It’s been years since bands with hot licks and leather pants ruled the airwaves. Even after the death of hair metal, grunge and alt-rock seemed like an everlasting archetype of youthful rebellion until kids put down the guitars and picked up laptops. Since then, hard rock has fallen on hard times, at least in the realm of mainstream music.
But even in our current EDM- and hip-hop-heavy world, devout rock bands are not giving up the good fight. For the members of hIPNOSTIC, their faith is finally paying off. If you’ve been to a big rock concert at the House of Blues or the Coach House recently, chances are you’ve seen the Fountain Valley trio warming up the crowd with chord-crunching tunes reminiscent of late 1990s acts such as Puddle of Mudd, Godsmack or Shinedown. Over the past couple years, they’ve even managed to open for these bands, as the nostalgia for KROQ’s forgotten kings heated up.
“We play for bigger crowds, people whom we normally wouldn’t be playing for, and those support shows have really helped us to move up the ladder,” says singer/guitarist Blake Hastings, who started the band with bassist Rob Swanson in the early aughts.
Rounded out by drummer Marty Wilcox, hIPNOSTIC have become OC’s No. 1 local support act for rock bands who’ve survived thanks to their diehard fan bases. They’ve even managed to build their own in the process—not bad for a bunch of middle-aged rockers. “The band was basically a chance for us to get back to our early roots in hard rock from the Sabbath stuff, grunge-era bands like Soundgarden and Alice In Chains,” Hastings says. “And we fit in with more modern hard-rock bands, too.”
What most of the audiences they play for don’t know is that the history of hIPNOSTIC's founders predates most of the bands they’re opening for. Three decades ago, Hastings and Swanson were flirting with rock stardom as the guitarist and bassist for hair-metal headbangers Lixx Array, an OC knockoff of Sunset Strip bands such as Ratt and Poison. They were young, talented, good-looking and blond—very, very blond. The OC four piece rose to popularity around 1992, releasing their debut album, Reality Playground. “We were getting a lot of recognition and having meetings with Capitol Records. But it was just around the time that Nirvana hit, and it was the end of all that,” Hastings says. “We were just a little late in our timing.”
Hastings spent subsequent years regrouping and finding new projects to play in while trying to stave off the bitterness of almost landing a record deal. By the early 2000s, he vowed to only play the type of music that meant something to him. “At that point, with the frustration and everything I’d been through, I decided to create something that I loved to play whether people liked it or not,” Hastings says.
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That meant incorporating alt-rock and grunge, the sound that had killed his career a decade earlier. In 2004, Hastings’ new band, hIPNOSTIC, released their debut album, Dissolve Me, then spent years gutting it out in dive bars and mid-level clubs across SoCal. With their newfound momentum supporting national acts, the group are making time to finish their sophomore album, set for release in 2018.
For Hastings, the success that came to hIPNOSTIC for doing their own thing, regardless of trends, continues to make him a believer in not only the power of rock, but also himself. “We’re not gonna try to dress or wear our hair a certain way,” Hastings says. “And the past two years, we’re pleased that the doors have been swinging open for us.”
hIPNOSTIC performs with Tantric, Motor Gun Hotel, Big Rig Dollhouse and Black Elk at Tiki Bar, 1700 Placentia Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 270-6262; www.tikibaroc.com. Sat., Nov. 18, 8 p.m. $15. 21+ .