Interview with guitarist and vocalist Patrick Ranieri
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: April 2, 2012
Floridian Death / Thrash Metal band Hellwitch could well be considered as one of the true veterans of the whole Florida Death Metal scene nowadays. The first Hellwitch lineup got together in October 1984 and since those days the band has released two official full-length studio albums ("Syzygial Miscreanzy" on Wild Rags Records in 1990 - and "Omnipotent Convocation on Xtreem Music in 2009), one EP ("Terraasymmetry" on Lethal Records in 1993) and even one compilation CD that featured the band's first studio album and EP - in addition to some demo and rehearsal songs from Hellwitch's various demos.
What's new in the world of Hellwitch? Let the only original founding member of Hellwitch, guitarist and vocalist Patrick Ranieri shed some more light on their current situation in the following interview, and also slightly open the cover of Hellwitch's past times, which for instance included being a part of the legendary "Ultimate Revenge 2" tour (FL leg), together with Death and Dark Angel. Read on...
Luxi: So, how's life in Hollywood, FL my old friend? Enjoying your life as much as always - or even more these days?
Patrick: Just like it was when I was growing up here in the 70's! Except now no one speaks English, ha-ha-haaa!!! Life enjoyment has been bumped up a couple notches as I recently married a 28 year old death/thrash goddess named Pixie... wow! She loves Hellwitch too! Can't go wrong with those credentials!
Luxi: It's been 3 years since Hellwitch's 2nd album, "Omnipotent Convocation" was released on Spanish Xtreem Music. Now if you look back, how satisfied are you with that record all in all content wise?
Patrick: Yes, that recording is PERFECT! Great songs, BEST production we've ever had, BEST mix we've ever had - and BEST musicianship this band has ever experienced! Recording with a GREAT producer / engineer known as Jeremy Staska (known for his works for Divine Empire, Drowning Pool, Malevolent Creation, etc.). Using Pro Tools helped as well, ha-ha-ha!
Luxi: "Omnipotent Convocation" contains some of the trickiest and most complex Death Metal songs I have ever heard, representing the true Hellwitch style that the band has become known for over the years. Can you still remember what kind of - obviously a tough - process, it was for you to get the songs together for this record and eventually record them for this album?
Patrick: Well, some of the songs were written in '96-'97 and then reworked for "O.C.". Others were written months before the recording. And "Days of Nemesis" was written in '94. The process was rather easy compared to the "S.M." recording as ALL of us took part in the writing / arranging! It took a lot of the weight off MY shoulders having the help of talented song-writers.
Luxi: Antti Boman of Demilich did his quest vocal appearance in the opening track of the record, in a song called "Vicious Avidity". Would you mind telling more about this specific cooperation with him?
Patrick: Sure! Antti is a member of Demilich; the GREATEST BAND of all time! HE is the MOST talented Metal musician that has ever and will ever live. He and I have been friends for about 20 years now and I felt that having his vocals placed appropriately in our music would just elevate Hellwitch to a completely new level. I asked him and he agreed to appear on the recording! He did his vocal tracks (3 of his vocal tracks are used on that song!) at a studio in Finland and emailed them to the studio we were recording in. They were produced and mixed in with INCREDIBLE results, as one can hear.
Luxi: Demilich also did a tour in the States in 2006, playing several shows there - and you finally had a chance to see the band live and meet Mr. "Demilich" himself in flesh and blood, Antti Boman. What can you still remember about your first ever encounter with Antti? What about seeing Demilich live for the first time; was it kind of an unreal experience for you after all?
Patrick: Oh fuck, I could write a BOOK about how seeing Demilich changed my life. You know, I actually said after seeing them twice on their tour, "I can now die a happy man!" Ha-ha-ha!!! THEN, after he appeared on our CD, I said, "Now, I can REALLY die a happy man!" LOL! It was very fun and a bit unnerving to meet such an idol. I was impressed by his personability and his respect for Hellwitch. He was very gracious and interesting, and NOT overbearing or pompous. And his modesty was simply unacceptable to me, ha-ha-ha!!! He's GOD and he should acknowledge that fact... ha-ha-ha-hah-haa-ha-hah!!!! I video interviewed him for one hour before the first show I saw in Austin, TX. then again the next nite in Houston, TX. And I videotaped both shows. Seeing them live was surreal. His fingering hand was like a epileptic spider crawling chaotically around the fretboard! I've NEVER seen anyone play in such a manner. Really, it was a totally emotional and psychologically moving experience. It changed my life, forever.
Luxi: It's a known fact that Helwitch are one of the longest running Death Metal bands in the Florida scene; you guys started out back in 1984 but for whatever reasons Hellwitch have only released two studio albums in 28 years: "Syzygial Miscreancy" came out in 1990 and the follow-up record "Omnipotent..." 19 long years after that, in 2009 precisely. How can this 19 years cap be explained between your two studio albums? I mean, the Hellwitch fans - me included, firmly believed they were going to get more records from you guys within those 19 years.
Patrick: Well, what can I say...? Writing music is NOT one of my favorite activities - listening is! Not to mention the band split for many years and had a few different loser drummers before Joe's return in '04. There was actually NO band from '96-'04! So, in reality, the 2 recordings were done within 11 years! That's more palatable, isn't it?? ha-ha-ha-ha!!!! But again, I'm not much for songwriting - AND when I do compose, I'm VERY particular! We've probably WRITTEN enough riffs for 2 more albums, but none of it was good enough to appear on a Hellwitch recording, in my opinion. And, on that note, it probably will be another 4-5 years before another full-length is released, if at all.
Luxi: You already told me that - as always - Hellwitch's songwriting process has been extremely slow. However, as you revealed to me in your latest email, you do have a couple of new Hellwitch songs in the works. One song is titled "Megalopalyptic Confine" and another is yet untitled. How would you compare these 2 new songs music-wise to the material that you had on your previous record, "Omnipotent Convocation"?
Patrick: The two newest songs are much like the first two that appear on "O.C.". NOT that they sound similar, but the quality of riffing and arrangement is similar. I think this follows as the first two tracks on "O.C." are the NEWEST songs that existed at that time. The newest songs may actually be BETTER than the first two on "O.C.".
Luxi: How critical have you become of yourself over the years whenever you start composing new material for the band? I mean, have you noticed that you may even reject some good riffs way too easily, not finding them useful for a Hellwitch song even if some of your close friends or band mates would tell you that you really should keep them for future use, instead of throwing them straight out of the window that easily?
Patrick: I think I've been pretty consistent with my parameters regarding what stays and what goes. Yes, Craig and JP and Joe DO like some riffs that I refuse to use because they are not anything special. I am overruled sometimes... ha-ha-ha!!!
Luxi: Which is harder for you anyway; writing the music or lyrics for Hellwitch? Or does this depend strictly on what mood you really are, either in the songwriting or lyric-writing mood?
Patrick: Music composition is MUCH more difficult for me. Lyrically, I could find new, untouched topics to write about for the rest of my life with NO problem! And writing the lyrics/titles comes pretty easily to me.
Luxi: One of the trademarks of the Hellwitch sound has always been your very distinctive, screeching vocal style that in fact, is a pretty darn unusual voice and I am saying this a very positive tone in my voice. However, do you believe that if you sang with more sort of 'mainstream Metal style', some (bigger) labels might be more interested in Hellwitch all in all?
Patrick: Thank you VERY much for the kind compliment, Luxi! I appreciate it coming from such a veteran as you. Oh, ABSOLUTELY! Hellwitch would be MUCH bigger if my vocals were different and more "mainstream metal" sounding. I actually think on "O.C." they have become a bit more "smooth" while still maintaining that distinctive style and sound. Still, not mainstream enough to actually "fit in" to today's scene, I think.
Luxi: Who are officially in the Hellwitch lineup anyway these days?
Patrick: Same lineup as "O.C.". Craig on bass and backing vocals, J.P. on rhythm guitar, Joe "Witch" on drums and me doing lead / rhythm guitar and vocals.
Luxi: What about some other ex-members of Hellwitch? Have you been keeping in touch with some of them for some reason or the other?
Patrick: Yes, I see Frank Watkins from time to time at shows and we actually will be playing with Obituary around June '12 in Miami. So, I'll get to see / hang with him then. Also, Steve Rincon from our '89 reh. / demo emails me from time to time. AND, Jim Nickles (guitar late '90- mid '91) actually came up on stage at our show in Buffalo N.Y. in May 2011 and did "Torture Chamber" with us. It's on YouTube! We did a 3 guitar version! Wow! Hail Lynyrd Skynyrd! Jim is a great guy and we keep in touch often.
Luxi: Yeah, I also recently saw this one special Hellwitch live clip for a song "Torture Chamber" on Youtube when you played the show in Buffalo, N.Y. on May 11th 2011. You asked Jim Nickles, who's also an ex-Hellwitch member, to join you for the encore so all of a sudden there was 3 guitarists on stage - and you seemed to have a great time. I guess it was a pretty nice blast from the past type of experience for Jim and you, to play that song together after so many years, wasn't it? Have you ever regretted that Jim left the band to make his future career in some other bands after that?
Patrick: Yes, it was great! (see previous answer) No, Jim had problems and it was best that he didn't stay in Hellwitch. Besides J.P. is a much better guitarist, ha-ha-ha!!! Also, I don't think he actually was in any other recognized bands until the early 2000's.
Luxi: From time to time you have also played Death's "Evil Dead" live. Are there some other cover songs that Hellwitch have taken on their set list whenever you play live - like even Death's "Archangel", which you decided to record in 1989 for a rehearsal demo together with Frank Watkins (on bass) and Steve Rincon (on drums)?
Patrick: Ummm... we have never played "Evil Dead" live to my recollection. Where did you hear that (hmmm... no idea. I am embarrassed now - Luxi)??? As for covers, in the early days we did half covers and half originals. We used to play "Piranha", "A Lesson in Violence", "March of the SOD", "Metal Militia", "Fight 'til Death", "Black Magic", "Fight Fire with Fire" and "Sightseeing" by Adrenalin O.D. to name a few. But since '89 I think we've only done Death covers live including "Corpse Grinder", "Infernal Death" and "Archangel".
Luxi: Now speaking of Death - and Chuck Schuldiner especially, you have shared a stage with them when playing live with Hellwitch. I am kind of curious to hear about your experience playing with Death; did you meet Chuck backstage before and after the show, and how was he like as person?
Patrick: I actually met Chuck in early '86 and then he appeared onstage WITH Hellwitch on 10/25/86 when we opened for C.O.C. in Gainesville. Chuck stayed on my couch then as well. Very chill, laid back, non-confrontational guy. Seemed like he was from California or something... had an odd "valley" accent in his voice. But VERY peaceful, mellow, super fuckin' cool guy. Loved him! When he stayed with me, I have a video I filmed of he and I and friends smoking some weed out of my electric bong, ha-ha-ha!!! (It's on my list / site!). It was funny at the show he played with us as he had that old, beat up BC Rich guitar with the missing pick up. But for me, ALL the old Death / Mantas photos I'd seen showed THAT guitar! When I saw it in real life... it moved me... ha-ha-ha!!! I'm fuckin' weird. Then, of course, we did the "Ultimate Revenge 2 tour". FL leg... with Death and Dark Angel. So, I got to see him / hang out again in mid '89. It was CLASSICK at that time as Hellwitch played "Archangel", "Corpse Grinder" and "Infernal Death" at the show WITH Death / Dark Angel! So, they got to see us play THEIR songs live, ha-ha-ha-ha!!!! THEN, they got onstage and played "Infernal Death" AGAIN! So, those in attendance got to see Hellwitch AND Death BOTH playing "Infernal Death" Wow! Unreal, ha-ha-ha-hah!!!!
Luxi: Let's jump back on the Hellwitch subject. Another curious question of mine is when there's going to be an official Hellwitch live DVD available from the band? As I have always known you as a big video collector of all kinds of Metal concert shows, you should have tons of killer quality Hellwitch material available for a Hellwitch DVD...
Patrick: Well, I'm not sure where you've been NOT looking, he-he!, but we've been selling the "Video Miscreancy" home DVD (2 four-hour volumes!) for about 12 years now! "Volume 1" currently consists of live shows, interviews, TV appearances, rehearsals, etc. from '86-'94. And "Volume 2" contains those from '95-'05. I'm currently compiling "Volume 3" which will contain videos from '06-'12! These are indeed homemade home videos, BUT do contain some VERY good footage ALL rendered from the master tapes! They are available at our site: hellwitch.com
Luxi: The last tour you did with Hellwitch, the "Neutronuclear Wold Cremation" tour in the States at the beginning of May 2011, included 7 dates. This was the tour in which the ex-Witch member Jim Nickles joined you onstage at the Buffalo show for performing "Torture Chamber" as the final encore of your live set. How was that whole tour overall for Hellwitch? Did it sort of prove to you that bringing Hellwitch to places to play live is still one of those most rewarding reasons for yourself that you really want to do this because the loyal Hellwitch fans are always there, waiting for you - and telling you how much it means to them to see Hellwitch playing around, even these days?
Patrick: It was really a lot of fuckin' fun. We had the MOST LAUGHS / GOOD TIMES we have EVER had! BEST TIME EVER, which was good, as it proved that being around each other day after day is no problem for us, ha-ha-ha-ha!!!! We've never been tested in such a way. It actually went very well - AND we even came home with a decent amount of $$ in our pockets!! Wow! That's unheard of in the Hellwitch realm, in case you didn't know, ha-ha-ha!!! Of course, there were shows with poor turnouts, but then there were shows with hundreds of people! Cleveland was the best! Best fans, best friends, best treatment overall. Yes, playing live in Hellwitch is probably the most fun any of us experience... in life! And it's quite gratifying to meet people from the '80's and 90's whom I've never met until now! It's CRAZY! One of the most intriguing aspects was that I would remember someone's name... then seeing the person in front of me was shocking in some cases! You know... sometimes you "picture" how someone looks / talks / acts in our mind, then when you see them face to face, it's totally different, ha-ha-ha-ha!!!! I experienced A LOT of that, ha-ha-ha!!! Again, CRAZY!
Luxi: What will be the next Hellwitch show, or is there even a whole Hellwitch tour in the works, similar to the one you did on May 2011?
Patrick: Our next show should be with Obituaty in Miami sometime in summer 2012. Also, we might play the Central Illinois Metalfest this summer as well. IF we do that, we will try to play other shows in that area. Hopefully places like Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and possibly Milwaukee.
Luxi: My understanding is that Hellwitch have never been to, so is this something you might want to change in the coming months?
Patrick: We'd love to play in Europe anytime... EVER! But, NO one has ever offered us the opportunity, so I don't know if it will ever happen. We sincerely hope it will...
Luxi: The next Hellwitch record may take some time to get fully recorded and out eventually, but I was just wondering whether you have set some kind of time frame for Hellwitch's next studio record when you would like to get it recorded at the latest? Or would you rather like to say "it comes out when it comes..."
Patrick: I would say in the next 5 years sometime... maybe 7 years.
Luxi: Well, I think that was it Pat, so I want to thank you for your time and wish you all the best in your life - with or without Hellwitch. If there's still something you'd like to add or say, then go ahead Pat...
Patrick: I hate to be the cliché guy, but you know that I've always appreciated YOUR support, Luxi! So, of course I must say that I'm eternally grateful to you, my friend. Cool interview once again! And to all your readers, email me! I answer all emails personally. And check out hellwitch.com! Plenty of demos / DVDs / CDs / stickers / patches and more! Finally, as you mentioned, I have OVER 10,000 concert videos for sale / trade of just about EVERY Death / Thrash / Black / Grind / Hardcore / Punk / Rock / Heavy Metal band that has existed! Check out the "Darkest Soul" video site at: thrill.to/DSP And remember, seek out and listen to the obscure and unpopular bands. Those are sometimes the most talented!
|Other information about Hellwitch on this site|
|Review: Syzygial Miscreancy|
|Interview with vocalist and guitarist Patrick Ranieri on March 9, 2015 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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