Interview With Helstar & James Rivera
January 26, 2013
By Erich Heintzelman
Legendary US thrash metal band Helstar recently played a warm-up date in Tampa, Florida before embarking on the 70000 Tons Of Metal Cruise. I caught up with lead singer James Rivera and the band backstage about 15 minutes before they went on stage. The band was pumped and the excitement in the small club was palpable. The show, which James promised to be a mini-version of the recently released 30 YEARS OF HEL live album lived up to the excitement. Lots of old metal heads were there. I ran into Mike Browning, former drummer of Morbid Angel and Nocturnus. He informed me that he would be pulling together some old vets soon to start playing some live shows!
James you guys will soon be embarking on the 70000 Tons of Metal Cruise? How many sets will you be playing over the course of 4 days?
James Rivera: Yep. We’ll only do two, two sets on the ship. And it’s perfect for doing two different sets completely without doing the same songs, and uh so that’s kinda cool!
That is cool! On 30 YEARS OF HEL you guys kind of pulled songs from all of your albums. Are you going to do a similar mix for 70000 Tons Of Metal?
James Rivera: Right. Yeah, yeah but tonight we are giving you the miniature version of 30 Years Of Hel. We’re not going to do twenty songs tonight that’s for sure! But I think we still do what (turning to Rob Trevino) 15 or 14?
Rob Trevino: No, I thought we had 10.
James Rivera: Yeah, well you know we’ll see
Rob Trevino: We’ll see.
James Rivera: I just think this is not the market for it, to be honest. (James later acknowledges during the show that Tampa is a death metal town, so this is what he is referring to in the interview).
James, you have done this festival before filling in with Agent Steel. What is one of the great things about performing on 70000 Tons Of Metal?
James Rivera: Aw dude, well its 24/7 partying, bands all over the place! And you know what’s really cool is that, I think what is unique is that it’s definitely not for bands that don’t want to be sociable with their fans because there is no getting away from that. I mean unless you want to just stay locked in your room the whole time which I mean would be a waste right? There’s naked women in the pool, I mean if you’re going to be that conceited, that’s pretty fucked up (laughter from the band). (Mimicking a hypothetical band) – God I want to go around the deck, I know there’s titties but you know I just don’t like being around fans because I’m such a fucking stuck up dick head.
And that is not the way you are at all.
James Rivera: No, no totally the opposite. Sometimes people say you need to become a little bit more, uh what would be the right word for that? This friend of mine always used to give me shit all the time when I would go out in public he would be like ‘Dude you need to be a little bit more like mystique and quiet. Don’t talk to all those people all the time. I mean like what the hell, you’re just like a normal guy!’ I am a fucking normal guy! What do you want me to be you know? I’m sorry, I can’t be Gene Simmons.
Mike Lepond will be filling in on bass for you guys tonight. Is this going to be his first live show playing with you guys?
Mike Lepond: Yeah!
James Rivera: This is where we pop his little cherry! (laughter from all).
There is going to be a lot of great bands on the cruise, particularly many 80s metal bands like you guys, Metal Church, and Kreator for instance. Did you ever tour with any of these bands in the past? Any memorable stories you would care to share?
James Rivera: No, no we never toured with Metal Church. The only real 80s bands that we toured with that we call like “named bands” would be Megadeth and Anthrax. (To the band) Right, pretty much? TT Quick.
Rob Trevino: We toured with King Diamond. We’ve done some festival appearances with some of those bands that are going to be on the cruise.
James Rivera: Yeah. But never really toured with them you know.
Rob Trevino: Anacrusis.
James Rivera: Yeah, we just did a festival with Anacrusis.
Rob Trevino: Helloween.
The New Album
In between all of this stuff you guys have been working on a new album. How is that coming along?
James Rivera: Its uh, let’s put it this way, it’s like building a house and we have barely started going to Home Depot. (laughs from everyone).
Larry Barragan: No, but I think we are beyond the Home Depot, you know.
James Rivera: Oh ok. Yeah, they are up to something I don’t know about and that’s the way they do it. And all of the sudden I’ll get 6 ,7 songs almost completely our music done and I’ll go, oh ok. Yeah!
Now let’s talk with you for just a second James. You have got the cruise going, you did THIRTY YEARS OF HEL, your singing in Malice and your tribute band. Has there been any point recently where you have felt overwhelmed?
James Rivera: Nah. No, dude it’s not even still enough. Really, to be honest I would like to do music 365 days a year too, but that’s just not the way it is anymore, like it used to be. But, it’s not and I juggle it well. It makes sense to me when I do it. I am not like, oh well what did I get myself into here? Because if you think about it, a band at our level recording, touring…if you put it all, the time from the recording and the touring and all the little in between weekend shows all together, it might consume 3 months, if even that. So, there’s 9 months of the year left but it’s all separated ok? Then you do the Malice record and cause it’s a whole new band coming back from…that was even more buried than us! The album came out, we did a few shows. Putting that album together and those few shows, that might have consumed a month. And the Sabbath Judas Sabbath and the tribute shows, they have to fill in 7 more months. So you see, really it’s not that much to be honest.
You have been doing this for about 30 years and your voice still sounds amazing. What is your secret?
James Rivera: Beer and Jager! (laughs).
Rob Trevino: Sleep!
James Rivera: Yeah sleep. I sleep a lot when I am on tour. No, you know I was properly trained to sing after the first record and once you learn all those things you start learning how to really use your voice the right way. And, I think I sing within my means. Which means, you know I’d love to be able to do a John Arch tribute but that would never be in the cards. You know what I’m sayin? I mean, you know I might be able to pull off a verse! (laughs). But then my voice would be gone for the rest of the song. You know I sing within my means, and I think that is another thing I started to think about is that you know where your levels are at. And they have gotten higher over the years and I’ve gotten more characters to use in my voice over the years. It’s taken me 30 years to develop the whole where I’m at now, and where I am at now is probably enough for me to go ok, I’m not the greatest singer in the world. I consider myself a C plus B minus singer, as far as SINGER. But having a unique voice to me is kind of a cool thing. ‘Cause you know, let’s look at Ozzy. Not a great singer, but when he opens his mouth you know it’s Ozzy right? So you don’t think that he cares about (imitating Ozzy in a British accent) ‘I don’t give a shit about fuckin scales. Fuck that shit.’ You know he just sings, sometimes I think that is more important you know.
Yeah, yeah! Speaking of John Arch, you came from an era of great singers. Are there any singers, either metal or non-metal today that you find inspiring?
James Rivera: Today? Well…today. Once we started our career, I think I ended up…not that I didn’t listen to a lot of things but I think I was already in my own world. So, I am really still a Dio, Klaus Meine, Halford, Phil Mogg, Bruce Dickinson kind of guy. That’s all there is to it. And that’s what inspired me. But if any singers inspired me if you use the word today, it was like the Danny, Phils and all of that and that’s why that’s incorporated. So it’s a whole different animal, you know so but it’s cool and I like it.
Last question. So what’s next for you guys after the 70000 Tons?
James Rivera: Uh, writing the record right? I mean really fine tuning it.
Larry Barragan: Finishing songs. Then we have to run in March.
James Rivera: Yeah, we have some east coast dates. Uh, studio though yeah studio. We have the tentative date for October 27th I believe. The following, you will see Helstar touring 2014. Sounds like a long time away but when you get my age, that’s a month away!
Yeah, it moves fast.
James Rivera: Yeah it does. Look how fast today has moved!
I want to thank you guys for taking the time to speak with me before the show. I really appreciate it.
James Rivera: Yeah, thank you for speaking with us!