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Ciril: An Interview with Darrin Hall

image by Zenon Gradkowski

image by Zenon Gradkowski

My introduction to Ciril came from a friend called Pinni (RIP), we were discussing bands we liked and he recommended Ciril, he sent me a link to their myspace, I was blown away by a track called Death Is Gone, this was three years ago and I have never looked back since.

Ciril are a punk/hardcore band form Long Beach, California. They formed in 1995, the consistent member being singer Darrin Hall. Their records show a consistent development to their demented sound, they have recorded 2 albums; Ciril, Hysteria Driven and the 12 Tales one side LP. There have has been a split album with Armistice, split single and a bunch of singles. Their sound is on the extreme end of punk in its rapid mood swings, tempos and blend of different punk and post punk styles to form a hybrid sound of their own. Contemporaries and influences could be seen as: No trend, Christian Death, Rudimentary Peni, Flipper and Late period Black Flag. Every album is a blast of relentless intensity that does not seem to calm over time.

Singer Darrin Hall has recently collaborated with noise artist Wyrm on a CD. Their music has recently been used in the soundtrack of the film Los Bastardos. Images of their live performances can be seen in Don Seki’s new book Scene through My Lens which documents the vibrant California hardcore scene in recent years.

This interview took place via email in April–May 2010 between Darrin and Zenon Gradkowski, we discussed Ciril’s history and concepts. Their amazing album art is often by former guitarist/artist Kyle Chew or musician/artist Zara Kand. I could not find any good sized pictures of Ciril’s album art, so I would recommend buying their records, to make up for it; I illustrated several of their songs recently.

Part of Ciril to me is Anarcho Punk, having played with bands like the Subhumans and all. I know before Ciril back in the 1980s you were in Inner Peace. What songs I heard I liked you had a very aggressive sound, how long were Inner Peace active and how did this build up to Ciril, was it a case of moving onto Ciril immediately after Inner Peace or were there bands in-between, I was curious as there is a large advance in sound between from Inner Peace to Ciril.

Inner Peace stated in the middle of 1982. Our first name was Inner Conflict. We changed the name to Inner Peace. One night me and two of the other band members were walking around on a heavy amount of LSD.  We ran in to a couple of hippie religious walking missionaries. We hung out with them for the rest of the night. They shared many philosophies with us; the one that stuck out to the three of us was the concept of Inner Peace. The next day we changed the name to Inner Peace. Inner Peace was a very important band for me, for the first time I was feeling some relief from the pressures of my over active rebellious brain.

Being in a band became a drug for me that works in a positive way. We played several back yard parties in our home town of Lakewood and Long Beach California. In the 1980s you could ride your bike to one of several punk back yard shows. That period of time was instrumental for punk rock. We were kids without cars, so we created our own scene. A lot of great southern California bands came out of back yards.

image by Zenon Gradkowski

image by Zenon Gradkowski

Inner Peace ended sometime in 1984. It’s very funny we broke up due to reverting back our old attitudes of Inner Conflict. All of us were on heavy amount of drugs, and it tore the band apart. The next few years were a living hell for me I walked the streets homeless and strung out on drugs. In 1987 I cleaned up my act. I meet a nice lady and we gave birth to my daughter Bridgette. My life changed for the positive. From 1987 to 1995 I was in several different bands. Junta and Pissant the most notable. Then 1995 rolled around, that was the year and the birth of CIRIL. 

I am curious about Junta and Pissant, I recognise Pissant from your tattoo, did you ever record or did you only play live gigs? What were both bands like?

Well Junta was a great local band; the sound was a cross between tribal music meets Mudhoney. I joined the band in 1989. For me it only lasted 5 months. We played a few local clubs, and I did record a demo with them. I have a lot of demos in my tape box in the closet. Unfortunately I don’t think they liked my drama or my lyrical content so that was that. A shame as they where an interesting band. I am pretty sure they broke up after my departure - ha!

Now Pissant was a band that I formed in late 1989. It consisted of me on bass and backing vocals. Plus three old friends from my school days. All of us where in separate bands from high school. Our sound was more of a Descendents/ Guns & Wankers approach to pop punk. Mind you this was before the whole crappy influx of all those horrible pop punk Blink 182 shit bands. Pissant lasted about three years we played several gigs with bands like the Vandals, and only recorded one demo, we were a favorite on a local collage radio station they gave us lots of air play. Then some band from Hollywood stole our name and put out a CD with their rich mom and dad’s money (posers). It was devastating for me as I thought up the name. If that other band didn’t steal the name Ciril would have been called Pissant. There was a long lap of time between Pissant and Ciril. I spent the time jamming with lots of musicians till I finally fond the proper line up for Ciril. Note: the first year of Ciril I played bass guitar, and we had Donna on vocals. Our first demo was me on bass doing back up vocals.

With your first CD Ciril you effortlessly move across differing sounds for example the OC hardcore sound of old to Joy Division sombreness. Aggression seems to explode in certain tracks and pull back. This hybridisation was fully formed on Hysteria Driven. But from the early demos to the first CD, how did Ciril change, was that variation of sound instant or not? What was the first Ciril sound like? Also on that Ciril CD there was a lot of space in the sound, it filled up in later releases but that space seemed to give your voice a void in which it had a higher explosive quality, this was lost as the dual vocals became prominent, which was not to me a bad thing, it was replaced by something else that was better. Were those early special dynamics purposeful?

I grew up on Orange County punk rock it is instilled in the brain. For me punk is like a sound track of life, I still to this day march to that beat. Punk is the suburban blues, you take the deck of cards you’re dealt and rock them. It’s true as well with the early post punk bands the only difference is they were more romantic. I was never afraid to mix my angry with my sensitive side. I think from the early demos to the first CD the change was not to be avoided because for once we were using real recording studio. We would lay down a track and it would sound very juvenile. I would tell Tom our guitar player to bend the strings, as I would also be experimenting with various guitar effects. Plus I had two great recording technicians who helped me produce. I am extremely lucky to have Rusty on the first album and Mike McHugh on the second. They both recorded Le Shok which was an amazing band.

image by Zenon Gradkowski

image by Zenon Gradkowski

So yes, our sound changed over night in the studio. The difference from the first CD and the second as far as the vocals go; I encouraged all of the members to sing, Kyle the guitar player was the only one to accept the challenge. All of our early dynamics where experiments but we ended up likening the sound and it just stuck.

I feel an often overlooked factor to Ciril is how songs switch from raw personified aggression to absolute dementia, I mean this as a compliment; Hysteria Driven (track) being a strong example. The verse will often be very aggressive and the choruses just flip out totally, it’s not like the usual hardcore technique of fast-slow. Instead it’s fast and nasty then a sideways passage of madness, to and from the two several times in a song, which I find refreshing. To me Ciril don’t just use power chord formula like many bands to it seems to be a sonically sharpened aggression, how do you feel this has pulled off in a live context in the past? Was this an immediate of gradual thing in your sound?

I think all normal people go through roller coaster of emotions. It’s just that most don’t have a way to express the ups and downs. For me I need to release all of the good and evil energy. I am quite sure that I would go completely insane if I didn’t release my emotions through song writing and singing. For instance we played this yuppie party in Pasadena California. It was a party for Jerry Springer’s daughter.

Any way we got half way through our first song and every one left the room. They all retreated to the back yard. Now for me performing is a very serious thing with all the preparation that goes into a live performance. Not that I think my band is the most important thing. All I ask for is a little respect. So any way I proceeded to get totally naked and run around this girl’s house while screaming out my songs. Everyone could see me through the glass door. I then gobbled on my mike stand and inserted it up my ass and ran out side and sang the rest of the set outside chasing a bunch of ignorant people around. But on the serious side I do release a lot of child abuse issues through my writing and live performance. So yes, the tempos of our songs reflect human rights for children.

As far as chords that we play they are influenced through the blues, old country, and jazz. We just add distortion, flange and chorus pedals, and experiment with tempos. Music for me can become very repetitive; I try to keep myself interested by finding different ways to approach rock music. But no Ciril was not always melodic. Our first three demo tapes where very Crass meets Dead Kennedy’s. Sean Greaves recorded and produced our fourth demo tape. He used and experimented with different affects he simulated a dissonant bent chords. From there on we never looked back. We learned how to copy the recoding. We got very good live; I think we sounded better live. But what ever influences you hear in Ciril are probably right. I do love 80s Death rock, as well as hardcore and Anarcho punk bands.

I have always described Ciril as Death Punk to people as certainly on the later releases the Death Rock influence is there, but not in a crappy imitation way, more of incorporation within the overall sound. Social issues are dealt with, but not preached, they do seem to come from what I see as a personal angle. There has been a constant change/evolution through the three albums and the band is difficult to pin down directly which is a good thing, perhaps too much for the average listener, did you see a lot of the original Death Rock, Anarcho or hardcore bands, who had the most influence/inspiration out of them?

image by Zenon Gradkowski

image by Zenon Gradkowski

I also met an intense US Anarcho band who played here, they were very intense live. After the show I asked them about you guys, if they had heard you. The singer said a reliable friend of hers recommended Ciril to her, they said you are strange they only seem to play their local area, they never tour, which fascinated me. She kind of told me that your records are seen as great yet you keep things local, such as the label and gigs, why is this? Is it an extension of the backyard scene you mentioned? I always think a lot more people need to hear Ciril as it’s better to hear now rather than 10 years too late.

Yes I have always been influenced by early Death Rock. The first time I saw Christian Death was early 1984. It was the Catastrophe Ballet tour. I was blown away, they had a very theatrical stage show, and it was done in a punk rock sort of way. Other Bands from that era was T.S.O.L. (they are a very under-rated Death Rock Band) who also mixed it up with hard core punk. And back then it was unheard of mixing new sounds to punk. They lost a lot of narrow minded punk rock fans. But Jack kept going. He never really gave a fuck. That in its self is a huge influence on me. There was also Super Heroines. (They hung out a lot in my town, Long Beach)  

When I was young I also listened to a lot of Subhumans and Crass. I loved both bands very much. But what set the two bands apart for me was they both had great political and social issues. Subhumans stuck out to me because their lyrics were very to the point. (Easier for a teenage brain). From early on, in Inner Peace I knew I wanted to sound like a combination of Crass and Christian Death With easy to understand lyrics of The Subhumans. That’s not to say me, or the other people I was working with had the talent to emulate such talented musicianship, its just that I did a whole lot of LSD and listened to a lot of music and it imbedded in my brain. Shhhhhhh that is my only secret! 

In Ciril, even though I was the singer, I wrote 60% of the music so I formed the way we sounded. My members never really minded the forms and shapes of our songs. And yes I truly love all sorts of music, and I try very hard to express that through my music. The majority of people that hear us don’t like us. The diversity is disturbing to most Punks and Goths. If you look back through history of music all of the greats broke the rules. Ray Charles took Gospel and turned it into Rhythm and Blues. Enough said! As far as touring goes, we where supposed to be over in Europe in spring of 2010. None of the members  wanted to go except for me. I am trying to find people in Europe to be my backing band. So that I can get over there. But we have played from one end of California to another, it’s a huge State. We also flew out to the east coast, and played New York, Washington DC. As well a couple of other states. But touring Europe has always been my dream.

You mentioned that you like to find different ways to approach rock music and I can see this, the three Ciril albums I have heard differ greatly, The first CD seems to have what I see as a classic US hardcore approach yet also experiments with down tempo sounds as well, Hysteria Driven perfects the various combinations of tempo with a more prominent madness in the sound. 12 Tales seems to focus on political issues in an original way whilst allowing for a more aggressive full on assault of sound. Were Ciril to produce more albums, do you have any future ideas of where you would like Ciril’s sound to go?

Yes the first album is a reflection of what I was going though at the time, I was facing the reality of being homeless. Which I think reflects the tempos of the songs. The more up beat tunes were a reflection of having to be tough living on the streets. The somber slow tunes were a reflection of the sad feeling you get being homeless and sleeping in your friends’ car. The lyrics of the album are stories of how I became homeless. Hysteria Driven was written in a period of my life where I had gotten my life a little more under control, as far as a job, and a place to live. The tunes and the tempos are an expression of the struggle to maintain all of the horse shit that goes with conforming to society. Mind you, I have a very strange thought approach to the world we live in, stemmed from my hallucinogenic past.

I must also say that during the time of both albums (the first album and Hysteria Driven) I was going through a horrible time with the break up of my daughter’s mother. My daughter Bridgette was taken away from me by her mother. It is very hard to be away from your daughter after living with her for, Four years. So I guess a lot of my emotions stemmed from that on both albums. As far as 12 Tales goes it was a progression to an earlier 7-inch we had out called Six Tales - which is out-of-press, only 200 made.

It is a concept project of Ciril to express are strong political views, with a hard core approach, the only rules is for the songs to be short and fast six songs in six minutes and with 12 Tales, twelve songs in twelve minutes. The other rule for me as a lyric writer is for all the political stories to be fictional characters based on real events. For example on twelve tales we have a song called Daughter, it is about a lady who lost her daughter in the twin towers. She worked down the street and left her daughter at a day care in the twin towers, and of course her daughter died. See, it was a real event 9/11 but I used my imagination for the characters. At one point we could play all 6 and 12 tales live. That’s eighteen songs in eighteen minutes we wouldn’t stop between songs, which really got me in good physical shape.

I am currently planning to write and record 24 Tales! We also at the moment have our third full length recorded. It was been finished for two years now. The economy has gotten really bad as of late and our label Know Records hasn’t been able to release it. I might put it out myself, stay tuned. Also coming soon is a book of poems that will come with a CD of me reading over some dark experimental music. I am hoping for the future Ciril full length to be written and recorded in Europe with a European band!

To me somewhere that Ciril lies in part, is the extreme end of punk, although Ciril have a strong political conscience and lyrical concerns, I have always thought this. I am thinking the area of Germs, GG Allin, Christian Death and the Dwarves. Musically I see Hysteria Driven as a very emotionally extreme album in its lyrical content and how it was played. The Springer story was kind of confirmation of that, aside from that have there ever been any extreme gig experiences or reactions at Ciril gigs?

Yes yes all the bands you mentioned are heroes. I have always had the notion the more extreme on stage the better the band or artist. I have been told that I am copying this or that band. I never took it personally, because I knew I wasn’t. I don’t always go crazy at shows, it usually only happens when the audience or the club hates the band. So I just give them something to hate. I do enjoy inflected pain, and sometimes I want to show people I am serious. Music for me is an expression of pain. OK, one time we played a restaurant in down town Long Beach. It was sort of a classy place. We got half way through our first song and they pulled the plug on the P.A. saying we were too loud. I very nicely pleaded with them to restore the P.A. They in-turn got very snotty with me. The place was packed with our fans.

Being the nice guy that I am, I didn’t turn the crowd against the club. Instead I purposely tried to freak the owners out. I got completely naked and jumped on the bar trying to make myself throw up, all that came out was a lot of stomach acid. The bartender looked at me and said she was calling the cops. I turned around and looked at the crowd, they were all thrashing the place broken glasses, and chairs flying through the air. I turned back at the lady and said go ahead. I then took out my false teeth and sang the whole set with no P.A. I held my teeth in my hands moving them to the words. After we were done playing I stuck around and hung out with fans, still naked plus I ended up stepping on a broken bar glass with my bare feet, so I was all bloody and nude. They never called the cops; I got out of there, lucky.

Something that I always notice to Ciril is that there is darkness in the sound, yet like the band Flipper, light shines from the darkness, the music is uplifting. What made me certain of this was a youtube comment on one of your videos; someone said this is dark yet strangely uplifting that and the first album confirmed it to me. Is it a goal of yours; that despite the angst there has to be something positive come through even if it is in a roundabout way? This is different to Anarcho Punk, where you can bop around to the angst (Leftover Crack) of find humor in the lyrics (Subhumans); to me you’ve bent the rules in a massive way, this being most evident on Ciril and Hysteria Driven.

Ciril is based on an imaginary child growing through a sick society. All the songs deal with struggling through emotions that I think a lot of humans go through. I think subconsciously the Ciril character is me. I take the pain and misery and juggle it examine it play with and push it to the fullest. But I believe there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

I have never been book smart or politically knowledgeable. I have always related to a social point of view. A sort of Suburban blues. I feel strong on child abuse issues, which is ramped in the United States, Which is where of a lot of the dark aspects come from. Our humorous angle comes from the basic theory of good old fuck it. Accept your fate and have a giggle with it. Punk has always been an out let to break down social barriers. Ciril is expressing our emotions and would like to hear and learn from others.

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