If you lived in Las Vegas in the 1990s, you probably remember the cardboard signs that would pop up all over town advertising gigs by the heavy metal band Hemlock, and that relentless DIY energy has kept the band going for 20 years now. Vocalist and bassist Chad Smith and his drummer brother Brian (who both now live in Iowa) founded Hemlock in 1993 along with guitarist Richard Burnett, when they were still in high school. “We weren’t even old enough to get into [bars], so we’d have to have our parents with us, and they’d let us go in right before we played,” Smith says of the band’s early gigs. Eventually Hemlock amassed a huge local following, graduating from bars to the Huntridge Theatre and the House of Blues, and then touring the world alongside the likes of Slayer, Megadeth and Lamb of God.
Although the band’s lineup has changed numerous times over the years (Brian Smith even took six years off), Chad Smith has remained constant, writing songs, booking tours, managing the band and driving the tour bus himself. “I haven’t worked a clock-in, 9-to-5 job in probably 15 years now,” he says. “It’s just been Hemlock or nothing. Of course, if I did go get a different job, I’d probably make more money.”
Rest assured, Smith has no plans to get a different job. He’s busy launching Hemlock’s 20th anniversary U.S. tour, promoting recent album The Only Enemy, planning for another European tour next spring and collating footage for a potential DVD on the band’s history. Although the anniversary tour is hitting dozens of cities over the course of two and a half months, “the Vegas show is the elite one, for sure,” Smith says. In addition to the current lineup (the Smith brothers, plus guitarists Jezy Ward and James Gelber), three former Hemlock guitarists (founding member Burnett, DJ Kinsley and Jesse Akers) will be making appearances at the show, and Smith hopes to see some longtime fans in the crowd, as well. “It’s kind of like a family reunion at the Hemlock shows,” he says. “Hopefully [we’ll] see a lot of fans and friends and faces that we remember from everywhere that we’ve played over the last 20 years.”
Hemlock With Protest, Bipolar, She Fell From the Sky, I.D.F.S.A., Waiting for Zombies, Chris Kennedy. August 31, 8 p.m., $10-$12, LVCS.