Interview with vocalist/bassist Andre Hartoonian
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 3, 2012
"... an enviable dose of amazing solo work, killer shredding, splendid riff madness, great bass lines, lots of thought out variety in song structures - and overall a kickass package of truly skilfully played Thrash Metal that doesn´t pale in comparison to some of the most classic albums of the whole Thrash genre..."
Those were just a few lines that I wrote when I got to hear those LA-based thrashers HeXeN's excellent second album titled "State of Insurgency" for the first time, back in 2008. Years have rapidly passed by and HeXeN are ready to unleash their third album, which will be released on Singaporean Pulverised Records (also home of such acts as Whiplash, Impiety, Interment, Master and many others). HeXeN's new album, "Being and Nothingness", conceptually deals with highly incorporeal philosophical subjects such as chaos in the universe, absurdity in our ambiguous existence, not to mention more down-to-earth familiar subjects such as the worrisome proliferation of technology and automation superimposed on us from mega-corporations in everyday life, and resistance from the corruption broadcasted widely by the media. Sounds interesting? You bet it does, but let the band's vocalist and bassist Andre Hartoonian breathe some more details into the following interview that reveals, among other things, the original concept for the band's new album...
Luxi: How's it going Andre? Must feel pretty good that HeXeN's second album titled "Being and Nothingness" is finally done and ready to be unleashed through Singaporean Pulverised Records?
Andre: What's up my friend Luxi!!! Let me start off by saying I feel like I know you already yet still haven't met you man (for those who don't know I've been interviewed by Luxi for years every time there was another milestone in HeXeN's career). Yeah man, what can I say it's been a lifetime trying to get this thing out and we are more stoked than ever, we worked really long and hard to set fire to the phenomenon many bands go through which is a lackluster follow-up album compared to the debut that put their name out there.
Luxi: Why on earth did it take 4 long years between your debut album, "State of Insurgency" and your follow-up record, "Being and Nothingness"? Must be something to do with the label change and some line-up hassles that you have had over these 4 years, ever since your debut album came out on Old School Metal Records, correct?
Andre: Correct, well... life happened and everything that's included in that. As I will probably say in many interviews from here on out since this is the first one of the new era, we had the concepts and 'some' material for "B&N" written since before the debut came out... it definitely cost the band a great many things from labels to members to money to time to finally complete. I guess rightfully so, if you want to make an omelet you gotta crack a few eggs... and I won't go out and overhype the album and call it a ‘universal' magnum opus but it's definitely HeXeN's thus far.
Luxi: Was your deal with Old School Metal Records for just one album, or did you have an album option left for them, which you didn't want to use for some reason or the other?
Andre: It did include an option if both parties agree but we definitely needed something new. The new album is going to be very dark and intellectually on a higher plane than the first debut. "State" was more in line with the original label's Punk/Crossover tongue-in-cheek thematic. Pulverised bands tend to be more of the Death/Black type and we signed on for only one album once again.
Luxi: Your new guitarist Artak Tavaratsyan, was eventually found for the second guitar's position, replacing James Lopez. Tak has previously played in the line-ups of both Exmortus and Rattlehead, so he's got some experience in playing in bands. Anyways, I am kind of curious to know does his playing style differ any drastically from the guitar playing style of your previous guitarist James? What has he brought to HeXeN in your opinion?
Andre: 'Tak', as we call him was actually a founding member of HeXeN, but went to pursue different projects of the initial Los Angeles scene that was in an uprising 2004-2007. He returned to bring in a new style of lead playing into the band to complement Ronny's. His music interests are vast and colorful, and he has some really interesting ideas songwriting-wise that we will see in the future.
Luxi: You used a different studio for the recordings of "Being and Nothingness" (Vivid Tone Recording Studio) but also a different producer (Rich Bruce) for this new album of yours. Your debut album was produced by Dave Swanson and it was recorded, mixed and mastered at LoveJuice Laboratories in Riverside, CA. Why did you decide to record this new album at Vivid Tone and use Rich's skills for the production this time? Was it basically a question of trying something different, and getting some new experiences regarding working at a studio environment?
Andre: Well we needed the most professional studio for the budget that we had, and right there in perfect accommodation was Rich Bruce and his studio Vivid Tone. Rich Bruce is a producer that will GO TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH for his bands. We entered his studio with a project that he cared about and was invested in as he does with all his clients, and with his relentless effort and studio know-how, we got a top-notch million dollar Hollywood recording studio sound for a micro-fraction of the price. I recommend him and Vivid Tone for anyone with a full production or even demo project in mind. His studio was homey, high-end, and we just had a blast working with him man. We will definitely go there again.
Luxi: Could you tell what the main differences between your debut and this new record of yours song-wise, from your point of view? How about the production on "Being and Nothingness"; were there some specific details that you wanted to pay more attention to this time, compared to the previous production sessions of your debut album?
Andre: All I will say and let time tell is that everything is going to be a day and night's difference compared to "State of Insurgency". That's been the reaction so far from close friends and stuff that have heard it.
Luxi: What could you tell about the album title itself, "Being and Nothingness". Is there some sort of a concept behind this album title?
Andre: It is borrowed from French Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre of his most notable book. There are many concepts in the lyrics of the new album that deal with highly incorporeal philosophical subjects such as chaos in the universe, absurdity in our ambiguous existence, not to mention more down-to-earth familiar subjects such as the worrisome proliferation of technology and automation superimposed on us from mega-corporations in everyday life, and resistance from the corruption broadcasted widely from the media.
Luxi: There are nine songs on "Being and Nothingness" but what actually caught my immediate attention is the last, epic track on the record, named "Nocturne", which has been sliced into eight smaller sections. Would you enlighten us a bit more as to what made you start working with such an epic song? I am certain this song did offer many challenges for you while it was in the making, am I right?
Andre: Quite so, but while no one would ever imagine (since the music all flows with the same mood retention) that it contains an amalgam of pieces written sometimes 5-6 years apart... between different people... but there it finally is... our long awaited epic long track. It is something we've always wanted to do, and since the lyrics deal with very pensive morbid topics, the music definitely followed in its complexity and darkness, hence a fitting title... inspired by the night. While it is going to be one 14+ minute track, the booklet will contain the time ques in which the next section begins and its corresponding lyrics.
Luxi: Do you believe you might be open for such type of challenges in the future too, putting together this lengthy and epic song that naturally challenge listeners as well?
Andre: Yes it will definitely take some time to grow on the listener, and we hope to turn some progressive fans into Thrash fans and some thrash fans into enjoying the progressive qualities of it but by no means is this the permanent direction HeXeN will be taking in the future. We have always been a straight punch to the face Thrash band at heart and always will be, even though we at times kick down the walls of the limits of the genre... only to return back to our roots where the anger and aggression dwells.
Luxi: My next question may be a tough one but I was just wondering how do you keep things challenging for yourself whenever you try to learn something new and special as far as your personal songwriting process is concerned? Are you into listening to any Progressive Rock bands from the 70's-80's period that puts your own creative juices flowing, for example?
Andre: Yes, summing up all the music every HeXeN member has been into, I can say we've had characters diverse enough that we've covered every single musical genre. We are just fans of music in general, so that always helps incorporating in different flavors into the music we write... though at other times we purposefully intend on tossing out any and all colors from our painting palette and stick to black, red, and gun metal grey.
Luxi: Is there any specific musical direction where you try to develop this band all the time, and try to make HeXeN known for one signature and distinct style for playing Metal music?
Andre: Not really, a lot of bands are confined by a certain genre and that even translates into limits in their riffing, time signatures, and arrangements. Though we have always written music that we've wanted to play and we know fans would like to hear, somehow I've always gotten comments from friends or girlfriends or whatnot that the reason they like the band is for that specific reason, that no matter what we write it always has that "HeXeN sound"... that's pretty cool I guess, even if it comes unintentionally.
Luxi: The cover artwork for "Being and Nothingness" was done by Kristian 'Necrolord' Wåhlin this time, a well-known artist who has done several album covers for such names as King Diamond, Emperor, Dissection and many others. How did you get in touch with him in the first place, and was it easy to get the kind of painting from him that you had originally made sketched in your own heads?
Andre: Just as how during the time of "State of Insurgency" we just knew that Repka was the man for the job... we knew that Necrolord would REALLY put the icing on the cake for our album, imagery-wise. We were suggested to work with others that would deliver a satisfactory product for much cheaper and easier than Wahlin would... but we were insistent because MAN do we love the hand-brushed melancholy of Kristian's art. Almost every artist nowadays adds a digital element to their art which is so easy to do, but I tell you Luxi I still get chills when I just listen to our album (under control substances XD) and look at the cover Necrolord made for us, it was the perfect choice and we were so glad he was available and willing, so we got the label to get in contact with him. I provided the illustration concept to him as I did to Repka for "State", and it came alive in sublime blues, violets, and black.
Luxi: As you said already, Ed Repka was behind the cover artwork for your debut album, "State of Insurgency". Was his name also on your sort of 'nominee' list when you were pondering the cover artwork artist for "Being and Nothingness"?
Andre: Not at all. As every aspect of our second album has been taken to the next level, so too must the visuals follow.
Luxi: Once "Being and Nothingness" is out and reaches record stores worldwide, I suppose the best way to promote it, is getting concerts booked for HeXeN and playing around as much as possible. What are your touring plans for 2012, if you have any planned yet?
Andre: Haven't booked any yet but we definitely must go on a U.S. tour during summer, and hopefully we will be offered to play some festivals in Europe, where I can finally come and have a beer with you Luxi (I'd be delighted to share a few with you Andre too – Luxi)!!!
Luxi: How much faith have you put into Calvin and Pulverised Records that they could be this important piece of the puzzle for HeXeN that will raise your band on the next level of popularity and success, by their hard promotional efforts for you?
Andre: Ha-ha, well... a decent amount of faith I suppose you can say. I hope Calvin will really give this album the promotional campaign it deserves and have Metal heads the world over know about it. I do not have any doubts.
Luxi: As far as I know, HeXeN have played lots of shows in the States in the past but never outside of your home ground, so how do you see your opportunity to play abroad changing in the coming months after your second album has reached the right ears?
Andre: Yes, we have requests from South America, Canada, UK, and Europe to play!
Luxi: So, what do you hope you'd have achieved with HeXeN within the next 2-3 years or so? Do you have some personal ultimate goals that you are truly fighting for, to make your dreams come true for you and HeXeN?
Andre: We hope that the next album won't have to take nearly as much time as it took for this one. We are a band that fully utilizes our underground status which provides us ample time to perfect our material and never release a single bad album. When HeXeN is over one day, I will pride myself in knowing that under my watch... my band will never release a single bad album. This so far has meant very large delays until product has been put on the market, but once it was put, not a single soul gave it dismal ratings. I have confidence this trend will continue for "Being and Nothingness", and all our albums thereafter.
Luxi: I think that's it. Hope you find my questions worth answering and let's hope HeXeN will get all the recognition that they deserve with your new album "Being and Nothingness". Thanks a lot for your time Andre and all the best with the band. Any closing comments, perhaps?
Andre: Just to tell all the HeXeN fans to sit tight for this MONSTER of an album we are about to unleash onto you. Other than that, I just hope now that everyone knows who we are (but knows that we aren't some huge name that have more money than they can spend) will support us by buying our merch and CDs instead of downloading and all that... if you like the band, keep ‘em in business! You know? Get yourself shirts and patches and who on this earth doesn't like to read CD booklet liner notes on the toilet!! That's such a precious part of life sacrificed with mp3s. Ha-ha ‘til next time Luxi, thanks.
|Other information about HeXeN on this site|
|Review: State of Insurgency|
|Review: Being and Nothingness|
|Interview with vocalist and bassist Andre Hartoonian on September 11, 2021 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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