By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Dan Sena is tired of indirection. "A lot of the songs I'm writing are dealing with wasted time, and I'm just writing about it and writing about it bluntly. I'm not hiding behind anything poetic," says Sena, front man of the brand-new band Bullet Train to Vegas. But a funny thing happens when Sena begins talking about the lyrics: it's clear he has yet to rid himself of figurative language. Take, for example, this line from "This Heart Could Crush You": "I won't say a word about the time we killed."
"It has a double meaning," says Sena, sitting in a chair in bassist Steve Hutchison's colorful Huntington Beach living room. "It could be the time we spent killing time or the time we actually went and killed someone or something." And then there's the title of another song, "Forever Seems Like an Eternity," which Sena readily admits is "a play on words."
Maybe Sena can't help it. Poetry's in his blood; his grandfather is famed Portuguese poet and man of letters Jorge de Sena.
Sena's obsession with wasted time? That might stem from spending four years in Give Until Gone, the excellent, emo-sounding, melodic hardcore band whose songs were sprawling and swirling and layered. Give Until Gone's bassist wanted to continue down the sprawling, swirling path, but Sena wanted to get back to the energy and intensity of the hardcore he grew up on. In Give Until Gone's last days, Sena had already begun a transition. "I was shortening the songs, writing songs that were like two or three minutes, writing songs with a bit more energy behind the music," he says.
He's happy to be free of the "emo" label. He never agreed that Give Until Gone was "emo," but he thinks Bullet Train to Vegas is even less so.
But if "emo" simply means emotional, then they're emo; if "emo" means slow and pretty and meandering, then they aren't. "In Fucking Hysterics," the first song on the four-song CD (which Sena recorded on Hutchison's 8-track and is nothing more than a demo right now) is a grinding, sledgehammer blow of a song. The drums are huge, and the guitars are everywhere. And at times, Sena's vocals are so intense he almost screams. But not in a contrived way—in a way that sounds good.
If only he could do it again and again. "I'm starting to scream some of the lines, and I've never done that before," he says, tugging at strands of what appears to be freshly dyed black hair peeking out from underneath a knit ski cap. "It's really hard right now. My biggest challenge is trying to find an area where I'm comfortable. I'm struggling to find a good screaming voice. I can't remember how I did it on the recording to make it sound like that."
You ask if practicing screaming makes him self-conscious. He says if he were practicing at any time but band practice it would.
Guitarist Tommy Coatney—a hardcore, rock, metal and black-metal fan who played in Give Until Gone at the end and who also plays in hardcore band Welcome to Your Life—talks about the singer of a band he used to be in who would sit in his car with the windows rolled up before shows, yelling.
Hutchison chimes in. "You can practice singing in your car all you want, but as soon as you start screaming, people see you differently."
The musicians have a relaxed, easygoing rapport.
"It's just so much fun," says Sena. "Everyone as a whole is into this band. I'm really excited about it. It just feels really good."Bullet Train to Vegas perform with Open Hand, Pretty Girls Make Graves and the Pattern at Chain Reaction, 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 635-6067. Fri., 7:30 p.m. $8. All ages.