Hexed Up at Hinterland
Story: Jennifer Rolf
Photos: Cory Weaver
After waiting in long lines of traffic, parking and then scrambling up the path along Highway 50 outside of Des Moines to make it to the start of the 2021 Hinterland Festival, we realized we were too late. Opening act Hex Girls were already playing the first notes of their set.
This magazine’s humble photographer ran as fast as he could with his gear but only managed to make it for the last few seconds of the allotted “three songs from the pit” edict that most live concert photogs must abide by. I came straggling behind after missing a shuttle bus, but luckily got to hear the last few songs—and nonetheless revel in the fact that we were actually at a live music festival following a long drought of going without.
Hex Girls (Nick Fisher, bass and vocals; his brother, John Fisher, guitar and vocals; Charlie Patterson, guitar; Ross Klemz, keyboards; Christian Ebetino, drums) is an indie rock band with attitude, reminiscent of a 1970s garage/punk group you would have heard at CBGB’s in New York City. And sure enough, influences they cite include The Talking Heads, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed.
Hailing from Cedar Falls, Iowa, the five-piece first appeared on our radar during their performance in 2019 at the 80/35 Festival in Des Moines, a city that has impressed us with its music coalition that supports its burgeoning music scene.
After Hex Girls wrapped up their Hinterland set, I literally caught up with the band at their merch booth, chasing after them as they were finishing a segment for a documentary with Iowa Public Radio.
Nick Fisher and Charlie Patterson
What’s the story behind Nick and the big ’70s-looking orange-and-white teddy bear in a basement on Instagram?
[Nick Fisher]: We’re an indie band and we play a lot of garages and basements too. That was in Minneapolis at a brilliant venue, the Paperhouse. It was the last show there. It was festive and celebratory. Alyssa [Leicht, the band’s photographer] took the photo.
You just opened Hinterland. Do you like being the first band on stage so you can get the nerves out of the way and see everyone else perform after you?
[Nick:] Oh yeah, that was the pleasure of it. Kicking it off, and now we can kind of relax and enjoy.
But you guys have headlined a festival before, correct?
[Ross Klemz]: Cedar Basin Festival, a hometown thing. We had the best slot on the original stage and it was a great crowd.
I’m sure it would be incredible to headline a big thing like Hinterland someday.
[Nick, laughing]: Talk to us in a few years.
How important do you think festivals like Hinterland and 80/35 are to the Iowa music scene?
[Nick]: Iowa is kind of known as a flyover state, so it’s so important what Sam [Summers, who is the festival organizer] is doing at Hinterland and 80/35 too.
What’s the farthest distance from Iowa you’ve played?
[Charlie Patterson and Nick]: Let’s see, we’ve played shows in Duluth to the north, Tulsa to the southwest, Little Rock in the middle, and Black Hills, SD to the west.
Are you hoping to spread your wings and play cities farther away?
[Charlie] Oh yeah, we love traveling.
[Nick]: We were put on hold for the past year. We’ve got big plans for when things open up.
Your EP Pop Fluff was scheduled to come out in March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic. How did Covid affect your process, good or bad?
[Charlie]: It gave us time to plan out how we wanted to release it and hype it, but a year and a half of hype was a long time.
[Nick]: We were on a pretty tight schedule to get it wrapped up, recorded and pressed on vinyl for Hinterland 2020 [which was canceled]. This last year/year and a half we’ve actually been able to shoot music videos, so [the pandemic] helped in that way.
You recently made some adjustments to your lineup, moving former drummer Ross Klemz to keyboards and adding Christian Ebetino on drums. Why did you find it necessary to make this change?
[Klemz]: I found [brothers Nick Fisher and John Fisher] and told them, ‘Oh, you guys don’t have a cool drummer. I’ll be your producer and your drummer.’ Then eventually I said, ‘We need more people because I don’t want to play drums anymore.”
We need to get you to play St. Louis sometime.
[Nick]: You book it, we’ll find a way to get there!