Eight wheels roll across the rink towards the aluminum bleachers, four on each of her black-clad feet. Above them her muscular legs are snaked with ink, banded at the knee by kneepads, and capped off by a green-and-black tiger-print skirt. Crowning this rock-and-roller vision is a helmet, also black, that she peels off to reveal a fierce red mane and sweat-matted bangs. She cracks a furtive smile: "I just got my fuckin' ass whupped." This is Drop Dead Red, No. 111 of the Philadelphia roller derby outfit known as the Heavy Metal Hookers. She lifts up the hem of her sleeveless black-denim vest to reveal some tenderized hip meat. "This is quality rink rash right here," she grins, surveying the damage as she pokes at her red-flecked flesh.
"You played well, though," comes the quick reply from Keith Buckley, frontman for metalcore heavyweights Every Time I Die. Buckley, his guitarist brother Jordan, drummer Mike Novak, and guitarist Andy Williams only watched the scrimmage from the sidelines but are clearly awed by the spectacle they have just witnessed at the Sportsplex, the Delaware Valley's finest sports facility and the practice space of the Philly Roller Girls, the Hookers' league.
Drop Dead Red quickly turns her attention to an open box of Budweiser in front of her and cracks a semi-warm beer. Another Hooker, No. 77, the Slim Reaper, all six lithe and lovely feet of her (not including skates), follows suit and pops the top on another not-so-cold one. Then she says, "This is the famous Budweiser beer. We know of no brand produced…" and continues to recite, from memory, the entire credo of the brand, found on every can and every bottle.
Williams asks a question through the mounting din, "Do you guys ever talk shit?" There is no reply. It seems none of the girls, rolling in fresh off the rink, have heard the soft-spoken axman, so he repeats his query, a little louder this time, to break through their surly curses and the cra-koosh of opening beer cans, "When you're out on the rink, do you guys talk shit to each other?"
Red turns to him and replies, "I usually just call a girl a dirty cunt about every other lap." She laughs and takes a swig of St. Louis' finest. Keith then asks, "Does it ever break into fistfights out there?"
Red fields this one too. "Yeah, it does, but it's like hockey, where it hurts the team if you really fly off the handle. I mean, you can, but it isn't going to be worth it." Whether or not she or any of the other Hookers mean that, Revolver wouldn't care to test, on or off the rink.
To be clear, Every Time I Die are not closet roller-derby fanatics. The four core members of ETID were handpicked by Revolver for this occasion—mainly because they once featured moshing roller skaters prominently in the video for "Ebolarama," a single from their 2003 album Hot Damn! And since they have a new record to promote, the bone-crushing Big Dirty, we were able to coerce them to make a detour on their way home to Buffalo, N.Y., after the last date of the Sounds of the Underground tour in Kentucky. The group might have been better served by ditching today's proceedings and resting Keith's laryngitis-afflicted throat for their fall tour with Underoath, but instead, four states and a few hours after their last gig of the summer season, these four bleary-eyed men of metal stagger off their tour bus in Feasterville, PA. "If we're going to take the time to do a shoot," says Keith, "we're glad it's cool. This is way better than us in front of a brick wall or something. Usually we drive two hours off-site to go to an industrial park somewhere so someone can take our picture in front of a fence."
The Hookers, too, are busy. They're going out of their way to accommodate us, as they have limited practice time, for which they pay out of pocket. That's right, they don't get paid for their rink work, and they all have day jobs to fund their roller derby habits, including travel expenses. Just like being in a band, roller derby is a real commitment and not something these girls take lightly; there are serious risks involved.
Roller derby can get ugly, and the Hookers like it that way. In an already violent sport, they're the mavericks of the WFTDA (Women's Flat Track Derby Association), the Philly Roller Girls member league. They have a taste for metal (heavy), ink (everywhere), and aggressive play (on rink and off), and a penchant for creative hair coloring. One team member told me that if Philly Roller Derby were high school, the Hookers would be "the girls smoking in the bathroom. We're the troublemakers."
When Revolver sits down with ETID to watch the scrimmage of the Liberty Belles, the all-star travel team of the Philly Roller Girls, the boys are keen to catch some of the action, even if they haven't exactly memorized the WFTDA rulebook. It proves difficult to get them to focus on questions about The Big Dirty while they're being constantly wowed by the feminine fury on display before them.
"What does that guy in the middle do? Is he a ref?" asks Jordan. But before he gets an answer, he points to the man whose duty it is to indicate the lead girl at the head of the pack. "Look at that guy! He won't stop pointing at her! That's his whole job! [Laughing] He just skates around and keeps pointing at her face." Getting into the spirit of things, the boys seem to have recovered from their earlier haggardness and are coming back to life.
"There's gonna be a titty just flopping out any second," says Keith.
"They're not even wearing sports bras!" exclaims Williams. "They just want their boobies out!"
"Their dicks are going to be so smelly after this…" says Keith as everyone laughs. Abruptly, whistles echo through the Sportsplex as one of the girls takes a shot and goes down hard on all fours, spinning off the marked track and grinding to a stop.
"She just hooked her!" Williams cries. "That's the girl who came up to me after I showered and said, 'You still look dirty!'" Then, with some satisfaction, "Man, she keeps getting biffed! These girls are brutal. Did someone just call that girl 'Smasher'? Is that her name? Do we get to call her that?"
"Yeah, they all have, like, Garbage Pail names," says Jordan. Revolver asks whether ETID ever considered creating stage names for themselves, but they shrug it off as not their bag. Not one to let a joke go unmade, Jordan comments on Mike's Revolver-supplied ETID army helmet, "We're going to start calling Mike 'The General' though."
"No shit, that girl's crying!" calls Williams, still intent on the action.
"The General made girls cry all across the country, didn't you Mike?" prods Jordan. Novak, the quietest member, smiles and says nothing.
The Big Dirty, which ETID released in September, was the follow-up to Gutter Phenomenon, which Revolver named the 2005 Album of the Year, a feat Jordan hopes to repeat with the new record.
"I noticed a pattern," he says. "Lamb of God won the year before us, and then we won. And then Lamb of God won again last year, and so we'll win again this year, and then Lamb of God will win again the next year. And it will just be us and Lamb of God trading off forever. It's kind of obvious. I mean, The Big Dirty is better than Gutter Phenomenon, so it kind of has to win."
"This record is exactly what we wanted," Williams reiterates, trying to be serious for just a moment. "With Gutter Phenomenon, I don't think we were really ready to write a record. That's my excuse for that." But why do the guys feel the need to make excuses for an album that was both a critical and a commercial success?
"It's funny, every time we talk about the last record, it sounds like it was a horrible failure, but it wasn't at all," says Buckley. "A lot of people liked it and a lot of great songs came off of it, but we're excited to get out there with something new. I think right now, after nine years, we're just hitting our stride."
After the scrimmage, the air in the Sportsplex is ripe with the scent of post-tour metal dudes, post-bout roller chicks, beer, and a palpable energy that could be summed up as "trouble brewing." The boys don their own custom-made Revolver roller-derby kits (skates, helmets, and pads) and risk ankle injury to take a few flat-track pointers while the cameras click and roll. Despite the risks, they're excited to try out the gear, and even more excited that they get to keep it.
Having laced up his quads, Keith tests the skates out around the bench area as one of the Hookers comes over and checks the band's gear out for herself. Keith tries some mock 50/50 grinds on the table as he jokingly reminisces about his "aggressive inline" roots.
"I had some friends stay at my house once, and I had to leave in the morning before they got up. When I came home there was a note on my bed and it said, 'Thanks for letting us stay, we'll talk to you soon. P.S., what the fuck are these?' They had found my old rollerblades in the back of my closet. So I called them and accused them of going through my shit. They said, 'How long have you been rollerblading?' I explained that I'm not a rollerblader, that the skates were old, and my friend said, 'Dude, when I found them the wheels were still spinning!' Now they're going to see this photoshoot and think I'm back into it again."
The Hooker who came over to scope out their gear says, "I broke those skates once."
"This very pair?" asks Keith.
"That exact model. I almost killed myself. They broke in the fucking middle of a championship bout."
"But don't worry, you'll be all right." And with that non-assurance she skates away.
Mike Novak is not happy. He eyes the skates and reluctantly starts to put them on. "I can't skate," he admits. "I can't even stand on skates." We might think this is just a ploy to get some handholding going on with the Hookers, save for the absolute disdain he has on his face and the comment he makes under his breath: "I don't need my arms or legs anyway. I'm only the drummer."
Before long, the whole crew are mugging for the camera. Even Novak manages to get moving with a little effort, and the evening begins to resemble a middle-school roller-rink party: The boys and girls go from staying on opposite sides of the room to blatant and unabashed handholding as the night ticks on.
Several hours after the band were supposed to be back on their way north, ETID and the Heavy Metal Hookers are drinking beers and sharing butts in the now-deserted Sportsplex. Jordan brings out a box of merch and CDs, which the band sign and give to the girls. As a final parting gift, the boys donate all their skates and pads to the team to give to new recruits and anyone else who might need them.
Clearly, the metal band and the roller derby team have taken a liking to each other, and suddenly it all becomes clear: These two groups aren't so very different at all. They're both groups of close friends who travel the country together, work hard, get banged up and bruised…and love their heavy metal.