Sailors a few centuries ago knew the moment all too well.
The outline of a ship appears, barely visible in the ocean mist. As it draws nearer, there is a moment of apprehension. The crew is weary. They’ve been out at sea, adrift, too long. Everyone wants to know: friend or foe? Finally, a shout goes up on the deck of the ship. “Hoist the colors!” A black flag shoots up the mast. The pirates have revealed themselves, and their intention – to attack.
A moment something like this occurred at last year’s El Segundo Art Walk, The men who arrived on stage that day had piratical intentions. But they carried a an odd assortment of weapons – guitars, a fiddle, a mandolin, hell, even an accordion. The audience was coming out of the long dark days of the pandemic, blinking in the sunlight, when the band launched into motion. A drum sounded, a guitar clanged, the fiddle rasped, the dancing began. Crazed smiles washed through the crowd.
The El Segundo Art Walk was back. Everybody was together, living the fine pirate life of art, freedom, good local beer, and a bouncing jig along the rocking and roiling deck of the good ship Hoist the Colors. The band, founded by El Segundo native Josh Linden, had barely been together the previous 15 months. They’d done a little warm-up gig a few weeks earlier. But ESAW was a much mightier ocean. They were back at home, free on the sea.
"We’ve played big shows – the Palladium – we played out of state and around the country. But that show last year [at ESAW] was just extremely important. It just felt right.” — Josh Linden
“It was great,” Linden said. “The Art Walk was our first real show since everything stopped, and it was perfect. El Segundo is our home base, and it seemed like the whole town turned out for it. We ran into people we hadn’t seen in a year-and-a-half, two years, and it was like this big giant family reunion kind of thing that was happening. We’ve played big shows – the Palladium – we played out of state and around the country. But that show last year was just extremely important. It just felt right.”
Linden grew up a few blocks from the main stage, among a family of folk musicians. He’d thrown up a black flag of his own in his teenage years, playing in a series of punk bands. But one night he and a musician buddy were drinking at the Tavern on Main, and a pair Irishman calling themselves The Two Lads were playing songs with a couple of acoustic guitars. Linden and his buddy realized the lads were getting free drinks, and like any good pirates, they wanted in on that deal.
“We're like, ‘We should do that,’” he recalled. “So we started learning pub songs and recruited a couple of friends and kind of formed Hoist the Colors so we could get free drinks at the bar. And after a while, it kind of turned into something that we didn't think it would turn into.”
Hoist the Colors turned into a six man band that has been playing for 14 years and has become not only a staple of the South Bay music world but has made a dent well beyond. They’ve toured and played alongside such bands as Black Pacific, Deviates, Authority Zero, the Dropkick Murphys and the Young Dubliners – which gives you some idea of the musical swath they cut, which is equal measures influenced by punk, folk, Irish traditional, and good old American roots rock ‘n roll. Hoist can also go toe-to-toe with the barroom lyricism of the Pogues, and have quietly amassed a body of work that includes three albums – Second City, Miles to Go Before We Sleep,Mourners -- and a new album dropping August 26, When Daylight Breaks.
Like everything Hoist the Colors does, the new record is full of propulsion. The band drives less like a ship at sea and more like a very large car with serious V-8, a chassis with swag and a motor with power to spare. Their songs also are full of story, but it’s not just “Ho, ho, ho, and bottle of rum.” Take the first single of the new record, called “Animals.”
“Farewell to being human, goodbye summer days,” Linden sings, over a driving fiddle that sounds like Charlie Daniels and pounding rhythm stomp that veers on dangerous. “Comfort are now allocated based on the precept that you obey.”
Linden said a whole batch of songs came out the conflicts of the last few years. As a songwriter, it wasn’t his job to look away, but to look right into the fire.
“When I wrote ‘Animals,’ I was just trying to take in everything that was happening at the time,” Linden said. “I've seen, basically, a side of humanity I hadn't seen before. There's so much division now that we're just broken up into tribes, at this point. And, you know, it's human nature to do that, but what separated from from other animals is the ability to reason, the ability to compromise, and the ability to think things through. And I feel like, over the past three years, even pre-pandemic, we're slowly losing that ability. We’re reverting back to this primitive kind of state of being where it's basically if you're not with me, then you're against me, and it's my job to destroy you now. And it's just, it's not a good place. it's not where humans should be in 2022.”
At the end of the day, when that flag goes up the mast, what it reveals is that Hoist the Colors are friends, not foes. History now tells us that pirates, despite their villainous reputation, actually were driven more by ideals than violence or greed. As historian Robert Kurson writes, pirates practiced democracy “a century before the concept took hold in the United States.” Hence the title track of the new Hoist record, “When Daylight Breaks,” reveals the beating heart of hope that is always at the core of the band’s music.
“The title track was written a little later, when things were kind of opening up,” Linden said. “it was hard for us as a band, because for a while, we weren't even seeing each other. Everybody was kind of locked up and, and had to keep to themselves. I know that I'm not the only one that had a really hard time. Basically our whole lives got kind of derailed. I had a hard time going through it. I started feeling better when when we were finally able to start practicing again, and I think that song kind of came from that – there is always there's a ray of hope, you’ve just got to look for it.”
Hoist the Colors are Josh Linden on vocals and mandolin, Fabian De La Torre on bass Mark De La Torre and Adrian Mendez on guitar, Camilo Barahona on fiddle and accordion, and Tom Brem on drums. The band plays the BeachLife stage at the El Segundo Art Walk on August 27.