I’ve been snagged, tagged and bagged by the best new Vegas band I’ve heard in years—a group with a single live show under its belt. But their résumé is growing. The Dirty Hooks are a feral blues-punk trio featuring singer/baritone guitarist Bobby McCall, singer/drummer Jenine Cali (front woman for defunct indie act The Day After) and guitarist Anthony Ratto III. The group recently self-released Electric Grit, which was mixed at producer Kevin Churko’s (Ozzy Osbourne) Hideout studio by his son Kane. I had a chance to chat with McCall about his band’s Bible-soaked, gun-waving, sex-drenched, neon-lit songs on their lacerating yet melodic debut (Vegas Seven named it “Best Local Album”), and how he plans to achieve a massive, gutbucket-blasting sound with three people onstage.
Why a three-piece? Wouldn’t it be easier for Cali to sing if she wasn’t beating the drums?
It probably would be a little easier for her to sing if she were to just stand behind a microphone. But Jenine’s drumming showcases what she can do live. ... Anthony and I had started writing songs together as a duo beforehand—Beatles-type stuff. When Jenine came in, we realized we had a real rock band on our hands.
Boy-girl vocals rarely sound this unhinged and erotic. Is it how yours and Cali’s voices intertwine that inspired the sexy lyrics of, say, “Kerosene Fire?”
We’re inspired by bands with a guy/girl dynamic: Sonic Youth, the Pixies, the Kills, the Raveonettes. But nothing on Electric Grit was preconceived or overly thought-out beforehand. Jenine usually works out the harmonies herself, and she’s been great about picking up and running with whatever we throw on the table.
What I admire about the Hooks’ lyrics is that it’s hard to pinpoint your influences. The words are dangerous, action-packed and have little relation to navel-gazing indie-rock.
An outlaw storyteller like Johnny Cash comes to mind. I listen to a lot of old-school country by Cash and Hank Williams Jr. And then, of course, we’re all fans of punk, which is where the danger probably comes in. The Clash is among my biggest influences—songs like “I Fought the Law,” “Bankrobber”—and might be partly responsible for our trigger-happy songs. We have a million influences now that we’re older [in their mid-30s]. Music that I used to hate I love now; music I once loved I can’t stand today. Our lyrics are like Bonnie and Clyde-type stories. We’re not thinking about hipsters when we write lyrics, not trying to be trendy. We usually start with a title or storyline and build from that. Some songs are completely fabricated; others are based on true events. We write what sounds good and hope people relate.
Suddenly you guys are playing everywhere. What changed in the month since releasing Grit?
These guys want to play shows all the time! Shows are the icing on the cake since we spent more than a year writing and recording [Grit]. Neon Reverb was a last-minute addition, and we didn’t want to turn it down. It’s an opportunity to play with out-of-town bands for a good crowd.
If there was ever a soundtrack for the dying neon, bruised hookers and crumbling strip-mall churches of downtown Vegas, Grit is it. How much of the gritty Fremont environment inspires the Hooks’ heavy attack?
Every ounce of Grit is inspired by it. We’re all Vegas natives and grew up going to shows at Huntridge Theater. Downtown is beautiful and filthy—and our home.