Hell Night Is Atop St. Louis' Metal Scene — With the Best Dreadlocks in the Business 

click to enlarge Brian Fair, far right, attributes his 72-inch dreadlocks to "23 years of neglect." - PHOTO BY ROB LAWSON
  • PHOTO BY ROB LAWSON
  • Brian Fair, far right, attributes his 72-inch dreadlocks to "23 years of neglect."

Brian Fair, vocalist of the rising St. Louis punk/metal act Hell Night, has the most impressive set of dreadlocks you will ever see, anywhere. They flow from the top of his head to the tips of his shoes, 72 inches of hair that he uses to great effect on stage, whipping the snake-like tendrils to and fro like a human cat o' nine tails.

His spatial awareness during performances is impressive as well, as he's generally able to pull this off without thwacking any audience members in the face. But out there in the real world, that awareness is sometimes lacking, as he himself can attest after an unfortunate interaction with a weed whacker.

"What's weird is that when people think 'weed whacker,' they think that it got stuck in the blade — it didn't," Fair explains. "I was weed whacking along the side of my fence, and all of the sudden the weed whacker just stops dead. I'm like, 'What the fuck is that?' And I look, and one of my dreads had sucked into the air intake of the engine and just shut the whole fucking thing down. So I'm in my yard and I yell to my wife, 'Honey! I need scissors!'"

At the sight of her husband holding up a lawn care tool that had fully attached itself to his body, Fair's wife couldn't contain her laughter. But there was a twist, Fair explains: The weed whacker belonged to someone else.

"I'm like, 'This will be hilarious if the $500 weed whacker I borrowed from your dad isn't broken,'" he says. "'If I have to drive to Home Depot and put down a credit card, this is not fucking funny.' So we cut the hair, try and pull some out eventually with a crochet hook — which is ridiculous — fire it up, all this hair shoots out the engine and it turns on. I was like, 'OK, now it's hilarious.'"

Sitting in the green room upstairs at the Ready Room while the release party for Hell Night's new album is underway downstairs, Fair is somewhat dismissive of his hair, which by this point has been the subject of innumerable questions posed by music journalists. "This is the result of 23 years of neglect," he laughs.

For most of those years, Fair performed as the frontman for Shadows Fall, a Massachusetts-based metal act that climbed its way to major label success in the mid-2000s, even securing Grammy nominations in 2006 and 2008 for Best Metal Performance.

But five years ago, Fair moved to St. Louis, settling down with his lady, who'd grown up in Kirkwood. Shadows Fall went on hiatus — Fair says that the band may play some festival dates here and there in the future, but for all intents and purposes its status is "inactive," with lead guitarist Jonathon Donais joining Anthrax and drummer Jason Bittner putting in time with Overkill and Flotsam & Jetsam.

Fair, meanwhile, opted to spend his time skateboarding, a passion since he was eight years old (surprisingly, he's only run over his own hair in the process once). It was through skateboarding that Fair first met Hell Night guitarist and founding member Andy White. When the band's former vocalist Mike Craft left suddenly in early 2016, Fair hopped on board.

White is 40, Fair is 41, and at this point each seems just as comfortable sharing details of their home lives as discussing their music. White's heavily pregnant wife is at the Ready Room show tonight as well, in fact — bearing what will be his first child.

"I have a son on the way any day now," White says. "I had really hoped that we would get through this show before it happened, actually."

Fair has two children of his own — Arabella, who is four, and Judah, who just turned one. The latter was born just one day after Fair and his wife attended a Killswitch Engage show at Pop's — one where the band tried its damnedest to help speed things along.

"They were literally, they were trying to turn up the low end and see if they could shake the baby out of there," Fair says. "We just went and saw them the other night with Anthrax here, and they were like, 'Man, we tried so hard.'"

Loud metal music remains a lackluster inducer of labor, apparently; White's wife will make it through the night with the baby still on board. Which is good, because White has enough to worry about with tonight's release party performance. The band's new four-song EP, Hell Night Songs, is a quick-and-dirty ripper of an offering that follows closely on the heels of the band's December EP Human Shelves. Its title is an homage to Cinderella's 1986 LP Night Songs; the band even covered that album's title track as its opener. The three original tracks are characteristically thick and heavy, filled with rock riffs pushed through a hardcore/metal filter that compel daydreams about chainsaws. (Or maybe weed whackers?) The entire EP was recorded in just one day in February by Gabe Usery at Encapsulated Studios.

click to enlarge Fair whips it real good on stage at the Ready Room. - PHOTO BY DANIEL HILL
  • PHOTO BY DANIEL HILL
  • Fair whips it real good on stage at the Ready Room.

It's a completely different way of doing things from what Fair had grown accustomed to with his previous band.

"In my former life it was, like, months in the studio," he explains. "And now we just bang shit out in days. It's awesome."

"There are no focus groups in Hell Night," White adds with a laugh. "Some things are sort of calculated, but it's very casual, man. I've been in bands before where I feel like everything is too overthought, so if something was taking us, like, four practices to write it, I would be like, 'Something's wrong.'"

"You always want to catch the moment of inspiration to expression, and you always lose something within that transition, so as soon as it gets too far it's like, 'nah,'" Fair continues. "Since I joined we had two EPs written over a few practices. I was just like, holy shit."

For now Hell Night intends to keep working at its own pace, which is paradoxically laid-back and breakneck at the same time. Songwriting, recording and the sound of the music itself all carry a sense of immediacy, but there is no rush to find a label, no plans to tour eight months out of the year (as Fair had grown accustomed to in the past). The youngest member of Hell Night, drummer Adam Arseneau, is 33. Bassist Eric Eyster is the oldest; Fair and White estimate his age at 117 (he's actually 47). With full-time jobs and families, the band's members have set their goals on something ultimately far more important than industry success: having fun and playing music they love.

"My second kid was about to be born when I joined the band," Fair explains. "I was like, 'I don't know if I'm gonna be able to make it to practice; my kid might literally be born that day.' So I wanna do things on a level where we just write awesome music we're all psyched about and just keep things as easygoing and as mellow as we can."

White shudders as he imagines a world where the band did sign to some large label.

"Some cigar-chomping guy that's like, 'You got the goods; let me tell you what you're gonna do. First we're gonna put you on a package tour. It's gonna be 60 days. We're gonna do that nine times a year,'" he says. "Fuck that, man. I'm 40."

By the time the band takes the stage, it's 11 p.m. Black Fast has just wrapped up a face-meltingly good set, in typical Black Fast fashion, and the bulk of the crowd has moved to the room with the bar, stocking up on fresh drinks before the music starts again. The smell of grilled cheese fills the air — over by the merch tables, a man with a panini press and a stack of Kraft singles is doling out free sandwiches.

The members of Hell Night look to one another to be sure everyone is ready, then wordlessly begin their set with a simple four-count. The room is still half-empty as the group crashes into its thunderous opening song.

And at the center of the stage is Fair, those dreadlocks whipping and shaking and giving a performance of their own between the singer's tight, sharpened screams. The crowd knows what's up — they leave the bar and race back to the room, lining up at the front of the stage with careless abandon towards the rope-like projectiles swinging right in front of their faces.

Fair's got this, though. After all, he's a professional — and luckily, there's nary a weed whacker in sight.


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