Heathen – David White



Bay Area Strikes Again is nothing, but a perfect slogan to describe these legendary thrash metal bands hailing from that area. Heathen is one of these names, which has been around since the mid-’80. Their fourth album will be out soon and the previous album was just reissued. Metal-Rules.Com had a pleasure tp talk to Heathen’s frontman David White about the upcoming new Heathen album and the reissued third album THE EVOLUTION OF CHAOS.

Interview and pics by Arto Lehtinen

Good morning or good evening.

Hi. Good morning.  What time is it there?

It’s nearly 7:00 O’clock in the evening.

I see. All right.

You just woke up?

Just a little bit ago.



How’s it going there and what’s up in Heathen right now?

Lots of things are happening right now. I’m looking at this thing.  We just had the re-release of THE EVOLUTION OF CHAOS that just came out January 31st. It’s been 10 years since it came out. We had talked about convincing Mascot records to put it out again, to give the record some more life. We added a track to that. One of Jon Torres’s songs and we got them to do a gatefold vinyl, blue vinyl as a special release as well. The CD that we put out, all of it it’s been re-mastered. Then we included sort of a documentary with interviews about making the record, and then also a live concert from Japan, from when we were there in 2009 right before the record came out.

Who mastered the album for the re-release version?

The guy that produced the new album actually. Zeuss is the producer on the new album and he re-mastered for us.

The same guy who has worked with bands such as Sanctuary, Queensrÿche…

Yeah and Hatebreed and all that. He’s done a lot.

As for the DVD stuff,  the live footage from Japan and then gatefold vinyl. What did Mascot say to you when you came up with the idea – Were they against it or were they like, yes let’s do it?

They were totally on board. They loved the idea. We got good life out of that record when it came out. It did really well with them. They’re just a smaller label. Their distribution and their promotion, it just doesn’t go as far as of course we would that we would like. I think the record had it been on more of a major label, we would’ve gotten a lot more legs on that record. They were into the idea, “Why not?” With all the ideas that we had for the re-release, they were totally on board with that. We already sold out all the vinyl. They put out a limited edition, went out 1000 copies and they’re sold out already.

Where I’m supposed to get it, but it’s quite impossible. Of course it’s sold out now.

Yeah. We have some. We purchased some for our store. We have a few copies left. You could talk to Kragen. I’m sure he could hook you up.

Mascot is a very small label and as you say the distribution is very limited. When  EVOLUTION came out 10 years ago, basically it was quite challenging to find the album in a normal record store. How did you manage to get distributed around the world then?

They did what they did and we pushed as much as we could. We did a show in Snake in Holland on the first tour and it’s a little town and it’s a Dutch label. I went to a record store in town and asked if they had a metal section and they said yes. I said, “Do you have the new Heathen record?” They said, “Heathen has a new record?” I was like, “That’s a terrible answer.” They asked me, “What label?” I said, “Mascot.” They said, “We work with Mascot.” I said, “Wow, hmm.” Then I saw the president of the label the next day at the next show. I let him know that I wasn’t happy that there were no albums in the towns that were playing. That’s part of the reason why we’ve moved on to Nuclear Blast, because they understand what it takes.

Was it a one-album deal or was there an option for the second album with Mascot?

I think it was a three-album deal. We wanted to go. We felt that we’d be better suited with Nuclear Blast. We were in negotiations with Nuclear Blast for the last record. It just Mascot offered us more money.

When you released the three-song demo before The EVOLUTION album came out. There were “Dying Season” and a couple of other songs. It was available everywhere on the internet.  What was the purpose to release the three-song demo before the album was out – Did you want to test how the people were going to react to the new stuff?

Yeah. I think that’s one of the factors is to see what the reaction would be. Also just to let people know that we are for real, that we’re back and that we’re actually doing something. We called it shoestring tour and even Nuclear Assault from New York. They helped us out and we got on some dates with them and we just went out. We also had released the first two records on our website for free download and lots of kids like flooded that. Our server couldn’t handle all the downloads for those records. We just wanted with the new stuff, just to get a reaction, let people know what’s in store for the future. It was well-received.

You didn’t have a plan to do the same thing by releasing some kind of demo before the new album, like testing or teasing people?

No, no. Not now. Because we’re established and back on labels. The situation has changed. With this new record, the demo stuff that was done was all pre-production. Then all the players, we have new members in the band now. Our drummer’s from New York and the new bass player is from L.A and Kragen moved to Arkansas. Lee and I are both in California still. Then we all went to, except for Kragen. Kragen recorded his guitar tracks at home in his studio, but we went to Massachusetts to record with Zeuss.

When you are going out to tour later this year, do you bring some CDs with you for the tour that people can get it?

Yes. That’s the plan. Yeah, for sure.

Regarding Nuclear Blast. How did they come into the picture? Was it Monte Conner behind the deal? He was behind the deal for Roadrunner back in the day?

No. No, no. He came on to Nuclear Blast after we had already signed. We signed with them years ago. It just that the whole Exodus thing where Kragen was filling in for Gary, because Gary was in Slayer. Exodus got super busy and they recruited Kragen to fill in, our record deal sat on the table waiting for the dust to settle. We had been talking and we’ve been friends Jaap from Nuclear Blast and Gerardo, and a couple of other guys there have been into Heathen for a long time. They had been talking to us about signing for a while. We wanted to sign with them on the last record.




I interviewed Lee Altus back in 2013 at Sweden Rock. Lee mentioned that you had already started working on new songs. But Lee and Kragen were playing in Exodus, it has delayed the writing and the recording quite a lot.

That’s true.

I guess it’s a long, long process for Heathen to write new material because guys have been everywhere.

Yeah, yeah. Kragen wrote pretty much everything on this record. He had the time to go and he’s like a super go-getter and he wrote a great record. He wrote a great record. He gave us a roadmap to follow for this… The process is unlike any other record that we’ve done, but it was cool. We had a good time doing it. We believe in Kragen and he’s a new member in the band, but he’s been in the band since 2008. He had a few songs that he contributed to the last record. Now with this record, he’s really putting his stamp on Heathen as far as being an official and a solid member of the band as the future goes.

What about Lee – He used to write a lot of songs for the previous albums. Did he get any time to write for this upcoming album?

Lee? No. Not this record. He has a lot of stuff. He has a lot of stuff for the next record. I’m sure that we’ll all contribute to the next record.

The next record? Does that mean we don’t have to expect another 10 years for the next Heathen album?

Let’s hope not. I really don’t like these long delays, but I just kind of roll. I kind of roll with it and life is what it is. It’s nice to have a somewhat of a normal life sometimes. Those little break down. You can enjoy life a little bit. It makes things less hectic. I’m hoping that we’ll tour a lot on this record, and then we’ll get back in and we will finish up some new material and do another record in the near future. I thought that this would happen much sooner after the last record too and it took 10 years.

You have written all the lyrics for Heathen. What kind of things influenced you to write about for especially the new album? Do you pick up the ideas from the newspaper or the real-life reality or something else?

Once again, Kragen wrote the whole record.

You didn’t write the lyrics?

I didn’t write anything on this record. Kragen wrote it all.

That’s interesting.

I know. He had a vision and I think he took a lot from what I have written over the years, and sort of adapted things and with his style and gave it his own twist. I had started writing for the record with him and then with him being gone and everything with Lee. It was hard to get together and all that stuff and he was writing a lot. He had a vision for this record and we said, “Okay.” We had to just let it happen. Let his juices flow. In the past Lee and I have written most of the material and it’s been a lot of work. It’s kind of nice to let somebody else take the wheel for a minute.

Heathen has always had a special sound which is basically a trademark. The melodic hooks and the fast riff and then classic heavy metal riff. Do you think that Kragen was able to maintain the Heathen sound on the album? 

I know what you mean. Yeah, absolutely. Wait till you hear him. It’s crushing. It sounds Heathen and especially with me singing on it you hear that. He understands what has to happen. It has to sound like Heathen, otherwise it’s not going to work. He made it a point to make sure that those elements exist. I’m so excited for everyone to hear this new record because each record that we’ve done with, we think we’ve stepped it up. It evolves from the next, from the next and this one is no exception.

Did the producer bring new ideas when you were recording the album or did he just do his job?

His job is to do that. His job is to bring those ideas, but also to bring the best out in all of us. I know with the drummer, he did that. Kragen, when he put the demo together for the songs, he used the drum machine. In the drum machine, you can do a lot of things that even that a human can’t do. We pushed the drummer to emulate as much as he could, and it was a lot of work to push and get him to really shine and he crushed it.Same thing for me. It was a lot of work and very meticulous recording methods that we did this time with Kragen and with Zeuss, to bring out the best in me. It’s definitely these last two records are the best. The best vocals, the tracks that I’ve ever done.

How many songs do you have for the next album?

I believe it’s nine songs or 10 songs – 10 songs and one song is an instrumental.

What about song titles – Can you unveil something about them?

I think I have to keep some of that close to the vest. I think that the single that’s going to come out first. I can reveal that I think. It’s called “The Blight”.

EVOLUTION had special guests like Gary Holt, Steve DiGiorgio and Rob Dukes. Do you have some special guest on this album?

We do. Actually on the instrumental is a guitar – On the instrumental, we brought in actually Doug Piercy, one of the original guitar players in Heathen. Him and Lee, they play some solos that at the end, and then Gary Holt and Rick Hunolt from Exodus. We have a little Exodus on there and some old Heathen. They’re all ripping at the end of the song.




It’s interesting as Heathen and Exodus are switching members between the two bands. You’re working very closely. Is it possible touring together later this year or is this completely out of question, because Lee should do a double gig in the same night?

We’ve done it before. We did a couple of tours with them on the last record. We’re definitely pushing to do something with them. We would love to do that. Number one, the shows will be better and bigger for us and we think we bring a lot to the table. Also we’re like family. We get along well and we were able to share a bus and cohabitate. We would love to do that. We’ll see how that goes.

You mentioned about this Heathen lineup a little bit earlier – You, Lee, Kragen and new guys. When I saw you last time in Sweden Rock, Jon Dette was on the drum, because Minter had left the band. Who was playing the bass at Sweden Rock, 2013?

It was Jason Viebrooks.

Who is now in Exhorder.


What about other guys?

Now we have Jason Mirza. He’s the new bass player.

On drums who’s that guy?

Jim DeMaria.

They’re from New York or something else?

Jim is from New York and Jason is from L.A.

All guys live in different parts of the States. How do you then coordinate the Heathen thing? Do you have to keep some kind of Skype meeting or do you share the files via Dropbox or something? How does this thing work now? Back in the days you used to live in the same city in San Francisco, but nowadays everybody is all around the world.

That’s the thing. We definitely are emailing and texting each other to stay connected and of course we can just make a phone call. When it comes to music, yeah – We’re sharing files through email.

What about rehearsing then? When you’re going to going out to tour – Do you gather somewhere and play together and check out that everything is in the balance?

This current lineup has not played together as a group yet. When we get ready to start the tour in April, the first show on the tour is Keep It True in Germany. We’re going to go about a week early and we’re going to get in the studio and we’re going to work. We’re going to work and rehearse for that in probably four or five days, leading up to that show. Then as the tour goes, we’ll just tighten everything up. We just have to do our homework. Everybody has to do their homework ahead of time, so that we come into the studio. We can just basically just have to tighten things up, and sort of feel each other out how we’re going to pull the songs together. How we’ll put the set together. That we’re cohesive onstage.

How do you pay attention to how each member moves on the stage as that’s always important.  Like instance the Exodus guys, they know their places there.

Yeah. With us and I would say Exodus, we’re very similar. It’s more organic. I would say with the Exodus, they’ve played together for so long. They just know where they’re going to be. They don’t rehearse the movement and we have never done that either. We just know. It’s like we know where our spots are and it basically keeps your head on a swivel and watch out for my kind of thing. It’s more fun that way. I think it’s kind of funny sometimes when you see bands that come out, and everything is so regimented and planned out. It’s like, “Okay.” We just want to go out and have a fucking good time and feed off the crowd. I think the more the crowd is like flying around and all that kind of thing, so are we. It’s more organic than anything else.

Do you get more pushed from the audience when they are going more crazy that they’re not standing there on the foot?

Absolutely, absolutely. I remember on the first European tour we did with Sepultura. It was a pretty amazing tour but they had a big barricade, because Sepultura… We played a pretty good sized venue. The last show in the tour was in London at the Hammersmith and it was a seated show. Everyone was sitting and it felt like we were playing a show to a TV audience. It was very strange.

That was ’91 or ’92?


I remember Sepultura playing in Finland for the first time, 1991. It was in the summertime.

We were not with them and we didn’t get to play Finland. We’ve never played Finland yet.

Regarding this lineup. During these years, several musicians and guys have gone and left Heathen. You and Lee have been the driving forces of Heathen all these years. What has motivated you to keep going even though you generally have had up and down hills and you have been on break?

I believe in the project and those are my friends and we like playing music together. Whenever the band is basically in the mood to get together to do something, I’m ready to go. I stay busy doing other music things when I’m home. We’ve always had a good rapport with the fans. Whenever we get something together, we’ve had a good response. Even in the 90s, after the VICTIMS, metal kind of died across the globe. Everybody just fell in love with the whole grunge thing, especially in the States. It’s like we just sort of took a pause from the whole thing and we had no idea it was going to come back. We actually got invited to do or asked to reunite to do the show for Chuck Billy, the benefit show for him. All the bands reunited. Then we got invited to play Wacken and…

I was there.

At the Wacken?

Yes, 2002.

Yeah. That was the point where we were like, “Wow. Metal is back.” That’s when we started putting our efforts into making something happen again. We didn’t know that that was going to happen. It just happened organically and it’s still going today. It’s probably bigger than ever. The whole thrash thing, which I’m very happy about. The only thing is I wish I could get about 10 or 15 years back.

I remember at that time you had a little bit different lineup, Ira Black was in the band. Who was the guy that passed away years ago?

That’s Mike “Yaz” Jastremski. He was one of the original members on the first record. He left the band because I was out of the band for a little bit in between and we were going through some rounds. Then he left the band and then I came back. When we were getting ready to do the show for Chuck, we wanted Yaz to do it. We found Yaz and then we didn’t have a second guitar player. Ira had been in the band before, but then had joined Vicious Rumors when Lee was in Die Krupps. Ira was in Vicious Rumors. Then we recruited Terry Lauderdale who had played on the demo to cut. We asked him to come to play the show, but when he came into rehearsals, he really couldn’t play this type of metal. We had to think fast and so we called Ira and we were like, “Dude, you got to bail us out. We need a guitar player to do this. Would you want to do Wacken?” Vicious Rumors played as well at the Wacken, so it worked out.

He played the double slot area at Wacken 2002.

Yes, yes. It worked out nicely.

I remember that you were given the autographs after the show and there was a huge line there. People were waiting for you to get your autographs.

It’s a funny thing, yeah.

That was my first time at Wacken 2002.

For us it was like, “Okay. Let’s do this.”



BREAKING THE SILENCE came out and VICTIMS came outi in ’90 or ’91.


You mentioned that you had the digital versions of the albums available on your website. Does that mean that you have rights for the first two albums?

No. we just did it, but it’s not there anymore. There’s no even not even that website anymore. You can’t download those for free now, but we did it. We did it in a flurry, just to get them out there and it just helped. It helped. Whatever records were out there, it re-invigorated Heathen. I met kids on the 2005 tour that weren’t even barely… They were just little kids when the record came out. They were like, “Wow. I’m basically hearing VICTIMS for the first time.” It was a good thing.

It came out of Combat, right?


Is Combat still around?

No, no. Sony bought the rights. Sony bought out that label and then Warner Brothers bought out Roadracer. Sony has BREAKING THE SILENCE and Warner brothers has VICTIMS. We’re negotiating right now to do a licensing deal with Warner Brothers to license VICTIMS and to put out VICTIMS on our own in the near future.

Between the first and second album, there was a four-year break, because all kinds of things happened in Heathen. When you returned to Heathen I guess you did some demo tape. What is the album plan that you were supposed to release as “Fear of the Unknown”? What is the story behind this? I found out somewhere that you had to plan to release an album called the Fear of the Unknown.

No, no. VICTIMS, the plan for that record, the title was originally going to be Opiate of the Masses. We talked about it a little bit as we were kind of going through things.”Fear of the Unknown”, it was song off of VICTIMS. Then all of a sudden a couple of bands came out with the records that were similar titles. Which I don’t think was a coincidence, but we were kind of pissed. We were just kind of, “Okay. We’ll have to just move on and come up with another title.” That’s what we did.

Everyone wanted to listen to Death Metal. The more brutal it sounded, the better. It kind of wiped all the classic, thrash bands away from the map, otherwise they were struggling. You disappeared basically totally.

We were working on stuff and then when all that stuff happened, the stuff that became the Recovered CD. We had gone into the studio probably in ’93 we were working on that to do an EP. Then Lee was offered to do a tour with Die Krupps. He went to do that. After he did the tour, they asked him to join the group. He was gone and he did that for a good five years or so. Without Lee, it wasn’t heathen. We just stopped. We didn’t really break up or anything, but we just stopped. Then when Lee got tired of doing that, he came back and we talked about doing something. I think he had just been tired of all the touring with Die Krupps and so he wasn’t motivated to do anything at that point. When we got invited to do Thrash of the Titans show, that’s what sparked getting back together. That’s what brought us back together. It took that.

You joined Defiance, later it became Inner Threshold.

Correct, yeah.

How did this happen then?

There were a lot of bands here and we’re all friends. Steve had left to do Skinlab. Those guys wanted to keep going. Doug Harrington had called me and asked me if I’d be interested in joining up with those guys to do Defiance. It didn’t really sound like Defiance without Steve and I brought something different to the table. I convinced the guys. We’re writing new material. It doesn’t sound like Defiance. Let’s change the name of the group. We did that. We were doing some gigs and everything, but there was a lot of internal fighting and it wasn’t fun. After a while I was tired of arguing and going through all this crazy mess. It’s ironic because a lot of it was me and Doug fighting and we just couldn’t get along. Rather than try to keep at it, I left the group. I just couldn’t. I didn’t want to be in a group that wasn’t going to be fun. Then later on me and Doug actually did another project together, and then we ended up becoming super close friends. Which is really weird, but we did.

Does it feel good somehow all these years, even though you have been on-hold and release an album very rarely, people still recall and remember Heathen and there are coming to shows especially here in Europe? Even the younger generation has discovered the classic and legendary Bay Area bands.

I think that the proof is in the pudding. The songs are there. What we did, we laid down a good foundation of music. You can’t deny when you go back and listen to the songs. There’s a lot of quality and there’s a lot there to listen to. When we play live I think we do a good job of connecting with the crowd. Hopefully every time we do something, it’s memorable. If we leave a lasting impression, that’s what it’s about. It’s about connecting the fans with the music. Right. It’s like you said. You heard “Open the Grave”F and it was like, “What’s this band?” It’s something struck you. I talked to Zeuss, the guy that produced the record. He had the story. He was a fan. He was just a guy that listened to metal and heard us on a radio show. He heard Goblins Blade on a metal, like a college radio station. He was like, “Who is this? What is this band? I like the song. I got to get this record.”  He went and got the record and was a fan. Then he was playing bands and everything and then started recording bands and started getting good at it. Then had had always thought, “It’d be so cool to if I could ever got a chance to record this band.” Then he met Lee through Exodus and eventually it happened. From his experience, I think it’s interesting. When you have a certain smell that reminds you of something, you go, “I smell that grass or whatever.” It takes you back to your childhood. I think that memory is a funny thing.



Do you think that the benefits show for Chuck Billy basically changed the whole thing in Bay Area, because Death Angel, you, Vio-lence reunited for the that show? Since then Death Angel has been on the road all the time, putting out albums nearly every third or second year.

It sparked the whole thing back in the Bay Area and. The Bay Area metal scene was such a catalyst for the whole thrash movement. When all the bands coming out of here are active. It’s a real force in the whole metal community. It woke everybody up out of their sleep I guess it was. We were all in this like a tomb and someone awoke the dead.

The thrash metal was everywhere in the late ’80s. It was coming from Australia, Brazil, even here in Finland. Germany was another place where thrash thing was really, really big. I for one, for the first time when I heard Heathen it was on national Finnish radio. There was a metal show every month on Monday. A DJ played a song called “Open the Grave”. But were you kind of surprised when you discovered that thrash thing is not your thing in Bay Area, it’s like a global thing?

It’s an awesome thing. It doesn’t have to just be from here. The Bay Area has a certain brand of thrash metal that we bring to the table. What’s cool is that all the bands, they’re all unique. When you go abroad and you talk about bands like Destruction from Germany. They have their own brand of thrash metal and we love those guys. They’re our good friends. We’ve had the pleasure and the honour to tour with them a few times. It’s always been a good fit because we get along with them really well. They’re like brothers to us. All the different bands. It’s a one big happy family. Dysfunctional, but we’re happy.

Heathen songs have the melodic hooks and aspects and the classic elements.  Thrash bands  usually sounded very brutal and aggressive like Kreator or Dark Angel. You took all the influences from the New Way Of British heavy metal, right?

Right. Especially for me I’m coming from the old school stuff. I’m really influenced by the new wave of British heavy metal: Thin Lizzy, UFO. Even for me, going back to Queen and the Beatles. Things that had melody and hook. Some of the music and bands that I played with when I came out of high school. I sang for a band called Blind Delusion and they’re still active now. That was a different feel. Coming into a band that was more in the thrash vein. I brought what I did to the table with what they were doing. Lee was very influenced by Exodus and Metallica. I was more influenced by the new wave of British heavy metal and also even like Priest and things like that. Priest they’re heavy, they’re metal. Rob Halford actually sings with melody and he can be brutal, but he can also sing beautifully.

You said that you’re influenced by Queen and stuff like that. Is that one reason why you have done so many covers of the classic metal/rock songs? 

It’s to pay tribute to that. Not for any other reason. It’s like we have the opportunity to get in the studio to record an album and it’s like, “Let’s record this.” Just for fun. Yeah. When we did the Recovered thing. The Queen song and the Thin Lizzy song. Those are two of my favorites as far as being able to record them and do something with them for posterity, to always have that on a record.


Now you’re going to tour in Europe and it’s going to start in April?

Correct. The end of April.

it’s going to be mainly in the central European countries. Who’s going to be with you?

It’s going to be a Potential Threat SF, which is another Bay Area band. We’re taking them out for their first European tour. Then a band called Walkers.

Besides Keep it True – Have you booked other festival dates for the summer?

We have. Let me see.


We’re doing Dynamo. We’re. We’re doing a Weser Metal Meeting. I’m going to get my little notebook, because I can share. We’re doing Graspop this summer.

That’s a big one.

We’re doing Headbanger’s Open-Air.

That’s a small one.

Yeah, but it’s a fun one.

It’s a fun one, yeah.

We’re doing Bang Your Head!!!. I’m still looking for my… Let me see. I have some of those, let’s see. Weser Metal Meeting. That’s in Germany. That’s the next day after Keep it True. We’re doing Ironfest. That’s also in Germany.

There are a lot of underground obscure metal festivals in Germany.

Yeah, yeah. Then we’re doing Metal Heads. That’s another festival. A small one. I don’t know how big that one is, but there we’re doing the Rock Heart festival.

That’s a big one here.

Garaspop, Gefle Metal – That’s in Sweden.

In Sweden, yes.

Bang Your Head, I already told you, Dynamo, Headbangers Open Air. Then Thrashfest in Berlin. There’s a bunch of festivals that we’re doing.

Quite a lot.

We’re doing two legs of the tour. We’re doing about five weeks in the beginning, starting in April: Keep it True. Then we’ll have a break and then we’ll go back out for another run, and we’ll be hitting some more Eastern countries and things like that. Maybe Finland on that leg of the tour. I don’t know.

Before concluding the interview, could you name five of your favourite thrash albums?

What was the first Vio-lence record?

Eternal Nightmare.


That was a great album actually.

It’s one of my favourite Exodus albums.

The same thing.

Then Death Angel. I think the Ultra-Violence. How many is that? Is that four or three?

That’s three. Four, basically.

There is so many good ones. I’m a big Voivod fan as well. Anything by Voivod or Sanctuary I like a lot. One more. We can go to MASTER OF PUPPETS and give Metallica some props on that. MASTER OF PUPPETS, that’s my favourite Metallica record and I just think it’s an amazing record.

Thank you for the time doing this interview. It was a lot of fun. 

Okay. I appreciate it. I appreciate it so much.

Thank you and have a nice day there, because we’re going to sleep sooner or later here in Finland.

Hopefully, you can come out and see us at some point when we’re out, when we’re over in Europe.

I hope so. All right. All right. Thank you.

Thank you. Okay. Bye.

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