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As soon as Derek Watson's thunderous, crunchy, two-chord guitar chug starts, Isabel Almeida's arms go slack; she hunches over at the waist, stares at the floor, and begins a kind of fevered hop. The drums and bass kick in, and she becomes fully possessed, tossing her body on the floor, flopping over amps, and crawling on all fours atop the monitors downstage. At times, half her body seems to have failed her, and she looks like the world's most rhythmic stroke victim.
Watson bends backward while furiously strumming, his torso nearly parallel to the floor. Eventually, he's on the ground, too, joining Almeida in a writhing, sweaty, tangled pile of skinny limbs, broken instruments, and wires. There will be feedback. Occasionally, there will be blood.
Watson and Almeida head up the Brooklyn band Hunters (filled out on bass and drums by Thomas Martin and Gregg Giuffre, respectively), a fuzzed-out, Melvins-by-way-of-the-Vaselines rock outfit with a kiss of Sonic Youth and a punch from the Stooges. Live, they have no regard for their personal safety, which they put at risk for your entertainment. You can't help but be touched by the gesture.
"They just lit something inside of me from the very first time I saw them," says the band's producer, James Iha, on a couch in the lobby of the Stratosphere Sound Recording Studio in Manhattan (he co-owns it with Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger and IVY's Andy Chase). Iha is recording Hunters' as-yet-unnamed new full-length, out early next year on a label they're in talks with, but won't discuss until the ink on the deal has dried.
Iha is, of course, the former guitarist of '90s alt-rock stalwarts Smashing Pumpkins and current member in not one but a pair of supergroups: A Perfect Circle and Tinted Windows. He says Hunters first "lit something inside" him at a New Year's Eve party two years back, when they played a "too tiny, too crowded, vaguely depressing" Chinatown art gallery. "They went off like an explosion in the corner of the room," he remembers.
During the show, Watson took a champagne bottle to the face, which left him bloody and swollen. "That's how I knew it was a good show," he jokes now. But, in fact, the opposite was true. The sound was shit. The band was wasted. There was no PA. But amid the chaos, aural and otherwise, says Iha, "I could hear they had songs. Real, fully realized, very good songs. He approached the battered and boozy band after the dust settled and expressed his interest in working with them.
"We told him we didn't have any money," deadpans Watson.
In an upstairs game room/kitchen area at Stratosphere, Watson, 29, and Almeida, 27, are unfailingly polite, quick with compliments for every band they've ever toured with or opened for, and often finish each other's sentences. They are a couple and live together in a tiny Williamsburg apartment where they spend a lot of time soaking up horror movies, writing songs, and watching professional wrestling.
"I'm obsessed," Watson says of wrestling.
"He's obsessed," Almeida says.
Then, together: "obsessed."
Watson is from just outside Philadelphia and moved to New York in '04 full time to build sets, sculpt, and find other types of work that are scarce just outside Philadelphia. He has suffered from the wrestling fixation since childhood, and it really bit hard when his father began taking his young son to South Philly to see live ECW matches, the realest, most hardcore of the fake sport in which grown men get their faces scraped across barbed wire or take a metal chair to the forehead—the matches where you might see some Mickey Rourke type actually die.
That bloody element makes its way into the band's visual aesthetic. The front page of their website (huntershunters.com) features a crude drawing of a bald monster with beating hearts for eyes who's cutting off his own hand. You'll find the occasional ghoulish clip from a schlock horror film posted to their Tumblr account. And their latest song is "Street Trash," named in honor of the 1987 J. Michael Muro cult-classic horror comedy.
"Love that movie," Watson says.
"It's a great movie," Almeida says.
Then, together: "Love it."
Almeida was born in Brazil. Her psychologist mother and scientist stepfather traveled often on the lecture circuit, and she spent a good deal of her formative years growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she learned English and absorbed a lot of punk rock, which was almost impossible to find when she and the family eventually moved back to Rio. There, in her early teens, Almeida says, "all the other girls were very pretty, already wearing makeup and very into boys." A punk-loving tomboy by then, Almeida was "totally not there yet," and so she recoiled, watching MTV alone for any glimpse of the music she'd left behind and hoarding cash for imported Sonic Youth CDs.
The two met in New York City three years ago while working for a Chinatown arcade where they made change and were tasked with shooing away truants during weekdays. That was the idea anyway. They weren't exactly the enforcer type.