Hellcats: Finding new ways to Raise Hell

When Hellcats broke onto our scene they did so with the bluster, volume and tenacity of bands quite literally twice their size.

The two-piece (Alessandro Benigno on vox and drums and Warwick Rautenbach on guitar) cemented themselves early on as a force to be reckoned with as they delivered four uproarious EPs in quick succession. For that series, dubbed A Coffin Full Of Hellcats Volumes 1 to 4, it was all about the raw energy of their D.I.Y. approach.

But now, after a few years of consistent grind they’ve finally resolved to record a full-length album, producers and all, dubbed The Hex and the Healer – an album that’s about getting totally fucked over by someone you adore (The Hex) and thinking you’ll never be whole again until you find someone new (The Healer) who shows you what it really means to be loved.

I gave guitarist Warwick Rautenbach a call one evening to dive into the story behind the process. 

“We had a blazer of a year in 2018,” Warwick tells me on evening when I call him up for a chat after his 9-5ing as a Creative Director is done for the day. “I keep getting to the end of every year and thinking, that’s it, we might as well chuck in the towel because I don’t know if it’s possible to do any better than we have. Last year we ended up opening for four internationals, we played the Blood Brothers gigs with some of our idols and we finally got into studio after talking about it for a year-and-a-half. So many milestones.”

It seems as though those milestones just keep on coming, with the band being announced as one of the opening acts for The Cure in both Joburg and Cape Town and their recent endorsement deals with RedRock Breweries and Ray-Ban being the cherry on top.

But it was the actual release of The Hex And The Healer that brought with it the most surprises, reaching #3 on the SA iTunes Album Chart and being added to numerous global streaming playlists across Apple Music, Spotify and Deezer. All this achieved without a music video, commercial radio or TV support or a cent spent on social media marketing, which in this online age is almost unheard of.

On their debut album it also seems that this is the first time Hellcats are allowing producers to play an active role in the process. Warwick wholeheartedly agrees confessing, “I’d never take anything away from our previous albums and the producer was fucking great but we were paying him in spare Koppi tickets and beat up guitar pedals.”

“Audio Militia on the other hand was where we’d recorded in our previous band, The Cable Stealing Gypsies, and we always felt that those were the best tracks we’d ever recorded so we were gagging to work with them again,” he continues. “It was like going home again. Originally the producers were going to get their juniors to do the mixing, set-ups and gear and then they’d come in just to make sure it all ran smoothly. That got thrown out of the window the first time they heard our tracks. They were all over it from every aspect.”

One look at the owners and main production team behind Audio Militia and it’s understandable as to why Hellcats were frothing to work with them again. Craig Hawkins (ex-Pestroy lead singer), Paul Noorwood (Newtown Knife Gang guitarist) and Nick Argyros (Newtown Knife Gang drummer) brought their combined decades worth of experience to the mixing desk and it shows.

“They helped us see the potential for our tunes to be exceptional,” Warwick declares. “They helped us to add in a lot of those vocal hooks in, for instance. At first I said, fuck this shit we’re not doing this, it sounds like we’re making a Britney Spears album! But they just asked us to trust them. When we heard those big heavy riffs along with the beautiful vocals it really just clicked with our ideas of light and dark for the album. They bought so much to the party and we’re so grateful.”

It seems as though this bromance with Audio Militia is not a once-off one, as Warwick mentions that they’re going back soon to meet with the three wise men in studio for a post-mortem of sorts. “They’re like our band dads so they’re going to help us tweak our set-up to achieve what the album does in a live environment. So we’ve got to step up our game,” Warwick laughs.  

“We take our music seriously but we’ve never taken ourselves seriously.”

Their album launch tour kicks off this Friday at Mercury in Cape Town and Warwick is itching to take the new tracks to a fresh-faced audience. “People might have heard some of these songs already because we like to try them out at our gigs,” Warwick explains. “For some songs we play them three times at shows but by the fourth time we’re bored of them, so that’s how we gauge the music. The crowd really helped us to decide [what made it onto the album]. At Koppi we tried out “Time” and we really thought there was going to be a riot, so we knew we were onto something good there.”

First round of riots this weekend.

My body is ready.

Pic by Andre Badenhorst
L-R Merwe Marchand (Album Artwork Designer), Alessandro Benigno, Warwick Rautenbach