The Hangmen were formed in 1984 when frontman Bryan Small moved to Los Angeles from Idaho after attending Boise State University. From 84 to 88 the band developed a strong local following which resulted in a deal with Capitol, who released the band’s, now out of print, eponymous named debut album.
Since then, the Hangmen have remained relatively intact, their latest album East of Western is out now on Acetate records.
American NonFiction (ANF): So, what’s new with the band?
Bryan: Well the latest thing happening, with the new record coming out, about six months ago, is that we’re starting to get some airplay, which we’ve never had before -maybe back in the late eighties we did, a little bit. Little Steven’s show picked it up, then a bunch of other shows after that.
ANF: What have they been playing off of it?
Bryan: They’ve been playing Homesick Blues which is actually on the ‘coolest song of the year’ ballot.
ANF: When you went into record this album did you want to make a record that was going to push you guys out there more and get airplay and kind of make that push, or did you just want to get the album finished for the sake of recording the songs and having it done?
Bryan: I never even consider airplay or success or failure. Whatever kind of life the record takes after we’re happy with it is gravy. I don’t feel it’s anymore commercial or less commercial than anything we’ve done before, I think it fits right in with all the other records, which is neither good nor bad, we do what we do.
ANF: You mentioned that you didn’t get a lot of airplay in the eighties. And by talking to you, I was hoping to get this sensibility of what your experience was like to be in a band like The Hangmen and writing the kind of music you were writing – what it was like to be in that scene; because a lot of bands in that (scene) were in your proximity claimed to like Iggy Pop and The Dead Boys but they didn’t have that ethos, the way you guys did.
Bryan: We didn’t relate to any of those Guns n’ Roses type bands at all. The bands that we loved were The Gun Club and Tex and the Horseheads and bands like that. They were always for lack of a better term, the real deal. When all this other stuff started happening we didn’t pay any attention to it, but somehow got lumped in with it. Maybe because our hair was long, but I don’t think, musically, we had that much in common with those guys.
ANF: Did you get signed based on being lumped in with them?
Bryan: Well we were being looked at before the Guns N’ Roses thing was happening. We were getting attention prior to the feeding frenzy that happened in the late eighties. We even did a thing for MTV before we got signed, so stuff was happening for us, but as our bad luck would have it, this other monster came from nowhere and we got sent down the stream with it.
ANF: So basically you got signed and then you had a producer who gave you a production that you don’t think fit your songs?
Bryan: The production was great. The mixing was terrible. Vic Maile produced it, he produced Motorhead’s The Ace of Spades and the Godfathers and used to work on Who records. He did mixes of our record and they sounded just like how we wanted it to sound, but the label took it away from him and had some heavy metal dude remix it, gave him a ton of money and had him remix it over the weekend and that was the result, I hated it, and still do.
ANF: You’ve been playing country music in Best Western, how did that come about?
Bryan: All the Hangmen records have a bit of country flavor to them, mostly the slow songs, but you can slow a lot of the fast ones down and get a perfectly good country song. That’s always been something that I’ve wanted to do with a lot of these songs is make them more traditional.
ANF:From a songwriting standpoint it’s a little different than the whole Johnny Thunders kind of thing you guys are associated with.
Bryan: It’s funny you say that, because from the beginning of The Hangmen people have thrown that Johnny Thunders thing in there. I was exposed to the Dolls a little bit early on, but when I wrote most of the songs on the first record I didn’t really know who Johnny Thunders was, I kinda did, but it wasn’t like something I looked to as a template to steal from or be inspired from.
ANF: Did you ever look to certain artists as templates to steal from?
Bryan: Fuck yeah, The Gun Club.
ANF:You mentioned The Gun Club before and it kind of makes sense as far as you guys being lumped together, but it doesn’t make sense as far as them being an influence on you.
Bryan: Just listen to the lyrics, they’re along the lines of what Jeffrey would be saying. To try to paint a picture, a certain kind of picture, a dark picture with words is something that The Gun Club got into my soul, not to compare myself with Jeffery Lee’s songwriting, because he’s brilliant, but they are definitely an influence. We do a version of Mother of Earth in Best Western.
ANF: That’s on The Las Vegas Story right?
Bryan: It’s off of Miami.
ANF: Miami is probably my favorite of theirs; I love The Watermelon Man.
Bryan: Yeah? That’s my least favorite song of theirs, that being my least favorite of a band that completely changed my life and I adore, I like it, I definitely don’t hate it, but it’s not my favorite.
ANF:When you listen to Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s lyrics and you hear this kind of biblical, southern gothic vibe, you can kind of associate it with early Nick Cave, and it’s so rural, whereas you guys it’s so much more urban.
Bryan: Well, everybody hears something different, I hear more of a city thing, I definitely hear the rural thing that you’re talking about, but songs like Bad America, Sleeping in Blood City, talking about nodding against the palms, those things remind me of L.A. The names of the records: Las Vegas Story, Miami, they’re very metropolitan, to me it’s city-driven music.