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The Hangmen: Country Punks Return With Cactusville

31 July 2019

The Hangmen continue approaching their craft on their terms, self-admittedly without the business acumen of other artists but with an unwavering sincerity that their peers often lack. Cactusville is the group’s newest record since 2012 and builds upon East Of Western with subtle string and harmony accompaniments. Demonstrating songwriting refinement while maintaining their hallmark country infused punk style, The Hangmen have penned a record that singer and guitarist Bryan Small describes as “A fully realized effort.”

With vocal inflections reminiscent of Johnny Thunders and Jeff Drake, Small continues penning dark, neo-noir themes highlighting criminal protagonists casting shadows upon Hollywood Blvd. With his love/dislike relationship with Los Angeles, Small’s songwriting stands in contrast from his Los Angeles peers, choosing to chronicle outlaw lore and damaged romances while ignoring California’s heralded glitter, The Hangmen have finally returned from self-imposed hiatus with newly found urgency.

“Looking back to our last record, East of Western, the whole process really took a lot out of me because the producer felt the album was done but I was unhappy with the mixing. I felt it could have sonically sounded better so he said we could go remix it but that it would be in our hands. It was a very laborious process but in the end I was happy with how it turned out. I felt at the time, I could walk away from music for a bit because I was proud of the result” reflected Small.

The Hangmen went on what Small refers to as a ‘forced hiatus’, prompting longtime bassist Angelique Congleton to ask if the band existed or would even resume.

“The hiatus was tough as well keeping up the energy between records. It’s something that is never planned but I feel we just meld well together. When Hangmen weren’t active I was doing some songwriting and recording but nothing leading to a full-time band on any level,” said Congleton.

Small felt sufficient time had passed and slowly began songwriting but with no ultimate plan in mind, but perhaps feeling the inspiration to communicate again with music. Congleton kept active with her chef position while Small continued spending time with his family. Congelton reflected on the fact that, aside from Small she remains the longest tenured member.

“It’s hard to believe that I have been in the group for 15 years! I came to LA from Dallas and even though I toured and played in bands before I felt naïve about a lot of things. The Hangmen don’t get to tour a lot as there isn’t a big budget for it or even big recording budgets but this year we’re going back to the East Coast, our last time out there was 2007. I really like our new record because I think it‘s a strong follow-up to East Of Western, perhaps a little darker with some slower songs,” said Congleton.

In retrospect, The Hangmen’s most extensive tour was with Social Distortion in 2007, which offered the band much-needed East Coast exposure and ultimately led to Small collaborating with Mike Ness for the In The City EP. In a seemingly strong position to capitalize on the opportunity The Hangmen actually slowed down, choosing to fill intimate LA clubs and refine their songwriting in preparation for East Of Western. Small reflected on the group’s extensive time taken between records and tours.

“That’s the way it always was with me. We do things our way though one could say to our detriment. For me, songwriting is very personal. Nothing with me is ever planned or calculated. I begin writing when there’s that special, quick moment in time that I feel like I can build on something. After East Of Western I stepped back from music entirely, I wasn’t really playing or writing at home. My kids are obviously important to me so I focus on being a dad, which has been cool. My daughter is actively interested in music and plays guitar and my son has shown an interest in art. Cactusville is special to me because I feel it’s more fully realized. I don’t think it’s a departure but more accurate of how I imagined the songs would become,” said Small.

For Congleton, she values the songwriting process just as strongly as Small though she doesn’t serve as a primary writer. Her role within The Hangmen is clearly defined by Small; Lock in with the rhythm and somehow hold it all together. With a stage persona perhaps reminiscent of a Goth version of Gaye Advert, Small is quick to celebrate Angelique’s commitment to the group, laughing that the forced hiatus would have certainly tested anyone else with lesser patience and resolve.

“It’s hard to think about the time that passes between records but I’m really excited to get back on the road. I know before every trip I get panicked, despite all the years I have been playing I still feel that way but a close friend had told me to get back up and do what I was meant to do. That eased me and has stayed with me, though I think I will always have some jitters. I think we all just meld well and what it comes down to, regardless of time between records is that we have a great rock band,” stated Congleton.

The Hangmen have had a revolving cast over the years, including new drummer Jorge E. Disguster but Small believes strong songwriting will always remain a priority. Jimmy James will continue his lead guitar duties, as Small continued to praise James’ playing, referring to the guitarist as “Beautiful simplicity.”

“I know we’ve had a lot of lineups since that first record back in ’86 but I believe in the songs, still play some of those tracks. Looking back to when I first saw Jimmy James play, I loved how simple yet powerful he was. I knew he was the right guitarist for me. Angelique has been with me since Metallic I.O.U. came out and I’m grateful because playing in a band is never really easy, and I wouldn’t say The Hangmen are what people would consider a full-time thing. We don’t really have the infrastructure that other groups do. Social media is dominating and of course every band uses it but for me, it’s like pulling teeth to use. Jorge is interested in doing that and Acetate has done more for us than Capitol Records ever did back in the day, that experience ended up being such a joke,” scoffed Small.

Asked if he felt any bitterness during his brief tenure on Capitol, Small stated he certainly had an opportunity to build some kind of career but addiction ultimately did him in. Small maintains that despite the industry’s previous power and success, the business aspect did not appear very organized or supportive of artists.

“I never felt any resentment toward other bands that ended up being more successful than us because that was never my intention when I started. I was never into the whole Sunset Strip hard rock thing, trying to outdo and outplay everyone. Hangmen were kind of like the black sheep and I wear that as a badge of pride and survival. Looking back, I think the record business took a lot out of us. I was never into the business side because I didn’t believe in what they were doing at the time. We were able to record an album for Geffen called Suicide Doors which was produced by Rob Younger of Radio Birdman but due to our drug use it never came out,” said Small.

After years of struggling to cope and ultimately confront his addictions, Small proudly stated he earned over 20 years of sobriety. Asked if he still faces any challenges while currently touring, Small took a measured approach before responding.

“I cannot say for sure what that exact moment of clarity was for me but thank god it happened. At that time, addiction was just something that was accepted. It got real tough because the days kept repeating; Copping drugs just to get well and then getting sick. It can be a tricky thing once you get sober because I have seen people crash and burn after many years of sobriety. I definitely think there was a spiritual component for me, and I am thankful for the support I had and still have. When I finally got sober I never thought it was something I was going to be rewarded for. The true reward is being alive and healthy,” he affirmed.

For The Hangmen, Cactusville stands as a testament to their endurance and Small’s measured songwriting coming to fruition, on his terms.

“I’m proud of what we do and how this record turned out. There’s no mystery to what we do and we approach music not with some master plan or ultimate goal, except to take these songs and perform them the best we can. We always hope for some kind of response from people because even though songwriting is very personal to me, I’m still communicating with people,” concluded Small.