Black Halos guitarist Rich Jones likes to keep busy, he tells the Straight.
It seems an understatement. He lives most of the year in Ontario. His main gig is with the Michael Monroe Band, based in Finland, where he’ll be flying right after the upcoming Vancouver Black Halos reunion gigs; and their tours often take them to Japan—subject of Monroe’s new single, “Last Train to Tokyo”, which Jones wrote. And besides all that, and raising his son, he does the cover art for his bands’ albums and merch, in what he calls his “downtime”.
That sideline began in the mid-1990s, when Jones worked at Sam the Record Man on Seymour Street.
“I was the marketing-advertising guy,” he explains on a call from Toronto, “so I set up all the in-stores, and I’d do the ads that ran in the Straight every week. That was pretty much my first taste of it.”
For an example of Jones’s style, take the art for “Geisterbahn II”, the new Black Halos single: the demonic cartoon kitty on the cover is Jones’s work. Looks a bit like a tattoo, no?
“That is a kind of influence,” Jones acknowledges. “I wanted a vintage, pop-art trash kind of look to it—sort of a camp-Halloween, cheap-but-cool look. I have a lot of friends who are tattoo artists—and I have a lot of bad tattoos, as well,” he says with a laugh.
The Black Halos formed when Jones placed an ad in the Straight, which only singer Billy Hopeless answered. (Coguitarist Jay Millette, whom Hopeless calls “everyone’s favourite Halo”, came later.) In a city gripped by grunge, Jones, Millette, and Hopeless’s glammy, snotty mixture of the Dolls and Dead Boys didn’t win them many fans.
“It was definitely very uncool back then,” Jones says. “The first band I actually joined in Vancouver was Flash Bastard, and they were doing the same kind of thing, a New York Dolls glam thing, and people would just throw bottles at us. I remember a guy coming out of the crowd and punching Donal, the singer, right in the face. I was like, ‘Wow, people hate this stuff.’ But it kinda gave me this drive to do it even more: ‘If we’re doing this, and it’s provoking such a strong reaction, this is the way to go!’ ”
The Black Halos getting signed to Sub Pop helped to get more Vancouverites onboard—and they got plenty of respect outside of Vancouver—but Jones left after their second LP, 2001’s The Violent Years.
There was some bad blood for a while between Jones and Hopeless, but that’s all water under the bridge. “We’ve had our ups and downs, but it’s small stuff, and as you get older, you realize it’s not important,” Jones acknowledges. “He’s his own guy, and he’s eccentric. But that’s important in a frontman—they need to be compelling, and have something that makes them not just a regular guy. Maybe he’s not to everyone’s taste, but that’s what I think is great about him, y’know? I love the guy. I wouldn’t be doing this with him, otherwise. Life’s too short for that.”
As for balancing two bands, it’s working out okay so far, Jones says. And the flip side of his frenetic schedule is that Jones doesn’t have to work 9 to 5.
“I haven’t had a real day job since I worked at Sam the Record Man,” he says. “And because of that, you’ve got to keep your plate full. I go a little bit crazy if I’m not doing something creative, not outputting something, because if I’m not doing this, I’m gonna be old and looking for a job, and I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, my job experience is that I worked at Sam the Record Man in 1995!’ ”
The Black Halos play two shows on Friday and Saturday (February 7 and 8) at the Rickshaw Theatre, with the Spitfires and Sore Points opening on Friday and Chain Whip and Bishops Green on Saturday.