Photo by Julian Mendoza

Hero’s Last Mission’s Debut LP Not as Metal as You’d Think

“People will look at us like, ‘You are the most metal-looking, pop rock band I’ve ever seen,” drummer Julian Mendoza from Hero’s Last Mission told Submerge over coffee recently. With their black T-shirt, long hair and goatees, the local five-piece certainly looks like a metal band. However, their metal look is a running joke, Mendoza said.

“I mean, I wear shirts like this all the time,” he said, looking down at his black Electric Zombie T-shirt. “And our bass player is always wearing Converge shirts and Protest the Hero shirts.”

So when they begin to play at an open mic night at, say, Pangea, Fox and Goose, Townhouse or Old Ironsides, sometimes the audience is surprised.

“We’re so happy when we’re playing,” guitarist Art Padilla laughed.

The band’s first full-length album, Stay on Course, available online for free download throughout May, is a far cry from metal. Rather, the album strikes a solid balance between rock and pop. Songs like “Gamblin’” feature fast tempos and guitar shredding, while other songs, like “Right Here,” are unmistakably pop, brimming with harmonies, melodic guitar solos and pop-y choruses.

Lyrically, several of the songs speak of dealing with hard times, reflecting some of the experiences the band faced while recording. In “Killing Me,” for instance, vocalist Lee Hurtado laments trying to keep his composure during heartbreak.

“Any time there’s a situation that may be negative, it’s something that inspires us,” Mendoza said.

Despite break-ups and break-ins during the recording process, HLM has managed to stay positive and focused, which is why they chose to title the album Stay on Course.

“It’s hard to promote yourself and be an independent band and keep on going,” Padilla said. “Other bands stop because they get frustrated, but we love playing. We’re not going to settle.”

Hardships, along with three major tours, including last summer’s Let’s Get Dangerous tour, have allowed the current band members plenty of time to bond since they came together in 2009. They can laugh about the time they spent the night in a police station while on tour. It wasn’t because they were in trouble; it was because a cop let them stay there after finding them pulled over in a “nice neighborhood” to sleep for the night.

Sharing van space has also allowed them plenty of opportunities to influence one another’s music taste. Rolling down long stretches of highway in the tour van, anything from Slayer to Journey, Rascal Flatts to Coheed and Cambria, is fair game.

“And we’ll sing to all of them,” Padilla said.

“I used to be into harder music,” Mendoza said. “But there’s just so much. We listen to everything.”

Even when they’re not on tour, the band mates spend a lot of time around each other. Lee and twin brother/guitarist Luis Hurtado, both from Amador County, now live with Padilla in Sacramento.

“I’ve adopted twins!” Padilla laughed.

Though the band spent part of its time recording the album at Pus Cavern recording studio in Sacramento, the rest of the album was recorded at the Padilla-Hurtado house.

“People just come in,” Padilla said. “It’s like a sitcom with Kramer where he opens the door and says, ‘I’m here guys.’ So there’s no knocking anymore. If you want something from the fridge, go get it yourself.”

Recording pieces of the album within the comforts of home helped to spark the band’s creativity, Mendoza said. Without having to work under time constraints, the five had the ability to work freely and try different things, like adding more guitars to a track.

As a result, the songs on this album are more diverse than those on the last two EPs released by the band in 2006 and 2008, Mendoza and Padilla agree.

Most importantly, the musicians agree that what has really brought them together is their pure love for playing music.
“We’ll play anywhere,” Mendoza said.

If someone were to say, “You guys wouldn’t play there.” Padilla said, “Yeah we will.”

“And we’ll just get in a little corner probably about this big,” he said while motioning a small space. “And we’ll just play a show.”

Sometimes the band will play an acoustic set, and Mendoza will bring a cajón, kick, snare or high hat.

“Or whatever, it doesn’t matter, because I think people will see that we love to play,” he said.

On more than one occasion the band has been caught off guard and unequipped for a request to hear some of their stuff.

“And we’re like, ‘We don’t have our instruments.’ And then one of the five of us will be like, ‘Well we can do a cappella,’” Padilla said.

Even when they’re not dropping songs a cappella style on the spot, rarely does the band spend time doing things unrelated to music.

“It’s kind of like non-band time doesn’t exist because we’re always on band time. Even when I’m at work,” Padilla said. “I’m getting a text right now from a band I manage; they need help and they’re always asking for my advice.”

HLM has also received overwhelming support for their dedication. Their album was partly made possible through donations made by supporters on, a site that allows artists to collect donations in order to fund their creative projects.

The band offered anything from hugs, hard copies of the album, invitations to album screenings or concert tickets based on the size of the donation made. In the end, they received an amount greater than what they had asked for to fund the making of the album.

A $1,000 donation came from a café owner in Amador County who really wanted to see the band’s success.

“So now she gets a show, it’s the least we could do,” Padilla said.

With a growing fan base and the release of their latest album, HLM has no intention of slowing down.

“We know we need to get out and we just want everyone to see us, whether that’s going to be a more organized tour or just a bunch of shows every day, even if it’s open mics,” Padilla said.

So should you see five guys dressed in black at an open mic night around town, hold off on the head-thrashing. They might not be the metal band you were expecting.

Hero’s Last Mission will celebrate the release of Stay on Course at Shenanigans in Sacramento on May 21, 2011. Tickets are $7 in advance, $10 the day of the show, which gets underway at 7 p.m. To download Stay on Course for free or to purchase a ticket to the show at Shenanigans, go to