Niles’s Favorite Group of DIY Punks: The 1-800’s
By Justice Petersen
According to their biography on Spotify, The 1-800’s are a quartet of “semi-amphibious newts” from the suburb of Niles. The group took shape in 1934 when the ancestors of Louie Auslander (guitar) and Antonio Alvarez (guitar) talked about forming a band while indulging in some “rare substances.” Eighty-seven years later, in 2021, Louie and Antonio met at a party and swore to fulfill the prophecy of their grandparents.
This is all bullshit.
When I asked them about this story, hoping to have a philosophical discourse on bloodlines and destiny and what punk looked like in 1934, they laughed and said that their Spotify bio was all a lie. There would be no talk of hardcore rock through generations. Some of the story, however, does hold true, particularly the “rare substances” part.
The 1-800’s are, in fact, a punk band from Niles, consisting of Antonio, (or Tony, as he’s mostly referred to), Louie, Chris Hallman (bass), and Mikey-Viv (drums). Not only are The 1-800’s a punk band, but they also used to run their own DIY venue, the Niles House, where they rehearsed, hung out, and held punk shows.
The Niles House (which I’m told is just Tony’s mom’s house), is a quaint two-story house with a bright turquoise-painted door. I’m greeted by Louie, as well as a vocal Pomeranian. Louie is extroverted and sociable, shaking my hand as he introduces everyone. He has thin-rimmed glasses and hair grown past his shoulders, half dyed black and the other half a faded yellow. He says the ocean made his hair that way.
The rest of the band sits in the living room. Mikey, with a green mohawk (not the spikey kind), is in front of a keyboard. Everyone looks at me expectantly, as if I’m their new conductor and they’re waiting for me to raise my hands and lead them in conversation. Louie says I almost missed them, because they were thinking about leaving to get food. I didn’t ask why, but I was amused by the thought of them going out to eat once they got bored of waiting to get interviewed and me arriving at an empty house where punk usually festers and grows.
We go downstairs to the basement to “see where the magic happens.” When the door opens I’m greeted by a poster of John Krasinski. I reluctantly ask “Is that a poster of…?” just so I can make conversation, and also because I genuinely would like to be in on the joke. Nobody explains why “Mr. Emily Blunt” is the first thing you see.
The rehearsal room is unfinished, with mirrors on the walls surrounding the corner where the band plays. There is a tan, plush couch and pedals and amp chords tangled on the ground. A merch stand is set up where fans can buy paint-splattered t-shirts and long sleeves reading “The 1-800’s” in puff paint.
Louie is the one in charge of social media and is responsible for booking shows at The Niles House and for the band. He tells me the real 1-800’s origin story, which has nothing to do with grandparents. He started playing guitar about three years ago, and around that time he joined the never-really “official” band Neovixen, formed by a friend named Greg. After two members dropped out, Tony and Chris joined Neovixen. Soon, Greg left the band (or just fired everyone else, it’s still unsure according to Louie), and after numerous auditions for a drummer, Mikey joined their ranks.
“It felt like we were coworkers before, and now it’s like we got our own business,” says Louie.
Meanwhile, Mikey and Tony gravitate toward the guitars hanging on the walls. Chris goes to scold them, reminding them that this is an interview, but the boys promise they won’t play with the Telecasters plugged in. I can understand the need to hold an instrument while sitting through a conversation. If I learn nothing else from the band, I’m reminded that music is addicting and a bass guitar has gotten me through several tedious discussions.
All four band members are attentive and eager to answer my questions as I ask them despite the clicky strumming of plastic guitar picks over metal strings until Tony starts watching TikToks on his phone.
“He’s like a baby Doberman,” Chris says. Chris wears a black hoodie over a black tank top with black baggy jeans. Her outfit matches her black shaggy hair and septum piercing. She says she came up with the band’s name after watching infomercials on TV.
I admire and respect Chris, as I know us female bassists must stick together. She plays a white Gibson Thunderbird, which I covet and obsess over. As she and Mikey start playing the intro to Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,”, it’s like this band gets me. We’re all just kids obsessed with metal, aren’t we? Chris’s favorite music is mostly industrial stuff, bands like Ministry and White Zombie. Mikey is the same but leans more into hardcore punk. Louie and Tony are more influenced by grungier, indie bands like Radiohead, Neutral Milk Hotel, and the Smashing Pumpkins. They all also love the other local punk groups like Moon Rules Apply, Totally Cashed, and Polly on the Wall.
Because of these influences, The 1-800’s are more complex than some DIY Chicagoland punk groups. They experiment with odd time signatures and extensive runs. They also tell me that getting all four members to sit down and write together is impossible. As they begin to rehearse, they play through one track that is more extensive than most underground indie punk I know. When I ask what the name of the song was after they finish, Louie answers with a cheeky grin.
“This One Knocks Their Socks Off,” he says.
The band says the past year has been “pretty fire.” Most of the reason for this is the Niles House. The band won’t hold shows here anymore, due to “disagreements between the band and the house owner.” The 1-800’s had many concerts here but they’ve played a couple of shows in Chicago, like at the Book Club and the Rabbit Hole.
“We wouldn’t be where we are as a band without the Niles House,” Louie says.
“[The Niles House] serves the punk community,” Mikey says.
With only two songs released on Spotify since 2021, the band admits they’re still pretty new. Early on, mistakes were detrimental to them. Now, it’s “whatever” as they say.
“Well, we’re always gonna fuck up,” Louie says… “But that’s showbiz.”
Tony moves to the drums and the guitar Mikey is strumming is now plugged in. The amp hums, and without it being explicitly said I know the actual “interview” part of this interview has come to a close as I start talking over distorted power chords. As I’m sitting on the couch, Tony shrugs as he holds out a pair of earplugs. He has shoulder-length curly black hair, with chunks dyed a bright Crayola red. It hangs over his face and covers his eyes.
Chris feels bad that I’m sitting next to the large speaker that she’s about to start screaming out of. I don’t feel bad, but I do feel pretty stupid on the drive home after not bothering to wear the earplugs and instead leaving them on the armrest of the worn couch. It’s a couch that many other punks like me have sat on over time. I’d like to think that my earplugs aren’t the only pair that have been discarded on that couch, and my ears aren’t the only ones ringing.
As they run through their original songs featured on an unreleased EP, they stare at a whiteboard leaning against a mic stand with the setlist on it. Large carpets cover the cold concrete floor and pedals sit on top of busted, chipped skateboard decks. The red Telecaster guitar that Tony now plays is covered in stickers.
Chris stops playing to announce that she has yet to show anyone her new guitar strap. She pulls it out of her backpack, revealing a black leather guitar strap in the style of a bullet belt. She holds it out in her hands to show the boys, and she even shows me with an unmistakable fire in her eye.
While The 1-800’s are new, Louie says they’re starting to gain some real fans. Louie says playing out of state shows or getting into the punk scenes in Milwaukee or Champaign would be cool. They don’t really aspire to play local music festivals, like Lollapalooza, because, Louie says, “that’s not very DIY punk.” Mikey jokes that they want the band to “sell out.” Chris hopes that no matter what happens the band can just have fun. The 1-800’s do want to release new material, because new material means more personal growth, as Louie says.
None of the band members are currently in school right now, because this band is the one thing that all of them really want.
“Music is the last ditch effort I have before I go insane,” Chris says.
Chris screams into the mic about shitty ex-boyfriends as she picks at her bass. She says she’s embarrassed to write “diss tracks” like this, but from the way, she attacks her instrument and from the way the entire band seems to fall into place as they play together, you’d never guess that she had thoughts of holding back.
Louie says one of the first local bands from the punk scene to inspire the band, and their song “SWYM” (i.e. Sex With Your Mom), was Pure Intentions, particularly their song “Crotch Cricketts.” He says that, as a band, The 1-800’s have gone from fans to peers. Does this feel weird? Chris gives a definite yeah. “It’s interesting,” Louie says.