Interview with bassist Jason Viebrooks and guitarist Kragen Lum
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 1, 2015
Live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen (on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise in January 2015)
Bay Area thrashers Heathen haven't really made much noise since The Evolution of Chaos was released on The Netherlands' Mascot Records in 2010. However, Heathen fans have no need to worry because the band has been working on new songs for their next album, fine tuning them before entering the studio. Heathen's next album will be released by the band's new label, Nuclear Blast Records, which inked a deal with the band in April 2012.
At the end of January 2015, these beloved Bay Area thrashers got in gear and were able to join the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise for the first time. Heathen enjoyed every moment on board among the 3,000 Metal fans from 70 different countries not to mention the 59 other bands. A Metal party can hardly get any better than this, can it?
The Metal Crypt got a chance to talk to Heathen about a few things and both bassist Jason Viebrooks and guitarist Kragen Lum were kind enough to tell us of the band's recent plans, including their drummer problems, the passing of John Torres, Jason's and Kragen's past and present bands and many other things. Read on...
Luxi: The recent 70,000 Tons of Metal was the first time Heathen participated in this massive all-Metal cruise. How was the experience for Heathen?
Jason: 70,000 Tons of Metal was a great experience for us. They've been trying to get us on the cruise for the last few years but with different tour schedules and personal schedules we couldn't do it until this year. I hope they ask us back again. I was great to hang out with the fans and see old friends from other bands that we don't always get to spend time with.
Luxi: Did you find any minor or major things that could have worked better, from an artist's point of view? Maybe having a separate entrance for the artists to board the ship, perhaps?
Jason: From an artist's point after view I feel the cruise is run very smoothly. Everyone knows what their job is and all the staff and crew are super helpful.
Luxi: I was just wondering how difficult it was to put the set list together for this cruise, knowing you have three albums loaded with great songs.
Jason: Picking songs for our set list is always tricky. We've found out the hard way there's no way to include everything needed to please all the fans. Heathen songs aren't exactly short and when you have only 45 minutes, like on the boat, you have to pick the ones that deliver the best bang in a small time slot. In the end we're just happy seeing the crowd enjoy what we're playing for them. That's also a trick to get fans to every show because you never know what tracks we'll play, ha ha!
Luxi: It's been five years since The Evolution of Chaos came out so hopefully you can give me an update on what's been going on in Heathen since then.
Jason: As for the status of the new CD, we've been really fine-tuning the material to make it the best we can. With this band it's always been quality over quantity with our CDs. I will tell you that when the new disc does get wrapped up and released it'll be worth the wait! We all feel the new stuff is super solid and truly Heathen.
Luxi: How many songs do you have ready for your next album?
Kragen: We have more than enough music for an album either completely written or in progress. Right now we're working to finish the music for the incomplete songs, work on vocal melodies and lyrics and fine tune everything. We're taking extra time with it to make sure that when all is said and done it lives up to the high standards that we have set for a Heathen album. Ultimately we just want to make sure that the new album is the best that it can be.
Luxi: Do you have any working titles for the next Heathen album?
Jason: I would love to give you a sneak peak of song titles but that wouldn't be fair now would it? LOL! No seriously we've all agreed to keep it all under wraps until we're ready to unveil the stuff, sorry... (NP, that's completely understandable - Luxi).
Luxi: How huge of a blow was it for Heathen to lose your longtime drummer Darren Minter in May 2013 when he let you know that he quit the band for good, or at least for the time being?
Kragen: Losing a long-time member of the band, and a great drummer like Darren, would be hard for any group. Unfortunately, we've just got to do what we need to in order to keep the band moving forward. Luckily, we have had some other great drummers fill in with the band until we find a permanent replacement.
Luxi: You had Sasha Horn (Forbidden) taking over the drum kit on the cruise. How well did he handle the drum duties and is he officially the new drummer for Heathen?
Jason: Yeah, Sasha sat in for us. With the Bay Area connection of Forbidden he came highly recommended by Craig Locicero. At this point though, we haven't made any decisions on a permanent drummer for the band.
Luxi: Jon Dette filled in on drums for all the dates on your European tour back in 2013. I assume it was relatively easy for him to learn your songs knowing how talented he is. He has also filled in for bands like Slayer, Anthrax and Testament before when they were in similar situations...
Jason: Yeah, it was cool to have Dette with us. I've known Jon since the 90's. He and I met in Europe when he was on tour with Testament and I was in Grip Inc. We did a few Metal Hammer festivals together and Jon and I became friends so when Darren told us he couldn't do the US tour I reached out to Jon and he agreed to do it. He's definitely a beast behind the kit.
Luxi: Jon Torres, who played in Heathen for several years, passed away on September 3rd, 2013. The death of good friend is always something that makes you think of life in a different way. What kind of personality was Jon, both in and out of Heathen?
Kragen: Jon was a great guy. He had a real passion for playing music and that came out in the songs he wrote and his live performances. He could be strong and aggressive when he wanted to get things done and also an extremely kind and caring friend. We were all fortunate to know him and call him a friend. I miss him and I think about him often.
Luxi: Heathen is a part of the Nuclear Blast family these days. As we all know, the label seems to have all the big names, both old and new, signed. Do you see this as an advantage or disadvantage for Heathen when you think of the resources they will put behind the promotion for Heathen?
Kragen: Nuclear Blast is the best Metal label out there and we're fortunate to be working with them. I think that it will benefit Heathen to be on a roster with so many good bands. They know this kind of music very well and they know how to promote it.
Luxi: Many other long-running and legendary Thrash Metal acts have also signed to Nuclear Blast, like Death Angel, Slayer, Exodus, Testament, Anthrax and so on. Do you feel like you have all gone full circle career wise now that you have all ended up on the biggest Metal label in the whole world?
Kragen: It is pretty amazing how things have come full circle with this kind of music. It's amazing to think that so many of the Thrash Metal bands that came out in the late 80's and early 90's are still doing it now, especially at a high level. Not many other styles of music outside of Metal seem to have as many bands that have had this longevity.
Luxi: Have you ever had discussions with the members of Exodus, Testament and Death Angel about how cool it would be to arrange a tour under the name "Almost Big 4" and bring this caravan around the globe?
Jason: It's funny you asked that. We've all thought it would be a killer tour but no "Big 4" type tag to it. It would be a killer "Bay Area Thrash Fest" tour package. It's just tricky to pull off a feat like that because everyone's tour schedule or even the CD-promo schedule. Who knows though, I still think that would be a ruling tour package (oh man, it definitely would - Luxi).
Luxi: Lee Altus joined Exodus back in 2005 and still is a part of Heathen at the same time. Has his involvement in Exodus prevented things happening for Heathen in terms of making new music or touring?
Kragen: It can be a challenge to get everyone together in terms of our schedules (work, other bands, etc.) but we're determined to keep things moving forward with the Heathen.
Luxi: Kragen, you have Prototype going on since you formed the band in 1994 and your latest album, Catalyst, was released in 2012. Plus, you are still in Psychosis so it seems like you constantly keep yourself busy as far as all of your bands are concerned...
Kragen: I definitely like to stay busy with music. If I had my way, I would be even busier, ha ha!
Luxi: Why did you leave your previous label, Mascot Records? Lack of support, perhaps?
Kragen: Mascot actually did a great job for us with The Evolution of Chaos and gave us the support we needed to get out on tour after the album came out. Even though we moved on from the label we were happy with the album release and promotion.
Luxi: You did not have any major conflicts with Mascot Records that made you to leave the label?
Kragen: There were no conflicts with Mascot at all. We simply wanted to take things to the next level and felt that Nuclear Blast was the label that we wanted to work with going forward.
Luxi: When The Evolution of Chaos came out many thought it was, simply put, a brilliantly made Thrash Metal album, me included. It captured the whole Bay Area sound perfectly. Can you explain to the new generation of metalheads what the whole concept of "Bay Area Thrash" is really all about? You are the true expert, right? ;o)
Kragen: I think Heathen is really a great example of what Bay Area Thrash is all about. It's the aggression and speed of Punk mixed with the classic NWOBHM sound and the incorporation of our other influences in the music. We have the freedom to write some brutal songs, some very melodic stuff with harmonies, some complex epic tracks and we aren't afraid to stretch the boundaries a bit, which, along with memorable songs, is what can sometimes make music special.
Luxi: Jason, you played bass on Grip Inc.'s first two albums, Power of Inner Strength and Nemesis. Did you feel fortunate that you were able to be a part of Grip Inc. and to play with one of the greatest Metal drummers in the world, Dave Lombardo?
Jason: My time with Grip Inc. was killer. I definitely have memories that will last a lifetime. I have been fortunate to play with some really killer drummers. Dave is really fun to play with. He plays with such conviction and attack you can't help but be inspired. Waldemar really taught me a lot, shit, actually they all did. I was just a kid when I joined that band. I had already been in Heathen prior to Grip Inc. but we only did West Coast tours. With Grip Inc. it was obviously worldwide. Shit, our first tour was Europe with Motörhead. We never played live as a band until the first show of that tour! I still love blasting those CDs. The only thing that bums me out about listening to Grip Inc. now is Gus is no longer with us. That guy was so much fun and I know I'm not the only one that wishes he were still around.
Luxi: What about your short stint in Exhorder? You played a few shows with them in 2011 because they lost their bassist, Frankie Sparcello, on March 22nd 2011, so they had to get someone to fill in...
Jason: I've known those guys since 1992. I actually was asked to join the band back then because at the time Frankie wasn't able to commit to the band. I decided then it wasn't the time for me to join Exhorder. Then, towards the end of 2010, Vinnie called me and asked if I would consider playing with them. They had a temporary bass player that they weren't happy with and approached me about it. It was between Heathen tours so I agreed, flew down and jammed and it felt great. We did 2-3 shows and were in the process of booking a small tour when it all fell apart. They had a few new songs in the works for a new album. It would've been great if we could have continued. Exhorder is a band that never really got a fair shake in my opinion. It's like anyone that knows of them always brings up the Pantera thing and I, along with many, many others, don't agree with that comparison. Those guys were way more rough, raw and unharnessed and that's what I liked about them. I still talk to Jay pretty often and it was super cool to hang with Kyle on the boat and watch him sing for Trouble. He's so perfect for that band and I've always loved Trouble myself so it's even cooler for me to see.
Luxi: Alright, just one last question and I'll let you go. What can the Heathen fans expect from you guys this year? A new album, some more touring and what else?
Kragen: The new album is really the focus right now. After that, touring everywhere we can!
Luxi: Thank you both very much for your time. It was a pleasure to talk with both of you. Any closing comments perhaps?
Jason: Hey no problem, it was nice talking to you as well. The only closing comment I can think of is be patient for the new Heathen album as it's going to be worth the wait. And when on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise watch your rum intake; you'll get a nasty hangover!
|Other information about Heathen on this site|
|Review: Victims of Deception|
|Review: Breaking the Silence|
|Review: The Evolution of Chaos|
|Review: The Evolution of Chaos|
|Review: The Evolution of Chaos|
|Review: Empire of the Blind|
|Review: Empire of the Blind|
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