– Hello, thanks for taking the time. How is everything going right now with HEXX? How does it feel to be back on track after so many years?
Hi Tania, thanks for the interview, it is my pleasure to ansure your questions! Things right now have never been better for HEXX! It’s almost beyond words to tell you how great it feels to be back on track with the band after all these years. You see, until we were contacted back in 2013 to see if HEXX would consider reuniting to perform at the Keep It True festival in Germany, I had no idea anyone anyware thought about HEXX at all. I was reluctant at first to consider getting the band back together because I knew how difiult it would be and also It was just hard for me to belive that the band had enough fans in Europe to warrant getting back together and performing. I assumed they wanted us to perform songs from Morbid Reality and Quest for Sanity but when I found out they wanted to us to play only songs from our first two albums No Escape and Under the Spell, I felt like that was a little more realistic for us to try and pull off. I am very glad now and gratefull to Laurunt Ram from Snake Pit Magazine and Oliver Weinsheimer from KIT beause those guys are to be credited for the reserection of HEXX and helping make possible many of thr thigs that are happing for the band today!
– This year Metal Blade is releasing a special 30th anniversary box set including your first two albums as well as demo songs and some live tracks. How did this whole idea arise? And how does it feel celebrating the 30th anniversary of your first album?
It’s hard to believe that it has been 30 years sence we recorded and released our first two albums. I am proud and delighted to see them being re released all this time later. Shortly after we were confirmed to perform at the KIT festival in Germany I was contacted through facebook by Armin Steiner from Metal Blade records about re releasing our first two albums on vinyl and CD. I was of course honored and thrilled to know that Metal Blade wanted to put our old albums out. However, this sparked off a year long legal battle with Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records over who actually owned the rights to the master recordings and the publishing. We eventually got it all soarted out and were able to reach an agreement.
– As I said, the 2CD/DVD boxset included only songs from your two firstalbums, «No Escape» and «Under the Spell», but no songs from «Morbid Reality». Was this your decision?
No, Morbid Reality is still unnder liensing by Century Media Records and is being re released in early 2016 by Dark Simphonies records.
– Looking back, is there anything you would change about these two albums? I guess this has been a way to make them more relevant even for yourself. How do you think these albums have aged?
Well, I wish we would have had a better prodution and drum mix on No Escape. When you listen to that record the tom fills are way in the background and not as present as they should be. But you know, that was our first record and a valuable learning experiance for all of us. Both of those records are a moment in time. They acuratly captured the band pretty much as we sounded back in those days. As far as how those records have aged? I have had many fans tell me they refer to them bothe as “timeless”. I think thats the way I like to think of them as well.
– In 2016 HEXX has a new line-up. Who are they? How did they turn into part of the band and why did you choose them?
I am very exited about the new HEXX line up for 2016 because I believe it is the strongest line up the band has ever had. Mike Horn is doing a fantastic job taking over for Bill Peterson on Bass. That is really saying alot because everybody knows what a monster bass blayer Bill Peterson is! Bill is still recovering from multiple health issues and may still yet be active with the group sometime in the future. John Shafer has been back with the band in full force for well over a year now. John was taught and tutorad by our original drummer Dave Schmidt who playd drums on out first two albums. John joined back up with the band shortly after we returned home from performing at the KIT festival in 2014. We were lucky enough to get Bob Wright from Brokus Helm to join us on guitar last year. Bob is a great guy and a seasond guitar player who’s unique stile adds a great demention to our sound live as well as to the new songs we are writing. Last but not least we are proud to heve the San Franisco bay area’s best kept secret Eddy Vega fronting the band. Eddy is the most amazing vocalist. He has a very powerful voice and can emulate with ease both vocal styles of our previous singers Dennis Manzo and Dan Bryant. Both Eddy Vega and Bob Wright were carfully chosen from all that auditiond for their virtuosity,personality and for being the seasond profesionals that they are.
– I guess back when you started HEXX during the early 80’s your influences were different and now may be wider, am I wrong? What younger acts do you enjoy?
Ha! Yes you are wrong indeed! My influences are exactly the same now as ther were back in the 80’s. I don’t really listen to much new music. I like to here new music from artists from that time but I am really stuck in a time warp as far as my influences go. For example when writing new songs for HEXX I naturally make them sound like they are from the same time period. For me the 1980’s were the best time for Heavy metal music and I for one don’t want to fuck with a perfict formula!
– Now reviewing a little bit your history, you formed in 1983 and one year later you released your debut full-length album, «No Escape». That was the beginning of the whole Bay Area Metal scene, with METALLICA starting to somehow shine. What are your memories from those early days? How were the recording sessions for that first album?
Around this time Kirk had just left Exodus for Metallica and when we first heard the Kill em All recording and herd James’s vocals we thought, they will never get a major deal with a singer like that. He sounded more punk to me than a real metal singer. Remember, this is before Metallica took off and before they ruled the world, we really thought we had a much better chance of major sucess because of our great high pitched melodic singer and our catchy metal songs. I really thought that our song,” The Other Side” would be the big smash breakthrough hit for us. To me it was right up there with Dio’s hit song, Rainbow in the Dark which was all over main stream rock radio at that time. Well, like I said, we were very naive at that time and kind of had our heads in the clouds a little bit I guess you could say, and we still had a lot to learn…..about a lot of things. The first jolt of reality came when Mike announced that he had booked our studio dates next month for Prairie Sun Studios in Cotati and we had to begin working with his co producer/engineer Steve Fontano right away so they could hear the rest of the six or eight songs to see if they thought they might need a little more work or something. We got our deal based on the strength of the 3 songs on the original Paradox demo. I had to assure Mike that we had at least another six or eight song of similar quality and style ready to record. He took my word for it. The truth was we did not have another six or eight songs ready to record, far from it. I think I had the chord progressions for Terror and fragments of riffs and arrangements for maybe two or three more songs but that was all. I don’t think I even showed them to the band yet. I knew Manzo was working on some lyrics but I had no idea what he had either. I remember we had to make up song titles on the spot to be included in the publishing agreements. I know it sounds crazy but we now had to write the rest of the albums songs from the titles we so hastily came up with. At that time felt like I had to blow a little smoke up Mike’s ass about having all the songs ready to record because I was not going to tell him we were not ready and risk blowing the deal or have him put us on the back burner till next year or something. It seemed like every other band in the bay area was getting signed and there records were coming out. We did not want to miss the boat or get left behind. Somehow we were able to postpone our first pre production meeting with Steve Fontano for a couple of weeks. We desperately needed time to put the rest of the songs together and rehearse them to be ready to be recorded. We were totally under the gun now and we knew we had to work hard and get it together fast. We quickly put Invader together based on a drum intro our drummer Dave Schmidt had been working on, I wrote Night of Pain one night in about thirty minutes and Manzo tweaked the lyrics a little more to his liking. Bill Peterson and Manzo had most of Look to the Sky worked out and we were working out the riffs and arrangements for Live for the Night. I had the riffs and basic arrangements for the songs that at the time were called The Dragon Song and 1301. The Dragon Song became Beware the Darkness and 1301 became Fear No Evil. By the time we had our first pre production session with Steve Fontano we pretty much had it all together. Steve seemed to like all the songs we came up with and had some good advice to share with us on several of the songs. The material was so new to us it really helped to have a qualified producer go over it with us and point out things we had not considered. (Around this time Mike talked us out of using Search for the King on the record for some reason, to this day I still don’t remember why. It now is included as a bonus demo track on our re releases.) Steve would suggest things like, we should double up the chorus here and move the solo section there, or change a word here or there. I think it was on his suggestion we changed The Dragon Song into Beware the Darkness and 1301 into Fear No Evil. He might have helped Manzo tweak the lyrics a little on those too as well, I don’t remember now. I do remember when we were laying down the basic tracks for Beware the Darkness, Mike Varney who had been observing our progress from the studio control room, came busting into the room we were tracking in pounding out a beat on his chest and stomach. Try the kick and snare like this, he said. At first we kind of resented him busting in like that telling us how to play our song, but after we tried his idea out and kind of got used to it a little bit we started to really like it, so that’s how we laid it down. So the main beat you here on the verses of Beware the Darkness was a last minute contribution from Mike Varney. Steve Fontano was directly responsible for helping Manzo try out different harmony parts and smoothing out some of the rough edges on the vocal phrasing. Steve was also very good about dubbing guitar solos. When we go into the studio I like to have a basic idea going for my solos but I like to improvise most of them. They just come out more alive and spontaneous that way I think. I will even leave a little slop in there if I feel the right emotions and fire are present. Steve would give me 3 tracks to blow solos on. He would just let me rip out the best solo I could on each of the three tracks. Each solo would be different so we would go back and listen to them and either choose the best one, or punch the best bits together from the two or sometimes even all three! It was really a lot of fun; it is still my favorite part of the recording process to this day! After the recording was all done and mixed down we had to focus on getting the cover art and packaging together for the release. Mike Varney showed us a bunch of album covers he had access to for free or cheap. Mostly they were lousy photographs or really bad cheesy artwork. We didn’t like any of them so Mike gave us a budget of $ 500.00 and said go out find your own cover, just have it ready in two weeks along with a suitable new band photo for the back cover. We gave the job of cover art to our long time artist friend Alvin Petty who whipped up the cover art and a new HEXX logo for us in a matter of a few days. All we needed now was a new band photo for the back cover. My uncle Rodger Burt volunteered as photographer and one day we headed out to the Richmond Standard Oil refinery not far from where we lived. We thought it would look cool with all the pipes and smoke and stuff in the background. This was our first album and our picture was going to right on the back of it, it had to be great. This was late 1983 or early 1984 and we wanted to look like a successful band that sells a lot of records. This was right before it was cool and acceptable to just ware jeans and t shirts on record covers. We were professional entertainers now so we figure we better look the part. So without any real coaching in this area (except our moms and girlfriends help with our make up) we proceeded to adorn ourselves with the appropriate Heavy Metal looking accoutrements that were the style at the time. Looking at that picture now I really wish we would have settled for just the black clothes and leather jackets and left off all the straps, wrist bands, hand cuffs, bullet belts and such. The giant bullet belt Dave Schmidt is warring turned out looking like a grass skirt from Hawaii or something! It was one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time but later became a source of ridicule and embarrassment for us. Now, 30 years later it is a great source of whimsy and nostalgia!
– Then in 1986 «Under the Spell» came out, with some changes in your line-up and a heading toward a more aggressive sound. Was that subtle sound change something you were striving for? Competence in your area was growing, was it hard for HEXX to standout?
Yeah, Mike Varney did not really like the thrash elemints emerging in the new songs we were writing for what was to become the Under the Spell record. We were very much influenced buy the speed /thrash sound that was developing all around us. We knew that if we were going to be able to compete with all the other bands in the bay area we were going to have to play faster and heavier. I’m not sure if Mike helped us by trying to limit the thrash influince or hurt us.
– So you really know the Bay Area history. How do you think the evolution of some of them has been, as METALLICA for instance? What do you consider are some of the most underraeted bands from that scene?
Well METALLICA of course evolved into one of the biggist bands in the world. There were so many good bands coming out of the bay area at that time it was crazy. Some of them off hand I would say would be bands like Violation, Anvil Chouus, Blind Illusion, Heathen, Forbiddden,Violence, Sadus, and several others.
– Going back to «Under the Spell», if I’m not mistaken you had some issues with what it was supposed to be the cover, and then also you didn’t like the logo on the original version. Would you mind to share this story with us?
Not at all, it’s was along time ago so it is pretty funny to talk about now. Our friend Alvin Petty did the No Escape cover for us last time and he had also just done Metallica’s Creeping Death cover as well so we wanted to try something a little different this time around. My father was a very good artist, his medium was oils and he had been painting most of his life. He was known for being a little difficult to deal with and so far had not been able to sell many of his paintings. So I got the bright idea of having him do the cover art for us. He was broke…. just like his son, and could use the $ 500.00 bucks we had for the cover art budget and I thought it could be a good break for him to possibly get more jobs doing album art. The guys had seen some of his artwork and agreed to give him a try. We all went over to his house one day and brought with us 10 or 15 current metal albums to show him examples of what our cover art would have to look like to compete with in the market place. ( My dear old dad was never quite up on current trends of music or fashion ……or anything really ) So after looking over all the album covers we went ahead and pitched the idea we were all talking about. We wanted something darker and a little more disturbing than the No Escape cover, something to reflect what we thought was our newly evolving heavier and darker sound. We described to him Something like a real scary looking Voodoo witch doctor dancing around in a lit up hexagon with a bunch of bones and sculls and shrunken heads on sticks and stuff under a creepy moon lit sky in the jungle or something. He seemed to like the idea and said he would come up with some preliminary sketches for us to look over in a few days or so. When we went back to look over the sketches it actually looked pretty cool, and much like we had envisioned……..except for one little thing. He had not put in any bones, skulls or shrunken heads on sticks that we requested. When I pointed this out to him he just kind of shrugged it off like it was no big deal, this was just a rough sketch kind of thing so we thought nothing more of it and told him to go ahead and start painting it. A couple weeks went by and he called me to have everyone come by and take a look at the finished painting. We were all very excited and thrilled to see the next Hexx album cover art! When we got there and went up into his art studio, he unveiled the painting for us. At first we all kind of gasped with excitement because it was very colorful and interesting, very well done and very close to what we had described for him to create for us. However……there were some obvious problems with the painting. What was supposed to be a real scary Voodoo witch doctor, turned into a mildly frustrated and pissed off looking Mayan tribesman. Also there was no bones, sculls or shrunken heads on sticks! After several moments of awkward silence I finally said to my father, who had obviously put a lot of time and effort into this painting……..Say dad this is really great……..but I thought you said this was finished. Where are all the bones, sculls and shrunken heads on sticks we had asked for? He said as far as I am concerned it IS finished!!! I won’t ever allow any bones, sculls or shrunken heads on MY artwork!! ….. Another long awkward silence ensued. We all knew that this artwork as it was, would not be scary or shocking enough to compete with all the other metal album art that was flooding the market at that time. The way he said that to us let us know there was no hope of working with him further and talking him into adding the sculls and shrunken heads and things. We all just instinctively looked at each other and silently walked out of his house. I was so embarrassed and angry with him that I did not speak to him for two or three years after that. Many years later he gave me the painting as what I perceived as a kind of peace offering . The painting was just as we had left it, except he painted in our logo on the lower left side.
– Among your short-length releases I would like to stop by and talk a little bit about the «Quest for Sanity» EP, showing the band going to an even more aggressive sound, adding Death and Speed Metal elements. How came Clint took vocal duties and how did the loss of another singer affect the band at that time? How was that period like? As moreover you didn’t have support from a label back them if I’m not mistaken.
After the release of Under the Spell in 1986, with no tour support from Shrapnel Records, the band began to stagnate. Our drummer Dave Schmidt decides to quit and we started working John Shafer in on the drums. I think we did a total of 10 shows with Dan Bryant–some before the album came out and a few after. Dan Bryant was getting offers for other projects and before long lost interest in being in HEXX. I think he even went down to LA and got an audition for Black Sabbath at that time. I can’t really blame him, he was a very talented guy and I think he saw HEXX as a stepping stone for his career. Bill, Clint, John and I became very close friends at this point in time. We felt like we were down and out and we bonded like brothers. We decided we did not want to get another lead singer type front man guy. We had been down that road twice now and we just figured fuck that! Bill, Clint and I thought that we would all take a stab at taking over on the vocals. We thought if one of us could handle the job of taking over in the vocals department this would be great because the four of us got along so well we would have no more lead singer problems to deal with.Well, Clint just blew us all away when he stepped up to the microphone to take his turn! We just kind of looked at each other and said, “Well shit. There it is then!” Clint had his own style much more in the death metal sound and away from the high range melodic singers we had for the past two albums. He sounded really pissed off and angry when he sang and it really reflected our mood and feelings at the time. His vocal approach worked great with our faster, heavier and more aggressive songwriting direction. I had already written the music and had the title and chorus for Twice as Bright Half as Long. Together Clint and I finished up the verses and I think the first time we ever played that song live was at our last show with Dan Bryant at the Omni in Oakland California sometime in February 1986. It was so new Dan Bryant had to read the lyrics from the lyric sheet onstage. This song was about doing speed, or meth amphetamine which was readily available in the Bay Area. The idea was the candle that burned twice as bright would burn only half as long. This songwould set the tone for our new aggressive speed thrash death metal sound.Towards the end of the 1980’s the metal scene in the San Francisco area changed drastically. Our two power metal albums had gone largely unnoticed and unappreciated, or so we thought. If we wanted to keep gigging in the Bay Area we felt we had to play faster with more thrash style. Nobody wanted to hear our slow old out of date power metal anymore. The next song I came up with was Sardonicus. Growing up as a kid my sister and I would love to watch the Saturday night ‘Creature Features’ show on TV. They would play old black and white monster movies from the 1950’s and 1960’s. One of my favorite movies was a film by William Castle called Mr.Sardonicus. A charming story about a ghoul who robs graves and feeds on corpses! No, really it’s about a guy whose father is buried with a winning lottery ticket in his pocket and what happens to him when he goes to dig up the grave and retrieve the ticket so he can cash it in. This song was much longer with a much more complex arrangement than Twice As Bright Half As Long. That was fine by us, we had two new songs down and we felt like we were really on our way developing our new sound. All we needed now was another 8 or 9 songs like these and we could start shopping around for a new record deal! Once again we found ourselves abandoned by our lead singer–this time with no more album options left on our Shrapnel deal, we were really down. This was probably the darkest and lowest point in the whole history of the band. It seemed like all the other bands in the bay area were doing well and prospering and we were just floundering and failing miserably. We fell into somewhat of a deep depression that seemed to last for months. It was during this time the songs for what would eventually become The Quest for Sanity EP were written.
– Then in 1991 you released your last album, «Morbid Reality», which somehow followed the pattern on the «Quest for Sanity» EP, with Death Metal nuances. How was this change accepted by your listeners?
After Quest for Sanity came out we gained a lot of fans but lost some too. I think most of the fans that liked Quest for Sanity liked Morbid Reality as well. We got a lot more fan mail for Morbid Reality than we did for most of the other records we did for some reason.
– HEXX split up after releasing «Morbid Reality». What prompted this? I think you already had some other new songs written. Did you still have those? WIll they ever see the light of day?
Yeah, by the time Morbid Reality came out Grunge rock was taking over and the whole metal thing had kind of played out. We did have 8 or 10 new songs written for another new álbum. We thought Century Media would for sure want a follow up to Morbid Reality but when I tried to get them to liste to the live recordings of our new songs no one there would even talk to me. The label had gone through a lot of changes and all the people we knew there were all gone. The songs we had writtin were more like a mix of Quest for Sanity and Under the Spell style. After touring for Morbid Reality we did not want to make another technal speed/thrash death metal record. Bill Peterson and I each had a cassette tape of the new songs but as of yet neither one of us can seem to it. Believe me, we have looked for it. It still may turn up someday.
– And if you would release now a new album, would it sound more like these last releases or rather than the first two albums?
We have most of the songs already writtin for the new álbum and they are in the same style as the first two albums. We tried to take all the best eliments from the first two albums and inorperate them into the new songs. I think this new bacth of material is actually going to be better tan both the first two albums combined. We were very young when we wrothe those songs. Now after 30 years we have a whole lifetime of experiances to draw from.
– And what prompted your reunion in 2013? KIT has been responsible for a lot of comebacks. How was the experience of playing KIT was like?
We were blown away at how nice everyone was to us. Oliver and all the staff were so friendly and helpful we just could not get over it. We are not used to being treated like that here in the United States. Especially the fans, from the moment we got out of our car in the parking lot of the venue we were recognized and people had our albums there for us to sign. We would sign whatever they wanted us to sign, chat for a while then start heading to the arena and be stopped again and the same thing would happen all over. It seemed like it took us an hour or so just to get from our car to the stage door. It was a great feeling, because we were a little skeptical about how many people still knew of us at all. Our performance at the show was not quite as good as we would have liked, but the fantastic response and support we received from the fans was so overwhelming it made us feel much better about it. You know, we went through quite a lot in the year prior to that show. It was a long journey for us from the first time I was contacted on face book regarding HEXX performing at the KIT festival, to that day when we actually hit the stage in front of that sold out crowd of amazing heavy metal fanatics.
– The music world and technology have changed a lot since 1991, for instance Internet makes possible an easy access to any bands. Do you think Internet is something positive for the Metal scene? Have you noticed some people have rediscovered your albums due to the Internet? Or even that younger people is now discovering the band?
Oh yeah for sure. With out the internet I don’t think HEXX would have ever got back together. Information is so much more ecessable now. I think it’s a great thing for all bands and misicians.
– And finally, what does future have in store for HEXX? Can we expect a new album?
Yeah for sure we will do a new álbum, Like I said we already have most of the songs rerady so it’s just the matter of sorting out the details of who is willing to release it and so on. We hope to be able to come to Spain and perform somday, maybe this year or next year, we will have to wait and see.
– That’s all, thank you once more for answering our questions. If you want to add some final words; feel free to do it.
Thank you Tania for the opportunity to appear in Queens of Steel! I would also like to thank all the fans that believe in HEXX and make it possible for us to record and perform our music again after all these years.! We hope to someday see you all in person.