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The Hangmen: Still Cheating Death

The Hangmen
1 October 2010

Los Angeles lurks with voyeurs, cling-ons, hungry souls and also-rans. The city’s storied history has given birth to world-renown celebrities who are forever preserved on Hollywood Blvd. The Hangmen, led by vocalist and guitarist Bryan Small, aren’t celluloid heroes and won’t be featured on any tourist star map, but they will be celebrated with Lost Rocks, a collection of their raucous country infused punk rock spanning their 25 year history. “I’m totally proud of everything! I feel every song, even from the first record stands the test of time and sounds fresh to me,” said Small.

Bruised and scuffed through years of debauchery, Bryan Small’s Hangmen continue to cheat death in a rock n’ roll world full of bands all too willing to pull the trigger on themselves and fade away. Small’s vocal delivery may be reminiscent of Johnny Thunders, but his resilience distances him from the fallen songwriter. “I’ve been sober 15 years now. When we were recording with Geffen back in ‘93, things went downhill for me and nobody wanted anything to do with The Hangmen because of our reputation,” confided Small. He proudly stated his former addictions that hindered The Hangmen are long gone. “At one point, my guitars were all in the pawnshop and we had to borrow guitars to even play! I took the drug life as far as I could and it got boring. Every day was awful; the appeal for me to even get fucked up now is just not there anymore. I feel very fortunate to say that and mean that.”

The Hangmen, focused and stronger than ever will continue writing their new record in February in addition to the upcoming release of Lost Rocks. “The new record won’t be any dramatic change, it’s rock n’ roll our version. We have 5 songs done, 3 we play live now. One track, called ‘Railroad Man’ and another, ‘Big Red Rooster,’ are our newest,” said Small. 

The Hangmen’s last release, In the City, was produced by Social Distortion front man Mike Ness and continued to chronicle Small’s seedy view of Los Angeles.
“Mike was good to work with because he’s a songwriter and he had a big hand in producing most of Social D’s stuff. He was a fan of us, so we had all good things going for us!” exclaimed Small. Perhaps the most dominant theme within Small’s songwriting is his struggle to make peace with the city that has spawned The Hangmen. “I consider us a very LA band because I pretty much grew up here and saw the seedy side of things. When I’m writing, its about LA I’m speaking of, but the same themes pop up in everyone’s lives; dissatisfaction, longing, searching and redemption. LA is a very storied city,” Small explained.

The upcoming retrospective, Lost Rocks, will be used as a promotional record for a scheduled European tour, but Small took the time to reflect on the group’s history and extensive guitar personnel. “If you piece things out we, haven’t gone through that many guitarists! We had Jimmy James for 10 years and now we have Ron Heathman from The Supersuckers. Ron’s great because he’s really into it and we want him full-time, but full-time for The Hangmen is different than full-time for other bands,” laughed Small. “However, I’ve kept Angelique (Congleton) on bass for 10 years,” said Small, still laughing.

Asked which guitarist brought the most to The Hangmen, Small refused to offer a final answer. “So many brought unique personalities to the table and with lead guitarists, each solo offers insight to their personality. In my opinion, a lot of lead guitar riffs are overlooked today. I remember listening to The Kinks and The Troggs as a kid and just thinking the riffs were so awesome”, he said. 

Lost Rocks will be released in Europe, in conjunction with Acetate Records, the long-time home of The Hangmen. “We wanna do a proper U.S. version of Lost Rocks. The packaging will be kept simple so not to confuse new fans because if we wanted to include everyone’s picture who was ever involved with The Hangmen people would be like ‘What? Who’s that?!’ We’re gonna try and keep it simple with just live photos of the band now, as is,” stated Small.

Europe has always been kind to The Hangmen, and Small was quick to point out that touring Europe was in marked contrast to loading up a van and touring the U.S.
“Our last East Coast show in the U.S. was back in 2007. With the ongoing recession, things are so much harder to justify travel distances. In Europe, I feel our fan base is a little more visible and the countries are closer together, as opposed to the U.S. being more spread out.”

The Hangmen’s recent appearance on television programs, such as The Shield, Sons of Anarchy and even the NFL may provide the much-needed push for The Hangmen to expand their fan base in the U.S. 

“Oh, man! Our appearances were strictly music, not us per se. Acetate Records were approached by some producers and they submitted a compilation of songs to the television stations, and they (television producers) decided some of our songs would make the final cut,” clarified Small. “I actually got a call from The Supersuckers during last NFL playoff season and they said they heard our song, “Wild Beast”. I am a football fan and I should try to get back into it this year,” said Small.

As The Hangmen prepare to celebrate their 25th anniversary, Bryan Small revealed the group was going to continue moving at its own pace. “Right now, The Hangmen will move at The Hangmen’s pace. We’re gonna vary our new album, but the themes will remain and I don’t see myself deviating from my country inspirations,” he said.