Heritage Hump Day: Death Takes a Holiday - "Chemical Reaction/Satan"
Death Takes a Holiday's lineup circa 2000: Ray Weaver, Richie Van Syckel, Andy Held, and Pete Hinz.
Paolo Vescia, sleeve courtesy of Onus Records
Admit it, you've already started calling Wednesdays " Heritage Hump Day!" That's because every Wednesday from now to the end of the year or before someone really big stops us, Heritage Hump Records (a temporary subsidiary of Onus Records) and New Times will be bringing you a limited edition collector's item of a much beloved Phoenix band that walked the earth before the year 2000 A.D. We will honor that band with a commemorative digital single that you, the public, will have only seven days to download to your computers and smart phones before this single gets marked up to an exorbitant price as determined by the mp3 collector community. When that happens, a new Heritage Hump subject will be chosen and the free-for-a-limited-time-only cycle begins anew.
This week we're right on the cusp of the year 2000 where Death Takes a Holiday were at the peak of their powers and at the end of their tenure. Montalbano's profile of the group in the February 10, 2000, edition of New Times found the group talking a lot about Satan (they weren't and still aren't Satanists). Also the group, especially bassist Pete Hinz, griped a lot about the homogenization of the record industry and insincerity in the music community, an argument you could still make today with equal vigor.
"Back in the day, you could have bands like Hüsker Dü, you could have bands like Big Black, and they all appealed to the same type of person, though they were all different sounds and styles," Hinz says. "That was the whole underground. But there is no underground anymore."
Hinz also thinks the alternative punk scene of the '80s was a golden period that gave artists an unparalleled freedom of self-expression, something he, as a lyricist, thinks is integral to the craft of writing good songs. Instead of letting a record company decide what personality a band or its music should have, he says, today's musicians should take greater risks and put more of their own personalities on the line.
"You knew who fucking Henry Rollins was, you knew who Michael Stipe was," Hinz says. "These people just had personality in their vocals and their lyrics, and they were all completely different."
Death Takes a Holiday were certainly cut from a different cloth than most of their contemporaries in grunge and indie rock, as evidenced by the band having two bassists at the same time, snagging a Best Alternative Band nod from this very publication's Best of Phoenix issue in 1994 and issuing a bipolar track like "Chemical Reaction/Satan" which combines the girl-group tropes like the spoken intro "Is she really going out with him" and quickly devolves into a Black Flag like punk pep rally celebration of the aforementioned Prince of Darkness. All this and a couple of rabid Hades dog growls and cat meows in under two minutes. What could be more punk rock than that?
From left, Ray Weaver, Pete Hinz (backwards), Richie Van Syckel, and Andy Held.
Says Hinz today of this track, "'ChemIcal Reaction/Satan' was written in the summer heat, when I was working outside all day cleaning grease filters. The 'Satan is' part is a take-off on Peanuts' 'Happiness is a Warm Puppy."
The song was recorded at Mind's Eye Digital Recording Studios with the band's personnel consisting guitarist Andy Held, Richie Van Syckel (also on bass) and the late Sam Horowitz on drums.
Death Takes a Holiday morphed into The Shaving Party, which later became Hinz' solo project, which later became Janis Joplin Crap N Vomit, which later became JJCnV, who are now working on a new album. Van Sykel and Held are in Hi Fi Lo. While Death Takes a Holiday did mount a reunion in 2010 ("At Hollywood Alley, of course," says Held, giving a nod to one of the band's strongest home bases), both JJCnV and Hi Fi Lo shared a bill at the Icehouse Tavern last summer, so in that sense of community, "Satan," the Satan of Death Takes a Holiday anyway, still lives.
JJCnV returns to live performing on April 4 at the Time Out Lounge.
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