INTERVIEW WITH ANDY SNEAP OF HELL
The British band Hell, recently visited Finland. They were here to open for Carcass and Amon Amarth. Before the Britsh five piece metallers went one stage, we had a good opportunity to talk with Andy Sneap about the most recent Hell album CURSE AND CHAPTER and of course about his views on producing albums and his feeling on old school sounds. Here is the brief interview with Mr. Sneap.
Interview by Arto Lehtinen and Marko Syrjälä
Live pics by Arto Lehtinen
TOURING WITH AMON AMARTH AND ACCEPT
This is the last show on this tour.
How has it been, and how does this package work?
Good. I mean it’s surprising really. In Germany it’s a little difficult. I think The Amon Amarth fans are a bit hard-core there. It is more their thing and that’s all they want to see. But as soon as we got out of Germany and got to Belgium and Holland and the UK especially, it was great. So this went really well.
Do you think these kinds of packages are essential nowadays to bring more people to shows ?
I think it’s good – especially this time of year, I think it’s a god thing. It has worked out really well for us, because we are playing to a large crowd, that probably wouldn’t even think about seeing us. And we’re going down well so. I mean, it’s the right idea I think. Any more than three bands on a bill is a little too much. We had four in the UK and it was a bit of a struggle there. I think a three band package like this I think each band’s got something different to offer the crowd as well. I think it’s good. The other thing that even though obviously we’re not like Amon Amarth, we’re not like Carcass, I don’t think we’re too far removed from the heavier end of things, the metal side of things. I mean, anyone that’s into this sort of stuff usually likes a bit of Priest and a bit of the more classic metal. So I think we can fit in all right.
Last time you toured with Accept, and I guess it was a really good tour. How does this package differ from the tour with Accept?
Well, with Accept we were the only support band. So, we had a longer set and I think we’re playing to more people on this that wouldn’t possibly listen to Hell. I think, the Accept thing is probably a little more, that classic metal thing. Although it was a bit of a bit different from the Accept crowd as well, actually. But, I’ll tell you we’ve gone down as well as on this as we did the Accept tour. So, it’s worth doing. You can usually measure it by t-shirt sales, actually. The t-shirt sales have been pretty much identical to what we did on the Accept tour. So, it’s good. It’s good.
What kind of selling numbers are you making about shirts per show?
It’ll be sort of 30 – 35 for the shirts for a night, which for an opening act is all right. It pays the crew. You’ve got to think that most people coming here are either here to see Amon Amarth or Carcass, because of their history. So, for a new band to be coming in – you can tell when we have a good night the sales are up. But we’re averaging that out and that’s kind of what we expected on, when we’re budgeting for the tour as well.
ABOUT THE RELIGIOUS ASPECTS
I can’t help ask that when you toured with Accept, but we know the Accept guys – Peter Baltes is a born again Christian. Whereas Hell is more like into the occult thing. Did you have any kind of conversation about that?
No, I’m not religious in the slightest. I don’t believe any of it. It’s a lot of rubbish, if you ask me. And you know Peter’s got his beliefs, I’ve got plenty of friends that are Christians as well and it doesn’t even come up in conversation. It’s not my place to say to someone else what they believe and it’s not their place to tell me that. So there’s always that line of respect. What we’re doing with Hell is more theatrical than anything else, anyway. So, he knows it’s a show and it’s a gimmick. Which it is with any band. Any band that’s making Satanism I mean it is a tough thing.
The Satanism thing is more like normal thing nowadays because you were not able to shock the people anymore like twenty, thirty years ago and if you say that you’re Christian, then you shock the metal people more…
Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean – I don’t know – the whole Christian thing to me is just…I don’t get it. I don’t get it.
It was recently announced that Peter Sandoval (ex-Morbid Angel) is re-born Christian.
I think, what it is that people get when people start realizing their own mortality later on in life it’s quite a daunting thought that it’s getting over. I think it does scare a lot of people and I think if it all depends on the sort of background they’ve had and especially with a lot of Americans I know it’s a bit more in their culture anyway. For me, from England there’s never – not fundamental religious. I’ve never been religious. To me, now I think we just turn back to dust and fertilize the planet, don’t we?
Sabbat was more into the paganism whereas Hell is more into the occultism thing. Do you, however, take out the things that you’re writing about in Hell lyrics?
Not really. I’m more about the music, to be honest. I suppose that’s the producer in me coming out a little bit more. I’m more into the actual into writing songs and melody. It’s the kind of thing that as long as the words sound good to me. There’s certain words and vowels that sound good to sing. I’m listening to the actual musical picture rather than the sort of the meaning and the depth. I leave that down when we were in Sabbat and that to David and Kev. It’s not my, it’s not really my interest, to be honest.
CURSE AND CHAPTER – THE SECOND ALBUM SYNDROME?
You have worked with Hell on two albums now. The latest is of course CURSE AND CHAPYTER. Do you think it’s some kind of pressure for you to make Hell sound really good because the production is in your hands and you have to prove it?
Yeah, well it’s like playing, when you play a song that you like, you play it well because you enjoy it. And, with Hell, I find that it’s quite easy to produce, because I enjoy the music and it’s what I want to do. So, I mean it’s always difficult with deadlines. We had a deadline that was the sort of middle of September for this to deliver it to the record label, to get it out for November. So, that deadline when I was doing the mix and the mastery was quite hanging over me and trying to get the mixes finished – Having finished the mixes at 6:30 in the morning and really killing myself on the timing. I’m not really listened to the album since we finished it. Whatever album I’m doing – whether it’s an album I’m playing or whether it’s something I’m producing – I find I have to give it three or four months before I can be objective about it again because I’m so burnt on it and I’ve heard it so many times. I mean, you think we spent two months on an album – Every day for, like, 15 hours a day. It got by the time you come to end of it you can’t see the woods for the trees. You just don’t know what you’re listening to anymore. You hope you’re doing the right thing. It’s always nice whenever I mix something – like the Carcass record, for instance – when I mixed that it was nice because I hadn’t been involved with the tracking. I approached it with a totally fresh set of ears. When you’ve recorded it and you have to go on to mixing it, you’re very much very tired of it, to be honest. It’s quite difficult to be objective of it by the time you’ve finished the mix. But, usually it works out okay
That last time when we talked that you said “you are not going to suffer the second album syndrome…” Well did you have the second album syndrome?
No, not really. Because we started writing quite a long time ago – probably about a year and a half ago – started throwing ideas together. And, we’d already got sort of five old songs we were going to use. So, really then we’ve got half an album to write. So, it wasn’t that much pressure. And, I mean, between the new songs it was sort of a 50/50 split between what Kev had written, what I’ve written, David had come in and put his ideas in as well. If we couldn’t put five songs together in two and a half years, It would’ve been a sad. But, yeah, it might be third album syndrome.
Is the third album more difficult for you?
I don’t think so. I think everyone’s gotten…
Was The MOURNING HAS BROKEN album difficult?
Oh, it was, but there’s a lot, obviously, there’s a lot of problems within the band then and it was sort of.
You have learned a lesson from the past?
Well, I’ve learned not to be in a band with certain people.
You said the songs are 50/50 old and new. But, what happened songs like “Angels Fear The Tread”?
Well, we’ve still got that one. That song we never felt was really a completed song. It was a lot of ideas that was thrown together. But, there’s some really killer riffs in that song, so we might lift some bits of that for another new song.
Are you going to use that song for the third album?
There will be bits out of it, I think. I don’t think we’ll do it as an actual song because the listening to it now it’s a bit too disjointed. It was one of the first songs they wrote back in the day. And they were still sort of trying to find their feet a little bit with it. So, yeah, it’s not really worthy of sort of redoing, I don’t think.
Is the can empty now?
Nearly. Yeah, yeah. I’ve got loads of ideas, to be honest. I know Kev’s got some ideas as well. I don’t think we’re going to struggling.
Do you think it’s more like difficult for you now to come up with new songs because they have to match with the old ones or do they come natural?
Yeah, it’s coming natural. And, I think we’ve played so much of the old material, we kind of know when we do start writing, we know what we need to do to make it feel right to the band. This is the sort of things that the band wouldn’t do back in the day. So, I’m really conscious from a producer point of view, not doing anything that’s too modern within it. I don’t want to make it, from a song writing point of view. I think sonically we can make it big and sound modern-day but the actual song writing, there has to be a certain sort of rules within the song writing. There is certain ways you play something, and certain types of harmonies, and that sort of thing. Where the vocals would go.
In my opinion, Hell has found its own style. Especially the vocal style. It’s a very strange, unique, and especially twisted because, because of singing in the upper register.
Well, it always was like that, you see. With Dave Halliday it was always and that’s why when I heard David singing originally I knew he was sort of the right guy for the job because it had that sort of Geddy Lee range. That higher octave going on. Which I always like in metal anyway. I’ve said it in interviews all along now, that if you took David’s vocals off this album you’d have a really eclectic mix of music across the whole album. Where you couldn’t really say that’s well, thrash or classic rock or it is quite commercial sounding. But, as soon as you put David’s voice on it, it makes it sound like Hell. That’s the sign of a good band to me. Whenever the vocals sort of identify the band because it means you can go anywhere – really – musically. And, it will still always come back to being the band. So, you’re not sounding one dimensional. And, I think that’s a really good thing we’ve got and we can do a sort of landscape of music across the whole album. I mean really go to different places, musically.
RETURN TO THE STUDIO – UPCOMING PROJECTS
When Hell got much busier like touring around and you had to turn down some job offers like Megadeth. But, I guess Hell is much busier nowadays. Do you have to turn down more offers?
Well, I’m not actually – I was thinking about this. By the end of this tour, I’ve actually worked for four months. I haven’t done any production works – I’ve done a few little bits.
Regarding the Carcass album, how much were you in control to change things or did you just do it in your way or did you just continue what Colin started?
No. Colin had started and I basically scrapped it and started again. We’d actually sorted a lot of the guitar turns out before I became involved, because they were using a lot of my equipment. Because they’re only about 20 minutes away, where they were recording. So, things went with the guitar profiles and stuff, we’d got that all stacked up. They didn’t like the way the mixes with Colin. So, we sort of just took a fresh approach with it. I think it worked pretty well actually. It worked good. It was nice to get involved in that because it was obviously recorded well because Colin had recorded it. So, it wasn’t a case of having to fix anything in the mix. It was a case of just working with what we’ve got which was good.
And, it does sound so Carcass, definitely.
Yeah, it does doesn’t it? I think so…
Absolutely. It’s a really amazing album. The Carcass thing came out of the blue for you in the last minute?
Yeah, I kind of got an inkling what was going down with that. So, when I got the call of Colin’s saying would you be interested in doing it? I was like, yeah. I think I had just finished – it was either Killswitch or Saxon, something like that – so it worked out perfectly timing wise for me. So yeah, it was good.
And you are going to work on the new Accept?
Well, yeah, that’s next month. When you look at when we started doing the album – through til now – it’s been four months of freedom of unpaid work. Yeah, I mean, I love doing it but I have to sort of balance it out as well. So, the start of next year I’m getting back into the production stuff I’ve got for Accept and Exodus I’m doing.
Have you heard the new — new Accept stuff?
I’ve heard demos, yeah. Yeah. I’ve heard bits, yeah.
Is it any different or the same style?
I’m not going to give too much away. We’re trying to get a bit more of that classic feel into it, I think. I think that’s important to this.
Because the last one was maybe too metal, if you ask me.
I know what you mean. It’s very easy for bands to go that sort of double kick route all the time. And, Accept always had a bit of – not the lighter wave stuff – of that, to say sort of the classic rock feel to them at times. And, I think it needs some of that. I think Blood of the Nations was good because it was sort of a hit just straight away.
So, Exodus is another thing that Gary Holt is really busy with Slayer.
So, have you heard their stuff now?
No, I haven’t heard it yet. Gary keeps telling me how great it is but that’s what he does. It will be and I mean Gary is killer anyway.
Have you tried to get Slayer to your studio?
No, I spoke to Gary, actually, a couple of months ago. I was joking “next time – next album Gary”. So, I keep mentioning it to him. I mean, I’d love to do Slayer, but they’ve obviously got their own people. I’m on the radar because there was a live thing that Big 4 DVD, I did the Megadeth mix for. They asked me if I could a mix for that. But, I couldn’t fit it in because I was doing Megadeth at the time. I know the guys so it’d be a nice thing to do. But, obviously it’s down to them. Whatever they want to do.
Speaking about the latest Megadeth album being a little bit disappointment — how do you like Super Collider?
I haven’t really listened to it. I heard the single, which I thought was an okay song, but I didn’t think it was a Megadeth song. I think if Dave was doing a solo record it’d be fine for that. It sounded more like Oasis to me, actually – more than indie vibe going on it. I mean, when I worked with Dave I found that if you push him in the metal direction he’s still got it. He’s still great at it. But, I think he needs I mean, you can tell that what he’s doing is right in the more commercial direction. Megadeth’s sort of got that side to it anyway. But, it’s not my thing – that sort of thing. So, if that’s what he wants to do, it’s fine, but it’s not the sort of direction I’d push him in.
After all, they always have had those both sides -Metal and commercial. There’s one song on the new album which sounds like country, It’s really confusing.
Yeah, yeah. But he does, I know he likes the country channel. Because he drives around in his Aston Martin listening to that. If you’re a proper artist, you’ve got to write from the heart anyway. And if he’s not feeling the happier direction anymore then, you’re never going to get a genuine song if you’re not feeling it. Whether he should be doing it as Megadeth or a solo project or whatever – I don’t know – I mean, I know it leaves a lot of the fans confused when there’s an album that isn’t heavy. But, that’s his call. He’s his own boss. He doesn’t answer to anyone.
Do you think that it’s easier to tell bands that “Now these things are not getting into the right direction” or guide them to the right…
I try, I do try and tell them but at the end of the day it’s the answer of the band whatever direction they want to go. And, you know, it’s not my record at the end of the day.
How do you guide yourself?
Me? I write what I want to write. What I want to hear. With the stuff I write with Hell, its stuff I enjoy playing and what I’d like to hear so hopefully it, I mean, that’s all you can do. I mean, you can’t – if you start writing for someone else or because of what people have said or the people’s opinions then you’re not being true to yourself. You’ll never do a good job on that thing.
NEW SCHOOL VS OLD SCHOOL VIBE
“DeathSquad” -in my opinion it is more influenced by the old school New Wave of The British Heavy Metal and the first impression with which I get was, like, this is the Iron Maiden riff in the middle of the song.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, that sort of reminded me of this well. Was it “Ides of March”, the instrumental of KILLERS?
it’s that vibe. And, I thought when we were talking about what songs to do and I thought we should do this, because no one does this anymore. Like, little interludes with, like, 3, 4 minute instrumentals. And, it was such a great little song that. They used to be really good live. And, if we use it live it gives it a chance to do something different in the set, as well. So, I’m really pleased with it because it just takes you somewhere else, musically, as well.
It has given a different angle to sounds because it originally sounded really like raw demo sounds with the demo production, now it’s got the modern technology approach. Do you think – somehow – the modern technology could ruin the whole spirit of old songs?
No. I think people that- sort of- are saying the old stuff sounds better blah, blah, blah. It’s just because they’ve heard it so many times? I mean, I did it so many times when people are talking about the production and how great and raw these albums were in the ’80’s and whatever. And, you go back and you put them on and they sound like shit. They really do…But, the songs are great. It takes people back to a certain time when they were younger. They weren’t analyzing production like they do now. There was a certain charm to it. But, I tell you, if I went into the studio now and gave a band that sound, I’d be fired. People don’t want it! People don’t want it!
But is it possible to have that kind of sound that you had in the ’80’s?
Again, you’d be chasing your tail with it. Because you’d be trying to make something sound bad for the sake of it. When do you know when it’s right when you’re trying to make something sound bad because you don’t know. A lot of the time, it was a lot back then. The bands back then would’ve loved the technology we’ve got now. They would probably try to get closer to what we’re getting now, anyway. The clarity and the low end and everything. You’ve been in the studio for a day to record a single or, like, a week to record your album, whereas now you’d probably get your drums tracked in that time. I’m not one of these guys that even entertain the idea of changing old sounds like that. I mean, it’s interesting. You know when you try and redo it – it is interesting, but…
It’s funny that there are a couple of exceptions like Yngwie Malmsteen, how he can still make so bad sounding albums…
Yeah, but that’s not even bad in a cool way, is it?
No, it’s really bad. It sounds like a demo.
Actually, I think when I heard one of his records, I love Yngwie – He cracks me up. I heard one of his records and I was like, “How has he managed to get it sounding this bad?”
I think was THE WAR TO END ALL WARS.
It was, yeah, yeah, yeah.
As for the live show – You have been influenced by several King Diamond, KISS, stuff like that, trying to bring all kinds of stuff to the stage, but where is the limit?
Is there a limit?
Do you want to bring more thing to the stage? I guess you have some ideas on your mind…
Yeah, yeah, one or two. I mean I’m not going to tell you about them but we just try and we just put some entertainment back into it. It’s so often you go and see bands now and there’s nothing going off. They have jeans, t-shirts on stage, heads down. We’re just trying to do what Hell originally wanted to do in the 80’s which was put on a full scale show and, just entertain people. When we do the full thing it, we get as much pyro and so on. It is just larger than life – sort of- thing that bands used to do and just put on a show.
I guess you were like a little kid at the King Diamond show at Sweden Rock?
Yeah! Yeah, well, they should take that fence down, shouldn’t I? The fence thing, I think, spoils it. You feel put off. I thought two or three songs – it’d be taken down by, I thought for- sort of- half the set, it was a bit, you’re looking through it thinking this well, I’m getting bored of that now, you know?
Did you try to get King Diamond to your studio?
I’ve actually mixed them before. I mixed The Roadrunner 25th song. I mixed that. So, I spoke to them when we did that. I know Andy and we talk about things, quite a bit.
I think what Hell should do some day; you should have line-up of New Wave Of The British heavy metal bands from the ’80’s, to have that kind of package with Saxon, Raven, Demon and those other old school bands…
Yeah, the thing is with Hell – the new wave of British heavy metal thing, it already happened when they happened. So, I think doing that – it’s like a lot of these festivals that are out there now – they’re trying to put us on with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands and we don’t want to disown it, but the band wasn’t even a part of that in the first place – Paralex and Race Against Time – Hell was after that. So, I think that it makes us seem dated if we do that. I think we’re better off doing things like this and Accept just to try and work with the bigger bands and get on festivals where it’s more established acts rather than these smaller things like that. It’s not putting these bands down, but I think we need to be seen to be moving forward rather than looking backward on this. So, that’s what we’re trying to do with it.
All right. We thank you for your time.
It’s all right.