The Hard Line

The Hormones

If punk rock were a religion, and it might as well be for all the stupidities committed in its name, the Hormones would serve the Austin diocese as the puritan deacons who fight with zeal to keep parishioners from forgetting where the music came from. If Rancid fans forgot to do their homework, the Hormones would be quick to rap knuckles in the name of every "proto-punk" from Iggy all the way back to Eve.

But despite their hard-line approach, the Hormones' output stacks up quite nicely against that of their local punk preservationist contemporaries, and the key factor is the budding songwriting skill of singer/guitarist Tim Stegall. Songs like "Sell Out Young" and "No Fun in the Modern World" scream with obvious pop constructions, but differ in Stegall's sneering, Johnny Rotten-by-way-of-South-Texas approach to singing and his uncanny knack for crafting guitar solos that don't smother the song, not to mention requisite concern for melody from the band as a whole.

But you just can't talk about the Hormones without a dissection of Stegall, the self-styled rock critic by day/bandleader by night whose frequent scene presence (and steady stream of writing for the Chronicle) seldom fails to elicit heated discussion among fellow travelers. Though the Hormones consist of four contributing individuals, the conception, birth, and destiny of the band ultimately rest upon the spikey mane of Stegall.

Whether you view him as boon or bane, Stegall is an undeniable character with a cartoonish reputation that precedes him. Usually decked in the regalia of '77 London, Stegall is a walking almanac of punk rock who squeezes the turnip hard enough to find the punk in everyone from Pat Boone to the Monkees to Stacey Q ("I turned her on to Pere Ubu."). He embodies this role like Woody Allen plays himself, and sometimes it's difficult to tell where this character ends and the person begins.

Stegall's life narrative comes off like a punk Horatio Alger novel. He was a disenfranchised 12-year-old living in Alice, Texas, when the Sex Pistols' cataclysmic 1978 tour of America left an indelible impression on his young psyche. "I directly blame the Sex Pistols for all of this," Stegall says with the fervor of a born-again. "I honestly believe that if I hadn't heard the Sex Pistols, I probably would've ended up in jail or something.

"When I heard Johnny Rotten sing `God Save the Queen,' I didn't hear him say `No future' period, end of discussion, like most people did. I took it to mean that if you sit on your ass and you don't grab your destiny by your own two hands, then, yeah, you've got no future. You've got whatever is being handed to you. I told Johnny Rotten that and he said, `That's right. That's exactly what I meant, and most people didn't get it.' That's the question I've wanted to ask him all these years and he confirmed it. I'm right!"

Stegall envisioned doing some Pistols-style pot-stirring himself when he formed this incarnation of the Hormones (an earlier version existed in Corpus Christi during Stegall's college days) with bassist Ron Williams. "I kept thinking in the back of my mind, `There's so much music around here I do not like and I would love to make it impossible for these fuckers to ever work again,'" he says unmincingly.

The partnership between Stegall and Williams was solidified after a particularly inspiring Didjits show. "We started writing songs and drawing on records we grew up with," says Stegall. "Most specifically, the Heartbreakers, the Buzzcocks, the Sex Pistols, Generation X, and all the proto-punk stuff like the Stooges. We were also drawing on newer bands that were reaching back for that same thing like the Fastbacks, the Didjits, and the Muffs."

The Hormones debuted with recent Seattle emigres Tim Hayes and Dana Barclay on rhythm guitar and drums, respectively. This line-up recorded the "Sell Out Young/You Can't Win" single in 1994 on Unclean Records, which drew praise from local fanzines all the way up to Rolling Stone. Despite such acclaim, Hayes and Barclay both left the Hormones to make way for Susie Martinez on drums and Arman Mabry on rhythm guitar. Guitarist Lisa Wickware (Meg Hentges, Girls in the Nose) took over from Mabry just in time to play on the band's debut full-length album, which is now halfway done. A smattering of singles, EPs, and compilation appearances also looms on the horizon.

Unclean boss Roger Morgan, who recently moved operations from Austin to San Antonio, thinks this latest Hormones line-up just might be ripe for "crossover," even though he abhors the use of such a term. "I think the new band has a more solid, meaner sound than the old band," Morgan says. "And Tim's a helluva songwriter, hands down. I think that's what makes them stand apart."

Though Stegall's vision for the Hormones is precise and exacting, the other Hormones have all found some avenue for contribution. "As a musician, there's input on a different level," says Williams. "Obviously, if you have someone writing the majority of the songs and singing, the focus is going to be on them. That's just the way it is, but it's not like no one else has a say in this band."

Martinez echoes this sentiment. "Well, Tim knows what he wants and it's kind of hard sometimes," she says. "For the most part, though, it's a challenge to try to incorporate whatever I can to make things sound interesting within this old style of punk rock."

For the Hormones as a whole, the big challenge is losing Williams by mutual decision to Jesus Christ Superfly's increased touring schedule. While Williams will continue ghost-writing for the band a la Dee Dee Ramone, his departure creates both musical and emotional upheaval, particularly for Stegall. "This is probably the hardest thing I've had to go through with this band," he says. "I fucking hate this. This is my best friend in the world. I started the band with Ron and I'm no longer going to have him to talk about what we're going through."

Despite the loss, the Hormones will continue fighting the war ignited by the Sex Pistols. Stegall's lofty goals for the band may be construed as conceit, but they are also raspberries to everyone who didn't believe Alice's one-man punk scene had it in him. In an arena dominated by self-defeatism and faux humility, a small dose of Stegall's pomped-up esteem is strangely refreshing. "We really mean this," he says, smiling. "I'd say we're our own biggest fans."

Maybe a little smaller dose than that, Tim. n

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