Van Bates - aka Black Hesher - has reportedly passed away. Originally from Boston before relocating to Lemon Grove, Bates grew up in the North Street projects, a colorful but hard life that later inspired his mad scientist fusions of sounds by combining his East Coast hip-hop influences with punk, alt rock, psychedelic folk, and flea market funk beats.
"Van Bates is one of the coolest people I know," wrote local author Spike Steffenhagen last year. "He is the only person to get me to listen to a hip hop album and can hold a conversation on multiple topics. He also has the most interesting T-shirts that only he can pull off."
Bates co-founded Cult Muzic in August 2018 with Jason Nichols, aka producer J. Andrew. "Van believed in me when it seemed no one else did," he posted online. "He made me see that light inside that I so desperately tried to hide or extinguish. We sat thought each other's dark moments unconditionally because knew what each other was capable of and worked our asses off making sure neither of us lost sight of it."
In 2019, Bates released the Black Hesher album Rituals, which he described as "The album I almost didn't live to make. I spent the last year of my life in a downward spiral fighting my demons and addiction until my life came to a halt, after two terrible situations that I caused forced me to stop and recognize my behavior. I was a drunken wreck. I caused mental and physical harm to someone close to me, and I ended up isolating myself from my bandmates, friends, and family. I was utterly lost and suicidal. I have never blamed anyone for my actions and have always been transparent no matter what anyone thinks. After wishing I was dead, I instead got sober and started on a course to correct my life. I did the only thing I knew I was still good at. Music."
"This record is filled with all my anger, pain, sorrow, disappointments, remorse, regret, rebirth, love, and magic. A roller coaster of emotional wreckage that somehow brought me to this point. I've never recorded an album as raw and vulnerable as this. I tried to really be as honest as I could in my lyrics as I perceive things and tear myself down until there is nothing left. Only when the walls tumble can you truly rebuild yourself."
One of the album's guests is a former member of local 'tween trio Pink Army. "Lia Marie Johnson was also a big part of this album, and I know she got super famous, but had a similar spiral to mine, which is how we kinda ended up helping each other back up the ladder." Producer J. Andrew guested on the Rituals track "Burn The Witch," which was also filmed as a visual collaboration.
A new album dropped at the end of May 2020, Saints And Sirens, featuring songs with J. Andrew, Natalie Dime, and Michael Fairchild of the Spice Pistols. A vinyl edition came with a free download card, with a cover painting by Kate Krysinski.
Late last year, Bates (as Black Hesher) collaborated again with J. Andrew and Michael Fairchild to form San Diablo Allstars, releasing their debut singles for “Hatchback” and “Lord Zilla.” A debut album dropped December 4 on 8-track tape, in a run of 100 copies, before becoming available digitally. J. Andrew’s album Time To Move featured Black Hesher on the track “Energy of 1000,” while Hesher’s full-length Sacrifices was mixed by Andrew, who also co-wrote the album track “Body Check.” J. Andrew’s album album Collapse features Black Hesher and DevLord on the track "Done Tonight."
Black Hesher "Drag Me 2 Hell"
In March, Black Hesher debuted a new video for “Drag Me 2 Hell,” which he discussed in an online post. "I don't tend to make a lot of music videos oddly enough, but...the IDGAF vibe of the song really captures something from my soul. And there is something truly amazing about putting your soul to 'tape.' Capturing a ghost in a song. A moment in time. This video means a lot to me because, although it is laced with humor and humility, it reminds me of being in my Mom's basement, making demos, and dreaming about rocking a stage one day. It reminds me of the ups and downs I've been through my entire life. Battling addiction, depression, and my demons. Somehow I made it to the other side still standing. So here it is everyone, a piece of my soul."
Bates' final performance was a benefit to raise mental health awareness. He was due to appear at several upcoming shows, including a July appearance in Maine. Memorial services are being planned in both San Diego and Massachusetts.