Heart of Steel: Interviews

Strapping Young Lad
Drummer Gene Hoglan

Interviewed by Chris Hawkins
Photo credits: Daniel J Collins

Drummer Gene HoglanIt was a privilege to speak with Strapping Young Lad's drummer extraordinaire, Gene Hoglan recently on the eve of the release of "SYL". It seems things are quite busy in the Strapping camp, with a new blisteringly brutal album, and a tour with The Berserker, Dark Tranquility, Napalm Death, and Nile. Gene, as most of you should recall, is no stranger to Metal, having played with Dark Angel, Death, Testament, Old Mans Child, and numerous Devin Townsend projects. Read on for insight from Metal's reigning Drum God on the happenings with Strapping Young Lad and Metal in general…



How has the tour been going so far?

Killer! Every night it's been packed like sardines in the club. We're blowing out the merchandise; the album comes out on Tuesday so Dad's rich and Mom's good lookin'! (laughs)



I just got the album last night. It's killer. My first impression is it's dark….

That's mine too, actually…

Dark, and very intense…

Right on…



What would you say was the catalyst for putting another Strapping Young Lad album out?

Well, me and Byron have been pulling for it for the past five years, and we knew we just had to kind of delicately work our way around things to make things happen. We got Devin back on board, and I know Devin said the 9/11 situation just kind of made him go, "man, I'm working with a bunch of dudes, let's have some fun with this. If the world's about to blow up, let's write the soundtrack for it."



That's a good description of the album. Were you shocked that Devin was ready to get this rolling again after so long?

Well, not shocked, but it was really like, "yes, it's about time, let's go". That's the way I looked at it, anyway. You know the time's right.



You and Devin have worked together on all sorts of projects since "City". What do you credit to that strong working relationship that you guys have?

Like I've always said, Dev's music is the only music that makes me feel. In Hard Rock, Metal, anything, Dev's is the only music with any sort of substance for me, that makes me feel something. When I'm on the albums where it's like, "hey let's freak out," we freak out. When I'm on the albums where it's like, "let me be your drum machine", I'm there for Dev too. It's pretty cool. We just keep it all in the family. Why go anywhere else when you've got the best at your hands?



There are so many different moments there from Strapping Young Lad to Ocean Machine to Infinity, Terria, and Physicist. How does Devin approach you with ideas for songs?

Well, sometimes, he's like, "I don't have any ideas for this. Come up with something." A lot of times, he's like, "I've got a definite idea for this." Sometimes he'll program them on a drum machine and do a little demo of a song, and other times he's like, "Well, I've kind of got this beat. Just play this beat for a while. Let me work some stuff around it." It varies. It totally varies, which is cool. It's not a set certain style of writing like, "I have the song. You learn it!" It's nothing like that. It just varies.



So Devin is not the dictator?

No, but there's certain times where he needs a certain feel. I've always tried to be a well-rounded drummer so whatever feel you need, I've got!



That's great, though, that you can bring diversity to each project.

Righteous, yeah I've tried to do that with everything I've ever been on. The Testament drums don't sound like Death drums, don't sound like Dark Angel drums, don't sound like Strapping drums…I just try to bring the musical identity of each project or each song, to let that out through the drums. A lot of times, the drums need to be crazy, and a lot of times you just need to stay back and feel it.

That's why all these bands ask you to play drums! As far as the feeling of "SYL", to me, the last project you guys worked on that had this kind of feeling was Physicist. I did notice from your end, the drums are a lot louder on this record.

You know nobody likes the production of Physicist inside the family. Dev doesn't like it. That was the first time he went outside of himself to let somebody else mix it. It was a guy, a really reputable dude that couldn't really grasp what Dev was trying to get across.

Physicist does have almost a mechanical feel.

Sure, yeah. It's cold, true. A lot of times, I'm involved the mix, and sometimes I'm not. It just totally depends on whether you've got that extra chef with the spoon stirring the pot. Sometimes it's a good thing. Sometimes it's not. I try to lay back a little bit and not put my face too much involved in the mix. If I hear something, I'll be like, "Hey, turn up those toms!" With the Physicist project, I wasn't involved in the mix at all.

Not at all?

Yeah, usually it's the guy who ain't there that gets married! (laughs)

Did you guys EQ the drums any differently this time?

We probably did a lot different on this record than we had before. There were lots more mics, more attitude, and a better drum set.

What are you playing on?

For this album, we recorded it at The Armory, and I used their house kit which is a Ayotte. Ayotte drums are some of the best around. It was a very cool drum set and we definitely got some good action off it.

I assume those are custom drums…

It's a guy named Ray Ayotte, and he based out of Vancouver. You see a lot of guys playing Ayotte. All the big Canadian bands, that's the first drums they're going to go to. They're like the DW's or Yamaha's. They're one of the killer custom-made kits.



What size bass drums do you use?

In the studio I like to use 22", but I use 24" mostly. 22" are a lot more controlled. You've got a lot more action off of them. 24" look cool!



It's the monster kit! From what I've read about this album, it seems you guys were a little more democratic with the writing. What was your role?

Definitely. Well, we all brought riffs to the table. Everybody tossed in riffs, lyrical ideas, and song titles. I think it worked out really well. That was like the natural evolution of this band was to become a band. Dev was more than happy to delegate some authority. Dev wrote tons of it. All these old interviews I've read with Dev where he says he can't write heavy shit, it's like, "B.S., man! Hell, you wrote some of the heaviest riffs on the record, brother!" We all brought stuff to the table. It was like whatever idea worked. It was a really easy album to write, and it was a lot of fun to write. This was the most fun I've had writing a record in a long time, let alone recording. Hell, the recording session was hilarious for me!

Was it?

Yeah, I just sat in the back and giggled. I just laughed because I knew we were writing a monumental piece of Metal work here.



It clocks in just over 39 minutes. It's not too long or short, but it definitely has that vibe of an old Thrash record, a good kick in the teeth.

There you go, man. Perfect. I've been on albums that were 67 minutes long. I like the shorter ones, right in the 40 minute range somewhere. That's right, a good kick in the teeth, and hopefully you're wanting more.



Definitely. Terria was pushing it close to the max, wasn't it?

Probably. That was a long damn record. I like being on albums where there's no slow spot, there's no room to breathe on it. It's just relentless all the way through. Even like, "Bring on the Young", the last tune on the record. That's not a breather, really. It's more like the final statement, the nighty-night to the whole thing.

That track has a Doom feel to me.

Yeah, totally. It's just a heavy tune, a good monumental thing at the end.



So what was the vibe like during the recording? You mentioned points of laughter.

That's all it was, man. It was an easy session. Everybody was just having a good time. Everybody knew what we were there to do. Everybody came to the table with their parts totally tight and totally wicked. Everybody stepped up across the board. It was a great vibe. We had a great time. It was a really nice studio. The place we recorded it at, you've heard millions of the songs that came out of this studio. They virtually recorded every Platinum album from the 80s on at this place…Aersomith, Motley Crue, AC/DC, everyone has recorded there.



What's your take on all the old Thrash bands getting back together?

Well, I've got to admit; I think it's rather silly. Even if Dark Angel does get back together, I'll be fighting that one all the way.

Really? Why is that?

Well, why did they break up in the first place? Because nobody cared. Now all these people are coming back because they care about old Thrash Metal? Where were you in 1991 when Death Metal was getting big and you decided to disappear on Nuclear Assault or Dark Angel or Cyclone Temple or any of the other great Thrash bands? All the people left so that told you something. Now it's a bit of nostalgia for these bands to come back. Believe me, Dark Angel will probably get back together, but I always said that from the day we broke up. Back in 1992, I was like, "Hey, check this out. In ten years we'll get back together and take over the world". I said it as a joke, but I was serious. It's pretty easy to see that reunions are the way to go. There are a few bands I'm happy they're back together. Nuclear Assault is one of them because they're one of my favorite bands. I just wish that a lot of these never went away! I give all respect to Kreator. Right through thick and thin, when Thrash was big, when Thrash was nothing, they were right there. They never broke up. They're still going. All respect goes to Kreator!

And Testament too…

Hey, there you go! Hey, but Testament broke up. When I joined Testament, they were not Testament. They decided to call themselves Testament. That "Demonic" album was originally going to be called Dog Faced Gods. That's what I joined that project under the name of. Then, all of a sudden at the last minute, it was like, "Let's call it Testament".



With the tour now in full effect, what can we look forward to as far as the set list goes?

Well, we're going on second so it's a really short set. We get to play about a half an hour. We're doing tons of new stuff, actually. Now that the album is going to be out, we're doing lots of the new songs. It just kind of worked out that way. It just kind of fluked into that basically because of our sampler. We're having problems with our sampler. We can't load a couple of the old songs onto it so we have to play a bunch of the new ones. That's all right. Nobody seems to mind. Everybody's like, "Cool, we get to see you for half an hour. We might not get to see "Detox", but we've got a preview of the new record". (laughs) It's going to be killer. It's just a half an hour of ripping your face off.



Have you had a chance to check out any of the other bands?

All the time, man. All the time. I catch them all. The Berzerker, they're pretty wacky. They're pretty crazy with their masks and their pink eye. (laughs) Every band on this bill is really killer. It's a musically diverse yet still extreme package. Everybody's extreme in their own way. Napalm wins the night every night. That's who everybody's there to see. They're the legends. It's tough to follow Napalm Death, and Nile does a great job. Nile is amazing. They're an amazing band. Their drummer, Tony makes me smile every time I watch him. A lot of people have been traveling miles to see the shows.



So is Strapping Young Lad here to stay?

You never know. We'll take each day as it comes in Strapping Land. I'd like to say yes. You never know what can happen in the future. Get off your asses and buy the record! (laughs)



Is there anything visual on the way?

Well, we're going to go back to Vancouver right after this tour and we film the video. It looks like we've got one of our bro's from Industrial Light and Magic. They're the guys that do all the Skywalker Ranch stuff. He's putting some ideas together for us. We're going to see where it goes. We've got to get at least one video out of this thing. Hopefully, by the end of the year we'll have a DVD happening.


Devin Townsend CD Reviews
Ass-Sordid Demos 1990-1996

Official SYL Website: www.strappingyounglad.com
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