Like most homes, Abe Hill's residence vaguely reflects his lifestyle. At first look, nothing seems out of the ordinary. Drums and instruments are evidence of his life as a musician, and the video games and posters speak for themselves.
Then you enter his room and see a savage, crooked baseball bat, covered in dried blood and clamped in a vice. On a couch there's a metal vest with cogs and discs welded to it at severe angles -- it looks like it could be from the set of Mad Max. Then there's a poster of a purple-haired anime character pinned to the wall directly above his bed, a strange counterpoint to the vicious ensemble.
Nearly by accident, Hill ended up fusing welding, cosplay and music into the sort of patchwork lifestyle that's right at home in Denton. He's even dressed as a Japanese school girl for a punk show, so you know this persona isn't one he takes lightly.
Three years ago, Hill began his maiden voyage into the city's punk circuit with the now-defunct Anger House. That band, which was heavily influenced by early emo and punk music, split up six months back due to inevitable conflicts otherwise known as "life." Hill cites his songwriting as guitarist and singer for Anger House as some of the best of his life, but the band's direction gradually diverged from his preferred genres.
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In the aftermath of Anger House, he and two friends formed Good Hank with full intent to pursue the oddball punk band they'd always dreamed of. As one of the two songwriters, Hill primarily writes anime-based, "nerdy" lyrics. For example, the demo they've recorded is about a Japanese cartoon character -- a robot disguised as a girl who has supernatural powers. Though the song is referential, its themes are universal enough for it to stand on its own.
As he was getting a foothold in the music scene, Hill took a crack at traditional university study, but quickly grew disinterested and decided to pursue a trade skill instead. He had no idea what he was getting into, but the idea of melting metal piqued his interest.
"Welding ended up working its way into all of my interests," he says. "I've made my own pedal board, I've made gear for cosplay, even just making a table because I need a table." Right now, Hill is wrapping up his trade school classes for welding while working a 40-hour week at a screen printing company. When he's not occupied with either of those things -- which he admits isn't terribly often -- he's practicing with his band. And if he somehow finds himself idle beyond that, he turns to his workstations.
Hill spends what little free time he has welding weaponry and distressed armor for himself or other cosplayers. He'll salvage or barter for pieces of metal from warehouses, then fashion them into steampunk armaments for post-apocalyptic live-action role playing (commonly known as "LARPing," for the noobs). Much of his work revolves around the Fallout survival game series, for which he has sewn jumpsuits and made metal-adorned armor and a replica laser rifle. For cosplay garments, he'll scour thrift stores to find material he can sew or distress with the help of his ceaselessly supportive girlfriend to complete the aesthetic.
Hill was initially only looking to fulfill his own cosplaying needs with his craft. But as he began to share his work on Facebook, people began reaching out to him to request gear for their own outfits. Hill says he learns more when creating for others -- he's meticulous and the finished product must meet his high standards. In his own words, he's learned to "gradually suck less bad," which, let's be honest, is all that anyone is trying to do. He recently set up an Etsy page, which he hoped to use to distribute his creations, but Fallout's game developer demanded that he cease productions due to license infringement.
Hill wasn't sure what to make of it, but preliminary investigation suggests his products may have overlapped with licensed merchandise sold by the company. Similar products are sold on Etsy, but Hill opted to just work by commission for local buyers instead of risking legal ramifications. Though it would be nice to turn a profit, Hill views that prospect as a bonus rather than a driving force (spoken like a true musician).
One of the most prominent LARPing organizations in Texas is Dystopia Rising, a group with chapters nationwide, which is a huge boon for Hill's business. The storyline of the events is that the human race has succumbed to a fungal infection and fractured into opposing groups of mutated beings. Attendees are expected to fully immerse themselves in their characters, which entails elaborate costumes, the likes of which Hill supplies. On Hill's visit, he camped out with a huge crowd of LARPers from all over Texas for a non-stop 36-hour excursion; his faction was vulnerable to attacks by other groups regardless of the time of day. He says there are stories of raiders attacking a camp in the middle of the night, so it's essential to sleep in shifts and always keep one eye open.
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The weapons and armor are, of course, purely cosmetic due to silly things like "life insurance" and "mortal danger." They're harmless objects made menacing through the use of paint. For example, Hill's "bloodied" baseball bat was constructed with PVC pipe and a pool noodle, which he spray painted metallic and muted hues. Though it looks monstrous and intimidating, an armed conflict with two of these will inflict about as much bodily harm as a pillow fight.
Uniting all of Hill's interests is his belief in getting out and doing not only what he enjoys, but also what he doesn't understand. In his experience, the approach has led to new friends and no regrets. "Come to Denton, see a random band, do a LARP. Just one time," he says. "I guarantee it's not like anything else you'll ever do. Just become lost in it, whatever it is."
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