Andre Hartoonian – Vocalist and bassist of H e X e N
Interview by Luxi Lahtinen
HeXeN, this 4-headed Thrash Metal monster, comes from Los Angeles, CA. It is absolutely impossible to not like this band if furiously and aggressively played old school Thrash Metal is something that forces your neck muscles to intensely headbang. FROM THE CRADLE TO THE CHAMBER, which is the band´s latest demo, has been received very well by both the fans of HeXeN as well as people behind different organizations – and it´s only a matter of time before the band will take their next big step toward a wider audience.
Andre Hartoonian, whom duties contain bass handling and screaming his lungs out in the band, reveals more about HeXeN through this interview, his thoughts about both the past and present of the metal scene, as well as what Dave Mustaine from Megadeth told him in person when he got this unique chance to meet him face-to-face…
Hello there Andre! How are things in a sunny California these days?
Greetings dear Luxi! Well, we are enjoying the only time a year where the weather is comfortable, sunny but tolerable. Soon the summer will kick in and not leave for half a year or more and we will all look like your myspace picture on the beach!
As HeXeN is surely a relatively unknown name for most of us, would you kindly tell us how the band got started, how you met your fellow band mates and so forth?
The band unofficially started about five or so years ago when a triplet of middle-school friends met up with their cheap guitars and basses and jokingly began covering their favorite metal songs and writing amateur music. We finally found a drummer in 2003 and things started happening. We completed five songs and recorded our first release and began playing shows. Things continued as we played more and more shows, recorded newer music, and grew as a band. The rest is an unsteady history (the usual band drama) of members being dismissed or quitting, and their replacing musicians having been local guitarists or drummers that knew about us through the recognition we had gotten from being active during the rise of the metal scene around here.
– OLD SCHOOL THRASH BAND FROM LA
The name of HeXeN´s game is old school Thrash Metal that draws its influences from such bands as Dark Angel, Slayer, Megadeth, Hobbs Angel of Death, etc.; basically bands from the past ´80s Thrash Metal scene. Was it clear for all of you since the very beginning that HeXeN would play nothing but intense and aggressive Thrash Metal without any compromises?
That is a very important topic. For the most part, metal music seems to be associated most with Thrash Metal and its image of rebellious angst-driven teenagers with ripped jeans and leather jackets, so I assume that is why it was the default sub-genre we fell into, it was what we were initially exposed to when we first got into metal and decided to play it. However, the notion that ‘variety is the spice of life’ is what made it almost inevitable that I would not be able to stick to only the characteristics of one sub-genre, namely Thrash. I don’t believe it was my intention from the beginning to only be an absolute “tunnel-visioned” Thrash band, and I still believe that to this day despite the fact that the music we are playing can for the most part be labeled as Thrash. This is where the game becomes dangerous. In this music, there is a fine-line between being innovative and unique (that is to say trying something new) and having the people love it; or having quote unquote ‘sold out’! Especially nowadays when metal has branched off into countless forms, any extra-ordinary style or sound introduced into a band’s work seems to skate on thin ice in the minds of the listeners whose job it is to critique. If that ice breaks, before you know it you’re band is called experimental, having lost their edge, or just plain sucks and the only way to survive that is if you had claimed to be ´avant-garde´ from the start. I experienced the perils of this on our full-length album (which I will talk about later) compared to our latest offering, which re-introduces our ´thrashy´ side.
Is there any no. 1 band for you personally that you could say has clearly been the main influence for you when it comes to your own writing for HeXeN?
Megadeth. For some reason, every member of the band has been an ardent follower of Dave Mustaine’s ´essential-to-the-development-of-Thrash´ -work. Even so, our devotion only extends as far as CRYPTIC WRITINGS *laughs*. This does also illustrate why they have been the band of choice for most of our covers we have done live. I am eager (albeit skeptical) to hear their newest work that’s supposed to come out in May.
Your latest release was the 4-song FROM THE CRADLE TO THE CHAMBER demo that is probably your most intense and aggressive recording to date (correct me if I´m wrong). How has the response been toward it thus far? As far as I have understood, people have really loved it, and the feedback for it has overall been amazing, right?
Oh no, you aren’t wrong Luxi, the beauty in bands is that they evolve (theoretically of course) and although two of the songs on the CD are remakes, the two new ones are a representation of our current potentials. We were yet to write a balls-out music piece of mayhem that became “Gas Chamber”, and “Past Life” demonstrates our ´other-side´ that I speak of. The other side that is progressive, melodic, and something uncommon to thrash music. I’ve been flattered to hear that people all over have liked the new CD very much.
What could you tell about the song writing process itself for that demo? Which ones of you are the main songwriters of HeXeN anyway, and whom, or whose responsibility is/are to write lyrics for the band?
The songwriting process for this band is complicated in our peculiar approach to it. It has rarely happened that we have used traditional methods such as coming up with a riff or two and building upon it to the end. There have been times where two completely different pieces written a year or more apart have sometimes pasted together suitably to become the songs they are. It is often difficult for me to write music though, since I feel that anyone can assemble together an array of riffs to form another haphazard Thrash song with mediocre effort. Everything must align perfectly and I must feel that the song is complete and it is then that I step in to write the lyrics, often from the feelings that the music gives me. But I am proud in the fact that in the past and even now, every person in the band has contributed. Even our previous drummer that you’d assume would be more familiar to rhythm and beat than music had written several of our most prominent melodies. And now our new drummer is also a one man band in and of himself. I was amazed to hear the crazy ass songs he had written and recorded in his garage studio having played every part by himself. I never knew he shreds!
How important is writing good lyrics for a song for you anyway? Are they equally as important as writing a good song?
Call me right-brained but I have always been an advocate of the power of words. Lyrics are very important to me because all music generates from humans expressing emotion. Expressing it in the form of notes is just as important as expressing it in the form of words. So whether it ranges from iconic people or events, to life, to the shit that this country is stirring in the Middle East (my personal favorite), I make sure what I write about tells a story and I apologize if the stories are almost always negative in nature. The world isn’t a positive place and life’s a bitch and I’ll leave it up to Pop music to sing about bunny rabbits and shit while there is war and oppression occurring outside of America’s sugar-coated window for sheep.
How would you describe your other band members in HeXeN by a few words, what type of personalities they are actually?
I’m glad I have very intelligent and hard-working people with me. Music is almost all blood, sweat, and tears which translates to hardships, struggle, and business. I classify their personalities ranging from the brains to the muscle. Some have the creativity to create the music while the others have the drive to operate it in performance and keep the band tight. What is difficult is that at times our music isn’t the easiest to pick up and play so from riffs to solos to drumming, everyone’s got to keep their chops in shape.
When did you have a good fist-fight in the band last time, and for what reason(s) it was started?
Oh man, I wish things were that easy nowadays! Back in the day it was just natural to have it up to here *levels hand with nose* with a band member, duke it out ‘till you’re both a bloody pulp, then shake each others hands and go have a beer! Hah, no I’ve had my share of quarrels with band members and if the situation were to ever even escalate to the point of physical violence we were probably long done-with anyway. But I wish that were the case, a lot of bad blood would have been easily buried and taken care of with a nice brawl and as a matter of fact I was even talking to my previous band members about going over to a boxing ring for a good clean friendly fight, even though I secretly wanted to knock them unconscious *laughs*. That’s not possible anymore since my guitarist Ronny is an avid bodybuilder and would probably put us all in our places before the fight even started.
How about label interest thus far? Have you been shopping your latest demo around to many labels and are you already getting close to sign with some certain label?
Label interests have been scarce considering real metal is at very low popularity compared to music preferences of the rest of the nation as a whole. Hell, I wish things were like Europe over here where people know what real music is! There have been a few labels that have posed their interest and complimented us on the newest release, but as far as someone wanting to work with us toward a potential signing is something I look forward to see.
What could you tell about the availability of your 1st, self-released debut album, titled HEAL A MILLION… KILL A MILLION that was put out in 2005? Can it still be ordered directly from you and do you have any sort of list from distributors that carry it on their catalogues even these days?
To tell you the truth Luxi, outside of however many hundred copies might be in the hands of our fans around Los Angeles, I don’t even know where my own copy is; probably in the corner of my room collecting dust. The farthest it was sent out was across a few dozen metalheads in America and to a few remote places in Europe like England, Norway, and Finland.
What do you honestly think of that album compared to your latest demo, FROM THE CRADLE…? Do you still think it still matches pretty well against your latest demo both song – and sound quality-wise? In which areas could you say you have improved mostly musically?
Again, to be honest, I consider H.A.M.K.A.M. more of a lesson in experience than a self-proclaimed official HeXeN album. There were many things surrounding the creation and recording of that CD that I thought was going to make it all the better and for the most part I was wrong. In a nutshell, that was the first time I experienced the loss of a member, my guitarist had left and I was so hell-bent on making him regret his choice that I hadn’t even had the new guitarist broken in yet before we jumped into the studio to record that album. The entire project was rushed, the performances weren’t up to par and doing 8 songs in the time limitation of four days in the studio certainly showed its consequences in the production quality. I regret many decisions I made for that album very much because the one thing that didn’t lack was the essence of the songs. In their true form, the music had a lot of potential and the album was a good mix of the many flavors of our band, both thrash and melodic. Even the epic-title track contains music buried within the muddy production that to this day I am proud that our band wrote. The only thing monumental that came out of that album was our quote unquote ‘magnum opus’ it seems entitled “Seditions in Peacetime” which we have not excluded from the set-list of any show thus far. As far as comparing it to our latest EP, I think (and more so has the response been) that FROM THE CRADLE… TO THE CHAMBER is a quantum leap in all aspects compared to our previous efforts. Every last category has improved greatly, starting with the performances and ending with the production quality. You live and you learn, and it will only get bigger and better with every HeXeN release from now forward.
TEAMING UP WITH ALL-STAR LINE-UP?
If you got a chance to team up with Jeff Hanneman, Dave Mustaine, Gene Hogland and Steve DiGiorgio, what 5 songs would you like to do with those guys?
Holy shit!!! Talk about an all star line-up. I actually got to meet two of those guys! I’d say I’d love to cover a song from each of their bands. From Slayer I’d go for “Seasons in the Abyss”, from Death I’d play “Overactive Imagination” ‘cause I know Gene’s the only person in the world that could pull off those drums! Since I play bass, I’d have to surrender my Mickey Mouse playing skills when the God of Fretless shows up, but I’d love to play “The Philosopher” with Steve so he can show me first hand all of his magnificent licks and solos for the song. Lastly, I’d love to have Dave show me the only two key Megadeth songs my band hasn’t covered because of the difficulty in transposing (and lack of available tablatures) the solos and riffs, “Loved to Deth” and “Set the World Afire”.
How´s the (metal) club scene to play concerts in LA nowadays? What known metal clubs have closed down since the 80´s and have you gotten any new (metal) clubs where metal shows are arranged on regular basis?
The metal is very good here. It’s been running a good many years which is surprising considering in LA something will be popular and in a month it will be gone. I am not mindful of all of the clubs but one that comes to mind is CBGB’s that closed down. As far as new venues, the resurgence of metal hasn’t become big enough for all-metal clubs to open yet. Most of them are clubs that host all varieties of acts, and also have metal nights.
Is it easy to get gigs for a band like you at your local area? What size of clubs in general have you played your gigs thus far anyway?
It is fairly easy for us to book a gig because a lot of the clubs around Hollywood already know about us, and were happy to work with us before and are happy to book us again. I remember how difficult it was when we first started when every club had not heard of us and had a hard time risking booking a certain night for a band whose crowd turnout is unknown compared to keeping the night open for possibly a bigger act that might come by. We’ve played all the famous clubs along Sunset Boulevard and around Hollywood, from the Troubadour to the Key Club to The Whisky. No arenas yet though, maybe next year *laughs*
Talking about playing gigs a bit more, you have already played a bunch of them already, so what would you tell about those gigs to the readers of Metal-Rules.com?
The most area-of-improvement for my band has been revamping our live performances. This is due in part to how important that is for a band and because it is the most frequent presentation of us. I find that a piece of advice given to me by the front man of a partner band of ours we always play with to be the most inspiring. He said to play every show as if it is your last regardless of anything that might’ve gone wrong, or a lame audience response, et cetera. That ideology has kept me going this entire time and it shows when you come out and see the violence that erupts in the mosh pits when we play our songs.
As far as I know, you have also played for eg. a bunch of Megadeth cover songs in your gigs, being huge fans of the band like all of you are. What songs have you done from them?
Oh man, there is nothing better to get the crowd going like busting out another violence-inducing Deth tune! So far from what I remember, in album order we have done…
01. The Conjuring
02. Good Mourning… Black Friday
03. Into the Lungs of Hell
04. Mary Jane
05. Hook in Mouth
06. Holy Wars
07. Hangar 18
08. Take No Prisoners
09. Five Magics
MEETING DAVE MUSTAINE
You have also had a pleasure to meet Dave Mustaine in person in some sort of ´meet & greet´ -thing not that long time ago. I guess it´s one of those highlights of your whole life when you actually get a chance to meet someone you have always adored and admired through your whole life. Would you go on and talk about a bit more detailed way about this meeting with him, how he was as a person and what kind of things you were talking about with him?
I’d call it more of a “HeXeN trespasses on private rehearsal property and catches Megadeth off-guard and begs them to lend us a minute” rather than a ‘meet & greet’, ha-ha!! I made it clear to him that he was basically the reason the four of us were standing in front of him as musicians and as a band. I told him about all the covers we do of his songs at shows and I gave him a copy of our CD (which was unfortunately H.A.M.K.A.M. at the time) and the sort. They were very nice even though Dave was kind of tired as fuck and quiet, signed our Megadeth CDs, gave our drummer some signature drumsticks, and took a group picture. It all happened sort of quick so I wasn’t able to discuss many things, just asked him how the new line-up and shows were going. As a person, I’m not going to lie, he did seem a little too big for one’s breeches, which is a British way of nicely saying he’s a bit of an asshole. Then again to his perspective we did look like four kids who were trespassing in his rehearsal studio after they had a long and tiring practice session so I guess it evens out.
For all of your enthusiasm about Megadeth, I guess it´s fair to assume one of your dream-come-true -things would be to share the stage with them some day, correct?
Oh fuck yeah! I would give an arm and a leg then hire someone to play bass while I use my remaining arm to hold a microphone to play a show with Megadeth. That was only possible before they became as big as they are now though. Now you probably have to be a very big signed band that can bring your fair share of people to fill up the arenas and be a devout Jesus boy to pass the Dave Mustaine test and get on his bill, ha-hah!!
ANDRE´S TAKE ON THE METAL SCENE OF 2007
What´s your take on the metal scene today? Do you find the metal scene of today as inspirational and fascinating as it used to be in the ´80s when every band seemed to have a more unique and original sound of their very own, and people overall tended to be more supportive toward each other? Could you even radically say that at least those are the two elements what are basically lacking from the today´s metal scene?
I can get as radical as saying the overall American scene often sucks. I mean if I were to truly tell you what I really feel in full, this conversation would turn into a book but I’ll try to sum up probably the most important question of this interview as much as I can. Attempting to ascertain why exactly the true spirit of Metal decreased after its ultimate peak in the ‘80s is as easy as trying to explain why the U.S.S.R. fell in a single sentence. For the most part, it can be shortened to the notion that every phase has its rise and fall. Metal never went away, it is still alive and well, but everyone can agree its affluence and abundance has never been as strong worldwide as it was in the ‘80s. I am very happy and envious of you all in Europe who always kept the metal spirit flourishing, but as for us in the middle of corporate America; it’s been a sad story. Two things killed metal in the US after the 80s. First, the record companies for jumping the market and signing band after band that just tried sounding like Metallica until there was such a surplus and the originality was lost. Second, MTV. Enough said. Now there is little soul left in the music industry just like all other commercial industries. You are only allowed to do what will sell, and things even get as artificial as bands that don’t even write their own music and are just a shallow trend. It is this prosthetication of talent that has been replaced by marketability which has paved the way for these disgusting new American creations such as ´Rap-Metal´, ´Nu-Metal´, or anything that ends in “–core”. Again, judging from the popularity level of metal in your continent, it seems whatever the European media is doing with metal, they are doing it right. They know how to keep it a mainstream music and not let it ruin.
What could be some of the most promising and talented, new metal bands coming from the same area you live that people should really pay attention to in the future?
We right here in the metal scene of LA. If we play our cards correctly and public interest doesn’t inevitably deteriorate, there is a chance we can be the new leaders of Metal from America. Even tour as far as your neck of the woods in Europe where the response will surely be welcoming and pleasant!
What do you hope to achieve with HeXeN within the next 2-3 years?
We have been working on our official full-length album for a long time now, and will continue to do so for the next year until our utmost potentials are displayed and we either collect enough money or get a record deal to cover for such a huge production. Either way, I will not rest until a metal masterpiece is created that can be appreciated to the point where it doesn’t even matter what your metal preference is, or where on the globe you are, you will be able to acknowledge the caliber in the work. Aside from that, a few representatives from your company Old School Metal Records has requested a few more songs from us, so we’re going to collect some money, write some more music, and head back into the studio in the next few months. Maybe we’ll redo a song or two from H.A.M.K.A.M. to give it the quality it deserved from the start.
I guess that was it this time. I wanna thank you Andre for the time you sacrificed for this interview and good luck with HeXeN in the future. If there´s something you still like to add for this interview, then feel free to do so…
No Luxi, thank you. Thank you who while being on the other side of the world took the time to recognize my band, make a wonderful review of our newest CD, and for talking to me through your busy schedule of meeting all the greats as I see in your pictures! Also thanks to Old School Metal Records!!! Metal forever brother!
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