Andre Hartoonian – Vocalist & bassist of HeXeN
Interview by Luxi Lahtinen
August 5th (for US) – and August 8th (for worldwide) are two meaningful dates for those of you who have been expecting from these L.A. based thrashers, HeXeN´s debut album, titled STATE OF INSURGENCY, to come out through Old School Metal Records. The album will feature 13 songs of geniously made, technical speed – and thrash metal, an eye-catching album cover artwork made by Ed Repka (Death, Megadeth, Solstice, etc.) – and lots of sweat and bled blood, of course. HeXeN have slowly been becoming one of the most noteworthy and potential new thrash acts raising from the vast Californian metal scene, and I´m sure all of us will hear a whole lot more from them in the coming months once their debut album hits the streets around the world.
Andre Hartoonian, the frontman of HeXeN tells more about the recording process for STATE OF INSURGENCY – as well as sheds some more light on the current Cali-scene regarding youngsters´ tendency to form new thrash bands like every second day or so – and much more actually. Be sure to mark your calenders either 5th or 8th of August 2008, too… ;o)
STATE OF INSURGENCY
HeXeN have been working on their debut album titled STATE OF INSURGENCY, an 11-song effort that includes "elements of melody, heaviness, speed, and technicality within the lair of thrash", as your label´s press kit describes it. So, how have your recordings been turning out for you so far? Or, would you sum it up with So far – so good… ;o)
Actually I’m happy to call it So far, So great!!! The press kit description is right on the nose. The recording came out damn solid… it’s the best way I can elaborate on both the performance and production and the album as a whole… Solid. And it is going to contain 13-tracks total… if you’d like to count the two instrumentals as songs.
When you entered the studio, did you have a clear vision about the content of STATE OF INSURGENCY how the outcome of it would turn out to be eventually? The album features actually 10 old HeXeN songs as re-recoded versions, plus only one track which is the title track of your album, "State of Insurgency". I don´t wanna sound rude or impolite or anything, but why didn´t you record more of new HeXeN songs for your debut?
HOW DARE YOU QUESTION HEXENIC DECISIONS YOU SHALL BE CONDEMNED TO AN ETERNITY OF… just kidding Luxi, there’s nothing too rude or impolite you can ask me, even what color underwear my girlfriend is wearing if I had one (*awkward silence*). Right, back to the question. We definitely had a clear vision going into the studio to record this album of what would come out the other end strictly because, like you mentioned, all the songs were remakes we’d played over and over again for years. A lot of people have asked us the same question, and the reasons why are some of the most important points of the entire interview. Almost every band follows this same pattern… you naturally put all your demo songs onto your debut album. The only trouble is that the local fans are so bloodthirsty for metal and constantly wanting more and newer stuff so they don’t care to hear the same songs over again. They must realize that the rest of the world have to hear these songs too, it would be foolish to throw away all old songs and start over again for the debut, while all the fan favorites are tucked away in demos in our garages that will never be available to anyone. Unless of course there are those bands whose demos sucked so it was a good idea to write much better material for the official album but that wasn’t the case with us. Trust me when I say that the performances and production on this CD are so heavy and so tight that the songs will feel brand new even to long-term Hexen fans. Our new material however is going to be a hundred times better than the debut so we wanted to keep an incremental differentiation within albums to show the distinct evolutionary stages of Hexen… he-he-he!!!
What led you to name the album STATE OF INSURGENCY? Any particular reference as to what it means?
It’s a play on words to the more commonly heard phrase “state of emergency”, wherein I tell tale of a particular state way past the point of maintaining stability through methods such as Marshall Law… where social revolt and upheaval (or insurrection) is causing the country to implode and collapse on itself. I don’t know a lot of the lyrics are really based on a realist’s anti-utopian vision of the future… and I see it happening in America’s future if it remains on the path it has been on both domestically and internationally for decades.
Since you recorded your excellent CINDERS OF ZARASTHUSTRA demo last year, I gotta assume that you have been writing some new songs since then, right? What could you tell us about those new songs how they probably differ from the songs on that particular demo in question?
Oh man, we’ve always been writing. We have superb songs we wrote from even before the CINDERS or GAS CHAMBER demos. We constantly improve upon for follow-up albums and such. What I could tell everyone as of the moment what those songs are like is; exponentially better than the songs on the debut.
Talking about your song writing, has it been changing over the years somehow, I mean the way like some of you guys have been taking more responsibility from the song writing than before? Has it had any effect on HeXeN´s musical orientation in your opinion?
Undeniably, inevitably, and very fortunately so Luxi. There are some bands that either choose to only write 2-riff power chord songs their entire run, or that is all they will ever be capable of, and we were never that type of band. Some call this a strength, some call it a weakness. Some fans chose to comment about how Hexen used to be “true thrash” then went off and started making melodic songs but all I have to offer them is a dictionary. If they look up melodic in the dictionary it will tell them it’s the arrangement of pleasant musical notes… which basically makes up the job description of every musician. If that fact turns them off then what, will they also get mad if I tell them a plumber fixes plumbing? This is an aggressive thrash band with socio-political opinions that understands and utilizes the principles of harmony; harmony being a pillar of any music. If you look at our first demo it had EXACTLY that, and you fast forward to our debut album it will also have exactly that so it surprises me that this fact would surprise anyone. The only thing that has changed is the complexity and depth of the songs and our musicianship/performances as a whole… the songs nowadays have much more substance than previous efforts. We’re constantly trying to out-do ourselves and there were even times while writing the future material where I had to start simplifying songs to give the ear some rest, they were becoming too orchestrated… too many overdubs/harmonies/guitar fills.
THE TIGHTEST HeXeN LINE-UP SO FAR?
Could you tell by your own words that what might be HeXeN´s advantages or disadvantages to having many creative song writers in the same band? I mean, to have many song writers in the band is of course a great thing, but what if some of them have very different visions and views how the band should sound like, this is where we might run into some serious problems between the band members. You know what I´m trying to say here, don´t you?
The advantages of us not being one of those bands where the main dude (i.e. Megadeth) writes 90% of the material are that everyone feels fulfilled in the end that they all contributed something and in some way… they end up enjoying the songs more since they had a piece of them in it. I for one would hate to have to be left all alone to write all the songs because I hate working alone, two (or more) heads are better than one. Never have I written a song beginning to end that felt like it’s a done deal and needed nothing else. No matter what, the song doesn’t feel done until the rest of the guys massage it a bit to their liking. However, most of the time, we end up naturally writing together anyway. I might start out with one riff, someone else will come in and give me a good chorus, and if we’re stuck for a while someone else will come up with a good breakdown for it… and it will continue on this way until the whole song is done, thanks to the HeXeN assembly line (ha-ha!!). The disadvantages of course will be the usually friction or butting of heads over a section of a song or how something should be played… people will have (and want to push) their own views obviously. Then, with time, compromises and considerations will be made and agreements will be achieved.
How would you compare the line-up you have right now in the band, to any of your previous line-ups that HeXeN have had in the past? What kind of things particularly make your current line-up better than any of your previous line-ups then in your humble opinion?
Well, I could say this is definitely the tightest line-up I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Everyone is pulling their weight and right at the top with rhythm and being on-time. Not to mention Carlos is one of the best thrash drummers around and Ronny’s virtuoso lead style is unparalleled in this scene. The new song, "State of Insurgency", is a merciless raging piece that hauls ass nonstop for nearly six minutes requiring everyone to be the same and it would have been strictly impossible to play with any previous line-up. And I mean the new songs are more or less the same way, not that they will all be pushing the borders into the realm of extreme metal the way the new song is at times but… being a musician isn’t some fucking weekend escapade man… it requires drive and if you don’t have it, you’re going nowhere. It was a blessing as well as a curse that the previous members were better music writers than players. Now I’m not putting anyone down I’m just saying when the going got tough the tough didn’t always get going so they either resigned or lost confidence/interest early on. They’re out there doing way better on their own anyway so things worked out for the best.
Back to the recording process of STATE OF INSURGENCY. What could you tell about the studio itself, and about the studio equipments that you have been using to record the songs for STATE OF INSURGENCY? Now when you have been recording the album in the studio, could you say you are even very glad that you ended up choosing this particular studio in question for the recording?
The studio was the same one we recorded the last two demos at and we chose it again for the debut album cause honestly, with our limited budget, it was the most ‘bang for your buck’ joint. It was built in the back of its owner’s home; Dave Swanson, and they let the bands stay in the rooms they have in the house while they record so no one has to constantly drive home and back every day and you can just stay at the studio and immerse yourself into your project and worry about nothing else; a real convenience for the bands. The equipment they had was the usual digital equipment every studio works with nowadays… out goes the reel-to-reel 2 inch tape and in comes computer software. I’m very glad we chose this studio because we had A LOT of fun the 2 weeks or so we were there and had the coolest sound engineer to work with (hails Jesse!), as opposed to real idiots we had worked with in the past. When it came down to mixing and mastering, we had all the time in the world to go into detail over tweaking levels, equalization, and refining the overall sound of the album. No other place would we have so much control and time to get creative with effects and such so all things considered; it was appropriate for this first album but for the next one we’re definitely finding an even more professional, industry-standard studio.
Who has been producing your debut album, and what kind of things made you eventually to choose this person to produce the album – this person in charge having probably the best understanding to produce as intense band as HeXeN is, am I right?
Well, by produce do you mean who paid for the whole thing? Cause that would mean us and Patrick, ha-ha!! But if what you mean is who our main mixing/mastering technician was then that would be the owner of the studio Mr. Dave Swanson. He is a real down to earth guy who knew exactly what our angle was for the release despite having gotten accustomed to a lot of hardcore/nu metal bands that go into that studio.
INKING A DEAL WITH OSM RECORDS
You inked a deal with Patrick Ramseier´s Old School Metal Records sometime around in March this year. Was it a relatively easy task for the band to pick up Patrick´s offer and sign a contact with his label, knowing what the words ´old school´ mean to Patrick (he doesn´t take those two words too lightly, that´s for sure!)? Did you also get some other offers probably from some other label owners that wanted to take HeXeN under their secure wings?
We had gotten a few more offers and were also trying to get in touch with Heavy Artillery which signed Merciless Death and Exmortus but Patrick offered us the most freedom to work with. At this point in time unless I know a label can support my bum musician ass while I give them my best work I wouldn’t sign 5+ year contracts, know what I mean? And by his ‘old school’ philosophy if what he means is back in a time when music wasn’t corporate profit manifested uninspired bullshit, then I guess we fit in this label.
Signing with OSM Records is obviously only one step for HeXeN to spread their thrash-tastic metal around the world. Once the album has been put out (due to be released late summer sometime), what kind of expectations do you have personally how well metal people will receive it around the globe? At least all of your 3 previous releases (that seem to be difficult to find unless you don´t contact the band directly) have been received very well, and all the feedback out from them, has been very flattering toward the band´s direction. I guess you guys must be happy how well people have appreciated your music so far, correct?
I hope we will be appreciated as anyone would, but like I said our music is for the majority of the earth who have open minds, not for people who will go “bahumbug! Something other than generic thrash?!?!” Every time we try something new. Now this is nowhere near asserting that we are going to eventually lose ourselves in selling out a la albums like RISK or ST. ANGER and cover it up by claiming that we’re trying something new again. We aren’t morons; we keep our wits about it, ha!. If people want that cheap thrill of derivative and countlessly imitated 80’s stuff they must look elsewhere. I write lyrics that mean something to me and when it isn’t something personal it’s something that provokes people to think. I am very happy for the people that have appreciated our music thus far, and for the most part I think the album will do fairly well. The strategy on this one was to keep it like a straight-forward punch to the thrashers while giving other metal listeners something to enjoy… and it sets in stone what the band is all about. There is speed on this album, there are heavy songs, there are melodic songs, there are acoustic instrumentals, and there are brutal songs – a good HeXeN sandwich, if you will. There is a healthy dose of variety on this album and no two songs are similar, which is what a lot of thrash tends to suffer from. We plan to go “out of this world” epic on later albums once we’ve developed a thick enough fan base and laid the foundation… don’t want to overwhelm them TOO early on (*wink*).
What do you think of your label mates on the OSM Records roster – I mean, bands like Kryptos, Jumalation, Suicidal Angels, Chaosfear and Anger As Art should all be close to your hearts as they all play thrash metal, too?
Holy sheep tits! I just noticed I haven’t listened to any of them yet! How embarrassing… well, I heard my drummer talking about them, I’m sure he checked them all out but I’ve just been so busy lately it never crossed my mind. I’ll give them a listen and let you know!
Are there some other bands that you´d personally love to see on OSM Records, being your friends´ bands or any other bands that you would recommend to anyone to check out?
Well – sure! There’s a lot of wonderful bands (and buddies of ours) still around this scene that are yet to be signed. Eminent, Rattlehead, and Desecrate are amongst some.
Have you had any talk within the band to put out a HeXeN DVD some day so that your fellow metalheads could get an idea how intense live band HeXeN truly is as a matter of speaking?
Hell yeah! That’ll be an awesome idea. I even have a plan to call it LIVE CHAOS (™!!!) after a song of ours called "Chaos Aggressor…", and you know how the usual metal cliché live album names go… (Maiden – LIVE AFTER DEATH, Slayer – LIVE UNDEAD), ha-ha!! That usually comes after a few albums I project.
What do you otherwise think of all those thousands of metal DVDs that are contantly floating to the music markets? According to the massive amount metal DVDs there´s available in the biz already, it seems like every band and label would like to release a DVD nowadays, which obviously puts an end user into a pretty unenviable situation as he/she naturally cannot buy each metal DVD that comes his/her way (unless you are one goddamn rich bitch!). The metal music markets are definitely overrun by way too many metal DVDs nowadays… Do you see this basically the same way as I do?
Well actually, I never noticed that ‘till now. I always thought it was cool that every band has their own DVD giving you the opportunity to see them live if it otherwise would be difficult or even impossible to see them in person. Some prime examples would be DVDs of Death or Dissection or even Emperor, thank god they exist, ha-ha!! Well, that and YouTube. Man, those blokes at Noise Records better release one of Coroner soon (starting with LIVE IN EAST BERLIN ’91)… interviews revealed that they have a lot of Coroner live material archived up they’re keeping for themselves!
NEW COMING OF THRASH METAL
The thrash metal scene in California is really blooming nowadays. Bands are raising up from the ground like mushrooms after the rain, and people in general have directed their glances back to the Californian thrash metal scene more often than for many years when the L.A. thrash metal scene seemed to be in sort of ´on hold´ state for many years – apparently due to a number of different reasons. Bands like HeXeN, Bonded by Blood, Merciless Death, Hatchet, Fueled by Fire – and lots of other newcomers, are clearly smoothing the ground for many other young thrash bands to come, and therefore the L.A, thrash scene looks healthier and stronger than for many years. Do you basically agree with what I said in these 3 aforementioned lines?
I do… and where I once was absolutely ecstatic about the multiplying number of bands I became worried in years time. The scene was extremely welcoming of thrash in all forms but what ended up happening was every kid and his dad picked up a guitar and made a band to hop on the bandwagon (pun intended). Originality and innovation deteriorated in the process. I mean if anyone could help it… and I’m sure some would agree… they would keep the few bands such as the Merciless Deaths, the Desecrates, the Warbringers, the Hexens that were around since the beginnings and helped form the scene today and that be it. The rest as some have observed seem to only follow what tends to be the popular “shtick” for the scene at the time. If at first it was a power thrash edge with major scale riffs and pentatonic solos… they figured the next step would be to adapt to a more satanic/dark theme and the “connect-the-dots” fret-marker riffs soon became evil riffs and minor keyed solos. You can guess what came next; the rest of the bands in the scene soon altered their style to match and stay in the spotlight instead of keeping true to themselves. The downside to the sudden explosion of thrash is the same to all things that become TOO much TOO fast; they lose value and become a dime a dozen to people as well as record companies. Metal died (in America at least) for the most part because of this… so unless the bands and the music industries learn their lesson this time around, the same might unfortunately happen again. Hell, if I’m speaking out on a limb here I can recall that even Mille Petrozza said it himself in that Swedish thrash metal documentary ("what is that?" – Luxi becomes a question mark). Real metal will always stay, but a strong stance on the global stage is a status that must be earned and maintained, not given and taken advantage of.
Do you have any idea what has probably caused this rather vast invasion of new thrash bands coming from the Cali-scene? Could it be the fact some known thrash bands – like Exodus, Heathen or Death Angel for example, that made all their comebacks some years ago already, there still seemed to be lots of demand for their kind of music amongst the metal crowd into an old school type of thrash metal? So, basically all the 2nd comings of some known Cali-thrash bands worked out as a fuel to raise the needed fire amongst youngsters so that bands like HeXeN, Merciless Death, Fueled by Fire and the likes, could have born?
That is exactly what happened. I’m not sure for a lot of others… but I got into metal from a few friends during a time when the only metal on TV was Britney Spears’ chastity belt… NOT. I mean it was just rap, pop, and nu-metal everywhere and any real metal from around here was basically inactive. I grew up the last 10 years basically appalled at what seemed like such a paradox to my naïve self-absorbed mind… “as soon as I get into metal, everyone else did too! It reawakens!!! How awesome!!!”. Unbeknownst to me, A LOT of kids around my age from whatever sources were also getting back into it because face it, we knew even back then that the things on TV/radio… the Limp Bizkits and the Korns, were bullshit bands that would not last. Metal is a no-bullshit form of music, and we were all taken by it. Through time it had a world-wide re-emergence and all the old 80’s bands seemed to come back from the dead and its been a great ride until now that I am here now in a signed band of my own… from the little kid I remember I used to be looking up to Iron Maiden. But like I said before in the previous question, the thrash scene, albeit over-populated… will hopefully sort itself out. The bands who follow might eventually weed out and the bands that are established will remain. Ha-ha, I should tell it like it is less often but you know what fuck it, somebody’s gotta deliver the truth.
Now if you could recommend some up´n coming new thrash bands from the local scene, what bands you would tell to people to keep their eyes out for in the future?
Desecrate, it’s a mystery why those guys haven’t been signed yet (www.myspace.com/desecrate).
GETTING ACTIVATED FOR GIGGING
I assume that once STATE OF INSURGENCY is out, HeXeN will start doing some serious gigging in order to promote it even better and more determinedly. Is that the plan?
You know it Luxi. At first we chose to play live sparingly, about once a month… just to keep the shows interesting. We thought that playing day after day/week after week in the same old city would become boring for both the band and the fans that end up hearing you over and over again. It worked for the most part… every time we played we always got an excellent crowd reaction since we’d missed them as much as they’d missed seeing us live again. But this time around I’d love to play as much as possible during this summer when we have a lot of time.
How much is it a tempting idea amongst the guys in HeXeN to come over to Europe some day where heavy metal in any forms is very appreciated genre in general, for example to try to get a slot at some of those European previous summer festivals that are held each year?
Man, it’s the same as waving a fresh juicy piece of meat in front of a starving caged dog. One day we will come there Luxi, we will meet you and others and all party, we will play a festival and have the time of our lives, and then we shall copulate with some beautiful European women (ha-ha-ha!!!).
Do some of you have any contacts to some festival organizers that might be somewhat helpful for you guys to get you a slot at some of these festivals, either in the States or here in Europe?
None!!! PLEASE CONTACT US FOR BOOKING!!! We’re hoping Patrick can send our asses on tour some time.
Oh, did you happen to know there´s at least one more band coming from your country by the name of Hexen? They come from Freehold, New Jersey, and play some sort of satanic-tinged, old school heavy metal. Have you heard of them by any chance?
I have no idea who those dudes are or what their music is like but just from the coincidence I already have this hostile feeling towards them, ha-ha-ha!! Change your name you New “Joisy”ans! It’s officially ours now! There can only be ONE HeXeN! Earth aint big enough for the both of us!
What you hope that you could have achieved with HeXeN within the next couple of years, besides that ´fame & fortune´ thing of course, ha!
Well, public appeal and appreciation I guess. I do not want to be “worshipped” or anything even remotely megalomaniacal, as Chuck Schuldiner said… “I’m just a fan, a carrier of the torch of metal”. It is for personal pleasure/accomplishment as much as it is for metal fans everywhere. I think we are going to be presenting music to the world in later albums that will truly be unique and extra-ordinary. However, I want us to be praised for being us, not for something else. The last thing I want is run of the mill reviews claiming how “pure ´80s thrash” we sound. That sort of remark doesn’t demonstrate how talented/original one is, that only demonstrates how well one can mimic. Unless fame and fortune makes it way to my door by some unlikely miracle, I have already adjusted life to have something to fall back on… just being realistic you know? To at least acquire some regard from metal fans would make all my and my band members efforts worthwhile.
Thanks a lot for your time Andre for giving us an update what´s going on in the HeXeN -camp right now – and all the best for your future activities, of course! May the last words be yours – go ahead…!
Oh well, much obliged – much obliged! Thank you so much Luxi and Metal-Rules.com for the pleasure!!! As for all you metalheads, THE ALBUM COMES OUT AUGUST 8th… (or “08-08-08” for short). BUY IT!!! THIS WILL BE A METAL ALBUM YOU WILL WANT TO OWN!!! SEE YOU ALL SOME DAY!!!