I was sitting at Cicada on a recent Sunday evening, talking with a guy named Raleigh Smith about his band, Hotcake Hand Grenade — formerly Patient: 0 — and their recent, eight-song EP Pull the Pin. The Spin Doctors’ 1991 hit “Two Princes” was playing on the PA, and it occurred to me that Smith and I are of a similar vintage, i.e., old enough to have been teens when the Spin Doctors blew up. That thought reoccurred to me a couple days later when I listened to Pull the Pin. “Oh, that makes sense that it sounds like that.”
Lest I confuse you, Pull the Pin does not at all sound like Pocket Full of Kryptonite — or any other Spin Doctors album. Rather, it’s like a band made by a guy who likes the same old punk bands that I do, who likely got into them at the same age as I did. Over the EP’s 15-minute runtime, I hear the hallmarks of acts like the Adolescents, Bad Religion, and the Circle Jerks, a sound that references a sonic epoch stretching from the Descendents’ Milo Goes to College to most of the groups on Epitaph circa Ribbed-era NOFX. Shout-along backing vocals abound — on “Rotten Scumbag,” they remind me of Black Flag’s “TV Party,” and on “I’m in Love,” they make me think of Minor Threat. Plus, galloping D-beats, grimy, overdriven bass flourishes, and Smith’s Greg Ginn-spired shredding. At the end of it, the EP made me experience that “Oh, now I see what the ‘I like their old stuff’ guys were talking about” moment I had long ago, when, after bathing myself in the glossy pop-punk of Fat Records compilations, I gave Bad Religion’s 1981 debut How Could Hell Be Any Worse? a listen.
Smith has been playing music since he was a teenager, starting with a high school blues band called the Blue Monks that became a cover band called Muftak (named after a Star Wars species seen in the Mos Eisley cantina). Then, he formed the hardcore band Kreeper that lasted from 1996 through 1998. Smith said he took a hiatus for almost a decade until putting together a punk rock cover band to celebrate his 30th birthday in 2007. The cover band became an original band called Durango E and the Sombreroed Assassins, and that band stayed together for over a decade. Durango E’s shows were pretty intermittent, however. In 2018, Smith realized he wanted to play a lot more frequently.
He was encouraged by two friends, Andy Kelly and Ron Shafter of defunct pop-punks Big Useless Brain, who said, “ ‘Dude, hardcore is your thing. You gotta start doing it again.’ ”
Durango E ended in 2019, but Smith had already started writing material that would become Patient: 0.
Though he originally planned to write and record all the parts himself, he decided to make Patient: 0 a full band: bassist Eric Bourassa, drummer Jimmy Simpler, Smith’s son James Smith on rhythm guitar, and singer John Bourland, who had been Kreeper’s vocalist. Their first show was Feb. 15, 2020. The second one was March 6 at The Moon (now Lola’s).
“And the next week,” Smith said, “everything shut down.”
Patient: 0 kept going, and the five of them recorded an album in June 2020 called Sick AF, tracking it with Shafter on the TASCAM Model24 that the band brought to their practice space. Shafter mixed and mastered the record at home.
“The world reopened in May of ’21, and we started playing again,” Smith said, “but in July of ’21, [Bourland] let me know that he was moving to Colorado.”
Smith decided to take over vocal duties, but at the end of that year, Simpler, who Smith has known since middle school, decided to move on to other things. Andy Schreifels, Big Useless Brain’s drummer, said he’d fill in for a show. “And then after that, he wanted to play full time.”
Smith attributes Shreifels’ drumming to fully realizing his vision for his new band, then still called Patient: 0. “His drumming took it from what I’ve always heard in my head to actually being real.”
The band’s missing piece came last fall, when Smith and company abandoned their difficult-to-find-in-a-Google-search name, playing a New Year’s Eve show as Hotcake Hand Grenade for the first time.
Perhaps because of Smith’s and his bandmates’ broad and well-practiced musical pedigrees, as well the fact that hardcore, as a musical idiom, has been around for as long as he (and I) have, Pull the Pin is without the raw, DIY, hack ’n’ slash of its forebears, but that’s really a long way to say that HCHG’s playing is tight and their songs are fast. Matt Morris — himself a participant in North Texas’ early-2000s pop-punk scene as a member of 41 Gorgeous Blocks — tracked the songs at Barking Dog Studios at his home in Midlothian. The record, mixed by a guy in Brazil named Davi Gomes, who plays in a Descendents cover band, is clear without sounding too clean, crisp without coming across like a car commercial, this balance achieved by the ear of Christopher Swinney, a member of the hugely popular pop-punk band the Ataris. To my ears, the effect sort of “remasters” a sonic era, when bands still recorded to tape but put everything out on CDs. It sounds refreshingly throwback, even when its songs reference unfortunately contemporary problems like political echo chambers (“Grape Soda”) and the reprehensible policy of separating immigrant families and putting them in cages (“Welcome”). It’s also a love letter to the music Smith likes the most.
“My roots come from Black Flag, Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys, DOA, stuff like that,” he said. “I got really into hardcore in the late ’90s, like Madball and Sick of It All. I didn’t want to be a hardcore band with like breakdown parts, though, so I took it back to the barebones hardcore punk rock.”
Whether or not you’re of a similar age as Raleigh Smith (and me, for that matter), Hotcake Hand Grenade will hit you like a pretty delicious explosion, but if you’re of that particular era — and found an alternative to the Spin Doctors because someone introduced you to Operation Ivy — these songs will form a circle pit in your heart.