October 1st • Tipsy Teapot
409 S Evans St. Greenville, NC
The hardest place to hear rock trio Black Hellatones, one of the area’s best independent progressive and soul groups, is Jacksonville—their hometown. Since 2007 the continuous closing of music halls have put undue strain on local musicians who don’t fit neatly in the metal/hard-rock category. Venues like Hooligan’s Pub and Music Hall attempt to diversify their showcases, but as Kelly Dickson, lead singer of Black Hellatones, observes, “The venues here know what works, like club night, and everyone sweats on each other. We don’t get booked.”
Hellatones’ member Kazz Castañeda adds, “They want to book us, but they need a whole line up to book a night. There aren’t enough local bands that aren’t metal.”
If you don’t recognize the eponym “Black Hellatones,” perhaps you have heard of the band’s previous designation—“What’s Good.” Brothers Kazz and Storm Castañeda (who attended Northside High School in Jacksonville) began an instrumental experimental/funk group in 2005. What’s Good was enormously popular in Jacksonville, Wilmington and Greenville, as they played shows with a diverse group of musicians, from metal to indie rock. When Mark Neil, the group’s bassist, relocated to Raleigh in 2010, Kazz and Storm shifted gears; their side project became the main event.
“We had auditioned Kelly to sing for What’s Good,” Kazz says. “And she did well. She did really well. But we never got that going … I wanted a vocalist.”
“I didn’t want a vocalist,” Storm insists. “I always wanted to be a straight instrumental band. In the past, especially with jazz, there were few singers, and the arrangements were always better. It’s like people have stopped listening these days. I do love singers, though; I love female singers.”
It would be hard for anyone to not like Kelly Dickson’s voice. It’s pleasing in a “I don’t care if it pleases you” kind of way, always powerful and often soulful. After listening to Black Hellatones’ “Partisonotion” (more times than I care to admit), I couldn’t wrap my head around how a band of this aptitude can’t get booked in their own town —the “Youngest Town in America,” as we endearingly call it. Jacksonville possesses not only three high schools in its city limits but four more in the county, not to mention the plethora of young marines residing within its boundaries. It’s packed with young adults starved for entertainment. Why can’t a progressive local band that packs song after song with robust riffs and potent vocals get booked here?
“It’s simple, most of those kids can’t buy beer,” Kelly offers. “So the [music venues] don’t cater to them.”
“We play mostly in Wilmington at the Soapbox and other downtown spots, and in Greenville at the Tipsy Teapot,” Kazz concedes. They even have an October 1st gig booked in Greenville.
“We’d love to play here though,” Kazz continues speaking of his home. “Driving every weekend to another city, playing and getting paid 20 bucks, is hard.”
Recently, one of those treks to Greenville proved worthwhile. Black Hellatones were honored to open for Holy Ghost Tent Revival. “We don’t sound like them, but our bands worked together really well,” Storm says.
“It was great,” Kelly agrees. “Everyone was dancing and covered in sweat!”
Living in a town, like Jacksonville, which affords few options for showcasing one’s band has caused many a talented musician to hit the road. Seemingly, they also never look back (Ryan Adams: Please, come back! We’re sorry!). Naturally, upon asking if the Hellatones plan on sticking around, their answers remain vague.
“Maybe. I don’t know,” Kazz admits.
“I’d love to live in Wilmington,” Kelly chimes in.
“Actually, I like it here. I do,” Storm counteracts. “Because there is nothing here. I grew up here. I know what nice is, and I kinda’ like its bullshit here. I’m used to it. I’m used to hearing everybody say, ‘I hate it here.’ But it’s cool, because anywhere else I go will be better. This is my perfect base.”
Having grown up in Jacksonville, I know people rarely celebrate it. More often than not, local residents even cast young male marines in a poor light. However, Kelly rebukes the assertion.
“There are a lot of eclectic marines that like a mixture of music—not just hard rock,” she says. “I like that [marines] come listen to us, and when they have to move, they spread our music.”
The three members of Black Hellatones identify positive aspects of living in Jacksonville, despite struggling to book shows in town. They accept that it is a sacrifice to make a career in music. Storm, who makes a living giving guitar, bass and drum lessons, adds that in order to make it, he spreads his talents.
“I sit in with other bands,” he notes. “It’s not the music I love to do, but it’s a paycheck. Its worth it to be able to play the music I love.”
Black Hellatones are working on their new album. They are recording this fall and winter. Listeners can hear their current tracks, (including the addicting “Partisonatio),” at http://www.reverbnation.com/blackhellatones, and catch their next performance at the Tipsy Teapot this Saturday in Greenville.