Billy Hopeless shows up at the Library Square pub in a leopard-spotted vest from a vintage clothing shop he used to manage, and a Zero Boys T-shirt from a gig at Funkys not too long ago. When I comment on the shirt, he has a line prepared: “I like boy bands,” he drawls: “I like the Dead Boys, I like the Boys, I like the Zero Boys… I’m just into boy bands, man!”
He’s chosen the spot because of the vintage pinball, but soon enough we’ve lost all our loonies and gotten our balls jammed, so we settle in to talk over coffee. “Anyone can write, I can write stereotypical shit in any form,” he says, when we touch on the topic of what brings a song to the next level. “I can write a Misfits song in a second.” He demonstrates, shifting to a faux Danzig purr: “‘One, two, Freddie’s comin’ for you/ three, four, you better lock your door…’ You can write a song that’s so basic, gutter rock, sleaze rock, but when you write a song where you start going, 'What’s that? Where did that come from?' That’s where you go, 'Wow, that’s got deeper meaning.' I guess that’s the difference between pornography and art, it’s pornographic art instead of just pornography. A good song’s like that!”
Hopeless is a character, to put it mildly. I still can remember ducking when he chose to distribute a swag skateboard, prepared by Skull Skates with a vintage bev davies photo of Randy Rampage, to the crowd at the Bloodied But Unbowed premiere by the unorthodox method of just chucking the fucker into the audience. The winner may have required stitches.
Bandless these last few years, with both the Black Halos and the Bonitos having gone down in flames, Hopeless has lately mostly been notorious for having a somewhat acerbic tongue on social media, at least when not posting selfies of himself with his little dog Bean. For instance, he apparently once called RC Guns of the Wett Stilettos the "Rebecca Black of Vancouver" on Facebook. Not even sure what that means. It probably has more to do with the history between Hopeless and Pinto Stiletto, formerly Pinto Bonito, than any comment on RC—but still: ouch!
But Hopeless is by no means done as a rocker. Last year, he reunited with former Black Halos guitarist Rich Jones to record one side of a split 7”, “Gutterball”, a convincing suckerpunch of a song that blasted out the snot and cleared his passages for more. This year, he and Jones have teamed up again to record two new songs as the Black Halos: “Fossil Fuel” and “Geisterbahn II”—the latter named after a haunted house amusement ride at the PNE that Hopeless used to bug his dad to go on, over and over and over, back in the 1970s.
And now they have reunion shows in Spain and Portugal lined up, which started April 5 in Boecillo, and climaxes in an April 18 show in London to celebrate Jones’s birthday.
So how did he get back together with Jones? “The solo 7 inch, I was recording that,” Hopeless explains, “and so who am I going to get to play on it? So I started asking people, and Rich jumped right in, and went, ‘I wanna play on it!’ He hadn’t even heard the song, and I was like, ‘Really?’ And he was like, ‘Anything you do is great, I love what you do.' So we did it. I was going to go play Spain as a solo Billy Hopeless thing, but that sort of led to both of us sort of saying, if we’re going to do that, we started the Halos together, and we never really finished together, so why don’t we call it the Black Halos? I was going to do Halos songs anyways…”
In recent years, Jones has been living in Berlin and playing with Helsinki-based glam rocker Michael Monroe, former frontman for Hanoi Rocks. “I’m really happy for him right now,” Hopeless says. “When I first met him, we were shopping for records, and I used to joke that Rich would buy Michael Monroe shitting on pink vinyl. He knows more about Hanoi Rocks, was the biggest fan, and would buy anything, multiple copies. He’d be, like, ‘It’s got the comic book! I gotta buy it.’ So right now I’m stoked for him, he’s living the dream, because that was his dream, when Rich was a kid, playing in Hanoi Rocks.”
Jones and Hopeless met, it turns out, through an ad in the Georgia Straight. “He had an ad in the back, and I’d seen him walking. I used to be a street vendor, selling jewelry on the street, and I was trying to get a new band together, so I kept asking everyone that looked cool, ‘Do you play an instrument, do you want to join my band?’ And Rich didn’t, he just walked past me, but he had an ad in the Straight, mentioning the Sex Pistols and Hanoi Rocks. I ended up calling him and going, ‘What about the Stooges, what about the Dolls and the Ramones?’ Nobody else liked that stuff, really, in Vancouver, or no one was doing it if they liked it.”
It was a contentious union from the getgo, it seems. “I went to jam with him and he didn’t show up. He had a bass player, Rob Hunter, the original bass player in the Black Market Babies”—that was the band’s first-generation name—“and they didn’t show up the first two times, but I knew Rich worked at Sam the Record Man, so I went and threatened him: ‘I’ve shown up twice, now , and if you don’t come and jam with me, I’m going to come to your work and be a complete asshole every day. And he did, we wrote two songs right off the bat. ‘Retro World’ and ‘B.S.F.’ were the first songs we ever wrote together.”
They later appeared on the band’s 1999 self-titled debut. By that point, the band was called the Black Halos, in deference to Washington DC hardcore band Black Market Baby. (“It was a respect matter,” he says. “They were a hardcore band doing Dolls covers back then, so they were pretty cool.”)
Hopeless doesn’t want to really delve into what led to Jones’ eventual departure from the Halos. “It’s water under the bridge, and we burned the bridge down, so there’s no use going under that,” he says. “He’s always been the best guitarist I’ve ever worked with, the best songwriting partner I’ve ever worked with.”
But he’s palpably excited to be heading to Spain with his old friend; a return trip, because the Spanish have hosted the Black Halos a couple of times before, and definitely seem to have tastes that Hopeless approves of. “They’ve got an AC/DC street, they’ve got a Dictators theme bar, the first time we landed in Spain we went to a Canadian punk theme bar, and they’re playing the Young Canadians and the Modernettes. They took us in, they love us. Spain’s crazy that way: we played a festival where it was Danzig, Arthur Lee and Love, Zen Guerrilla, Electric Frankenstein, us, and a reggae band. It’s all in one festival, and people just go to everything.”
It seems natural to ask if we might get a Vancouver reunion show at the end of it all. “I don’t know,” Hopeless admits. “It’s that thing. We’ll try this. If we can survive this without killing each other, without hating each other again… but even then, he’s got the Michael Monroe band, no one expects him to drop that for anything. This will be in-between. But hopefully we’ll continue writing. It’d be great. But we haven’t seen each other for pretty much seventeen years, let alone played together, so it’s gonna be pretty interesting!”