Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Sunday Conversation with Hellmouth

When the new Hellmouth CD crossed over the Ripple transom, The Pope and I just knew we were in for a treat. We'd already been high on their sound, an amped up punked up slab of riotous thrash metal, and were eagerly anticipating this discs arrival. Needless to say, once Postman Sal dropped it off on our desks, we immediately tossed it into the Ripple player, where it has taken up permanent residence ever since. A dynamite assault of all things metal. With that in mind, an invitation to join us on the Ripple red leather interview couch followed closely behind. So sit a spell with Hellmouth, and let's learn what their hellish home is like.

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkle, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphanies since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears. What have been your musical epiphany moments?

Jeff: I’m with you…KISS was my first musical epiphany, too. I got the Alive 2 record for my 7th birthday and have been messed up ever since! Other records that absolutely changed my life were Piece Of Mind by Iron Maiden, The Crew by 7 Seconds, Mommy’s Little Monster by Social Distortion, Kill ‘Em All by Metallica and a Detroit band called Shock Therapy’s first record. Without those records being in my life I’m sure I wouldn’t listen to and play the music I do.

Jay: Iron Maiden Live After Death record. That was when I was in 6th grade and just after that a friend’s older brother gave us a tape with Circle JerksGroup Sex record , The first Suicidal Tendencies record and Black Flag’s Slip It In record. That was like “what the fuck is this!”

Alex: I just wrote about this last night actually. Someone had blogged about 15 albums that changed their life. Some of the milestones in my musical evolution have been Billy Bragg, the Jam, the Clash, Joy Division, Miles Davis, Danzig, Mother Tongue, Rollins Band, Down By Law, Bad Religion, Sick Of It All, Metallica, Guns N Roses, Nirvana, Neurosis, N.W.A., Iron Maiden, Oasis, 4 Skins, Nephasth, Gilles Peterson… All those bands and more have altered everything that has came after them in regards to my life. When I first got into each one of those bands it opened doors and expanded horizons for me. Like going down the rabbit-hole.

Justin: The first time I heard Metallica and the first time I heard Operation Ivy. Unfortunately for these guys Op Ivy had a much bigger influence on how I play music, which is why we won’t be seeing too much double bass.

Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?

Jeff: It depends. Sometimes we come with a whole idea and work out the details. Other times it’s just a riff that we build on. The great thing is that we work on the songs together as a band.

Alex: I have a concept in mind. I might listen to Electric Wizard for a few days straight and then sit down and write and see what comes out. I record it on my computer and we’ll jam on it at practice. That’s pretty much how the rest of the band works, too. Sometimes someone comes in with a great song from start to finish. But most times we all chip in and refine and reinvent what’s been laid on the table.

Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?

Justin: Each other and the state of music today. It’s fucked.

Jeff: I still get motivation from the same place I got it from when I was young…anger and music. I haven’t calmed down and I still love listening to and playing aggressive stuff.

Alex: Extreme situations, whatever they may be. We need to cull from extreme emotions if we want to be effective. We want you to feel assaulted. We want to effect you mentally when you listen to Hellmouth. This isn’t easy listening.

Jay: Are you kidding? Open your eyes. The world’s fucking spinning out of control.

Genre's are so misleading and such a way to pigeonhole bands. Without resorting to labels, how would you describe your music?

Jay: It's the end of everything. The violent ending of it all. This band is the epitaph, not the warning. It's too late.

Alex: Destruction. Despair. Apocalyptic. Hateful. Explosive. Fucked up.

Jeff: Violent. Mean. Real.

Justin: Misanthropic

What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?

Jay: I will choke you or smash a bottle and stab you in the face with it.

Alex: I want you to be afraid that I might decapitate you with my headstock. We want fear and catharsis. Release. And we want to bang the head that does not bang.

Jeff: I want the audience to feel a sense of release, excitement and fun, but also the fear that things could go very fucking wrong at any time. That’s how I felt and what I loved about going to shows as a kid.

Justin: Exactly what Jeff said. Fear and fun. I used to be scared going to shows when I was younger yet they were the best ones. I’d love to be able to be that band for the younger kids. "Have fun but beware, Jay may throw a monitor on your head".

In songwriting, how do you bring the song together? What do you look for in terms of complexity? Simplicity? Time changes?

Justin: I love it all. We are all open minded to doing different stuff whether it be tech, simple whatever. I'm into writing a prog metal album for our follow up, with no double bass of course.

Alex: We don’t have rules. Hellmouth pulls the strings and the four of us strum the chords. We’ve got a Hammond organ on our album and we’ve got Charles Manson. We’ve got some shit that sounds like Entombed and some that sounds like later Black Flag. We’ve got shit that sounds like Danzig and other shit like Disfear. Hellmouth manifests itself through various styles, but when it all comes together it IS Hellmouth.

The business of music is a brutal place. Changes in technology have made it easier than ever for bands to get their music out, but harder than ever to make a living? What are your plans to move the band forward? How do you stay motivated in this brutal business?

Justin: Having a good time doing it keeps us motivated. Every band says it but its true. Once it stops being fun we will stop doing it.

Jeff: I think this band lives one day at a time. Hell, this band was supposed to be nothing more than a side project and became something we never planned.

Alex: That’s how it is with cults. I don’t know if Jim Jones ever expected to have such a following or if Manson expected such a following. Shit happens because you make it happen. Sometimes external forces push you in directions you never expected. We’ll see where Hellmouth takes us. Just don’t expect any big national tours. With kids, careers and mortgages, Hellmouth isn’t paying the bills!

Jay : If you make a living off of music you will end up a fraud.

Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?

Jay: I threw a monitor at a soundman. Wait, that’s not funny.

Jeff: I wish one of us would spontaneously combust on stage!

Where do you see you and your music going in ten years?

Jay: Dead

Alex: Fucked up places that we can’t even predict. We’ll have a séance and figure that out sooner or later.

Justin: Jeff will be in a wheel chair, Jay will be in jail, Alex will be in Europe and I will be dead. Hopefully the music will still be fast.

What makes a great song?

Justin: The up-stroking of an undistorted guitar.

Jeff: A hook.

Alex: Me writing it!

Jay; Anything that can make you feel an emotion and make you think.

Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?

Jeff: The first Hellmouth song technically was “Praying for Plague.” Took us a whole 10 minutes to get it down.

What piece of your music are particularly proud of?

Alex: The last couple songs we wrote were the opening and closing tracks. Definitely the two stand-out for me. I’m excited and interested to see where we go from here. Our songs are definitely getting better has Hellmouth progresses.

Justin: I like that the album's not perfect. We didn't take a million takes on each song. Not everything was played to a click or over dubbed 20 times. We set out to make a punk rock album and that’s what we did. Flaws and all.

Who today, writes great songs? Why?

Justin: There are a lot of bands in the Detroit area these days that are writing great stuff. 2 bands that have just blown my mind lately are The Silent Years and Child Bite. They sound nothing like us but goddamn are they doing good stuff both live and recorded.

Jeff: The rest of the guys are gonna shoot me for this, but I admire how Billie Joe from Green Day goes about writing a pop song. I still think Kevin Seconds can write some of the best anthem laced hardcore songs around. I really like what all the post-metal/instrumental bands like Tides and Sleepmakeswaves are coming up with. I also like the new wave of doom bands like Ahab and Beast In The Field. I find where they take their music very interesting.

Jay: Green Day is a joke now. I do like Tim Barry's solo stuff and with Avail.

Alex: Noel Gallagher is the greatest living songwriter today. He’s a maestro. Most people would give their left testicle to write an anthem like he does. Yet he’s got two testicles intact and when he farts he farts out a number one hit. I think Watain are the best band in metal today. When I listen to “Stellarvore” I have to double check that demons aren’t literally about to get conjured out of my speakers. That rules.

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

Jeff: Vinyl. Music should be analog. Fuck CDs.

Justin: I almost feel like I should say vinyl to impress Jeff but CD. Damn iPod’s gonna make me flip my car some day.

Jay: Stolen!

Alex: I sold all my vinyl collection pretty much. I’m a digital nerd. I love technology. But I definitely think vinyl is the best way to listen to music. The packaging and the warm sound are just unbeatable. Iron Maiden needs 12” gatefold sleeves. It’s just not the same any other way. But I’m digital because of convenience. I bring my iPod everywhere. I wirelessly stream music around my house. What can ya do?

What's the best record store in your town?

Jeff: The Record Graveyard. All vinyl!!! Detroit Threads, too.

Alex: I like Record Time. Their used metal section is great.

Justin: Soulseek...I mean Record Time.

Awesome. Thanks for taking the time to sit with us guys. Thanks for not killing each other over the Green Day discussion, and perhaps most of all, thanks for not decapitating me with your headstock.

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