After 10 years and a mere handful of gigs, the bright lights are once again shining in Head Wound City. The ambi-directional vehicle of former Blood Brothers members Jordan Blilie (vocals) and Cody Votolato (guitar), Justin Pearson and Gabe Serbian (the original rhythm section of the Locust and Retox) and Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner have reconvened for maximum noise and visceral carnage. Last week, the band’s original 2005 seven-song 10-inch EP was remastered and reissued on Pearson’s Three One G label, as a sweet 12-inch “blood-splattered” clear-vinyl single. That EP was written, recorded and mixed in a week by the five friends who ended up playing a handful of gigs in California before pursuing the activities of all their parent bands.
But there’s more than just sweet vinyl in their world: In addition to the reissue, the quintet are going to leave some divots on the face of the underground music scene this year with a new record currently being recorded with producer Ross Robinson (who helmed the Blood Brothers’ classic, Burn Piano Island, Burn). At the time of this interview, Blilie says things are still somewhat nascent, saying the record should be finished by the end of this month, with live dates a possibility in June followed by the album’s release in late summer. He spoke with Jason Pettigrew about the band’s reconvening, their creative raison d’être and what he’d hope to achieve if he somehow ended up on The Voice.
Before you dive into the interview, stream the band’s 2005 self-titled EP, completely remastered.
After 10 years, it’s great that Head Wound City have returned from out of the history books and reconstituted for maximum damage. So what happened that made everyone want to do it again?
JORDAN BLILIE: The first EP was five days of writing and two days of recording. Last September, Nick had an opportunity to curate a music festival in Los Angeles called Bedrock.LA, a rehearsal space facility in Echo Park. He wanted us to do it and we were all free and game. We rehearsed the old songs and decided that we wanted to write a couple new ones. We did the festival and our own show at the Smell the next night. We had a great time and we talked about doing another record. Everyone was able to set aside some time to do it. We got together in San Diego, wrote songs for it in a week again and then drove up to Venice to record with Ross Robinson at his home studio.
Whose idea was it to work with Ross?
Either me or Cody; I’m not sure which one of us brought it up. We chatted about it and brought the idea to the rest of the guys and they were excited to do it. It was a quick decision and the ball got rolling very fast. The music went down in a long weekend in January. I’m currently working on vocals and refining lyrics. Ross wanted my voice in tour shape, so for the first two weeks, I would just sing all the songs until I blew my voice out, trying to get my voice to the level that it gets after two or three weeks into a tour.
Guitarists get calluses. What do singers get?
Probably the same thing. [Laughs.] He’s very familiar with my voice and he knows when it’s at its best. He knew I hadn’t done any heavy touring in years—the Blood Brothers only played six shows last year—so it was just reactivating that muscle memory again. It’s like vocal boot camp. You’re looking for it to come less from the throat and more from the diaphragm. To do that heavy screaming after having not done it for so long, you’re kind of tight in the beginning.
Bands such as the Blood Brothers and the Locust—and to an extent, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs—represented a defined aesthetic that did a lot to blow open the network of subgenres initially defined by hardcore. I know you don’t think in terms of certain artists replacing or filling a creative void left by another band’s dissolution. Yet I’m still going to ask, point blank: Does the world need Head Wound City right now?
No. I know I do! [Laughs.] I’m not trying to be flippant by any means. I know that Head Wound City meant a lot to us to spend time together again. But really, I have no idea how to answer that. [Laughs.] It’s deflecting the question a bit, but the truth is that we have such a great time when we get together, that we all jumped at the opportunity to do it again.
This time around, we wanted to do something that had a greater depth and purpose, and spend some more time with it. That’s been very rewarding to me, being able to revisit something and put more of yourself into it the second time around. Plus, we have zero pressure: We don’t have the weight of the previous work that can cloud your psyche when you get into the writing process. When the Blood Brothers were very active—we did like four records in six years—it gets harder and harder to maintain that level of creativity and try to expand on the template you built. In HWC, there’s no pressure at all; I just have fun with my friends. I have a lot of gratitude for being able to do this again, with people who have always inspired. I get to be in a band with some of my favorite musicians. That’s pretty special.
To get back to your original question—I don’t know. The response we had to those shows was very positive and we had a great time. When Justin [Pearson] is on tour, he says kids frequently ask him if [HWC] were going to do more stuff. I know people are excited by the prospect; I don’t know how many. We’ll see.
The first EP still holds up as a manic, jagged, tremor-inducing attack. You’ve said that the lyrics on the EP were inspired by arbitrary stuff, from bumper stickers (“I’m A Taxidermist—I’ll Stuff Anything”) to James Hetfield quotes (“Street College”) to inside jokes (“Michael J. Fux”). Looking back on it, do you have a cringe factor?
Yeah. I’d say it’s about a 4. It’s not my best work lyrically, for sure, but I still love it for what it is—a fun thrashy record we banged out in a week. I pick apart my contribution to it. The lyrics I came up with I wouldn’t count among my best. It was all pretty tongue-in-cheek and jokey. Now, I’m thrilled to have a second crack at it. The first time around, it was a super-fun, “vacation band” that we had a blast doing. Vocally and lyrically, it doesn’t stand up to repeated listenings. Hey, I was 23… [Laughs.]
And now you’re not. On the personal side, I hear you’re a dad and you’ve enrolled at UCLA.
Soon to be a dad, yes. I’m not enrolled: I am currently waiting to see which colleges I get accepted to. UCLA is one I applied to.
So you’ve got the massive responsibilities of being a parent and pursuing higher education—and you’re going to sing and tour in this crazy rock band…
Yeah. These kinds of creative opportunities are becoming fewer and farther between, which is why I wanted to jump into doing it. All of those responsibilities colored my approach to this record. If we’re going to do something, we should make it as best as we can. The guys wrote great songs; it makes things easier when you’re inspired by those people.
Having been entrenched in the underground music scene for so long, how do you reflect on your career through the prism of what is happening now? Do you ever feel jaded?
There’s still stuff out there that I am still consistently excited to hear. Anytime Crocodiles puts out a record, I’m thrilled. When it comes to harder-leaning stuff, I have to admit I am out of the loop. I assume there’s rad shit going on everywhere. [Laughs.] I’d rather work off that assumption. Since I am usually watching Property Brothers at 9 pm on the weekend, I’m missing it.
You’re obviously still excited to tear things up again.
I love being part of a group. It’s my favorite thing to do in the world. I love the chemistry that happens when you’re all working toward a collective goal. It’s simple as that. Aesthetically, regarding the kind of music I’ve been involved in, I just picked the genre that fits my limited skill set as a singer. [Laughs.] I picked the genre that values ideas over technical proficiency. I’ve always thought that ideas always trump proficiency, hands down. There are not a lot of other types of music that call for me to scream at the top of my lungs. [Laughs.]
No duet appearances on Charli XCX’s next record for you, Jordan.
I’m not going to enter any singing contests.
I could see you working with Blake Shelton on The Voice. That’s perverse enough.
I would hope that everyone would keep their backs turned. [Laughs.]
What song would you sing? Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All”?
I think I would sing some Electric Light Orchestra. Definitely ELO. ELO was all I listened to when we recorded Burn Piano Island, Burn. I say quite honestly those are great songs, impeccably put together. I could sing “Tightrope” because the lyrics are suited for a contest. “Some days you’re gonna win, they say some days you’re gonna lose. You’re losin’ all the time, you never win.” [Laughs.] While singing to four backs. alt