Navajo Metal Rockers Signal 99: The Productive Side of Anger

Chuck Haven of metal band Signal 99 discusses growing up angry, and learning to use that anger as a source of power.

With their unmistakable sound, look and stage presence, the heavy metal rockers from Farmington, NM known as Signal 99 have left their mark on the Navajo Nation, the South by Southwest festival, and the American southwest in general. Now, the quartet of Chuck Haven, Gabriel Peters, Brandon Curley and Brandon Tsosie seeks to expand into other genres. They've been recently featured in the e-book H8 Society: How an Atomic Fart Saved the World. The darkly comedic multimedia experience features words by a pair known as "2Dans," illustrations by Bill Sienkiewicz and 26 musical numbers (chosen from over 4,000 submissions) by performers from nine countries. It made its global debut on BitTorrent Bundle on May 7, and has racked up more than 700,000 downloads. "It's a really interesting project," says Haven, the groups' founder. "They claim music will cure your inner screams. Will music be the one to save everyone on this love vs. hate global scale? We got it through a submission opportunity through ReverbNation. I completely forgot that I submitted it. Then, I got an email from 2Dans telling me they really liked our song. We did an interview over the phone, and they said 'we really like you, just count yourself in for the book.'"

Here's the full video promo for the book, including a few words from Chuck Haven at about the 1:25 mark:

The band's name comes from an old fireman's term. "It's still use in New York City," Haven explains. "It's code for a patient in respiratory distress. I thought it was a cool tie-in to a Native element where we're constantly putting out this distress call. I thought it fit well with what we're trying to do." Signal 99 have a unique stage appearance in that they perform while wearing fireman-type gas masks. "Masks are something you find in all Native cultures. One way or another, we all wear masks. We keep certain things hidden from the next person...if that makes sense. And, that's how I did it. Especially if you're a Native, you're living in a dual society. You have your Native background. And, then you have your American culture. And, you have to put on different masks every time we do something. And, you feel comfortable, after a while, wearing certain types of masks."

Many people might not see a natural connection between Native musicians and the metal scene—but for Haven, it's been there all the time. "I grew up on metal," he explains. "As a kid, I listened to Metallica and everything. When you're growing up in the Native community, there's a lot of tough things we have to deal with—alcoholism, mental and physical abuse. You have all this anger. I was getting to the point where I was losing control. I was trying to find some way to vent, and keep me from going down a road I shouldn't go. Once I started playing and writing music, it was coming out aggressive. So, it was starting to go towards metal. It helped relieve a lot of that stress and anger. That's something the younger generation is starting to relate to. That's why we can start bridging gaps with today's youth. It's OK to express yourself. You just have to do it in a way that's respectful, and turn that anger into something more productive."

Chuck Haven of Signal 99 performing in April 2014. Photo by Jason Morgan Edwards.

Signal 99 has enjoyed good success over their career, which stretches back to 2006. They have been regular performers at SxSW since 2009, with each visit earning better and better time/showcase slots. They have also won the Battle of the Bands, sponsored by Rock Star Energy Drink. "That was a national contest," Haven explains. "We were hand-picked, that year. We were picked out of hundreds of bands." They are in the midst of recording their third album, for release this fall. Haven describes the band's progression. "I was really aggressive, when I first started," he says. "I was really angry. The second album was more calm, but showed that I'd grown a little bit. It was more mature. This next album has been in the works for about one and a half years. It's one of those ones where life's lessons really took a toll on me. Two years ago, I lost my older brother to alcoholism. Last year, my younger brother (and former band member) passed away from multiple sclerosis. So, there was a point where I just wanted to give up. It was too hard to play music knowing that my brother was no longer going to be there. I did scrap a lot of music that I'm re-writing. There will be a mixture of some anger and learning how to deal with life's lessons. And, being strong through them. That's kinda where my writing is, right now. Even I'm curious how everything is gonna tie back together."

The band is eyeing a west coast tour, playing off the popularity of the e-book. They are also in the running for a spot on the Vans Warped Tour. Signal 99's music can found at sig99band.com, and all the major music outlets.