Intervju med Gene Hoglan i Testament!
Jag hade nöjet att nyligen få följa med skivbolagets representant till Västerås för intervju och gig med Testament. Det blev första besöket på Sigurdsgatan 25. En liten klubb som drivs av eldsjälar i staden och som tidigare lyckats få dit bl a både Alice Cooper och Ace Frehley.
Det blev lite häng och kallsnack med basisten Greg och en intervju med trummisen Gene, som av någon underlig anledning hade avskyvärt långa naglar. Glömde dessutom fråga av ren chock.
Samtalet kom bl a att handla om tidiga Slayer, hur man repeterar in nya låtar och risken med att blanda ihop låtar och band när man spelar med flera olika akter.
So, what´s the deal now? You´re back with the band for the album and this tour and that´s it or…?
Gene Hoglan: Well, hopefully we get to keep this going for as long as we can. I know that Testament´s gonna do a whole lot of touring and I wanna be there for all of it, but there could be some stuff in the future we´re I might not be able to make a date here or there and I´m sure they´ll be prepared for that, but I´d like to be the main dude for the whole wing ding here. That´ll be cool. I love the guys and I love playing with the band and it´s just a good time and everybody´s really cool. I like no pressure gigs. I like things that are really cool and mellow. In the States I have my other band Deathklok, which is a pretty major thing in the States. I´ve had Deathklok for a long time and we´re trying to make sure that the tours don´t overlap, but if they were to have to, hopefully Testament would be able to grab somebody cool just for a few dates here and there. Hopefully it doesn´t have to come to that, but if it does we´re prepared.
Alright. I just read yesterday that first sales in the US for the new album was 20000-25000 copies, which is really good these days.
GH: Something like that. Yeah, that is really good. Totally and we´re psyched. I think it was number 12 on Billboard, which is pretty sharp. On iTunes it was number 4 for the week or something crazy, so it´s cool.
Going back. I read that when you started out, two early influences were Peter Criss and Neil Peart.
GH: They were, sure.
But they´re quite different, aren´t they. Peart being more technical and Criss having more of a jazz influence?
Did you take stuff from both of them?
GH: I think I´ve taken stuff from every drummer that ever lived. (laughs) I´m like a spunge. I listen to old songs and I hear a lick in there that I used to love and I used to listen to whoever it was and it´s like “Oh, so that´s where I got my lick from!”. I think drumming for the most part is, you know, 90 % thievery and maybe 10 % of your own ideas. I just tried to thieve from the good ones and I always said that I´ve learned through osmosis. I always figured when I was a kid that “I keep playing, I keep absorbing all this stuff and I´m sure somewhere I´ll come up with my own ideas and stuff.” and I have to a degree I suppose. I have people coming up to me and say “I stole all this from you!” and I say “Well, I stole all this from him!”. That´s cool!
Do you keep track of any new young drummers that you find interesting or that comes up with cool stuff?
GH: Oh yeah! There´s always a lot of them, especially these days are coming out better than ever. When we were starting thrash metal back in the day, usually thrash drummers were maybe ex punk rock drummers or something and they just weren´t any good. Usually the guitarist was ripping, the singer was killer but the drummers were always the lagging ones and that´s one reason why I though the Big 4 became the Big 4, because each one of those bands had really solid drummers back in the day. You had killer bands like Destruction, but on those first couple of records Tommy was not too technically proficient there but the songs were killer and we loved Destruction. Possessed is another one. “Seven churches” is an all time legendary record and an all time favorite, but the drumming… poor brother, poor Mike Sus. So yeah, I think a lot of the new drummers are… A lot of this Pro Tooling stuff makes it very confusing. You don´t know who´s good because everybody is equally good. I´m not sure if they´re learning from the killer drummers and then just becoming tight or if they´re sloppy too? I was 18 when we recorded “Darkness descends” and it was a really sloppy record, but you could tell the energy and “Maybe this drummer´s got some potential?”, but these days if we recorded “Darkness descends” it would sound perfect and awesome and sterile, just like everybody else does.
I guess the live performance in a way becomes more important?
GH: And that´s what you do. You check out the young band that´s got this super tight record and you can see their drummer killing it and you go “Ok, maybe a lot of that is him or maybe he´s just learned how to play the song since then?”. I mean, shit, I´m learning how to play “Dark roots of earth” because we recorded it so long ago. I´m ok with the old material of Testament, but I´m like cramming the new stuff to get it just perfect.
Does it ever happen during a gig that you get a black out?
GH: Oh, definitely! Especially when you´re going from one tour directly on to another and there´s no rehearsals and you´re just jumping right in. That´s why many times, you´ll see my eyes kinda bugged out all night like staring at everybody. It´s like if I don´t see anybody turning around going “What the fuck?”, it´s “Ok, you had a good gig.”. You know when you´re blowing it when you´ve got four members just all of a sudden turning around facing you going “Aaahrrg, shit!”. You´ll see me mouthing “Sorry!”. But each show gets better and we´re pretty tight now, but I still spend a lot of time reviewing stuff. We had two days off on this one and back in the days, two days off didn´t really do much to you, but these days people ask “How can you play with so many bands, how have you recorded so many songs? Do you ever get this band confused with that one?” and I go “No, you don´t:” and then I go “Shit, you kinda do.”. Or you get songs confused. Sometimes if a certain band´s songs have like the same tempo or certain kind of things, I´ll freak when they get stuff confused. Especially if I´m learning the old drummer´s stuff and sometimes he does the exact same lick over and over in this song and then over in this song, I´ll get those confused. There´s a couple of songs in the Testament setlist where some of Louie´s licks in this song were exactly like this other song later and I´m like “Oh shit! Get it together, you´ve got 4 seconds!”.
Recording drum parts today. When you record a song, is that usually one take or is it several takes and then you splice things together?
GH: For me, that is all dependent on the amount of rehearsal that goes into it. If we get a lot of rehearsal before the thing, usually I bash it out in a couple of takes. Do a third take just so you can get that extra take in there if you wanna pull a little piece out of that third take. Usually my first take is kinda like the warm up take, the second take is usually it and we´ll do another safety take just in case. When it comes to something like “Dark roots of earth”, I had about four days of the new songs on demo to cram and I remember I purposely drove to the Bay area from San Diego where I live, which is about a ten hour drive and that was gonna give me the time to play the demo disc and learn the songs. Eric said “Look, things are gonna change.” and Eric always says “Just go with it! I´m gonna throw every idea out there.”. I like to think I give Eric option anxiety because he´s like “Dude, sometimes you play with somebody and it´s really hard to get them to learn the one thing, but you usually pull that off really quick.” So I´ll say Ok, let´s try this and that and this and that in that same part and see what sticks. And then with modern technology you put things together, so I´ll end up doing a bunch of takes of the songs and we´ll try a bunch of different things each time. There´s a couple of songs that I don´t think got changed much from demo to recording. It´s just like “Do your thing to what we have on the demo and Gene it up a little bit!”. There are songs that when I heard the final mix I went “I don´t think we recorded it like that?”. Some part might be doubled or something. After a while I can usually tell when somebody´s been fiddling with the editing, I guess. Like if you miss a kick somewhere and they drop in a kick it´s like “I don´t remember playing that kick but it´s in there now so I guess that´s what I have to play.”. We try to do the best we can and I´ve always tried to do as close to what the album is going to be and you really don´t have to fix my stuff too much. My chops are usually pretty decent.
Do you ever play other stuff when you´re at home? Not just metal stuff. Jazz or whatever?
GH: Yeah, I definitely do more non metal stuff when I´m at home. Like if I´m just gonna sit on a kit and noodle, which isn´t very often, I always go right to the shuffle. I´m always playing a shuffle. That´s my favorite beat of all time. Any kind of shuffle. The “Purdie shuffle” or the “Lido shuffle” by Boz Scaggs or even “Roseanna” by Toto, anything with a shuffle I love, so I´m always playing shuffles. Even back in the super metal days, I´ve always tried to bring things from way outside of metal, because metal is pretty much (Gene makes the sound of classic metal drums), that´s cool and all, but if you can bring in some Steve Gadd or Terry Bozzio or Stevie Wonder and add everything to your arsenal, that that makes you a pretty colorful musician. Steal from somebody else and call it your own. (laughs)
As a musician and you´ve played in a lot of bands, do you do a lot of session work? Somebody calls you up and needs a drummer?
GH: Sure and that´s usually dependent on the amount of time that I have. These days I get pretty booked up for months in advance. Like if somebody calls me now, what are we in now, July? No, August. It´s 2012, I know that. (laughs) I´ll have to tell them I don´t have any time until 10 days before Christmas and then I have two days, if you wanna cut a few songs. That´s my next opening and after that I´m booked pretty solid leading into next year, but things change all the time.
I read about your roadie days and you did stuff for Slayer back then.
GH: That´s right, yeah.
What were those days like? The industry´s changed so much compared to then.
GH: Oh yeah and there was no real industry for what we were doing back then. I was working with them before they put out their first record. I was around when they were recording that first record and also “Haunting the chapel” and those sessions. Back in the day, Slayer was a club band playing to 30 people. They would be the closing band of the night. The headliner would have already played and played to their 200 people and then left with their 200 people and there were like 20 die hard super metal heads at the Slayer shows. When I first saw Metallica, they played to a handful of people. They weren´t accepted by Los Angeles and Slayer was not accepted by Los Angeles and that´s why I loved them. I just hated that cock rock millionaire metal or whatever that radio horse shit was and that was getting really big at the time and that´s why Slayer was my little back pocket band that nobody will ever hear of because they´re way too heavy. I went out on the road with them for a brief while when I was 16. I was doing lights for them, but I was also doing Dave´s soundchecks and playing… I remember playing a lot of Dark Angels songs at soundcheck. That´s how I learned to play a lot of Dark Angels stuff. (laughs) “Can´t we do The Antichrist or Die by the sword?”. I just thought that was cool for Dave because if you´re a drummer you never get to hear what the band sounds like and go out in the house and hear what your drums sound like. That was pretty cool. I had a pretty decent proficiency at double bass and Dave was just learning how to play double bass. I didn´t have a double bass kit or anything. I think my first double bass kit I ever played was Dave´s when he got that second double bass. I´d sit down at the drums and just start tearing it up at the double kit because I´d been air drumming double kit for seven or eight years already and Dave would go “Dude, that´s fucking awesome! How did you learn to do all that? How long have you been playing double bass, dude?” and I was seriously like “What time is it? I´ve been playing double bass for four minutes.”. He asked me a bunch of questions and stuff and I just tried to give him whatever knowledge I had. “Concentrate on your left foot because I can tell that it´s kinda lagging behind. You´re just starting to learn it, so stare at your left foot while you´re playing and make sure it´s coming down evenly with the other one.”. He got pretty good at it. (laughs)
That´s for sure. On a side note, do you know Bob Nalbandian?
GH: Absolutely! He´s my metal legend hero. He´s my hero of metal and one of the reasons I´m here.
Cool! He was in Stockholm just recently.
GH: No shit! Damn, I wish he was here now. He´s awesome!
He had a fanzine, right?
GH: He did, Headbanger. I used to write for his fanzine when I was 15. I did the very first review ever of Slayer. I reviewed “Show no mercy” and I remember I reviewed Trouble´s “Psalm 9” and gave that a 100 out of 10. I used to be a little metal writer and I´m sure that if I wasn´t playing drums now, it would probably be something I´d be doing. Love the metal!
I also read that you met Michelle Meldrum way back in the day. 1984 or something?
GH: Yeah, we met at a Slayer show. It was Exodus, Slayer, Possessed on June 23rd 1984. We met then and became buddies and started jamming a couple of months later right before I joined Dark Angel. We put a thrash band together called Wargod. Actually, I was starting to jam with these other guys and they just said “Yeah, we just got this chick guitarist.”. and I was like “Ok, what´s her name?” and they said “Michelle.” and I went “Michelle Meldrum?”, “Yeah, that´s her name!”, so she ended up joining this band and it was thrashy and kinda technical and she was a killer guitarist. That´s her right here. (Gene points to his necklace.) I played my very first gig with Meldrum in Europe here at this venue. As I walked in I was like “Hey, I remember this place.”.
Cool. You recently sat in for Charlie in Anthrax. I´m not a musician myself, but I always wonder, how much time do you need to get to know the songs or do you already know them all?
GH: With Anthrax, Charlie came to me on a Monday and we were on tour together and asked me if I could fill in for him and I learned the set and I think on Friday I was on stage with them. We got one quick little rehearsal and over the next couple of days I tried to sit in on a song or two at soundcheck. Basically how I learned his set was that I sat behind him while he played with my iPhone, so I´ve got the ultimate Charlie drumcam footage. I filmed the three shows there were in between the time before I had to start and I just picked one of them. Charlie has augmented and changed so much, it doesn´t sound like the records anymore so I wanted to do what he´s doing now. It´s what the band is used to hearing. They´re not used to hearing the old album versions or tempos and a lot of his fills are drastically different, so I just lied in my bunk for hours on end reviewing songs. That´s how I learned. Drums for me are 10 % physical and 90 % mental, so if I can play it in my head, I can play it on the kit. I don´t have to practice that much. There was pretty much no rehearsal time. With Testament for instance, I joined them in the middle of a tour. There was no rehearsal. I flew in and I finished an album on a Thursday in Indiana with the band Viking and the next morning I was on a plane to Dallas and on stage that night in Dallas. No rehearsal what so ever. That was a bit challenging. We did the album in three days. We were gonna do the Viking album in five days, but Testament needed me so I had to cram Viking songs the whole time because I was learning them as we went and I didn´t have nearly any time to prepare for the Testament thing, so I was literally preparing on the plane. That first show id unfortunately all over YouTube. (laughs) I think you see the band´s backs more than you see their fronts because they´re just like “Ok dude, here comes the next one.”. (laughs)
Alright. Are you coming back to Scandinavia for more shows?
GH: I´m sure. This is just kinda like your bonus show that you do between all the festivals, so I´m sure a proper tour is gonna happen.
Excellent! Thank you!