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After a lengthy absence, Black Halos have reunited to record a tribute single to Chi Pig. Celebrating the life of the SNFU singer and donating all proceeds to a memorial mural has been a catalyst for guitarist Rich Jones and singer Billy Hopeless. Capitalizing on their successful partnership in 2016 while Hopeless toured Spain, the duo penned enough material for an upcoming new record. Additionally, the return of guitarist Jay Millette has further renewed interest in the prolific Canadian punks.
“Rich and I complement each other really well because I can always feel thru the music where he’s going next. Playing again was such a rush and the new singles were well-received. The reunion shows were a trip because so many older people returned, people I haven’t seen in years and it was refreshing,” exclaimed Millette.
The tribute single, Ain’t No Good Time To Say Goodbye was spearheaded by Hopeless but the singer stated the track almost fell by the wayside due to the personal intensity he felt while penning the lyrics.
“I was very upset because it was such a big loss. Chi wasn’t just the singer of SNFU, he was a longtime friend and wherever I ended up moving to, he always noted we were somehow in like a three-block radius. I always remember that discussion, asking him what that meant, he simply replied ‘That we’re close friends.’ He had a funny way of expressing our friendship but he meant so much. Rich called me to cheer me up and inspired me to write and it’s been the hardest thing I ever wrote,” reflected Hopeless.
For Black Halos, nothing has ever come easy. Earning a coveted spot on the Warped Tour back in 2001, the group was positioned to grow its fan base but proved to be punk’s outsiders as the majority of their peers played melodic, west coast styles that drew the majority of fans. The group’s classic, all black punk imagery and aesthetics was in marked contrast to the tour’s identity. The Violent Years was their 2001 Sub Pop debut and recorded by famed grunge engineer Jack Endino, yet the group bore no resemblance to the label’s roster and heritage. Black Halos constantly toured and were known for their wild stage antics, often instigated by Hopeless. The band embraced the classic punk of Dead Boys and New York Dolls but refined their sonic assault with additional melody and memorable hooks.
“I know that there’s a finite amount of success that a band like ours can have and that’s fine by me. I love the creative process, camaraderie, shitty hours, hangovers and the long drives. It all pays off when you get to play those shows, so I’d rather do something honest -and hopefully do it well -as opposed to just chasing after the next thing all the time in some vain hope of “making it”, whatever that even means,” stated Jones.
An ill-fated tour after 9/11 soured the Black Halos relationship with Sub Pop and Jones ultimately suffered from burn out, prompting him to leave the group he began with Hopeless. He reflected on his difficult decision.
“The last tour that I did was especially tough, just one run of bad luck after another. We found ourselves stuck in Toronto, thousands of miles from home. Our van had broken down halfway across the country, all the borders had been closed because 9-11 had just happened, which meant that our US tour dates were all cancelled. We were going broke trying to pay for a rental van with no money coming in from shows. I had written to Sub Pop begging them to help us out with a couple of grand in tour support and they just flat out refused.”
After Jones’ departure, the group soldiered on but Hopeless stated the songwriting was compromised and he didn’t feel comfortable with the newer lineups. Another ill-fated tour in 2008 proved to be their demise as the group’s gear and merchandise were stolen in Montreal. Ongoing pleas and research proved fruitless and the Black Halos called it a day. The proverbial black cloud hung low.
“Anything that can happen, will. It’s been that way for us. That last tour Rich and Jay were long gone and I ended up really missing them. Just when you think it couldn’t get worse it did and it was heartbreaking,” stated Hopeless.
Jones transitioned to playing in Amen, and later had the honor of joining Hanoi Rocks front man, Michael Monroe for his newest group, Gang Of One. Hopeless fronted The Bonitos but the group eventually disbanded.
“I was really proud of some of those songs but eventually, I didn’t feel comfortable. I felt something was missing so I eventually split,” reflected Hopeless.
Jones continues to play guitar in Monroe’s group, based in Finland. Jones and Hopeless ultimately reconciled in Spain during a brief tour, rekindled their partnership and began writing again.
“Billy and I met in Madrid, the first time we saw each other in over 15 years! He asked me to join him for a tour which proved to be a lot of fun. It led to writing and recording and before you knew it, we were a band again,” said Jones.
For Millette, his return to Black Halos had him reexamining their catalog and happily embracing the newer material. How does one approach playing songs penned over 20 years with the same passion?
“There’s certainly nostalgia but one thing I noticed when we rehearsed again was how fast the older songs felt that day. Did we really play that fast?! Obviously, we’re older but the excitement is there for me. We continue mining the territory of New York Dolls and Dead Boys but we worked on harmonies, riffs, and refining our style. The demos Rich played me for the upcoming record are real barn burners and there’s less expectations now, just focusing on enjoying each other’s company again.”
For Black Halos, the clouds have lifted as each member exudes a quiet confidence about their collective future. Ain’t No Good Time To Say Goodbye and Geisterbahn II continue gaining momentum, leading Hopeless to state the group is poised to resume touring once the pandemic concludes.
“It will be great to get back out but I am sure once on the road, I’ll laugh and say ‘Oh God, why am I doing this all over again?’ We always worked to play all-ages shows, why preach to the converted? We’re like a sick rock & roll cult that wants to recruit a new congregation,” laughed Hopeless.