Fresh home from their whopping European tour and currently headlining a run of Aussie shows celebrating their most recent album, Opera Oblivia, Hellions continue to go from strength to strength. Sydney local and guitarist/singer of the band, Matt Gravolin, hops on the blower to talk about living it up on the road, singing live for the first time and coping with tough feedback from their musical heroes.
“I’ve been playing guitar since I was 13, [but] I’ve been singing only for about a year,” Gravolin says. “I’m enjoying it very much, it’s opened up a whole new thing in our music… I’m still finding it very nerve-wracking. I think it’s visible – if you saw the triple j [Like A Version] recently… It’s the first time I’ve ever been filmed singing in my whole life, and it’s a big first thing to be filmed, so needless to say I was quite nervous. But the more that we do it the better I’ll get, I suppose.”
Singing seems to be a key element to their hardcore punk signature sound, and Gravolin tells me about their rehearsal on the first night of tour at Oxford Art Factory in Sydney. “We opened with this song, 24, the end of it is this sort of group vocal… It’s funny – we were rehearsing at a practice going ‘Urrggghh’” he illustrates. “It’s super nerve-wracking because we have to do that part, but that expectancy can fuck you over, thinking ‘Are they gonna get into it or is it going to be crickets?’ Thankfully it was overwhelmingly positive!”
With so many friends in the scene and touring with the likes of The Amity Affliction and JJ Peters of Deez Nuts (who Gravolin describes as “a wonderful man, salt of the earth, probably the sweetest person I know, truly”) you would think it would be hard to have a favourite brother band to tour with, but he wastes no time in declaring: “Northlane – we grew up with them. The first one that we did with them, they took us over to Europe in support of their third album [Node].
“Being our first time over there… we were really being excessive, heaps of drinking and carrying on and all that, and we found that nearly every evening it was Marcus and myself staying up until the first person would wake up, which was usually Vincent [Bennett], the lead singer for The Acacia Strain. He was straight edge, so for him to come down in the morning, in the bus, and we were still up from the night before, you can see him just rolling his eyes, and he’d say ‘You need to go to bed,’ that sort of thing.
“We would just slur our way through the necessary conversation and then hang our heads and dismiss ourselves. That would happen over and over again, there was a lot of shitty mornings,” he laughs. “There was one time, we were on a boat on the way to Helsinki and Marcus and I had too much to drink, carrying on a little bit. I broke a chair on this boat and they put me in their little jail in the boat. So yeah, I was down in there for the evening.”
All boat-related antics aside, it’s easy to see why Hellions are such a popular band amongst their peers. But as an up and coming staple on the heavy scene, they’re still navigating external expectations with their own direction, and not all feedback – from fans, from industry heads, from fellow bands – can be easily swallowed.
“I try to steer clear of [feedback]. YouTube and Facebook stuff can be really… if you don’t agree with it and it’s particularly cruel, I find it can sort of fuck me up for a little while,” he laughs, “so try avoid it all together. I feel pressure when there’s a sort of stylistic expectation, and there shouldn’t be on this band, because we’ve never been a band to stick to one genre or one way of playing.
“We recently did a tour with Deez Nuts and Comeback Kid… I was up one night with Andrew [Neufeld], the singer of Comeback Kid, in the same way that I had been with Marcus on that Northlane tour. He and I were up at some hour in the morning, he had enough to drink to be really candid with me, and was like ‘I really like Hellions as a punk band.’ We have a song called Hellions and he said: ‘I really like that, that’s the shit that you guys should still be doing.’ That was his opinion, and it was devastating to me, because I respect him so much.
“I love the Opera Oblivia stuff; I love the melodic side of the band and I don’t particularly…” he trails off. “As I get older I enjoy the heavier side less and less.
“When [people] prefer a certain style, and only want to hear that, that’s sort of disappointing for me just because… I want this band to be as powerful as it can be, but at the same time I’m not gonna write anything that I don’t like, or that isn’t ground breaking in my own world.”
“Everyone’s sort of going off on their own musical tangents it seems, with the most recent bodies of work that people have been putting out, like that Ocean Grove [The Rhapsody Tapes] is my favourite UNFD release that they’ve ever done. It’s just so colourful… They’re songs beyond that band’s years, they’re just absolutely incredible. If Bring Me The Horizon put that out, they’d be even bigger. I don’t know what the next trend would be, maybe djent-y, more dead notes and harmonics and staccato, rhythmic stuff… I dunno man, it seems like a bit of a free for all, which I guess is the best thing it can be.”
Get to a show, meet Matt and the rest of Hellions, make some friends and sing your guts out. Come be a part of the choir and I’ll see you in the pit!
11 May, Woolly Mammoth, Brisbane
12 May, Minimum Wage Club, Gold Coast
19 May, The Basement, Canberra
20 May, Corner Hotel, Melbourne