Interview with drummer Gene Hoglan
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: July 31, 2013
Sorry folks, this is not a NEW interview with drummer Gene "The Atomic Clock" Hoglan, a man known for his many bands and projects ranging from Dark Angel to Dethklok to Testament to SYL.
In fact, I was supposed to interview Gene at the Tuska festival on Saturday June 29th 2013. The interview time was booked but he never made it and only showed up at last minute to walk behind his massive drum set. My understanding is that he was in desperate need of some rest and who can blame him? Touring is an exhausting business and he was incredible that night as Testament headlined the show (a short review of their set can be found at the end of the interview). The interview you are about to read was done on March 3rd, 2010, in Helsinki, Finland, when Gene teamed up with Fear Factory for some shows around Europe.
You're wondering why this interview is just getting published now, right? In short, sometimes things take a wrong turn and there's nothing you can do to prevent it (like your interview tape getting lost for several months, for example.)
Even if the information in this interview is outdated (especially the Fear Factory stuff), we thought it would still be a good read because it features some interesting information about the unsuccessful reunion of Dark Angel and their comeback album, Atrocity Exhibition, Phil Anselmo, Don Doty (the first Dark Angel vocalist), Meldrum's Lifer album and so on.
As it is said, better late than never...
Luxi: Hello Gene! How is it going?
Gene: It's going well. The tour is going well. Things are really fine.
Luxi: Mechanize, the title of the new Fear Factory album, was produced by Rhys Fulber (Front Line Assembly) along with the band. Do you think he had the best grasp of how you wanted this new album to sound, or did you have some other producers in mind?
Gene: I think because he works really well with Dino and Burt, so he's the man for them, absolutely! And Rhys is a really cool guy; it's great working with him. I think he gets the exact sound for them that they were looking for, so I would say he is probably the best guy for the job.
Luxi: What about Greg Reely? Do you think that he was the right choice to do the mixing for this new Fear Factory album? He worked with bands like Paradise Lost, Front Line Assembly, Skinny Puppy, etc.
Gene: He has also been there for them in the past. I think for them, coming back after a few years, and with Dino being back in the band, it is a case of "if it's not broken, don't break it." It's a good formula; a good combination for those guys. Greg does a really good job; he has mixed a whole bunch of stuff for all of us up there in Canada. He's killer.
Luxi: How did you end up joining Fear Factory in the first place?
Gene: I got a call from Burt in October, 2008 asking "hey, would you be into joining the band?" I was into doing the record but I wasn't really sure how much time I would have to do live stuff with them. They said "it's gonna be fun!" I said "hey, if you guys are coming back, or whatever, you'd better do a really slamming record, like really making it over the top heavy." And they told me that's actually the plan. From then on, we were all on the same page. The writing came together pretty quickly and it was a pretty smooth process. We just worked on with the songs for a few months and hit the studio.
Luxi: Did you manage to bring some of your ideas to this new Fear Factory album, or were the songs already written when you joined?
Gene: No, nothing was written before. We wrote everything from the ground up, and I know that having had an amazing drummer like Raymond (Herrera) with them in the past, they had a lot to prove with the drumming is on this one. This album is what it is. I don't think they wanted to stray too far from their style. I wanted this album to be a really awesome comeback, a killer record, and make the next one over the top, a classic, you know; let all influences show. Dino had a very definite approach that he wanted for the drums, and you can hear it on the record, so on the next album we'll see where that goes.
Luxi: People have always said that you have a pretty damn unique drumming style. How easy was it for you to play the drums parts in for these new Factory Factory songs? The drums are complex, fluid and very rhythmic on this new Fear Factory opus.
Gene: Well, there's a lot of double bass underneath the riff doing the same thing; that was the stuff I was exploring with Dark Angel, especially with the song "No One Answers" and a lot of songs on the Time Shall Not Heal record. The next Dark Angel album, that we never recorded, which was going to be called Atrocity Exhibition, was just tons of exactly this style. In other words, I was already really familiar with the whole approach of it. A couple of the old songs were kind of challenging, songs like "Zero Signal." That's a great drum song. I mean, Raymond is a genius for writing that song. The whole aspect of that song is always, for me, like (*shaking himself as if trying to avoid the song like the plague*) "can you play that one now?" I've got it now; I always knew that I would get it all down. I think I scared Dino for the first couple of days of jamming because of all the projects I was in at the time. I was spending a lot of time in the studio and a lot of the projects didn't have double bass. My chops were not quite what they were used to hearing on a record. Dino was kind of like "dude, what happened? I thought you were good." I was like "dude, gimme a few days and I will get them right for you." And we did.
Luxi: As far as I know, your first show with this line-up was in Sao Paulo, Brazil on December 4th. How had you prepared to do that show? Did you play any warm-up gigs somewhere before heading to Brazil?
Gene: Well, I had just gotten off the road with Dethklok in the States. It was a huge tour in the States and we were hoping for more rehearsal days than we ended up getting because we had a lot of click track issues. We had built up a lot of click tracks for the older songs and they took a long time. We were hoping to get 10 days of rehearsal but we ended up getting only 3-4 before we went out there. Anyway, we got the songs okay and that tour was like rehearsals every night, in front of people, for me, anyway. I don't need much time to rehearse but getting more than 3 days for a big set would have been nice. We went directly to Australia after that. That tour was going to sharpen everything up for the rest of the touring year for us So, no problem anywhere...
Luxi: Talking about touring a bit more, Fear Factory's whole summer is full of slots at some of Europe's biggest festivals like With Full Force, Brutal Assault, Hellfest, Graspop Metal Meeting and so on. Do you have any favourites out of all these festivals?
Gene: Hmmm...not really. The festivals you mentioned are really cool, as long as the crowd is into it, and hopefully we'll get a nice slot on the bill with people paying attention and stuff. But for me, it's never mattered if it's 300 people, or 30,000 or 100,000 or whatever. You'd still try to do your best every night. If it's just 300 people in a packed little club, I love it because you can connect with everyone totally and you can really feel it. The crowd is right in your face, you know? But when you play at those bigger festivals, you do feel a little disconnected because you really cannot make eye contact with every single person. But they are fun, and we play really well and hopefully Fear Factory fans will enjoy it. And if there are people at those festivals who are not Fear factory fans, hopefully they will become Feart Factory fans after we've played.
Luxi: Each of you in Fear Factory has several side projects, Meldrum being just one of them in your life. Any news about Meldrum's third studio album, titled Lifer? When is it supposed to come out?
Gene: It's my fault that it hasn't been released yet but we have got it pretty much mixed. I've haven't had the chance to sit and go over every song with my engineer and say "turn this up and turn that down." It's just that I've been on the road since August, almost nonstop, with very little time in between tours. But the album is coming out killer. It's super heavy, super awesome. I have always got Michelle (Meldrum) right here (*Gene showing his necklace that he's wearing around his neck*). It's going to be really killer. The playing is great on it and the performance is really killer. The songs are way better and, overall, it's a pretty heavy record. What I'd like to do with the girls from Meldrum on the next record after this one is, well, we are not sure if it's going to be Meldrum after this, but I want to make it an extreme, next level Metal project. Something like Strapping, where there are no rules, just over the top, psychotic songs because everybody is a killer player in the band. Michele's (Madden) vocals sound great, the guitars are amazing and we just need to take it to the next level, extreme Metal, band where it doesn't matter if it's chicks or dudes or whatever. I want people to say "holy fuck, who THE HELL is this?! This is killer!" That's kind of the plan for the project and we'll get some time to do that.
Luxi: Lifer stands as a proud tribute to Michelle, who wrote the songs with you. Without question, this album must have a very special place in your heart as far as your whole career as a musician is concerned.
Gene: Absolutely, absolutely! To be honest, I've never obsessed over an album as much I have on this one. It's definitely got every ounce of love that we can put into it. It's going to be a really awesome record. I hope people will enjoy it, too.
Luxi: You started Wargod, with Michelle back in 1984, and recorded two demos. Have you thought of putting them out officially on CD?
Gene: Well, we've tried to find the tapes, you know, and I know Michelle's dead and Rob is pretty active in maintaining his legacy or whatever. He actually found the very first demo that we did back in the day. It's a 3-track demo and it's been in storage for a long time. I think he's got somebody that is trying to restore the tapes, at least the first demo, and hopefully the second demo, which I don't think I was a part of. I think they had a drummer named Lee Rausch, and he was in Megadeth before that. He was on the second demo doing the drums and hopefully we'll get those out some day.
Luxi: Meldrum has two new members in the line-up; Michelle Madden on vocals and Laura Christine on bass. How have they filled the leather boots vacated by Moa and Frida, in your opinion, and how did you find them?
Gene: Amazing! We brought Laura in as our bassist because she is an amazing, shredding guitarist from a Death Metal band in San Diego called Warface. She came in to play bass for us and I taught her all the songs and she learned all them on her own. Then she tracked the majority of the guitars on the record. I tracked a couple of songs on guitar and we both recorded the bass on the album. She's amazing. Her leads on the record are really killer. They are really soulful and she put a lot of love for Michelle into her leads because Michelle wasn't around to do anything. And Michele Madden is absolutely over the top, a next level vocalist, you know? The vocals on the record are really going to destroy people. Both girls are stars that are waiting to happen, and Michele is one as well. She can sing everything from brutal Death Metal, which there's some of on the record, to angelic signing. She has got an incredible voice, absolutely.
Luxi: Let's move even further back in time, to Dark Angel. Dark Angel tried to make a comeback in 2002, with Eric Meyer, Ron Rinehart, you and this new guy, Danyael Williams, on bass. Unfortunately, in 2005, Ron was in an accident that caused a serious spinal injury and he was forced to disband Dark Angel once again. Anyway, as you said a bit earlier, Dark Angel's comeback album was supposed be called Atrocity Exhibition, and I remember your bassist Danyel even sending me a scan of an album cover for this record. My question is, how many new Dark Angel songs did you record during the time the band was back?
Gene: They found some old tapes, and well... I recorded about 15 songs, or something like that, on a 4-track. It's was just me and a drum machine. I was doing the majority of the writing at the time. In 1992 it was me and our newest guitarist. His name was Cris McCarthy...
Luxi: From Silent Scream...
Gene: That's right. We were writing some really killer stuff back then, and the band just dissolved, really. So, I guess, in 2002 the guys found an old 2-track tape that we recorded, or maybe 4-track tapes, or something. They wanted to edit them and re-record them. I heard what they were doing and I said "man, we should re-record these songs." We tried but again, it just kind of dissolved. I don't think that you'll ever really see a serious Dark Angel reunion because we don't have a singer for it. Like you already said there, Ron broke his neck. He was onstage and he was going through rehab for the injury and he was getting epidurals in his neck, like 10 needles at a time, and just going through hell. Then apparently he was singing onstage with his other band, Oil, and he went for a high note or something and something popped. He passed out. They took him to the doctor, and the doctor said "look dude, you should retire. If you ever try this again, you might not be as lucky as you were this time. You could be crippled for life." And there's Ron, out the door, and Don Doty apparently wants nothing to do with the fact he was ever in the band. I've not spoken to Don since he left the band in 1987, or whatever, but talking to a couple of mutual friends, he apparently has his own life now and he doesn't want to be a part of any Dark Angel reunion whatsoever. Phil Anselmo was very nice and offered his services for the Dark Angel reunion but for me it's like "okay, but we wouldn't be Dark Angel anymore, just some guys playing Dark Angel's music." So eventually I just figured "leave it, just leave it where it's at." It's really nice that people want a reunion, and would like to see it, but I think it's one of those things that the fates would need to line up to make it happen.
Luxi: You recorded a cover version of Metallica's "Creeping Death," for a tribute album, which turned out much heavier and more aggressive than the original. How did you end up choosing to cover that song?
Gene: I don't really remember how it came about but I do remember I was on the road with Strapping Young Lad and we were coming through LA, and we had a show that night. I just went down to the studio that afternoon, tracked the drums really quick, and left it all in their hands. But I remember we did the Ride the Lightning demo version of "Creeping Death." I don't know if you have ever hear that demo; it's a 4-track live demo that they did with "Fight Fire with Fire," "Creeping Death," "Ride the Lightning" and, I think it was "When Hell Freezes Over," which hadn't been changed to "The Call of Klutu" yet. But the version of "Creeping Death" on that was awesome! That was the best song they had ever recorded; double bass through the whole song, really fast, really aggressive (*at this point Gene starts air drumming while doing the drum rhythm with his mouth*). So we did the demo version, because we thought, "fuck yeah, Metallica's kicking ass." And when the album version of "Creeping Death" came out, we thought it ass so slow, boring and stupid, you know, so we just tried to do a cooler version of it.
Luxi: I remember there was also going to be a Dark Angel DVD, containing lots of old footage from past tours. It was actually Jaymie Jagger, Eric's ex-girlfriend (and professional model, at that time), who was behind all this, coordinating the project with Eric, but it was never released. What happened to those plans?
Gene: I just honestly don't know what happened to that one. They split up a few years back, so maybe the concept just died when they split up, you know. I heard some things but it never came out of the oven, I suppose.
Luxi: One more thing that people tend to forget, or not realize, because of your long history as drummer, is that you actually wrote some lyrics and played some guitar on Dark Angel's Leave Scars and Time Does Not Heal albums.
Gene: Yeah, that's correct. When it really came to the lyrics, somebody just had to write the lyrics, you know. I was like "okay, I'll do it." When it came writing the riffs, we only had one guy, and that was Jim Durkin. So we just wrote riffs together, and then when Jim left, I just kind of took over the main song writing duties. We had another guitarist with us, Brett Eriksen (formerly in Viking) on Time Does Not Heal, and Cris McCarthy after that. Both guys were super awesome at writing. We had a great writing team going but when it came to playing the guitars on the records, it was just whoever played the songs best. So a couple of the songs on Time Does Not Heal were ones that I just flat-out wrote, and they are pretty technical on guitars. Rather than teach them to the guitarists, I figured fuck it, I'll record them myself. There are a few songs on Leave Scars that I wrote and played some guitars on. It was a bit easier to track them that way.
Luxi: Alright, I'm sure you have a busy schedule today, so I'll just end this conversation by saying thank you very much for your time and all the best for both your drum clinic and the concert tonight.
Gene: Cheers... thank you man. We'll catch you tonight, right? I'd appreciate it.
Review by Luxi Lahtinen
Live pictures by Terhi Lahtinen
Testament has gone through heaven and hell when it comes to staying above the surface, really struggling for existence over the years. Line-up changes, health issues (of course, we all remember Chuck's battle against cancer) and whatever else there have had to contend with along the way. But Testament can rightfully be considered true winners in the end. It's especially easy to say this when seeing the band playing live on the stage. Testament simply oozes strength and unbelievable energy when they perform live.
One of the coolest band announcements regarding the bill of Tuska Festival 2013 was King Diamond playing the festival in Helsinki, Finland. It was King's first time at the festival. But, as much as people wanted to see King Diamond, there was a large group of people in the crowd who were there to see the one and only Testament; one of Thrash Metal's biggest names and a pioneer of the whole Thrash Metal genre.
Ever since Testament released their strong comeback album, The Formation of Damnation back in 2008, it seemed certain nothing would stop them. The band's follow-up album, Dark Roots of Earth released in 2012, proved convincingly that some bands are meant to do great albums one after the other, play great shows and show everyone how much power and energy there can be in old but well-oiled machines. Testament did all that and more at Tuska, offering an entertaining show for the crowd.
It's hard to say whether the enthusiastic crowd witnessed Testament at their best but it's an undeniable fact, the band's performance was tight and absolutely killer. Testament played lots of classic material, including songs like "Into the Pit," "Practice What You Preach," "The Haunting" and "Over the Wall" which made people go absolutely berserk (which was funny to watch.) They naturally played some material off the recent albums, from "More than Meets the Eye" to "Native Blood" to "True American Blood" to "The Formation of Damnation." It was a well-balanced set of both old and new Testament tracks, and obviously pleased the majority of the crowd.
There was a huge pit going on during the whole performance, which contained a bunch of under-twenty kids (guys mostly but also a couple of chicks, who seemed to enjoy this "pit stop" immensely). This wasn't unnoticed by the guys in Testament and they tried to keep the pit alive and going, especially the always-charismatic vocalist, Chuck Billy. Chuck guided these youngsters constantly, telling them to do basically this and that so that both parties would kind of get the best out of the band's performance. "Into the Pit" and "Over the Wall," as expected, saw the most participation in the pit.
When it was time to play "Alone in the Dark," during the second half of the set, Soilwork singer Björn Strid was invited to come on stage by Chuck. It was sort of a mystery for most of the audience why he was there, as all he basically did was walk around and look confused. I don't think he felt too comfortable singing the chorus "Alone..." with Chuck, either. So it looked like, anyway. Both guitarists, Alex and Eric, shredded from one song to another, like tomorrow would never come while Greg, on bass, provided a heavy sounding bottom for each song.
But what about Gene "The Human Drum Machine" Hoglan, who had already played drums on the band's heaviest sounding album to date, Demonic? So much has been said about this fellow's superior drum technique and his amazing drum work, it's really no wonder people rate him as one of the greatest Metal drummers ever. Gene is an amazing, very skilful drummer and his performance at Tuska, proved it. I'm sure the rest of the Testament guys feel very privileged to have Gene in their ranks, and hopefully they'll keep this line-up until Testament ceases to exist. His drum work is beyond description.
Testament truly shredded, firing on all cylinders up at Tuska festival, on a sunny Saturday night. It was a very enjoyable show from this highly entertaining, legendary US Thrash Metal band, so thank you Testament, once again. There were a lot of happy faces leaving the venue...
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