South African Rock & Roll band Hellcats discuss getting their start as a band, their debut album, and what’s next for them
By Emily May
South African rock and roll band Hellcats, consisting of Warwick Rautenbach (guitar) and Alessandro Benigno (drums/vocals) is a dynamic 2 piece band that exploded onto the South African music scene in 2014. Hailing from Johannesburg, the duo performed their first show at the famed Arcade Empire in Pretoria, having only one song written when they were asked to play. Unwilling to pass up the opportunity to play their first show at such a great venue, they wrote 8 tracks in the two weeks leading up to the show and have been building a steady momentum ever since. With a dirty, raw and gritty rock and roll sound, the band blends driving riffs and wailing vocals that are heavily influenced by ’70s rock. Since headlining the Vans Campsite Stage at Rocking The Daisies in 2015, the band has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the South African rock and roll scene. A live band first and foremost, they have rocked venues and festival stages across the country with their high-energy performances, gaining an ever-growing fan base along the way. The duo released their debut full-length album The Hex and The Healer in January, which they recorded with producers Craig Hawkins, Nick Argyros, Paul Norwood at Audio Militia in Johannesburg. With plans to tour with Shadowclub and the opportunity to open for for The Cure on the South African leg of their tour, 2019 is shaping up to be a great year for the band. With lots of festivals and a potential overseas visit in the works, Hellcats shows no signs of slowing down! You can follow the band and stay up-to-date with all upcoming music and tour dates, as well as stream, and purchase their music via the following links. Check out the track “Something Wicked” from the new album below.
iTunes/Apple Music- https://itunes.apple.
You guys started out in a 4 piece band and decided to form Hellcats with just the two of you! I read that you will occasionally have a bass player join you on stage. How often does that occur and what made you decide to have an occasional bass player on stage with you?
Alex – So we did originally play together in a four piece band. After things went sour we kept playing together and never looked back. As for bringing bassists on stage with us, it’s only been one occasion were we have brought our good friend Shane Forbes (Pestroy bassist ) to play along with us at Oppikoppi, SA’s biggest rock n roll fest. The reason behind it was simply that we are all great friends and Shane is pretty much a fucking hero in SA, and people love Pestroy. More than anything it was just to have one of our best pals come up and play some sweet rock n roll to a shit ton of people. As we prep for opening for The Cure we were like fuuuuck let’s bring Shane in again and have a party!!!!!
You performed your first show at the famed Arcade Empire in Pretoria and only had one song ready when you were asked to play. What was it like to write 8 tracks in the two weeks leading up to the show? Do you find that, when writing songs, they come together quickly? Do you still take that same, quick approach to songwriting?
Alex– We did indeed!!!! Tanya asked if we would play and I was like “Fuck it, we will do it”. To be very honest I have no idea how we managed to pull that off. Thinking back to it now, I’m like “What were you thinking dude?”. Haha! This band has pretty much got in a very fast car that you can hardly control and floored it since day one. It’s pretty crazy how we write songs, as we are always gigging. The process I would say is like this Wick plays a sick riff, I drop some fat drums and a sweet vocal melody and we play it like three times and are like cool new track let’s just add it to the set hahaha!!!!!!!
Your debut full-length album The Hex and The Healer was released on January 25th. How do you feel that you have grown as a band and as songwriters with this album?
Alex– Look, I think anytime you can walk away from an album and you are a better musician, then you are on the right track. I think this album is more of an achievement to us than anything and definitely validates us as a unit. A lot of times, you can fall into the trap of “Is this all worth it, etc?”, but when that album was heard we both literally had tears in our eyes because all the hard work literally translated into the album. It has definitely made us more confident as musicians and personally we together made something very special and that is something not many people get to do in life creatively.
Your recording process early on involved having a microphone in the middle of a room and creating a lo-fi and dirty recording. With your A Coffin Full Of Hellcats EP, you recorded things a bit differently, saying that you wanted to get something out there where you can actually hear the vocals and riffs. What led to that turning point for you?
Alex– For us, we played the music for ourselves and anybody who enjoyed it was a plus. As time went on I think it was necessary for us too. More than anything, I think it was to have content out there so if promoters wanted to hear something it wasn’t a cell phone recording, as that can only get you so far I guess. Also, a lot of people wanted to hear our music, so I think it was a very normal and natural progression for us to move forward as band .
You recorded the new album at Audio Militia in Johannesburg with 3 producers- Craig Hawkins, Nick Argyros and Paul Norwood. What was it like working with 3 different producers, especially ones who understood your vision and kept the recording format true to a 2-piece?
Warwick– Man, those guys are so great to work with. Each one of them is a musical genius in their own right and they really pushed us to make the best album we could have possibly made. It was like having a producer for each instrument. They were so meticulous with their own and our vision. They worked us hard and then ploughed us with whiskey after each good take (which is the type of reward two skollies need). They also made sure that while they were helping us make a polished album, we didn’t lose the pure raw side of our sound. So everything you hear on the album is everything you will hear on stage. Still a two piece, no bass/synths or anything we can’t do on stage. They were the perfect kick Hellcats needed.
How does it feel to have your new album featured on Apple Music’s “Best Of The Week” and “The New Rock Playlists”?
Alex- It was pretty surreal to be honest. I think whenever you put something out, you never want to hype yourself up and think “Ahhhhhh it’s going to be amazing” and then it does nothing. You have to be a realist with no expectation, but as the rock n roll gods would have it, people took the album exceptionally well. To say we are humbled is an understatement!
You have said that there are a lot of great South African rock and roll bands popping up lately with more realness and originality then you have seen in years. What do you think has led to the resurgence in rock and rolls bands? Who are some of your favorites right now?
Alex– Look, we entered the rock n roll scene at its lowest point. No one was coming to shows and there were literally a hand full of venues. I personally hope in some way Hellcats contributed to uplifting the scene of dirty rock n roll and has inspired other musicians to do so as well. Bands here are taking on their own identities in SA and are doing it well. To name a few- BCUC, Retro Dizzy, Medicine Boy, Mouse, Sun Xa Experiment, Grassy Spark and Southern Wild.
Warwick- You recently collaborated with fellow SA band Go The Rodeo on their track “Never C Ur Face Again”! It looks like it was a super fun video to make! How did that collaboration come about? Are there a lot of collaborations amongst different bands right now in the SA music scene? Is everyone pretty supportive of each other?
Warwick– Ja, that was a great colab! I loved being involved in that project. Cornè (GoTheRodeo frontman) and I have been homies for a while so he asked me if I wanted to do something and I agreed with the disclaimer that I’m not a show pony and I don’t do solos. I’m more of a riffs kind of guitarist so I threw some stank riff on an already incredible song. It was a super easy process and I had a lot of fun with the guys who really are all excellent humans. Mark my words that band is a fucking rocket ship destined for greatness. As far as bands supporting each other in SA goes, I think there’s a really healthy scene where people support each other and want to see their peers do well. Apart from a couple of a couple dooshy fuck bands that think they’re better than everyone and somehow think that they make music that was born out of Donald Trump’s vagina, everyone in the scene is pretty rad and keen to build on the scene.
You guys had an amazing 2018 filled with incredible opportunities! You will be heading out on tour next month with Shadowclub and opening for The Cure in March! It sounds like 2019 is shaping up to be just as great! What else do you have coming up this year?
Alex– Yes! Shadowclub personally is my favourite band. I remember watching them open for Kings Of Leon and saying one day I’ll play with those guys and here we are. They such a great bunch of guys, so a lot of respect to them!! This year has started off with a bang! We are lucky enough to be playing both legs of The Cure’s tour in SA! Then lots of festivals lined up and a potential visit overseas to try our hand there!!!!!