By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
The Harder Beat is a free monthly publication that often sits among the same racks as The Thrifty Nickel and those "lifestyle" periodicals I pick up when I'm drunk. It resides just out of the mainstream, just shy of current trends, and remains an irony-free space where rawk dudes comfortably wear jewelry, secure in their inalienable right to pump their fists in the air and fuckin' party. Maybe you haven't seen The Harder Beat, but your metal-studded cousin has.
In May 1993, The Harder Beat debuted, dedicating itself to "promoting the rock, metal and hardcore scene." And, boy, has it. The six pages of that first issue are a rock fiend's secret passageway to the '80s and early-'90s metroplex music landscape: Dallas City Limits, The Basement, Savvy's, Joe's Garage, Z Rock. Lost-in-time bands like July Alley, Green Engine, Hammer Witch, Puncture and Down Beat Dirt Messiah. It was a time when the crowds were big and the hair was bigger.
"I used to put on Harder Beat Showcases, featuring the best local bands around," says Hollar. "You'd get 600, 700 people out on a Wednesday night. At 9:30, the place was packed." But just as Poison and Mötley Crüe found their stadium dreams going the way of the VH1 special, the local glam rockers were sent into the cold November rain.
"The alternative scene started up," Hollar says. "Nirvana, Seattle. The metal scene died." Unlike many of the bands and clubs Hollar wrote about, however, The Harder Beat adapted, covering the same burgeoning alt-rock movement that put the final nail in hair bands' coffin. But despite the wider scope, the magazine is still often considered a strictly metal-head affair. Putting bands like The Donnas and Slick 57 on the cover hasn't changed anything. Because while the magazine may reach out to fans of The Strokes, The Harder Beat's true love will always be acts like medieval muscle-rockers Manowar, Hollar's favorite band. Along with the usual musician classified ads, industry tips and local reviews, a recent issue also offers coverage of bona fide international metal superstars like King Diamond and Sweden's Arch Enemy. In this era, when the glossy rags put the same three bands on their covers all year, a little underground Scandinavian devil music feels like a hug.
Hollar's unlikely career began in Chicago, where she moved after earning a business degree. It was during this time that she made the trip to Vietnam. She also met a boy. "In Chicago, I started dating somebody about 10 years younger," says Hollar, an animal rights advocate who has never been married. "He liked going to rock concerts. Constantly went to concerts. I just got hooked on it."
Sick of the cold weather, she moved to Dallas and got a real estate brokers license, continuing a record of self-employment that remains to this day. (Her license is still active, and she owns a small collection of rental properties. Maintenance is routinely handled by musicians who exchange electrical or carpentry work for ad space.) Nothing was missing from her life in Dallas save one thing: music. She placed an ad in this publication. It read, "Wanted: Rock Concert Buddy."
One of the buddies she found worked as a photographer for a regional music mag called Jam.
"At the time, I wanted to put out a singles publication," Hollar says. "I knew nothing about publishing, but I knew a lot about being single." She volunteered her typing skills to Jam in exchange for learning about publishing. After writing several music articles, she set out on her own with The Harder Beat in 1993. Nearly a decade later, The Harder Beat has 260 distribution points (as far away as Los Angeles) and a staff of nearly a dozen paid writers. But it's been a struggle.
"I'm sure people think I make a lot of money with this, but I don't," she says. "The magazine looks good, and our ad rates are reasonable. But some months..." She trails off, maybe remembering the fate of many of her early contemporaries. Regardless, The Harder Beat releases Issue 124 in March, and Hollar will soldier on for the boys. Why?
"I think it's the energy from the music," she says. "I can't stand to watch somebody just stand there and strum the guitar. I want to watch somebody tear around the stage. And then the crowd gives the energy back to the band, and I like to be right in the middle where I'm getting the energy from all sides."
In her first "From the Editor" column in 1993, she spelled it out: "This music is consistently given lower priority by others, and it deserves better. Secondly, it's what I know best, and, most importantly, it's the music I love."