Music News

But Seriously

Forrest Kline, vocalist and guitarist for power-punk stooges Hellogoodbye, might be dying. But probably not. He couldn't come to the phone the other day — something about being sick — and he doesn't sound much improved today.

"Oh, [I'm a] little bit [better]," he says, still unable to pinpoint what's kicking his ass. "I don't know, something like food poisoning. I'm not sure."

Food poisoning? That sounds pretty serious. Then again, Kline and Hellogoodbye — a fourpiece unit out of Huntington Beach, California — is anything but serious themselves. Sure, Kline might be sick, or recovering, or dying — hell, maybe all of the above. And maybe it's a lot to expect that his answers be profound, mildly insightful, or at least, you know, semicoherent. But, that said, even when Kline's none of these things — which is most of the time — one gets the impression that, despite his verbal incontinence, maybe Kline's just that much smarter than you. Maybe he's playing a game with you only he knows the rules to.

Ask Kline something simple to start things out, maybe a question about how he became the frontman for a band that churns out keyboard-driven dance-pop that straddles the line between emo and the most recent new wave craze much the same way Panic! At the Disco does, and his answer might be — or, in this case, actually is — "Uh..."

Give him a minute. He's dying, or something like that, after all. "I got a computer and started recording crap on it," he finally says. "I had a couple of different friends in bands, so they offered us some shows. So we played some shows, and then we started playing more and more."

Pause. Wait for more. But nothing. That's it. That's the secret origin of Hellogoodbye, children. In truth, it was 2001, and Kline was an employee of indie-label Drive-Thru Records where, between the wee ages of 16 and 17, he busied himself with work that may or may not have been related to graphics and the web. Late at night, he started recording some "really horrible midi music on my PC in my bedroom." To not wake his parents, he had to sing in a whisper.

Around this time, Kline was joined by Jesse Kurvink on keyboards. Over the next few years, they cycled through different bassists and drummers before settling on Marcus Cole and Chris Profeta. They named themselves Hellogoodbye for various reasons, one of which recalls the critically praised "Hawaiian episode" of television classic Saved by the Bell, where Screech explains with his trademark warble that aloha translates as hello-goodbye.

Another reason: "It's mostly the idea of coming and going quickly," Kline says. "It's not really referential to the band, so to say. Mostly, it's about opportunities and stuff like that. It can also apply to the band, but, if it does, so be it."

It's also the name of one of the Beatles' most obnoxiously contagious songs, "Hello, Goodbye," not to mention South Florida's premiere Beatles tribute act, the Hello Goodbye. None of this matters to Kline, though; at least one supposes. He's too busy not really answering any questions. Maybe they're just not challenging enough. Maybe he wants to talk about the art behind his lyrics and the songs like "Here (in Your Arms)" and "Touchdown Turnaround (Don't Give Up on Me)" that populate his band's new album, Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs! — which, quite shockingly, features none of the aforementioned terrors.

"All I've ever known how to do is write songs about girls," Kline admits of his handiwork. "I honestly don't think I've ever written a song, in my whole life, not about them." The story goes that every one of the songs are, in fact, about his girlfriend or someone who used to be his girlfriend. The truth of the matter is, whoever gave Kline a reason to write these songs should feel, well, maybe flattered but not necessarily impressed. Lyrically, they're not even in the ballpark of challenging, yet despite that, they manage to deliver some of the most emo-tastic fun you can have without admitting to yourself that you're actually an emo fan. These songs beg to be listened to and demand that you bob your head and tap your toes to them.

This sense of fun carries over to the live show too. And it's here, in discussing their famously out-of-control, often hilariously costumed concerts, that Kline begins to perk up and reveal a bit of that hidden genius or whatever was hiding. When asked what would be the most outrageous thing they've ever tried to pull off onstage, Kline doesn't miss a beat, and he delivers his answer with what would be the phone equivalent of a straight face:

"Probably a full scientific castration of a cow. We'd done rudimentary ones before, but the one I'm talking about was really, really well-documented."

Uh-huh... now back to reality. When he's pressed about touring and the rigorous schedule Hellogoodbye has maintained over the past few years since signing with Drive-Thru in 2004, he shrugs off any suggestion that he grew into a man on the road. "Oh, I was already completely, like totally, really mature. And smart," the 21-year-old says of his pre-Hellogoodbye years. "I pretty much knew everything."

It's this attitude that has left Kline frustrated, or so he says, that "no one ever asks us about our punk credibility. People don't get that we really hate the government and we litter. People just don't get it." So maybe you remind him about how most punk rockers consider the DIY work ethic to be the spirit of modern punk. His response? "So the Home and Garden Channel is punk? And Home Depot? 'Cause I'm punk in that kind of way."

Maybe Kline really is dying, or just sick, or whatever. Maybe he just doesn't like interviews. Maybe he hates them so much that he can't be bothered to give a real answer. But it's mysteries like this that fuel the sort-of-enigmatic career of Hellogoodbye, four wild and wacky kids from Southern California who make sense to no one except maybe their fans. Even the critics don't get them, or maybe that's what Kline means when he — again, quite seriously — says, "When people call us rap metal, I'm kind of like, 'They're kind of missing the point.' Yeah, some of our songs are rap metal, but not all of them — and I don't want to be confined to that."

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Cole Haddon