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HEATHEN

 

HEATHEN

"Evolution Is Revolution"

Interview by Dr. Abner Mality

Not many bands can say they have put out their career best album more than 20 years into their run, but California's Heathen has done just that. If you are any kind of fan of classic Metallica, Megadeth or thrash metal in general, you owe it to yourself to immediately seek and purchase "The Evolution of Chaos", the latest Heathen album and their first in almost 20 years. The release not only sums up Heathen itself, but the entire genre of Bay Area thrash metal. Right now, it's my favorite record of 2010 and I don't expect that to change much over the next year.

Mr. David White has been the voice of Heathen since 1985. White's vocal approach is unique in that he brings the melody and strong pipes of singers such as Ronnie James Dio to the aggressive world of thrash, where snarling and yelling is much more the norm. On "Evolution of Chaos", White outdoes himself with an outstanding display of forceful vocalism.

Therefore, it was an honor for me to speak to him not only about the new record and the storied, difficult history of Heathen, but the state of metal in the 21st century and quite a few other interesting subjects. Prepare to evolve...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Congratulations on "The Evolution of Chaos". Right now it's my top album of the year.

DAVID WHITE: Awesome. Thank you so much.

WC: When you were in the band back in the 80's, did you think there was any possibility that Heathen would still be a going concern in 2010?

DW: (laughter) No. With this business, it's all a crapshoot, you never know what's going to happen.

WC: Was there ever really a period where the band was out of existence for good or was it just laying low during long periods of inactivity?

DW: We didn't know for sure if the band would ever get back together and be really active again. We all talked about it. The band split back in 1993 when Lee had the opportunity to play with Die Krupps out of Germany. He was originally just supposed to tour with them and it wound up being a lot more than that. It was like five or six years later when he was done with them. When he came back, he was pretty burned out from all the travelling back and forth to Europe all the time. He wasn't all that interested into jumping right back into the whole Heathen thing. It took a while for him to get his interest back and get it all going again.

WC: Do the same things motivate you now as back in the early days of the band?

DW: Yeah, I think there's a lot of similarities. We're older now and we have a lot more responsibilities than when we were younger. But for me, my son was born just two weeks after we finished recording the first record. So taking care of my family, that was my main concern then and it still is today.

WC: Were the songs on "Evolution of Chaos" ones that had been floating around for a while or did you come up with them relatively recently?

DW: Musically, it's a mixture of both. Lyrically, it's all pretty new. Some of the songs we had some ideas for melody-wise years ago. I wrote the songs "Dying Season", "Arrows of Agony" and "Silent Nothingness" back around 2005, 2006 and we've been working on those since then in one way or another. We had those songs on a demo which we shopped around. But other than that, the tunes are all pretty recent.

WC: This album to me seems to be the fiercest and angriest Heathen record. Where did you get that fire from?

DW: I guess we got it from life! Just what we've witnessed and been through all these years. It's a culmination of all the experiences we've had. For me, the lyrics are all true. You've got a bunch of guys that are still hungry after all this time. We haven't achieved the things that we would have like to have achieved yet. The hunger is definitely there, there's definitely that edge. We have to come out with all guns blazing because we can't afford not to! We can't have a mediocre record at this stage of our career. No pun intended, but we didn't want to leave any stone unturned.

WC: How important was it getting Kragen Lum into the band and what's he brought to the table?

DW: At the time, we didn't know how important he would be. He's a very intelligent, organized individual. He's a bit younger, so he brings a kind of thrash fan element to us. He understands the newer style and he brings that to Heathen. He grew up listening to bands like us, which is beneficial. And not least, he brings a lot of excellence on the guitar. He's an amazing player both rhythm and lead wise.

WC: He doesn't have any trouble keeping up with Lee, which you couldn't say about a lot of guitarists.

DW: It's true, he keeps up with him really well. The only real difference between the two of them is experience. Lee's got a lot more experience, he's been at this a long time.

WC: It looks like Lee is going to get really busy with Exodus again soon. Is that something that could throw a wrench in your plans, is it something you have to work around?

DW: Yeah, it definitely causes a situation. Exodus has been busy, they've been real busy for the last 5 years. That's why it took us so long to get this record done. We had to get everybody on the same page and in the same place to get it done. Lee';s out there doing what he has to do. He's got his own family now that he has to think of. Now we've finally got a Heathen record out and we're going to see how far we can take it, how well it's going to do. He does have commitments to Exodus. We try to work things out so we can do things together. He'll have to pull double duty, but hopefully we can do it in such a way that we can do some shows while he's out with Exodus.

WC: Some of the other members also have different projects, correct?

DW: Yeah, but none of them are as active as Exodus. We're all trying to keep busy. I know Darren our drummer is working on a side project. But as far as I go, I'm pretty much dedicated my musical situation to Heathen. And so has Jon Torres, our bassist.

WC: The songs on the new album seem to be very topical. "Dying Season" has a Middle Eastern sound to it and it seems to be about the conflict in the Middle East. I gather that "Bloodkult" is about gang warfare.

DW: "Dying Season" is not so much about the current conflict, it's more about conflict as a whole. My perspective is that the way we fight war, even to this day, is so archaic. It's the 21st century, we have all this great technology, we can communicate quicker and better than before, yet we can't seem to get along. We can't settle conflicts without sending young men and women into the battlefield. That goes for everybody. Whether we're fighting over territory, fuel, religion, whatever it may be, we can't settle things in a civilized manner.

WC: The technology advances but the innate communication skills between people don't seem to have advanced in the last 5000 years.

DW: I think the intelligence and the communication skills are out there. I just think they are used to control the population. Third World countries use whatever is at their disposal to protect what they think is theirs and it just leads to a big trap. Things spiral out of control and that's where we're at right now.

WC: Another look at war was the song "A Hero's Welcome". It sounds very personal. Have you lost somebody you know to war?

DW: We've all lost someone to war in some way. We wanted to dedicate that song to all the men and women over centuries in any country who fouht for freedom. Anybody who laid the lives on the line for their country, for freedom, that's who that song is for. I've never served in the military. For somebody to willingly do that, it's pretty amazing to sacrifice so much. The song seemed like a real natural fit into the scheme of the record. It has a Celtic, melancholy kind of feel that fits. We just wanted to say thank you. There's a lot of people out there right now who are fighting who come home and don't really get the support they need from their own government.

WC: Have you gotten any feedback on it from guys in the Armed Forces?

DW: No, not yet. The record is just now beginning to circulate in the U.S.

WC: Is the record going to be on Mascot here in the States or are you working on something else?

DW: Megaforce is actually the distributor here, but it's still a Mascot record.

WC: I would have thought that some of the bigger independent labels like Nuclear Blast or Metal Blade would have come sniffing around to sign you up.

DW: There were a lot of people sniffing around. Even Nuclear Blast, they were trying to do something with us, but they weren't ready to make the same financial commitment that Mascot was able to do. Hopefully, a lot of people who didn't take a chance with us have heard the record and are kicking themselves for not being more interested.

WC: The productions is top notch and the cover art by Travis Smith is also awesome. It's really a nice package. You were there during the glory days of thrash back in the 80's. How does the metal scene of today compare to back then?

DW: There's really no comparison. What was going on in the 80's was very exciting because it was so new. It was a new genre of music that was spawned out of the older heavy metal bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden. Iron Maiden was really the first of the newer British bands that busted out big time and brought in a new generation. Metal started getting big again and then we had the Bay Area scene that started to pop. Blind Illusion was from here, Metallica came up here, Exodus was already here, there was Anvil Chorus. All of this stuff was starting to go, go, go...people were trading tapes, even into Europe. It was really exciting. We were all young at then time and we didn't have the responsibilities we do now. As for now, it's awesome to see a comeback, a resurgence of it and a whole bunch of kids embracing it. They really didn't like all that nu-metal that was going on in the late 90's. They looked back to the old stuff where the music did the talking and they're trying to emulate the bands that they liked. They're trying to sound like the oldschool bands that came out of the 80's...like us!

WC: Are there any new wave thrash bands that you're impressed by?

DW: Sure! There's actually a local band called Hatchet who are pretty awesome. Then's there's bands like Warbringer and Merciless Death that are definitely influenced by the old school.

WC: I think as far as creativity goes, the metal scene is at its high point. But there's a real saturation of bands. It's very hard to make money from your music.

DW: Well, they didn't download back then. We sold more records back then. (laugh)

WC: Nobody does as well as they used to. It's a case of diminished expectations.

DW: Yeah and it really sucks. First of all, the musician has been getting burned by the record label and management throughout history. Even now, that still goes on. And now the fans are stealing your music...thanks a lot! We're just trying to create and make music and now this stuff is just strangling the business. It's getting really hard for us to do it.

WC: Do you have any plans to play live in 2010?

DW: Yes, we do. We're getting ready to go to Europe at the end of April and that's going to be two and a half weeks in Europe. I think we've got one day off in the two weeks. We're going to play Germany, Belgium, Italy, Holland, Austria, Slovenia and some other place I forgot!

WC: It certainly sounds like you're going to visit some places you haven't been to before.

DW: For sure. We're also trying to put something together for a States tour for the summertime.

WC: It may be a little early for this, but do you have any ideas circulating for a follow-up to "Evolution of Chaos"?

DW: Oh yeah. We have some stuff already done. We had about six songs that were in the development stages for this record that weren't quite ready. They just didn't get finished, but they've given us a lot of good ideas for the next album.

WC: What was the last CD you picked up just because you wanted to check out the band?

DW: Well, actually I got two at the same time. "Endgame", the new one from Megadeth and also "Death Magnetic" from Metallica.

WC: What did you think of those?

DW: I like 'em! They're still growing on me.

WC: What was the last band you caught live just because you wanted to see them?

DW: I just went to see Anvil Chorus on Friday night. They were playing at Paradise Lounge for the KUSF Anniversay party. KUSF is our local college radio station that was actually a big part of the 80's heavy metal movement. We all got turned on to a lot of bands we had never heard of from Ron Quintana, who ran the metal show at KUSF.

WC: I remember reading about KUSF in the very first issue of "Metal Forces" I got way back in the 80's.

DW: Yeah, Ron's still around. (chuckles) He comes around once a month and does the show.

WC: Anvil Chorus has been around for 30 years or so.

DW: They were split up for a long time. Thaen Rasmussen put the band back together a couple of years ago and they've finally put enough material together to finally record a debut! Which is quite good, by the way.

WC: In the long history of Heathen, is there any kind of "Spinal Tap" moment that you wouldn't mind sharing with us?

DW: (chuckles) We've had several moments like that. Spinal Tap was famous for having their drummers die. Well, we've lost several bass players...

WC: You mean they actually passed away, they didn't just leave the band?

DW: Two of 'em. "Yaz" (Michael Jastremski) died about five years ago, we're coming up on the anniversary of his death. He lived hard, he had an enlarged heart and it finally gave. Then years ago, after we finished "Victims of Deception", we didn't have a bass player. We hired a guy named Randy Laire so we could go tour Europe with Sepultura. He did really well, he was a young guy. We were getting ready to go out on a States tour and the day we started rehearsing, I got a phone call that he got in a car accident with his girlfriend. They were both killed.

WC: That's rough, there's not much you can do about that.

DW: No. That's when times were really heavy for us. We've lost two bass players to death, but we've lost a lot of other ones besides. I've lost count. I think we may have had more than six.

WC: Your line-up right now would certainly seem to be the most accomplished.

DW: I would say so.

WC: Any last words to all the fans?

DW: Call your local radio stations up and request to hear our new record. Get out there and support your local metal! Buy your metal, don't download!