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Hella produces unpredictable tunes that improve with repeated listening

If music fans find the explosive, abstract music of the Sacramento, Calif., band Hella to be initially difficult to listen to, that's OK with band guitarist Spencer Seim. He figures the more rewarding listening experiences are those that require repeated plays.

"Most of my favorite bands I didn't like the first time I heard them," Seim says on the phone from somewhere on the road. "Like with, I don't know, Devo, Supergrass or XTC, it takes take different times and ways of listening to understand their music."

Seim is reluctant to compare his band to those, but he figures the music of Hella also is an acquired taste. "It does take some getting used to, but to me, something immediately catchy could be difficult to hear all the time."

With a catchy pop hit, Seim says, the listener knows what to expect each time the chorus comes around--it's predictable and comforting. Hella's music is anything but predictable.

Tucson music buffs can live the Hella experience themselves when the band plays Wednesday, April 11, at Solar Culture Gallery.

With its almost dadaist, progressive-rock leanings--often with each member soloing simultaneously--Hella can sound like King Crimson on crystal meth one minute or Led Zeppelin at its most cacophonous the next.

Dense melodies, complex chord changes and off-kilter time signatures give the band's latest album, There's No 666 in Outer Space, a chaotic atmosphere, at times not unlike the music of the Dillinger Escape Plan or Converge, only without the overt hardcore attitude.

Hella's is more of an art-school/stoner vibe, probably inspiring comparisons by some critics to like-minded outfits such as The Mars Volta, System of a Down and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.

Released in January, There's No 666 in Outer Space is Hella's fourth full-length studio recording--fifth if you count 2005's double album Church Gone Wild/Chirpin' Hard as two records. The group also has several 7-inch singles and EPs to its credit.

And it is the first the band has released through the adventurous independent label Ipecac Recordings, owned and operated by alternative-rock legend Mike Patton. At Ipecac, Hella is in good company.

Some of Hella's new labelmates in Ipecac include the alternative metal band Isis, noise-rock veterans The Melvins, rapper P.O.S., German electronic group Mouse on Mars, Norwegian avant-garde composer Kaada, the idiosyncratic jazz big band Flat Earth Society and Patton-led ensembles such as Tomahawk, Fantômas and Peeping Tom.

Hella began back in 2001, rising from the ashes of another Sacramento band, Legs on Earth. Seim and drummer Zach Hill had played together in that group and were trying to assemble a new band around them but found no one was available, so they played for several years as a duo.

The two-piece rock band lineup has become a proven method for rockin' out--as has been proven by such acts as the White Stripes, the Black Keys, Flat Duo Jets and Tucson's legendary Doo Rag--but Seim says he wasn't aware of the precedent when he and Hill started playing as a duo.

"I was aware of other bands playing rock music as a two-piece, but that was just like acoustic guitar, and Simon and Garfunkel stuff."

After several years as a duo, Seim and Hill decided to leave that format in the dust.

When it came time to record There's No 666 in Outer Space, Hella evolved into a full-fledged quintet. But it's not as if all the other band members are brand new to the fold. Guitarist Josh Hill (Zach's cousin) and bassist Carson McWhirter were in Legs on Earth. They are joined by singer Aaron Ross.

The full five-piece version of Hella is in keeping with the original vision for the band, Seim says. "It just became pretty obvious for a number reasons that this was supposed to happen now."

As for the origin of the band's name, it derives from California slang, Seim says. According to most grammar authorities, "hella" is an adjective meaning "very," "a lot" or "extremely."

For instance: "That band is hella cool," or "He got paid hella dollars."

Seim says he and Hill didn't think the name would stick. "We used that name for the first show that we played, just because it was way overused at the time, and I don't think we thought it would end up as the band name necessarily. But since we have used that name, it has helped us not to say 'hella' as much anymore.

"And at this point, it kind of makes sense. Without being silly, just the word itself means a lot or very. And that's what our music is: It's just so very."

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