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Interviews HeXeN

Interview with vocalist and bassist Andre Hartoonian

Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen

Date online: September 11, 2021


Top picture by James Lopez

HeXeN, a highly skilled thrash metal act from Los Angeles, California that formed in 2003, released a bunch of demos and a couple of full-lengths (State of Insurgency in 2008, and Being and Nothingness in 2012) before they decided to put the band on hold back in 2013. No one knew if there would appear new signs of life in the band after that, but the news that there will be reissues of their two albums with lots of extras gives us something we can look forward to. Maybe we will see the recording process start for their third studio album at some point, who knows (fingers crossed).

When we here at The Metal Crypt heard the news, we thought it would a nice opportunity to learn more about their plans, so we contacted the band's primus motor bassist and vocalist Andre Hartoonian, who was more than keen to share a lot of exciting news regarding HeXeN.

Read on to learn more about these uncompromising and very much underrated thrash warriors of the SoCal thrash scene who are still turning heads after all these years...

THE VIRUS YEARS

Hey there! How's life, considering the chaos of the past two years due to Covid-19?

Andre: HELL yeah buddy!! Exclusive!!!! Hello again old friend, monsieur Luxi (I went back and read the first interview I ever did with you over again, before HeXeN had even gotten signed, it was during the Gas Chamber demo release, what a trip) [*LOL*]. But man...! Wow, how much has the world changed since we last spoke, Luxi? I think it was around 2012 maybe, during our second album's (Being and Nothingness) release? Well, what can I say brother, although I have not really had any relatives pass away directly from Coronavirus. I surely do wish I could say that I had only been watching all the madness on the TV/Internet that went down in 2020 before finally calming down recently I guess after Biden got in and now that we have vaccines for it. But, for a couple end to end seasons there in 2020 [*LOL] Luxi, it was like our debut album's subject matter came to life here in America; what with all the civil unrest and riots and uncertainty regarding America's future. But ultimately, no, I unfortunately have had many things in my personal life negatively affected by this brave (or shall I say "grave"?) new world of ours. We wait for the complete and total END of all the remainder of the virus lockdowns to hopefully come sooner than later. For sake of argument Luxi, this "revival" of sorts for HeXeN could have potentially happened at any time in the last decade (since 2013, when the band saw a complete stop since we had first started, ~10 years prior), but, of course, fate/destiny had it wait until 2020, the same time as the arrival of the chaos of the coronavirus madness, the likes of which the world has never seen. When the country saw some of the worst disunity and disharmony to the point casual talks of everything from civil war becoming a possibility to the fracturing/fractioning off of America into different states/countries, this was when old HeXeN members met up again, when the entire world had hit such a state of disorder, almost apocalyptic-level precarious situation that it was in. To where some scientists are now saying that humankind being wiped out by some mother of all viruses might start becoming the more likely route of extinction replacing worldwide nuclear bomb detonation. All sounds rightttt up HeXeN's alley, right? Haha...! It's interesting, the way things work out.

When the virus hit the USA around March 2019, how did it change your own routines?

Andre: Well, the funny thing is, as much as it is officially called Covid-19, it wasn't really until about Feb/March 2020 that things became serious around here (or rather, that America stopped being complacent for a moment and finally admitted that there might just be a problem at hand that might need dealing with). It was as if we hadn't learned any lessons before from the American government's gross inaction and poor response to crises (just off the top of my head, Hurricane Katrina, anyone?) and I'm only going off of the statistics that show each country's response to Covid, the satisfaction rate of its citizens, and what effects it had (recovery/mortality rates, etc.) where the only thing that's more a disaster than the natural disasters or pandemic/virus itself, are the government's responses to them (or lack thereof, rather). So, of course, following that, all sorts of riots and civil unrest occurred, mass lay-offs and it's just been difficult ever since deadlines for all sorts of social welfare measures like "eviction postponement" ("moratorium"? I forget the official terms) ran out and so homelessness shot up, all sorts of celebrities began leaving California, it's crazy. And I'm not even going to begin to go into the whole other conspiracy aspect of it all (as much as that would be par for the course for me and HeXeN) regarding how the whole irrational and overreaching extended shutdowns were instated in order to accelerate putting Mom & Pop Shop independent brick-and-mortar stores out of business, obviously for the further growing of megacorporations (Amazon, etc.). As usual the major corporations had soaring profits during Covid when everyone else in society sank lower. I think they had a phrase for that...? Something about... The rich... Richer? Poorer? Something? Anyway... I forget, haha!! It's ridiculous how many stores and franchises went into extinction the last two years. This is an everyday reality now in some of the more destitute parts of the country where the effect of the lockdowns began showing up and when people began losing their jobs en masse. Although it began in 2019 on the other side of the world, I guess calling it "Covid-20" just doesn't have the same rhythm to it as "Covid-19", haha! And to answer your question directly, the way it personally changed my life is it put me back on the "looking for work" demographic of lay-offs because of the virus. Again, I am thankful that I was affected only in that way, and nothing worse, like losing family or friends to any of the various strain "variants" or "mutations."

REISSUES ARE COMING...

OK, let's move on and talk about more positive and uplifting matters for a change. I learned a while ago that you've been working on the reissues of HeXeN's past releases, which I found very cool. So, would you mind giving us as accurate information as possible about all the HeXeN material that these reissues will contain, on which label they will be released, and so forth?

Andre: Hahah... Totally, I know, right? We go on and on about all the available doom and gloom in this society nowadays but, I follow you! OK, to contrast with all of that unfortunate bad news, the answer is, yes, Luxi, IT IS TRUE! The amazing GOOD news is that the longgg-awaited HeXeN albums will FINALLY BE AVAILABLE AGAIN, ACROSS ALL PHYSICAL FORMATS! And because we aren't the kind of band to make our fans pay twice only to have the same thing again, the CD versions (the only physical format that the original albums were ever on, other than all the iTunes, Rhapsody, Spotify, etc. and Tidal nowadays for audiophiles) are going to come as dual-CDs for the reissue including a bonus disc FILLED TO CAPACITY with never-before-heard goodies from the HeXeN archives, like- demos, entire live sets, studio bass-and-drums-only tracks, all interesting stuff! Not to mention page after page of band member liner notes!! All thanks to the combined efforts of Tak Arayan, drummer Carlos Cruz and our publicist/mentor/band and spiritual confident Marco Barbieri and his company M-Theory Audio for bringing the reissues to fruition and making them possible. Not only will our two albums State of Insurgency (OSM Records, 2008) as well as Being and Nothingness (Pulverised Records, 2012) FINALLY get a re-release as an all-new dual-CD package, BUT they will now FINALLY see a vinyl release, ALONG WITH a cassette release as well!!! Again, the dual-CD jewel case sets will be comprised of the original untouched albums, PLUS a filled-to-capacity bonus CD full of goodies that the fans are really going to trip out over. We've even followed in the footsteps of reissues like Death's Human and are also going to be releasing studio bass and drum tracks with everything else, guitar/vocals/etc. muted or missing, live tracks, never-before-heard demos, etc. There will be all-new T-shirt designs along with a whole new merch line. It's going to be great! Most important of all though for this entire reissue project, Luxi, is that Carlos just recently dropped off test pressings of our two albums that I am supposed to listen to and give the "thumbs up greenlight" and that it's "good to go" for mass production according to our ears, basically. Now, as you must know, Luxi, if an album only had digital/CD releases, which means it was never mastered for vinyl, they have to re-EQ the bass levels in order to adhere to the physical limitations of the format. The whole phenomenon of how digital can handle much more bass/low end, that if NOT remastered, TOO much movement in the low end could make the needle literally skip and even sometimes be thrown over into a neighboring groove causing you to hear the song suddenly jump forward or backward 10 seconds and all that kind of stuff. Oh... My... God... I CANNOT STOP LISTENING TO THESE TEST PRESSINGS!!! I've heard my own band a MILLION times. These two albums have never, never sounded THIS good!!! Oh my God... I cannot wait! I can, right now, honestly say without being one of those "analog LP is always better than digital" blah blah blah hipster audiophile types, this is THEEE BEST I HAVE EVER HEARD HeXeN's two albums. Oh My God...!! I need to meet and shake the hand of whoever did our remastering for vinyl. Luxi, it fixed every last rough edge the two albums' production had. The vocals are smoothed out and are no longer ear-fatiguing. Not only is the bass guitar now somehow heard EVEN MORE clearly than it was before, but the kick drum is no longer buried, and you can now clearly HEAR the bass drum's attack AND boom as loud as the bass guitar was back on State of Insurgency. It's much more defined now (oh man, especially the fretless bass during "Desolate Horizons..." OMG!), so that both bass AND rhythm guitars/riffs are more clearly heard. Riffs aren't EVER buried anymore or underneath vocals. I can't stop listening to it. Hands down, I can already say that the CD version might have the WHOLE filled-to-capacity bonus CD with all the never-before-heard extras BUT the vinyl is going to sound the best! And I've been listening to records with a KEEN ear for years now, Luxi, I know what I am talking about. I've done allllllllll the research regarding production audio sound. I have milk crates full of vinyl myself and between me and a handful of friends who all collect and would get together for listening parties, between us we have an extensive collection of everything classic to present day, rock through metal through jazz, '60s to present (aside from all the classical music LPs). I've visited all the websites that display the "full dynamic range" of vinyl record releases, especially metal releases, AND grades them, color codes reissues from "green" meaning it has an extremely WIDE dynamic range, to "red" meaning this vinyl record release or reissue is basically going to sound identical to CD or MP3 and isn't worth buying. At least not for all the classic reasons people prefer vinyl record format (uncompressed lossless audio with such a dynamic range that the band sounds like they're IN THE ROOM!!).

Sorry to ramble on, but holy shit I cannot wait for people to get their hands on them, my friend. Boy, did this vinyl record project NOT disappoint! Did I mention EACH ALBUM is going to be a dual-LP, two-vinyl set? Four sides (A, B, C, and D) and only 2-3 tracks per side!! THAT'S WHY it sounds so good, and somehow sounds even better than the CD/MP3 original versions. Except the speed has to be set at 45 not 33⅓. God, I Love vinyl!!! I can't stop listening to it. No one knows MY material more closely than me, and I've never heard these two albums like this, so clearly and with so much more separation between the instruments than ever before. Remasters are always a gamble and I'm so beyond happy this turned out to be one of the rare occasions that are superior to the original. I can confidently say, Luxi, that when it comes to this whole entire vinyl record/reissue project, I am a happy camper! :D Can't wait for all the vinyl record connoisseur HeXeN fans to hear this shit!

One of the reasons you ended up reissuing all this stuff is that many people have either been ripped off by some lousy quality bootleg HeXeN stuff or they have been forced to pay a small fortune for originals. Do you know who has been behind all this bootleg stuff? Have these people already been warned by now about some serious consequences for their illegal bootlegging actions?

Andre: Honestly, Luxi, I mean I'm sure that has occurred randomly here and there, but we are talking about such a small amount. It's gotten blown out of proportion. We're not talking about thousands of cases of bootlegs or anyone making a fortune. We're more like talking about small-time crime, few and far between, maybe over a dozen maximum instances of someone either trying to pass off burned CD-Rs as the real thing and duped someone or happened to have a legit copy of State of Insurgency where they put it up AND someone apparently had the disposable cash to buy it for ridiculous prices like $100 or something. If only these people contacted me first via the Facebook, haha! I don't know how many times that could have happened. And believe-you-me, just as an experiment, since LITERALLY the last five copies of the State of Insurgency factory-sealed CD in all the world are with ME, I've tried testing this and put it up on eBay MYSELF for $100, just to see what possible rich person the throwaway cash. Guess what? It's been there now for over nine months and still no one has bought it. Soooo... Hmm... [*LOL*] whether the few millionaire HeXeN fans ALREADY have their CDs or whatever the situation is, I don't think the focus of these reissues should be the fact that it's being released as a "bootleg countermeasure", not at all. Rather, we're honest-to-goodness trying to make the damn things available again to people, that's all. That's what this whole thing is about. So, like I said even when we're talking about bootleg cases, we're talking about maybe a dozen or so, at maximum double that and at minimum I myself have only personally witnessed like 2-3 instances where I reached out to the sellers and saw them all taken down immediately following my sternly written emails/dms, haha! So, again, this entire project wasn't as much about trying to be countering bootlegging, that's kind of a side advantage, but in general it's been just to make HeXeN albums available again to everybody for purchase, for whoever is interested (and it has been proven so far that yes, many people ARE interested, haha!) However, not being the type of band to half-ass anything or to try passing off repackaging of the same thing (or another "greatest hits" or "fan favs" or "prime cuts" compilation with a few songs changed around and priced the same as a new studio album), THAT is why with EVERY single one of these releases, whichever format you grab (hopefully you eventually get 'em all... :D) you will be getting something new. Whether it comes in the form of a filled-to-capacity bonus disc or a brand-new crisp, clearer production/better sound on the vinyl record.

You mentioned that you are currently working on the layout for these reissues. Will the layouts for both LP and CD versions differ from each other, and if so, how much?

Andre: That's the cool thing, they won't just be carbon copies of each other. You see, Luxi, the idea pretty much is that the CDs are getting the reissuing. It's never been released on vinyl or cassette before so the vinyl and cassette will technically not be "reissues." They will obviously have the updated artwork that can be found in the CD booklet. So, because HeXeN would never want to just release the same exact thing over again, for someone to say "I already have the CD marked 2008, I don't need the same exact package only now marked 2021" that's why for the CD version we have completely updated and changed around the booklet art design/photo collages/liner notes and included a filled-to-capacity bonus disc FULL of never-before-heard goodies!! Fans are going to trip out when they finally hear some of the bonus tracks and demos of songs with different lyrics and stuff, haha! And as far as what's different on the vinyl record versions, well, just read the answer to question #3 again... ;)

Who will do the remastering work for these HeXeN releases?

Andre: The two albums have not had a thing touched in terms of studio mix for the CD/MP3 versions. It proved impossible because of software/plug-in being discontinued and otherwise unavailable from the studio Insurgency was recorded at, so I ultimately saw no point in doing so, Luxi. However, this, of course, came after I spent MONTHS trying to actually see if a proper remix could have been done. Believe me, it wasn't just some lazy decision like "ah just put the same thing again on the reissues, it's the easiest way." No, haha! I went to the ends of the earth, Luxi, to hunt down the studio stem files (vocals alone, guitars alone, bass alone, drums alone, leads/fx alone) in order to try to do a CORRECT, PROPER remix and found that it just wasn't possible for State of Insurgency. The studio we had recorded in no longer supported the file types that our saved session was in. It would turn into a tens of thousands of dollars project to try to track down (legally if it's available, illegally if it's not) all the plug-ins and software from 2008 so that our session files would open and look exactly like they did in 2008. Something like that was way, way beyond the scope of this project which again wasn't about anything other than making HeXeN music available again. The project wasn't about "updating" the sound of the albums. Again I will mention, because I don't think I mentioned it here enough, although "updating" the sound wasn't our goal, the vinyl record versions DID end up getting an "updated" sound because of the need for "vinyl mastering" that modern-day digital Pro Tools productions end up requiring for the vinyl format.

Are you planning to make any "have-it-all" bundles available for die-hard fans of the band as far as these reissues are concerned?

Andre: Why yes! Why wouldn't we?! The difficult and messed up part though is that whoever does have that kind of money may have to wait a bit, as the two albums ended up having to be released a little bit apart from each other, BUT, once both are out, OF COURSE!!! People can save on shipping and handling costs as well! ;) I mean how awesome is it to receive not just a little envelope with a CD in it, cool yeah, but when you get a "HEXEN BOX SET" ???? \m/ !!!!!!!!! :D

Do you have any idea how many copies of your first album, State of Insurgency, were released on Old School Metal Records back in 2008? What about your follow-up album, Being and Nothingness on Pulverised Records in 2012? Do you own the rights to those two masterpieces, by the way? Each album was only printed in the thousands, not more than 5,000 physical copies each as I do believe most of the reach has been via digital, naturally.

Yep, you called it, Luxi. Pretty much around those numbers. I'm sure they didn't sell off in a heartbeat. Most of our fans around the west side of the United States are fans from the active time of the band. However, by now there has become an even bigger chunk of international fans that all seem to have found the band after our inactive period, when HeXeN seemed to have taken on a bit of a...what do you call it...sort of "cult" following of "lost gems" in the subgenre, subcategory of the 2000s' "New Wave of American Thrash Metal" or "N.W.o.A.T.M." as it's called. We sold OK in the beginning and it took a little while to sell off everything from our initial presses. Since then, it looks like we may have sold off more than double what was originally pressed. You know how it is when you're dealing with a band of this size. It's like any other cult following of black or thrash or death or shit, even of traditional heavy metal/power metal, which has become even more underground than thrash by now, haha! You're typically dealing with numbers in the tens of thousands, if not just thousands. The accounting hasn't always been ON THE MARK EVERY SINGLE YEAR or anything. There was a lot of looking back and trying to consolidate years' worth of accounting when we all met up to clear the table for this new reissue partnership. I mean, sure, I'd love to ask for sheets of exact numbers, of how many exactly were sold and when, but I don't want to have to give them all that trouble just to come back to show me how many dozens were sold a certain quarter and how another certain quarter there were only like nine sold or whatever, that's all in the past now. Now that we're dealing with HeXeN having been around for nearly 20 years (come 2023, will be the 20th anniversary of the band's original founding by yours truly, Vahe Yamayan and Tak Arayan) and having been literally word-of-mouth by metalheads literally the world over, I think we are going to be dealing with different numbers when the reissues come out. And this time, it will have to be standard for me to ask for periodic reports of numbers. I mean it just cannot possibly be peanuts any longer even though we aren't a constantly live touring band. We have by now dozens of fans directly waiting for our reissues to come out to purchase, and hundreds more who are observing and saving up for it. Carlos' current band Warbringer has hundreds of thousands of hardcore fans if not millions of casual listeners/concert attendees. Fans had to wonder who this guy was and where he came from and there you go, another person acquainted with HeXeN BECAUSE of Warbringer! I can literally randomly talk to ANYBODY, find some random local power metal band and add them on Facebook as I have, and SURE ENOUGH, even THEY know who HeXeN is somehow. They say, "ya, course we heard of Hexen man, you guys have been around for a minute". It's strange. I don't know what exactly it is that got our name out so far when SO many others, much more active than us, didn't have that amount of being widely known. I've often jokingly commented that HeXeN is a band that it turns out EVERYONE secretly listens to but not everyone goes around FLAILING about how they sometimes put on HeXeN and zone out, go to another place mentally, haha! I don't know what it is. Maybe it's because the lyrics in HeXeN are REALLY blunt and honest and deep sometimes, whether it deals with esoteric meta-political issues or it deals with the depths of existence's difficulties, all subjects which are totally not socially friendly. Not things you'd usually talk about at a party unless you want people to think you are a negative person and not fun to be around, hahaha...!!! HeXeN's lyrics are the type of stuff you DON'T really talk about off the bat in public. It's more like stuff you talk about with someone who's a close person after you've known each other a while. It's more introspective than your typical throwaway metal lyrics that people usually belittle or ridicule (y'know, for being about nothing but death and violence and Satan and all this offensive stuff just for the sake of being "edgy" or whatever). But I mean SHIT!! I'd love for HeXeN to be everybody's best kept secret! Shit, that means that we have a special place in peoples' hearts, haha! Not just a "oh I throw this on when I'm at the gym sometimes, shit gets me PUMPED" one-dimensional experience like that. I'm glad to hear that HeXeN music hits people on a deeper level. BUT HEY I mean, whatever it is - of course, this is all absolutely MUSIC to MY ears!! Definitely NOT complaining...!! :)

When you signed a deal with Singaporean label Pulverised Records back in the day, were you all happy with all those things related to your contract?

Andre: I mean, it was fine, I guess? I don't think I personally spoke to them more than 3-4 times total. Of course, there is not much to say really. We signed a low-pressure one album deal, the advance covered maybe 20% or so of the production's costs (the rest came out of the band's pocket, of course). We delivered said album and a year or so later the album finally came out. We tried going as far as we could go with a new lineup post-Carlos, but it just felt like it was time for a break around 2013. Once Ronny left, that was the sign that I needed some time away myself. It had been 10 straight years of day-in day-out pushing HeXeN. I'm sure it was probably a disappointment to Pulverised, as I'm sure they hoped we'd remain active so that Being and Nothingness could have been a BEGINNING instead of the end, so that more copies would have been moved, even if we were out-of-contract. I'm sure they made their money back by now. We're talking about an investment of a few thousand? Not a huge deal at all.

THE DAY THE BAND CALLED IT QUITS

What killed the band in 2013? I guess there were a few different reasons so would you elaborate on the band's split for the readers of The Metal Crypt?

Andre: It came down to Carlos wanting to take things to the next level, hit the ground running on touring and signing contracts and being IN the industry full-on and the rest of HeXeN continuing to drag their feet on that. First and foremost, Ronny was in school, not in Junior College, but in a lockdown Master's Degree program at the University of Southern California USC, in a seriously expensive international business program. We were always in school, from high school to college to university, ALL throughout HeXeN's existence. We never spoke about what it would be if the big-time came knocking. We still lived with our parents and the deal in order to STAY being supported by them and being provided shelter for less rent than we could find ANYWHERE else in control-free, price-gouged Los Angeles, was that music remain a hobby and school and finding a "legitimate" career was number one. Carlos didn't go to school and he kept HIS number one objective to be a career musician. I, of course, went through school, but kind of played the game to see what would happen. If the entire band also sacrificed everything, then I would too. I'd also drop everything and leave home for what would end up a lifetime of nonstop touring and very little money compared to the hours of work put in. I think Tak Arayan was in the same boat, but we were weary of the lifestyle because we'd already seen what happened to others as they'd leave a typical 9-5 life to go on tour and then while you're ON tour everything's fine, everything's fun, it is what it is. You have nothing else in the world to worry about except your performance every night (well not really, but typically), but then they'd be back home, unemployed with nothing to do the whole rest of the year, always having to be hunting for income and whatever to fill their days up with instead of just having a steady income and no worry about the flow of money. You're always on the search for another job that you are just going to be quit by the next tour, so we thought we were just playing it smart. Maybe our lotto number would win one day, and we'd end up a band that totally makes enough to live comfortably off our music (even though that's still the game exactly, and nothing has changed, haha!), but no, Carlos wasn't going to sit around and remain local any longer. The three of us were more comfortable being like the Sadus dudes, sticking around Bay Area mostly, but, like Steve DiGiorgio, Carlos didn't put all this blood, sweat, and tears into becoming one of the best drummers around just to stay in the small time and barely leave California. It had been four consecutively successful years and we even toured nationally promoting State of Insurgency, and the time had come for us to finally book studio time for this massive, epic follow-up album we had been dreaming about and working on. So, of course, there started being talks about OK what's HeXeN going to DO with their next album? Instead of repeating State..., why not hop on a professional tour somewhere now that we were a legitimate band with two different record label signings and two full-length studio albums under our belt. It came down to when we were finally offered a tour, we would be the opening band (out of like 5, 6 on some nights) for a Death Angel tour (got to start somewhere), and Ronny at the time was $140,000 in debt and in the middle of his Master's program at USC. He even applied for yet another leave of absence in order for us to go on this Death Angel tour, and was rejected by his school. They said they could no longer offer him any more leaves of absence, as "this was unfair to newer students who would go through their entire programs in one shot and not cause all these roster and funding difficulties disappearing for semesters at a time and coming back, leave of absence-free" as every single seat was always being fought for. So, Ronny had to turn it down, so then we thought about maybe replacing Ronny and just getting a hired gun to do the tour (but then what about next time? And questions like that started). So then, Luxi, in the middle of us trying to decide what to do and looking around trying to find anyone that could cover this tour for us (and it is NOT easy to just find a replacement that can pick up and play Ronny Dorian's parts), our newly acquainted touring agent/promoter, wasn't looking for a band that would respond with "let me see what we can do and get back to you in a few weeks...", No, he was looking for a "FUCK YES!! SIGN US UP RIGHT NOW!!! DONE!" And so HeXeN was dropped. Not too long after that, was when Carlos called all of us over to a restaurant to talk, where he broke the news to the three of us. Warbringer had again asked him to join since they needed a drummer, and he had accepted and would be leaving on tour with them in a few weeks. Of course, I was devastated, because a part of me knew that I probably wouldn't be able to have THAT sort of line-up filled with musicians with THAT kind of fire in them probably ever again. Of course, Carlos had told us himself how many times, not just Warbringer but handfuls of bands had asked him time and again to join their group and he turned people down hoping he'd ride the wave with HeXeN. This was when he realized HeXeN would only hold him back. It's funny, all these people who said they loved and respected having HeXeN around didn't think that HeXeN might end up being no more if they stole our drummer? Oh well, they wouldn't care, everybody only cares about themselves and furthering their own career/ends. That's what sucks about having had such an exclusively unique lineup that created such charging, fast and technical music that is hard to play. You're going to have a hard time finding anybody else who would be able to just hop in and play their parts. And that's why it has been so hard finding replacements, because people who are already playing at the level that HeXeN songs require, are proficient players who already have their OWN bands or are session musicians who won't do shit for free. We're no longer in high school where there conveniently happens to be a slew of guitarists who had been in their bedrooms playing six hours a day for the past four years and by now are just READY for their chance for HeXeN to have snatched them up. Ronny was originally a case like that. We're past 30 now, even old shredders are now married with kids and don't have the time anymore. Hmm, maybe I SHOULD be looking in high schools for that virgin shredder, haha (not literally, just in terms of not having been in 10 different bands already). So yeah, that's what it was, Luxi. I mean it's funny, I suspect that even the organization that HeXeN and Warbringer were both a part of kind of played a role in helping along Carlos' decision and are kind of responsible for HeXeN losing its peak lineup in a sense. Regardless, HeXeN could have its "tr00", "cult" following but Carlos joined Warbringer and they went for it, internationally becoming the face of SoCal neo-thrash, and they accomplished it. I commend them every single day for that.

THIRD ALBUM – POSSIBILITY?

So, cool news HeXeN is back, and you are also working with new material for your third album. How much is done?

Andre: HELL yeah...!! HeXeN will be back and it's now or never. With the reissues coming out, I'm recruiting members for a new lineup for the third album. We're only going to have this one chance at reissuing our albums and I don't want to lose this chance at a third album WHILE there's still buzz. Even though our absence the past decade has shown that even when HeXeN goes away, HeXeN's never really gone because people still cherish it and listen to it from time to time. That's why 2021/2022 are going to be some great years for all our old witches and warlocks out there.

How would you describe the new material? I suppose the keyword "epic" isn't enough to describe it, am I right? ;o)

Andre: Actually, the second album had more of the grandiose "epic" scope, and of course, I'm trying to take things "back to basics", hahaha...!! How many times have we heard THAT huh? This time around we're "going back to our roots" blah blah, haha! But it's true, that's the angle for the third album. We tried the whole 7+ minute songs on the second album, but more people tend to prefer the first album's type of songs, therefore more of the first album's direction it is.

NEW LINEUP IS FORMING...

What can you tell us about the new lineup?

Andre: When I finally secure a steady one, Luxi, you'll be the first to know. I'm meeting and jamming with all kinds of guitarists as we speak. For some reason, it has NOT been easy, and again I attribute that to not being high school age anymore. Everyone's got bills and problems and lack of time. But at the moment, I am the only 100% member of HeXeN. Carlos already stated that he's way too busy to drum for yet ANOTHER band, and one that doesn't pay as much as the others at that. So, I basically need a whole new band. I need two rhythm/lead guitarists and a drummer. Yep, starting from scratch again but hey you have to start somewhere...

What's the main driving force that made you reform HeXeN again? Did you feel that you still had sort of some unfinished business?

Andre: 100%. And what made me reform HeXeN was Tak and Carlos contacting me and saying hey, let's reissue the albums, everyone keeps asking for it and I said OK! And we did, and now they will be coming out later this year and everyone's beyond stoked. But Carlos always made clear that he wasn't going to leave Warbringer, he's under contract, he was just trying to knock out a few birds with one stone, filling up some dead time he had from Warbringer because of Covid shutdowns and no tours going on. He also wanted to deliver to everyone who had ever come up to him and asked about HeXeN returning or reforming or AT LEAST reissuing their back catalogue so people could actually find our CDs again (buy the vinyl!!!! YOU WON'T REGRET IT!!) [*LOL*]. Even with them in the picture, I'd still need another guitarist, but I'm not sure how interested they were in the third album and all that so I'm not going to rely on them. The reissues were the focus and everything else was a bridge we'd cross when we'd get there. From the looks of it, I am better off just getting a steady drummer for HeXeN who ISN'T contracted elsewhere and won't have to disappear as soon as another Warbringer concert gets booked somewhere in the world. As he reminded me, it was not cheap to record their last album and they still owe the record labels a full tour to support it and their investment and all that jazz. So that's still on Carlos' horizon as soon as everything opens back up and they start playing again. Needless to say, I need someone more stable than that for HeXeN, because otherwise I'd end up having to last minute find a drummer. It's frustrating, everyone's in 3-4 bands nowadays. I want someone who will do nothing but be HEXEN'S DRUMMER. Same for the other two guys. Remind me, Luxi, in the next life when I start a band, to start it AS the guitarist/main songwriter, and to start with a blood brother who I'll always play with, that way, it's easy to find any old bass player and drummer and we always have the music ready anyway. It AIN'T easy when as the core of the band you're the bassist, and now I have to go and find not one but TWO?? Like a Jason Becker/Marty Friedman shred duo to join my two vacant guitarist spots in HeXeN? I mean, in WHAT universe would these two guys that I'm looking for NOT already have their own band?? So yeah, it's tough, Luxi, it's really tough...

ABOUT PLAYING LIVE AGAIN

Obviously you are personally very excited about all the things that are happening around the band at the moment. That makes me ask how much do you wait to play live again once these annoying Covid-19 restrictions allow that again?

Andre: Of course, this is what everyone is waiting for. People have gone crazy having to stay cooped up in their homes not being able to go out and live life normally for the past two years. The first show that I play, Luxi, it will be the first time in almost a decade that I have been on the stage behind a microphone. It's going to be a trip, definitely. I made it out alive and never got infected, hahah! I hope I don't THEN come down with catching coronavirus even after having gotten vaccinated (as I've heard is possible) at any of these future concerts, though, haha! That would suck! Then again, I'd have the antibodies. Then again, I've heard new mutations are coming that won't matter if you have Covid-19's antibodies. Ahhhhh...! Haha!!

2022 will hopefully be the year (fingers crossed) bands can play around the globe almost normally. How much hope for next year do you have that people might see HeXeN on stage again? What about playing at some festivals abroad (f.ex. in Europe)? Are they completely out of question or something you will definitely be working on?

Andre: I would say, Luxi, that me NOT working on attaining all of that is what's out of the question. So, yes, the answer is definitely... FUCK yes!!! HeXeN WILL fucking be on that stage again by 2022. I will do everything I can to reach that goal.

What other plans do you have regarding HeXeN?

Andre: Maybe some professional live touring? Like you said some world tours, some European festivals, maybe shooting another music video for a third album song. Basically continuing to gladly help carry the torch and continue to prove anyone wrong who says that metal music is dead or passé.

Thank you, Andre, very much for your precious time for this interview and in the very same breath, I want to wish you all the best with your future endeavors with the band. Any last thoughts that you may have in your mind to conclude this conversation properly enough?

Andre: It has been a long time, Luxi. And, while time can sometimes be unkind to some, it has been QUITE friendly to HeXeN. It is not just an honor, but the greatest compliment to that project of mine that we were indeed a legitimate and respected band. Artists are always their own worst critics and sometimes you just don't know, you know? That's where the warmth of the fans comes in. But yeah, Luxi, at the end of the day when all is said and done, we are SO unbelievably lucky when you think about it. In THESE times, where there is such a saturation of what seems like an unlimited number of bands, someone can kill themselves trying for years and still never be given a fair shake, or be overlooked, lumped in and lost in a "digital ocean" of endless bands, to quote Anders Björler from a recent At the Gates interview.

For HeXeN to still be remembered by anybody and still maintain the word-of-mouth following that HeXeN has had. To be recognized as a key player in the SoCal neo-thrash scene. I continue to be humbled and remind the fans that THEY keep it alive. Love u all...!

Thank you so much my friend, you were one of my FAVORITE supporters and interviewers back in the day, and still are. Metal brothers forever, my friend. Thank you for all the support and praise! Best regards to you and yours.

Onwards and upwards, Luxi... Onwards and upwards!

Other information about HeXeN on this site
Review: State of Insurgency
Review: Being and Nothingness
Interview with vocalist/bassist Andre Hartoonian on March 3, 2012 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)




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