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Looking on the surface is often deceiving. A simple glance at local band Element a440's press photos might lead you to believe it's a typical industrial/goth outfit. At first listen, you may compare the band's sound to Marilyn Manson, '80s punkers Big Black, or Stabbing Westward.
But Element a440 doesn't comfortably fit the mold — something the band takes great care in making sure of. When vocalist Halo, drummer Animal, bassist Katt, and guitarist/bassist Graven hit the stage with their heavy but hooky electronic rock sound, they usually try to do it with bands from different genres, including punk and electro pop.
"We decided to start on stage with bands in the electronic genre, even though that may not be what we were immediately categorized as," Graven says. "Naturally, bands gravitate toward bands similar to them, but sometimes the scene stagnates because you don't grow. It's like Lemmy [Kilmister] says in The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years: 'If you think you got what it takes, shove it out, run it up the flagpole, and see who salutes it.'"
When it comes to throwing it up the flagpole, Element a440 knows how to let its freak flag fly, audibly and visually. Watching the band open for former MTV favorite Orgy at Joe's Grotto in December illustrated just how much the band enjoys making a scene: During the band's song "Kookie Kutter," Katt sipped from a plastic cup and spewed its contents all over singer Halo, perched in front of his mechanized, moving mic stand, writhing out of a straitjacket.
"Oh, that was real blood," Halo says.
"I think it was a cow's that night," Halo says. "We don't mess around — no fake blood."
Halo formed Element a440 in 2004 in a small Wyoming town. There, he wrote music for the band and assembled a lineup while researching other markets that might suit his plans for the band. Phoenix — not the most likely musical mecca — fit what he was looking for.
"When I visited Phoenix, I went to the Mason Jar," he says. "It was nasty and dirty and perfect for what I was looking for. It seemed to be a vibrant scene here, so I decided to go ahead and move here." The band disintegrated shortly after the move, but Halo decided to make Phoenix his home, studying at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences to become an engineer.
In 2010 he assembled the current lineup, and the difference was apparent.
"[This is] the strongest lineup we've ever had," the singer says. "I mean, Graven is just straight rock 'n' roll. He eats, breathes, shits, and fucks it."
"I used to get my mom's makeup box and do makeup like Ace Frehley," Graven laughs.
With a firm foundation in place, the band got to work on its second album, Whips, Knives, Candles, and Quills, set for release on February 1 at Joe's Grotto. The album, adorned with a naked model (save for duct tape Xs over her nipples) finds the group incorporating heavier guitars while maintaining a strong electronic presence.
"At the February 1 show, there's gonna be blood, spinning crosses, scantily clad girls, blow-up dolls," Graven says. "We're aiming for a lot of theatrics, because that's what people come to see."
The stage show is just one way the band tries to stand out, and fitting into an easily recognizable genre holds little interest for the members of Element a440.
"I go to shows in all genres on a weekly basis, and one thing we want to do is to bring together fans of different genres," Graven says. "The one thing I notice in the scene is that separation. Everyone has a grudge against everyone else or thinks his band is better. And that mentality kinda kills it. We just want to be a part of it, be a part of the scene I appreciate."