödHag, currently on “indefinite hiatus.” Android Hero’s songs are sharply worded missives to bad girlfriends and assorted shifty characters, packed into concise, agitated nuggets as brief and pogo-worthy as any Ramones ditty, but with a sludgy undercurrent that reflects McNulty’s obvious affection for a low bottom end.

“When it comes to Android Hero, the songs just come out,” he says, describing the band’s approach to keeping things short and sweet. “If the song’s not basically written by the end of practice, it disappears, regardless of how good it is.”

Broken Hearted Love Songs for Sensitive Tough Guys has been more than a year in the making, thanks to the challenges McNulty encountered trying to record and mix his own project. Though he’s been working as a live sound and studio engineer at the VERA Project since shortly after its inception in 2000, he had a hard time getting in the right headspace to finesse his own creation.

“I had taken three swings at mixing it, and I almost gave up,” he explains. “I took one more crack at it after I did a record for [fellow local punk band] Steel Tigers of Death. I was mixing other bands just fine, but for some reason with my band there was a mental block. I finally got a good mix out of it, and it sounds the way we are supposed to sound: very heavy drums, very heavy bass. We’re more like Future of the Left or Shellac, where the guitar is more like flavor—it’s not like a guitar-driven band, it’s more about the rhythm section.”

Indeed, the final project sounds like a vibrant reflection of the somewhat disparate influences McNulty cites throughout our conversation. “I was a New Waver kid when I was in middle school, but in high school I got into Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. Immediately after that, I found local stuff like the Accused, Dehumanizer, and Cryptic Slaughter—all those punk/metal crossover bands.”

Live, the band is a blur, with McNulty, bassist Eric Carnell, and drummer Matt McGillivray charging through their songs at breakneck speed with a technical precision that doesn’t sacrifice primal punk energy. They’ll be doing just that at two record-release shows this weekend: the first on Thurs., Nov. 19, at the Funhouse with Rats Eyes, Mobile Slaughter Unit, and Same Sex Dictator; the second on Fri., Nov. 20, at the Sunset with Madraso, Lozen, and Dog Shredder.

A distinctly more somber tone will no doubt be struck at the benefit shows being held this weekend in the wake of local musician Ben Hills‘ tragic death. The 24-year-old drummer for the Shy Ones (formerly of the Knast) was killed in an accidental house fire on Capitol Hill early last Wednesday morning, leaving a huge community of friends and fellow musicians mourning at the Comet last week.

Hills frequently worked the door at the Comet, stamping patrons’ hands and checking IDs with an easy smile and a genuinely outgoing demeanor that earned him a wide circle of friends, including Comet booker Michelle “Mamma Casserole” Smith.

“He was like my little brother, the sweetest, kindest, most gentle person. The amount of love and support and caring has been out of control,” says an audibly upset Smith. “When I found out, I ran to the Comet, and there were about a hundred people there hugging…I’ve never seen that. It is important to me that we look at these shows as a celebration of his life as well.”

Smith will DJ and Champagne Champagne (along with several other acts) will perform at Saturday’s show at the Central Tavern; an even lengthier show starts at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Comet, and will feature Hotels, the Greatest Hits, and half-a-dozen other local bands. Proceeds will go to assist Hills’ family as well as his roommate Raymond Kemp, who was rendered homeless due to the fire.

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