New Orleans took to punk rock as soon as it made waves in the late 1970s and early '80s, but it wasn't fertile ground — bands and the venues that supported them fizzled out. Metal boomed, however, and by the mid-'90s, a growing horde of New Orleans teenagers were putting on do-it-yourself punk shows in makeshift all-ages venues and punk houses. It was a small scene compared to the Fugazi-championed one in Washington, D.C., and more-populated, less-isolated enclaves in California and elsewhere. It was there before the post-Hurricane Katrina rock "revival" and renewed interest in "indie rock," and it's still there.
"When I was 18, I was going to a show — even in high school, I'd go to shows, even on weeknights. Now I barely go to shows," says Eric Martinez, pushing up his thick-frame glasses under a freshly shaved head. "With out of town bands, all the time. Now it's just big clubs."
Halfys is the latest in a string of bands Martinez has started since the late '90s, when he and drummer Stephen Roussel co-founded the seminal New Orleans punk band Hatchback. Halfy's is their third band together, and they are joined by bassist Melissa Guion.
"I feel what we play is exactly the same as Hatchback," Martinez says. "One of the songs is a song Hatchback wouldn't play." ("What's different about Halfys is we're just like, 'Eh, whatever,'" Roussel says.) Instead of the start-stop, jittery adolescent punk of other '90s-influenced outfits, Halfys rely on near-sloppy riffs and propulsive rhythm, with Guion's vocals ringing clearly above the racket. Martinez's infamous feedback is scaled back, leaving jangling or charging guitars. The former Hatchback song, Guion notes, is dissonant only in its beginning. "Then it's like a classic rock song. It's like Boston," she says with a laugh. "We are the Boston of New Orleans."
Martinez and Roussel met in high school, when Martinez answered an ad in a Werlein's music store on the West Bank. "We were looking for a girl bass player, and Eric was the only one that responded," Roussel says.
"The flyer said like, 'Do you like Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Nirvana?' I was like, 'Yeah!'" Martinez says. "Then it said, 'Do you play bass?' I was like, 'Yeah!' Want to be in a band? Are you a girl? I took it anyway. I meet most of these things, so, maybe they'll let me have at it."
The two later created Hatchback, whose members would help spawn dozens of bands, including seminal New Orleans hardcore outfit Dear Diary I Seem To Be Dead and Gathered Here, among others formed in the early 2000s. During that period, Martinez joined Red Beards, Promis and Secret Passage, all typically featuring his screeching guitar (or flailing drums). Bands broke up, others formed, and following Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, bands dispersed. Some returned, but many called it quits.
The short-lived Rougarou featured Martinez on drums, Guion on bass, Adam Beebe on guitar and Paul Thibodaux. It self-released a seven-song demo (packaged, on tape, in wood blocks) and parted ways in 2009. Martinez and Guion regrouped with Roussel as Halfys and recorded an EP at A Studio in the Country in Bogalusa. The EP, Half, made its digital debut in July.
Following the split of Rougarou, Beebe joined Opposable Thumbs, which revisited melody- and punk-driven '90s alternative rock, much like the band's familiars Lovey Doveys.
Halfys' contemporaries Small Bones — hailing from New Orleans via Norco and the east and west coasts — landed on the August 2011 cover of longtime national punk 'zine Maximumrocknroll. That feat likely had to do with the band's 2010 self-titled album, released by Plan-It-X, an infamously, fiercely DIY label and one of the last vestiges of independent punk (it launched the recording careers of Against Me!, Japanther and dozens of others).
The album walks a thin, brittle line between anthemic pop and chaotic hardcore, but it's all parts full-throttle and playful urgency. Darin Acosta's and Nathan Jessee's dueling guitars aren't guttural, chugging monsters but are bright and wide-open against call-and-response, shouty vocals and breakneck drums. The album received thumbs up throughout the punk press, and a 2011 summer tour ended this month.
Kourtney Heart | New Orleans Punk | KYNT | King Louie Bankston