Over the weekend I headed to Red Hat Sports Bar in Concord, CA for my latest blog interview with the band Hellbender, a thrash metal band out of Sonoma, CA. Hellbender was playing at Red Hat for a battle of the bands event called Wacken Fest. Wacken Fest battles are happening all over the country and the overall winner goes to Wacken, Germany to play in the biggest European heavy metal festival of the year, Wacken Open Air.
While Hellbender played at the battle event, they were not formally competing due to their recent world-wide distribution deal with NO LIFE TILL METAL records to sell their CD in international and domestic markets, which barred them from competing. However, even without the spur of competition, Hellbender gave an all-out performance of their best metal music, and the crowd was clearly appreciating them through ample displays of head banging and mosh pit style dancing.
The battle event was fun and Hellbender played a great set. Here is my interview with Eric Lee from Hellbender. To see more of Hellbender, check out their new video.
SC: What genre of music do you most identify with?
EL: Heavy metal, thrash metal, we grew up around this area in the early 80s, when there were early thrash bands coming out, like SLAYER, Metallica, Exodus and Death Angel, and I fell in love with that kind of music. Over the years I’ve been in different bands with different styles. They all stem from rock, blues. Metal is a sub-genre of rock. Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Cream and Hendrix, they all started the rock, heavy metal thing. And AC/DC!!… We blend all those different styles together and it comes out as Hellbender!!
SC: Describe your style of music.
EL: A little bit of old school, a little bit of new school. We are influenced by the older metal bands I mentioned previously. But also, the new school metal bands we recently fell in love with like Lamb of God, The Haunted, At The Gates, Mastodon and Machine Head. They took thrash metal, and what was going on in the ’80’s’, and made it darker.
SC: What’s your role in the band?
EL: I’m the bass player and do backing vocals. I also do the social media and some of the promotion for the band. But we all take part in getting our shows together and promoting at different venues or cities. The other members of the band are Dollar Bill, he is the vocalist and main lyricist. Clee is the guitar player and does all of our artwork for us, as he is a graphic designer too. He also designs all of our flyers, shirts and merchandise, which is a huge bonus. Jason Jacob is the drummer, he’s been with us for 3 months. He is the 5th drummer we’ve had and we are super stoked on him. He loves beating the hell out of the drums, so it’s awesome to have him on board.
SC: How long has the band been together, what brought you together?
EL: We’ve been together since 2012. Our first show was Nov 2013. Myself and the guitar player started in the beginning in 2012, then Bill joined in 2013. I have known Clee since elementary school and we’ve done different projects through the years like rock, rap metal, and even blues for a second, lol. We wanted to try something new, something we haven’t done before. But, we wanted to be heavy as hell and create punch-you-in-the-gut type music, which was something we both hadn’t tried before.
SC: Do you write your own music and lyrics?
EL: Bill does the lyrics. Clee and I work the music part. He will start the basic rhythm and I will add a chorus to make it fit. As a band we have always played original music. We don’t play many covers.
Metal doesn’t make much money compared to dance bands, but our audience is growing significantly year after year. The work that we do week after week, month after month, year after year, it’s starting to pay off. Our fan base is growing and has definitely been growing over the past years and that’s all you can ask for as a local underground-type band.
SC: Is the bay area a good place to be to support your music?
EL: The bay area is a good place to be for metal. In the late 90s, early 2000’s, the bay area wasn’t a good place because thrash went away. But absence makes the heart grow fonder. Suddenly thrash came back because people missed it. Metal has grown over the last decade. We just played in Sebastopol, CA and the place sold out. You have to work at it. You have to promote yourself. Get a video or single. Get on the radio. Do whatever you can. Definitely, like I said, the audience is growing.
Promotion is all about cross promoting. I’m also doing a radio show called Metaluma radio every Thursday night 9-11 on KPCA.fm, so it’s a great way to promote us, as well as the local scene. And yes, the bay area has a great music scene going on right now.
SC: Where are you based out of, where do you play, and in what type of venues?
EL: We are based out of Petaluma, we practice in Petaluma, we are Sonoma county-based. We grew up here and play locally, like Phoenix theatre. Mystic theatre, Red Hat in Concord, Toots Tavern in Crockett, Slims in SF, Arlene Francis in Santa Rosa. We play a few places in Sacramento and have played a few times in Los Angeles.
We are playing at Rockstar University (it’s a venue) on March 21 with a Metallica tribute band, Damage Inc, from LA. The venue is pretty amazing, it’s got two huge video screens, lights, lasers, its a really nice venue.
SC: If you had to identify with a famous musician or band who would it be?
EL: We are a little bit of Sabbath and a little bit of Pantera. We have an old school and bluesy sound. We also dabble in punk rock, a mix of old school. We are not about one style. Whatever sounds good.
SC: What inspires you as a band?
EL: Our passion is for playing. Not being a cookie cutter sound. If you have a band that is original, you can blend styles and not sound like other bands. When you watch guys in a band, you want to see them engaged. Crowd interaction is important to pull people in. And originality.
SC: When people leave your show, what is it that you hope they will say about you?
EL: “Oh my god, that was amazing. When are you playing again? I’m super stoked. Thank you so much.”
Appreciation is important. We want to get people out of the house. You don’t have to pay a lot for high priced tickets at a big venue. Local bands are great and there are a lot of us out here and we’re just trying to blow people’s minds!
Thanks Eric, for the interview and to the rest of band for an energetic, engaging performance at Red Hat. Great show!