The shuffler: Craig Billmeier, a.k.a. Hot Lixx Hulahan, reigning World Air Guitar Champion. After advancing from the inaugural San Francisco regional in 2006, Hot Lixx went on to take the U.S. crown, and then repeated the feat last year (despite wrecking his thumb during the first round) and ended up winning the ultimate prize in Oulu, Finland, where the Air Guitar World Championships take place every year. Billmeier also plays guitar for real with his fellow punks in Conquest For Death, but right now he’s on the road with the U.S. Air Guitar Championships (where he’s sharing Master Of Airimonies and judging duties with Björn Türoque) and getting ready to defend his airy title in August.
Les VRP, “Mardi Gras”
Hot Lixx Hulahan: Les VRP is a French band. The album title is Remonds Et Tristes Pets.
The A.V. Club: Do you know what that means?
HLH: No, let’s find out—let’s get on some Babel Fish here. [Looks it up online.] “Remorse and sad pets.”
AVC: Is Les VRP a rock band?
HLH: No, it’s kind of like one of those dirty French swinger bands.
AVC: The only French rock band that comes to mind is Les Thugs.
HLH: [Hulahan’s old band] Your Mother opened for Les Thugs at Gilman Street—that was the first time I ever played Gilman Street, like 1990 or something. We didn’t know what to put on the flier, because you couldn’t just go online and translate things, and so we went to the library and we found some French culture book and it had “thugs means thugs.” It was very enlightening. Did you know Björn Türoque has a fake French band?
AVC: Yeah, Nous Non Plus—they’re one of those competing fake French bands from New York. It’s the one with the members who defected from Les Sans Culottes, right?
HLH: Yeah, exactly. Very French pop, and they dress the part. Nous Non Plus has the two very, very sexy girls—one backup singer, one kind of primary singer.
AVC: And one of them is sort of French, right?
HLH: Wow, you really know your stuff. Yeah, that’s exactly true. But then she’s the only even remotely French one in the band, and it’s only because she speaks French. But she may live in Paris now.
AVC: How did you find out about Les VRP?
HLH: I house traveling punk bands when they come through, especially when international bands come through. There’s a French band that keeps coming through town called Ed Munchie, and they always bring me some really dirty, suave French bands. It’s almost cabaret-ish, but it’s French, so it’s probably just standard—like calling a Belgian waffle a Belgian waffle in Belgium. Just call it a waffle. It makes me want to grow a beard and take up smoking when I listen to this. I feel underdressed when I listen to music like this.
Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys”
HLH: I believe this was from the great mass download of 2007—somebody had illegally acquired something like 50,000 MP3s, and they burned them to a DVD and then just started ripping with impunity. Not that I have anything against Waylon Jennings. I can appreciate older country, but I think new country is like five levels below music that you hear on commercials on TV. It viscerally upsets me, modern, new country. Wasn’t Waylon Jennings the guy that did the Dukes Of Hazzard theme? I think that’s what really put him on the map, as far as I’m concerned. A kid from the suburbs in the ’70s, that’s how I knew about Waylon Jennings. My friend has a huge forearm tattoo of Waylon Jennings with a big “RIP” beneath it. He also has a full back tattoo of Willie Nelson. He also has a beard down to his waist.
Jonathan Richman And The Modern Lovers, “New England”
HLH: He’s like the white Phil Lynott, the way he can deliver his vocals. He talks his way through lyrics, but it has so much soul and just looseness to it. You can’t fake that kind of shit. Jonathan Richman is a genius. My roommate has a full upper-arm Modern Lovers tattoo.
AVC: Wow, you have a lot of tattoo connections to these songs. Do you still follow Jonathan Richman?
HLH: Not so much. My roommate does, and so I hear it in the next room. I appreciate it on that level. I almost got a Weird Al tattoo when I was in Boston [a couple of years ago] and, in fact, I was waiting in line to get it when my roommate was getting his Modern Lovers tattoo, and because that tattoo took so long, I never got my Weird Al tattoo.
AVC: Isn’t the first rule of tattoos don’t get bands or musicians, because you may eventually not like them anymore?
HLH: I don’t know. I thought the first rule was don’t pick something off the wall.
AVC: And if you were considering getting a Weird Al tattoo recently, you obviously already knew what you were getting yourself into.
HLH: Absolutely, and I would still get that tattoo. The only thing that was keeping me from getting tattoos in the past is having that connection—you want it to be special from top to bottom, the whole experience. And it turns out the woman who was going to do the tattoo, her first boyfriend was this guy whose sister is now married to Weird Al. And that was good enough for me. It would have been on my lip—it would just say “Weird Al.” In my book, there is no any more formidable artist than Weird Al.
HLH: Ooh, nice. I was hoping this would come up, but the chances of a Muse song coming up on my iPod are like one in six. I never pay more than seven dollars to see a concert—that’s just a general rule that’s applied since I was 14. But then Weird Al was always an exception; I would always be willing to shell out the money for that, but we get in free now to Weird Al shows—we followed Weird Al around like he was The Grateful Dead for a while.
AVC: Who’s “we”?
HLH: Just some of my friends and I. One of them being [2008 San Francisco regional air guitar winner] Awesome. But then a few years ago Muse was coming to town, and I thought, “You know what? I’m so into this band,” for some weird reason I still can’t explain why. They kept being voted like best band in Europe over and over again: “I should just go see them. There are only three guys—let’s see if they can really stand up to what they’ve been lauded as.” And so I ended up paying $55 a ticket for two tickets, which is like more than I’ve spent on concert tickets since I was 30, combined. How do you live up to that expectation? And yet they did it. I just couldn’t believe it. I was so into it. And there were so many teenybopper kids doing that 11th-grade mosh kind of shit, and everything about the show should’ve completely pained me, and yet the band was so good I was completely won over.
AVC: Does the live recording match the magic of what you saw in person?
HLH: Yes. One, the band is just so amazingly solid; two, it’s a French audience. I believe the French are the best audience in the world. I feel weird saying that, but totally. I think they just appreciate that fully physically theatric, over-passionate performance. Whenever we’ve played France, just somehow they get it. Above and beyond any other audience, that audience goes more apeshit. It’s really weird.
AVC: Muse just seems like a hard-rock version of Radiohead.
HLH: Yeah. Everyone always says, “Oh, if you like them, you’ll love Radiohead.” But then I listen to Radiohead and I go, “God, if only they were like Muse.” They’re just into making good rock songs; I think Radiohead likes to get all ethereal and artistic and stuff, but I think Muse just likes to rock. And they’re so good at it, and they’re just really animated—they jump around, they’re talented, high energy.
Muse, “Falling Away With You”
HLH: From Absolution. This is back before they started getting political. They were in between the tortured-love-songs phase and the political-songs phase; kind of like right just in the celebrating-love phase.
AVC: Do you like this phase?
HLH: Um, I’ll be honest: Lyrically, Muse hasn’t really inspired me like, say, Weird Al has. I think that it works well with the music—I think that if you made Muse too intellectual, it might lose some of its oomph. That’s what keeps Bad Religion from being a great rock band. Anytime you have words with more than like six or seven syllables, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. And Muse definitely steers clear of that.
Boby Lapointe, “Eh! Toto”
HLH: Yet another French—
AVC: We’ve come full circle. More sexy stuff?
HLH: It’s sexy French polka. Okay, maybe it’s not that sexy.