North Houston hard rockers Hollister Fracus have just finished playing a set at the Banana Bay club. Situated right at the water's edge of Lake Conroe, it's the kind of laid-back place that Parrotheads would populate during a summer day, ruminating the wisdom of "A Pirate Looks at Forty" over a cold Corona.
But on this spring night it's the scene of a raucous, three-band, all-night Headbangers' Ball; a place where the waitress smokes while taking your order, skinny, sideburned boys swig straight from the pitcher, and more than one dude shamelessly sports a mullet. Dallas's Leroy the Prophet opened the bill, and local teen wunderkinder Paris Green are tuning up. The middle act -- and headliners -- are living up to their brawling name while packed into a booth near the corner of the bar.
"No fucking classic rock! No fucking Aerosmith and Zeppelin! Stop making albums, Aerosmith!" singer Jim Finley -- whose concentration wavers only when he spies a "hot chick" -- bellows into a tape recorder when discussing his taste in tunes. Finley's comic ranting is at odds with his deadly serious stage presence and dark lyrics. "STP and Pantera -- those are fucking great bands!" says the band's newest member.
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Guitarist Mike Pruneda begs to differ. "My biggest influence has got to be Black Sabbath. If it wasn't for those guys, no one would be around today," he says. "And when we play old-school riffs and put our sequencing behind it, that brings the music into the here and now."
As the various members (which also include bassist Jerry Lanza and drummer Aaron Lakner) rattle off other musical idols and influences from Tommy Lee to (hed)pe, from King Diamond to Godsmack and Rush, about the only group they can all agree upon is Sevendust.
Another thing they can agree on is that they hope in the coming months to make as big a splash on the Inner Loop scene as they have for years at venues in Spring, Conroe and The Woodlands. In addition to seeking more gigs, they're putting the finishing touches on a five-song EP to shop to labels and club owners.
"Right now, I feel that the nucleus is here. This is the best possible band we could have put together," Pruneda says.
Live, Hollister Fracus puts on a ferocious show. Finley's neck veins nearly burst out of their epidermal casing and Lanza strikes rock star poses while balanced on top of his amps. Most in the crowd have seen their show before. Even the mature man with the gray buzz cut and earring knows the words.
Their original material tends toward succinct, one-word titles: "Godspeed," "Drop," "Scar" and "Peel." The subjects of these tersely named tunes range from addiction to wasted relationships to an article that lyricist Finley once read on autoerotic asphyxiation deaths. Finley also mined his dissolved marriage for material in "Systematic," perhaps their best number.
And repeated performances do nothing to dilute the impact of the words upon their author. Take "Failure," a song inspired by Finley's brother-in-law, who escaped life with an abusive parent by committing suicide at the age of 15. It fell to Finley to discover the body. "It's an emotional experience when I sing it. I just feel sad at the end," he says, shaking his head. "It really affected me."
If the band has a mature, levelheaded face, it belongs to Lakner. The drummer is also responsible for the electronic sequencing and sampling featured in many of the songs, elevating them a bit above standard hard rock fare. He's also the Paul McCartney of the group, the one whose meticulousness the others (sometimes grudgingly) adhere to, knowing that the end result will be worth it.
"This is Aaron: Peck, peck, peck, peck, peck!" Lanza laughs, making hen noises. "If we're in the studio and something's not exactly right, he'll follow you around until you change it!"
"And if I didn't do that ," Lakner responds in mock shock. "You just can't settle for second best, and I don't care what they say! I can take it! I mean, it may take us a little too long, but we take our time when we write and record now. A few years back, we wouldn't have."
The original lineup of Hollister Fracus, which included Pruneda and Lanza, first appeared in 1994. They took their name from an article Pruneda saw in Smithsonian magazine that detailed a riot at a 1940s biker rally in Hollister, California. The cacophonic name also reflected the type of music they wanted to play, even through several lineup changes. Lakner joined in 1998 and Finley in 2002. Over the years, the band has put out three independent records: a self-released debut, Has It Come To This? in 1999, and Assinine in early 2001.
But Pruneda will tell you they were all just stepping stones leading up to the forthcoming EP. "In the studio, you sit back and examine your songs and make sure you're happy with them. If the band is happy, that makes everything tighter, and I think that's [reflected] in this material," he says."
The band's songwriting is collaborative, often beginning with a Pruneda riff. Lakner and Lanza help build it into a song, and then Finley adds the words. "The EP will be really diverse. There will be some singing, and also some screaming shit," Finley promises. "We want to appeal to a broader audience."
That broader audience, of course, also lives a bit of a distance from Hollister Fracus's normal stomping ground. They prepared for the onslaught this March at a Woodlands Pavilion battle of the bands that had them perform in front of hundreds of new faces from all over the city. They tossed out sampler CDs like Frisbees to the crowd.
Still, the group readily admits it needs a bit more polishing before attempting to crack the Fitzgerald's/Rudyard's/Engine Room market. They want to know they can feel comfortable delivering a strong one-hour set of all original tunes with the occasional Drowning Pool cover mixed in.
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"We've gotta paint the fence before we jump over it," Pruneda says, somewhat cryptically.
Lakner -- ever the pragmatic -- chimes in. "We don't want any filler in our set. Period."
Hollister Fracus clearly relishes being part of a brotherhood of bands. Members of Leroy the Prophet attempt to hijack their interview by shamelessly assaulting their interrogator with stickers, CDs and cries of "What do you want to write about these assholes for?" Even HF's former lead singer, an imposing fellow named Jason who now fronts a band called Sore, comes by to join in the ribbing. Similarly, after the interview is over, the Fracus four will be in Paris Green's face, according to one member, "to give them some shit."
But these men in black (their preferred stage dress color) aren't above more cutthroat proclamations, no doubt buoyed by the numerous trays of beers and shots delivered to the booth. "I think we'll make a big impact on the world when they hear us," Lanza proclaims in all seriousness. "We'll smoke some asses!"