By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Mystery Hangup esoterically rock the dark side
If not for an alternative-rock intervention, the members of Mystery Hangup might have still been playing cumbias at a quinceañera near you. The girls—three sisters from Anaheim named Cat, Lux and Bisou, plus Redd—were around the age of having quinceañeras of their own when their Oaxaca-born parents enrolled them in a Mexican music school.
"We were learning cumbias, rancheras and baladas," says Lux, the band's drummer. "But once we heard the Cranberries three years later, we discovered hard rock like Sonic Youth and Radiohead, and it just completely turned us over. We started writing songs in English with a more hard-rock feel."
"And there's no looking back!" adds lead singer/guitarist Cat.
After their rock baptism, the sisters began experimenting with music and formed Mystery Hangup in 2004. And though the current lineup is all women, it wasn't planned that way. "It was actually just how things came together because, originally, we had a male bassist," Lux recalls. After going through different bass players, both male and female, the three sisters landed current member Redd by way of an ad in the Weekly. Redd responded, even though she didn't know how to play bass. The sisters accepted her sheer love for the music, and keyboardist/guitarist Bisou gave the newest member a musical crash course, teaching her the instrument within a couple of weeks.
Mystery Hangup's sound is as varied in its ingredients as Oaxaca's chile-chocolate-peanut mole sauce. "We don't really care about the typical verse-chorus arrangements; we just go with what we feel and play off one another," Cat states.
"The point of Mystery Hangup is that all our songs don't really sound alike," Lux adds. An avowed metalhead, Lux tempers her frantic and skillful drumming while dropping timely double bass-drum hits like disciplined rhythmic heart flutters in the band's songs. Bisou and Cat's guitar work is an alchemical intermingling of punk/hard-rock riffs and effects-laden psychedelic melodies, while Redd's hard-hitting bass lines round out their experimental innovations.
Behind the microphone, Cat's seductively rich vocals possess the passion of an incantation, giving Mystery Hangup a brooding aura of mysticism. "There is a spiritual side to my lyrics. I like to bring out issues that go on with women. I'm not out front with them. I'm more metaphorical and poetic," says Cat. Fully conscious of her band's gender politics, she delves deep into the subjects of her songs. "Most of my songs are inspired by events, like the murders of the mujeres de Juarez," she says, alluding to the rash of serial killings and sex crimes commited against women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. "'Forever a Prisoner' was inspired by a female Iraqi lawyer who won a case and was tortured for almost 20 years because of it."
Such an international perspective isn't solely relegated to the band's lyrics. Mystery Hangup have aspirations to tour beyond U.S. borders. The lone Spanish song, "Vista de un Ladron," off the group's debut album, Three Moons and the Crashing Sun, reveals a sneak peek of what's to come. Thankfully, the scorching track that holds the promise of reviving a flagging, mellowed-out rock en español genre is not a one-time experimentation. "We want to come up with a rock en español EP next year," Cat reveals. "We've been planning to tour Mexico since last year, but we haven't been able to because we had to be home to record our music video," Lux adds. "For sure this year, we're going to book something in Mexico City in September."
Before they return to their parents' native country, Mystery Hangup are poised to embark on an ambitious five-state West Coast tour kicking off at Hogue Barmichaels in Newport Beach. The DIY approach of the tour highlights the band's indomitable artistic will and strong belief in their talent.
"Being an all-female band, the only struggle we go through is getting stereotyped when we go onstage," says Lux. "We'll get a look or two, but [when] we perform, we prove that we can rock just as hard as guys."
As for being women of color in a county that's mostly seen white male bands attaining success, the former Katella High students strive to re-define the confines. "Hopefully, we can break that mold," Cat asserts. "It makes me want to be more of a rebel. It makes me grow my nails a little longer."
Mystery Hangup perform with the Dollyrots, Chapel of Thieves, My Machete and others at Hogue Barmichaels, 3950 Campus Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 261-6270; www.hoguebarmichaels.com. Thurs. April 17, 7 p.m. $10-$12. For more information, visit www.mysteryhangup.com.