Latest release: Curse and Chapter (Nuclear Blast/Riot!)
Having disbanded in 1987, heavy metallers Hell were reincarnated in 2011 with the addition of legendary, Grammy-nominated producer Andy Sneap (guitar) and David Bower (vocals) joining original members Kev Bower (guitar /keyboards), Tony Speakman (bass) and Tim Bowler (drums). Now the British quintet is about the release the follow-up to its much-acclaimed debut Human Remains, entitled Curse and Chapter. Sneap, who also produced the LP spoke to Loud about the new material, pet peeves regarding modern metal and the latest Carcass album.
Q: You’ve visited Australia before, but never as part of a touring band. You’ll have to try and make a return in support of the new Hell album then.
A: Yeah, we’d love to. We’ve just signed to The Agency Group in London, which is one of the biggest agencies out here. So we’re hoping it’s going to open a few more doors to get in there and tour a bit further afield.
Q: Are you overly familiar with much Australian metal?
A: Not really. There’s the Mortal Sin guys I know, but that was about it. They were one of the biggest exports, weren’t they? (laughs)
Q: Indeed. They’ve had a few reformations and varying line-ups throughout the years, but they appear to have split for good now.
A: Have they? Okay, yeah. The whole sort of thrash reformation thing now, if you’re not putting the band back together and doing something good with it, then it’s not really helping, it’s sort of gone a little bit.
Q: What did you make of the new wave of thrash that reared its head a few years back?
A: I thought it was alright. Some of the younger bands coming up like Evile and this other band Havok I thought were really good. If they’d been around in the ‘80s they would have been game-changers a little bit. But there’s obviously a lot of these younger kids doing it; you can hear the Slayer, Metallica and whatever influences in there, it’s pretty obvious. But you know, those kids weren’t around to witness it the first time, so that’s always going to happen when bands come back… When something else comes back around, and it always does, doesn’t it? Ten, 15 years, certain things, a certain vibe comes back around from the past. I thought it was good. There’s obviously very good players out there. But I’m always looking for something a bit more original in bands.
Q: You’re correct about styles and trends being cyclical though. One can easily detect some nostalgia for nu-metal during the past few years, which is a tad frightening (laughs).
A: Yeah (laughs). I’m dreading grunge coming back myself. I just hope grunge never comes back (laughs).
Q: (Laughs) On to the topic at hand – the new Hell album. What did the band learn from making the first record that you applied to this new one?
A: Well, when we did the first album we weren’t really thinking about it that much. It was more about getting the guys back together again as a group of friends. I’ve known them for 20 years, 25 years, since I was a kid. I first met them when I was 12 years old. So from getting them back together again and playing again; I mean, Kev and Tim hadn’t even played their instruments for 20 years, so they sort of had to relearn that. Then obviously we’ve been out on the road playing a lot over the past two-and-a-half years, so the band’s really picked up as far as feeling like a band, as a unit. We’ve become closer friends really as well. The fact that we’re now on to this second record, to me it feels like much more of a band on this album. A lot more cohesive and more focused; especially the newer songs we’re writing.
I think it’s moving forward in a good way. We’re trying to, obviously, 50 per cent of it is old material, and 50 per cent is new. So we don’t want it to be a retro act, we don’t want it to keep harking back to the past. What we’re trying to do is take the elements of the songwriting from the ‘80s and give it a modern feel, rather than trying to make this a retro band that looks and sounds like it’s from the ‘80s. I mean, there’s certain band members that look like they died in the ‘80s (laughs). But we see it as moving forward, rather than looking at anything in the past, and really just trying to improve our playing and make some music that people would want to go see. I know I’d want to go see this, you know?
Q: Has there been much mining of the archives and old riff tapes then?
A: Well, the songs that were on the new album were pretty much completed. Stuff like ‘The Disposer Supreme’ and ‘Land of the Living Dead’, they were pretty much in the full stages… There’s not really anything where we’ve gone in and just taken riffs and then used them in new songs. So we’ve had complete songs that we’ve basically brought up-to-date. We’ve had to shorten a riff section here, or do a slight key change or change something to make it slightly different. It’s not been anything that’s changed drastically. We’re not sifting through (old) riffs trying to find gems. I think we’ve got so many ideas for new material that I don’t think we’ll be doing much more of that on the next record onwards.
Q: So the band’s influences are very much the same as they were during their first stint then?
A: Yeah, well, when the band split up in 1987, whenever it was, Tim and Kev, they pretty much downed tools, and stopped playing and listening to music really. So any influences are pretty much solely from the 1980’s backwards, which I like actually. I like that they’re not trying to bring any modern influences into the band. Myself personally, I don’t really listen to, even though I produce a lot of newer bands, if I was going to listen to something it would be classic stuff like Sabbath, Priest, Maiden and Saxon. The early stuff, that’s what I’d be listening to. So, that’s where my heart is musically, and where I am with songwriting as well. I think it’s kinda nice that it’s not derivative, not going to sound like Metallica or not going to be sounding like Slayer. You can pull the influences from the early ‘80s. But like, say, with the production and the outlook of the band, we tried to give it a modern approach, and that’s why it feels so fresh.
Q: When you do listen to a newer band, is it largely for research purposes then?
A: I’ve gotta be honest, I’ve not heard anything… I want to hear melody in music, you know? I’d rather listen to Holy Diver (laughs). I’m so set in my ways, I think it’s because I grew up with it as a kid. When I was 15, 16, I’d go see all the bands; Ozzy, Dio, Sabbath, Priest, all those bands. That’s what I was listening to, and I think when you’re enjoying music, it really takes you back to a certain place, and I just really enjoy those earlier bands for the quality of playing and songwriting really. I actually saw that band Last in Line, the whole Dio band with Vivian Campbell, Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice. It blew my mind. The band was so tight and so on fire and I don’t see that sort of quality these days in bands. It made me remember, I always say to my friends, ‘I’m sure metal was better in the ‘80s’, and I’m right. There was a quality and professionalism to bands back then that I think we’re missing now. That’s not putting the new bands down; because there’s obviously a lot of talent out there with a lot of the new stuff that’s going on. But I don’t know; there was something about the quality of players back then, and songwriting. I think we’re missing the point a little bit with songwriting in the newer material with bands.
Q: There’s clearly not enough melody for your liking either.
A: No, and that’s the thing for me. The heavy vocals all the time, the growling stuff. It’s okay for a part, and it’s got to be interesting rhythm-wise (otherwise) it’s really boring, but I’d much rather hear a singer that does something musical with their voice. To me, that’s proper songwriting.
Q: You produce younger bands, but do you feel that technology enabling anyone to record music in their bedroom has been for the betterment of the industry, or not?
A: Well, I think anything that’s making people be creative is a good thing. Sure, people can do things at home; everyone’s got a crack version of Cubase and posting their demos on Facebook and that sort of thing. But I think there’s always going to be a certain level of quality that makes people stand out. Even though people are recording their own stuff now… I’ve actually noticed as a producer, I’m producing less and less, and mixing more and more, ‘cause people are doing a lot more of their own recordings. So I’m the guy that’s getting called in to fix the mix, so to speak. But yeah, it’s good. I mean, I use it all the time, I’ve got programs on my laptop when I’m out and about for writing songs on. I think it’s a good thing; if it’s making people creative, you can’t knock it.
Q: What’s your number one pet peeve with regard to heavy music production these days?
A: (Pauses) Hmmm. I think everything is sounding very samey, to be honest. My pet hate is a little bit going back to what I was just saying. In the ‘80s, everyone had to sound different. Every band that was coming up, although there was a lot of bands happening in the ‘80s, they all sounded different. You could hear each band’s individuality. Whereas now, I can’t hear that individuality in a lot of these bands; they all look the same, they all sound the same and it’s almost like they have to sound the same to fit into a genre, in order for a label to be interested. But back in the ‘80s, labels were looking for different bands, whereas now it’s gone the other way. It’s all these clone bands. Whenever anything is good, you’re guaranteed six months down the line there’s going to be a whole flock of sheep following them, isn’t there? (laughs) That’s my pet hate; that people aren’t thinking outside the box. So it’s not really a production thing, but it’s more of a performance thing.
Q: You came into the picture late during the making of the latest Carcass record. Taking into account what you just said, do you feel a band like that is even more vital and relevant nowadays?
A: Yeah, I do actually. I really think it’s relevant in this day and age. I think the album just goes to show and how good it sounds, the thing I’m saying… Alright, it’s aggressive vocals on that, but Jeff’s (Walker) doing something interesting; you can always tell it’s Jeff. They’re not trying to copy anyone. They do have a few influences here and there, but you know it’s Carcass, they’ve got their own thing going. It just leaps out at me, the quality of it, and the fact that they are doing their own thing, and this is what I am saying. Bands need to be trying to find their own individuality.
Q: How was the experience of working on that album?
A: Oh, it was great. I’ve known Bill (Steer) and Jeff for years. So when they were recording it with Colin (Richardson), they were literally only 20 miles up the road from here. So I’d go and see them and we’d go out for drinks and have a curry as they were tracking it. So I kind of knew what was going down, and that Colin was getting a bit burnt on it. Me and Colin are friends anyway, so we talk about productions that we’re working on. We help each other out a lot; if we’re struggling on a mix we’ll send it to each other and give each other opinions. He was getting a bit tired on it, and he called me and asked if I’d be interested in working on it. It was a no-brainer for me, ‘cause I get on with the guys and I like the band. So I was like, ‘Yeah, come on over, I’ll sort it out boys’. Yeah, it was a no-brainer and I think it worked out for the better for everyone actually. They got a fresh approach on the mix, because they’d spent a pretty long time tracking it with Colin, to get out of that studio and have a fresh pair of ears on it was a good thing I think.
Q: Well said. Any famous last words?
A: I’m not dead yet (laughs). Hopefully we can try and get out there and show you what Hell’s all about, that’s the plan. But if not, there’s a live DVD with the bonus edition of Curse and Chapter that’s coming out. So try and pick that up to get an idea of what the live show’s about and hopefully we’ll see you out there soon enough.