NO, this isn’t an interview with the dude from Disturbed!! He’s David White, vocalist for the newly-reformed, legendary Bay Area thrash band Heathen! David was nice enough to take time out of his day to catch up with us on what’s been going on as of late with the band.
I should also preface this interview with a bit on Heathen’s back story up until now: Basically, the band broke up in 1993 after putting out two very well-received albums (“Breaking the Silence” in 1987 and “Victims of Deception” in 1991), but decided to briefly reform for a one-off appearance at The Thrash of the Titans concert, a benefit concert for Chuck Billy (Testament) who was battling cancer at the time. Presumably, this reunion went over really well, and the band decided to officially reform, release some older previously-unfinished material, tour, and release a brand new album called “The Evolution of Chaos.” If you like thrash you should check it out, you definitely won’t be disappointed!
Phone interview was taken on April 2, 2010.
WULF: So I’m pretty ashamed to admit this, but (although) I’m pretty young, relatively speaking, I’ve been a metal maniac for years and I still had never checked out you guys until I got your CD in the mail for my radio show, and granted, I’m not that old, but I’m still pretty embarrassed (that I’ve never checked you guys out) given the band’s history. You’re probably sick of talking about this, but what was it like jamming with your former bandmates when the band reformed? Had you kept in contact with the others during the split?
DAVID: For the most part we all kept in touch. We hadn’t seen Yaz (Mike “Yaz” Jastremski), our bass player, in awhile. And he was actually out there working pretty hard, so when we were offered to the Thrash of the Titans show and were trying to get the band back together to do that we tried to get ahold of Yaz. He seemed to be (inaudible) into it but was drinking pretty heavily at that time. But Lee (Altus, guitar) and I kept in pretty good contact, and then Ira Black (guitar) who was in the band when we split back in ’93 was playing with Vicious Rumors at the time so we had called him to see if he wanted to do it because we had just planned on doing the Thrash of the Titans show (just) as like a one off thing. We didn’t know that we were going to continue. We were just trying to do a good thing for a friend.
WULF: So what was it like jamming with the former bandmates again and preparing for the show?
DAVID: It was like riding a bike.
WULF: Oh really?
DAVID: Yeah, pretty much. Yaz was pretty out of practice (though).
WULF: Everything just kind of fell back into place then?
DAVID: Yeah, totally.
WULF: That’s awesome, man. OK, so onto the new album– it’s killer, I was blown away. I didn’t realize that the band was pretty legendary stuff, I looked you guys up on the internet and was like “oh my gosh!” I this album will make a lot of critics’ and magazines’ top albums-of-the-year lists. I have a tough time choosing which song is my favorite, but I really love “Controlled by Chaos,” and “No Stone Unturned.” How has the reception been so far for “The Evolution of Chaos” on your end?
DAVID: It’s been really, really good as far as press and different people that I’ve talked to. We’re getting ready to go on tour at the end of this month and we’ll really see the impact on how it (goes over with the fans), with the whole dynamic with the free downloading with people going to those sites where they can just take the music for free definitely has chopped our record sales in half, you know?
WULF: Right, right. It’s definitely a plague, I would say, as far as (negatively affecting) sales. (As for the reception on my end) from what I’ve played on my show, people have liked it a lot. Anyway, which would you say is your personal favorite track on the album, or which track do you feel at least turned out the best?
DAVID: Well, I have two favorites. “No Stone Unturned” is my probably my most favorite, and then I also like “Fade Away”. I think all the songs are killer. I’m really happy with everything. I think because there’s so much going on, and there are so many different aspects to the songs, I’m pretty pleased.
WULF: Yeah, it’s really epic. With the whole album, I was like “holy shit!” Was there a track that you would say was more difficult or challenging than the others? I would guess “No Stone Unturned” just because it’s 11 minutes long, but what do you think?
DAVID: Hmmm…that’s a good question. Actually, I think “Controlled by Chaos” was one of the difficult ones. Kragen (Lum, guitar), actually (wrote) the music and lyrics for that song…but I wasn’t real sure about this (certain) melody, or how the lyrics went with the music and we laid that down and went over it but it wasn’t really there, and then it was a matter of, “OK…? Uhhhhh…”, you know?
And so I thought, “well, you know what? I need to redo it. I need to rewrite it.” And so right in the middle of recording I had to take it home and do homework, and (then) bring it back and throw ideas out (as to how it should be recorded) and move it around. And now it’s so fresh that I still listen to it today and wonder how it sounds.
You know what I mean? Because it’s just one of those songs that it feels so new that you have your doubts, like “is this good? Where we did that, was that cool?”
So it’s been really nice because a lot of people really like that song, and so I’m so happy that I rewrote it because I think that it’s better than it was.
WULF: Right. Yeah, it’s one of my favorite songs on the album. I know that it’s probably hard because I know musicians who find it really hard to look at their work objectively, especially when you record you do stuff over and over again, and so that’s really interesting. Anyway, you mentioned the lyrics…I was wondering, I wasn’t sure who wrote the lyrics. I’m assuming that you wrote the lyrics but I was wondering about that. Who wrote the lyrics? Also, I don’t want to ask like, “what’s the whole album mean?” sort of thing, because I think it’s up to the listener to interpret (the songs), but I wanted to know if you would say if it’s correct that the record is a concept album?
DAVID: Well I write pretty much most of the lyrics on all the records but I’m always open for help and if people have ideas and everything like that then that’s fine with me. Generally, everyone else is working on the music and they’re writing that kind of stuff, but Kragen wrote three songs for the record and he wrote lyrics for two (songs), and he’s the one who wrote lyrics to “Undone”, which I liked the lyrics to and I think the melody he wrote was really cool, so we definitely stuck with that. I worked with him a little bit in the studio (on it), but it was definitely a strong song. But everything except for “Undone” I wrote, and (for) “Bloodkult”, Jon Torres, our bass player, wrote the music for that, and he wrote lyrics because he had an idea and then Kragen tried to rewrite them and he needed some help. I took the basic idea for the chorus on “Bloodkvlt” and then I rewrote the whole song. We combined their ideas and mine so it made sense. But the other question was “is it a concept record?” You know, I don’t think it was set out to be, but I think there’s definitely a concept there, there’s definitely a soul because all the songs tie together in one way or another so it just sort of ended up (that way). It wasn’t our intention.
WULF: I see. Because (I got that impression while) reading the lyrics and looking at the album art, which I would describe as fantastically depressing.
But it’s really cool. I actually live with my parents right now while I’m going to school, and my mom saw the album cover and was like “that’s pretty depressing.”
And I was like, “yeah, but it’s also kind of awesome, too.”
DAVID: For the first couple albums I had a vision for the covers and have been able to relate that to (inaudible), but for this one I just really didn’t have one, and actually it was Kragen who came up with the title of the record from taking all the lyrics that I wrote. So we sent Travis Smith the artist some tracks and sent him all the lyrics, so that’s what happened. That’s what turned out. And it was kind of like “well…OK…?”
We were all blown away, we were like, “wow! That works!”
WULF: I’m pretty into post-apocalyptic shit and ruined cities and the evolution of man falling off (the thing), it was just really cool. But anyway, according to your Myspace you’re about to go on tour in Europe. You guys have obviously been around for awhile, not including when you guys were on hiatus, but I was wondering if you guys have ever toured or played in Europe before, and where would you say is your favorite place to play in Europe, or America or anywhere? Who has the craziest fans?
DAVID: (laughs) Well we’ve been to Europe several times. We just went to Japan for the first time back in September. But in Europe I think the craziest fans were in Glasgow, Scotland–
DAVID: Yeah, they were just unbelievable. And then in Barcelona, Spain, the fans were crazy. And then in Germany, Hamburg was really good but it was Berlin (that was really crazy). The first time we played there, there was this club and it was a three-story building, and they had the metal club downstairs and it held about 3000 people and it had like a jazz club on the second floor and a disco club up on the top floor.
That’s really weird! That’s awesome though.
DAVID: Yeah, but everyone comes in the same door!
WULF: Oh, cool! So it’s kind of a melting pot there, initially.
DAVID: Yeah, but they all go to their respective places, wherever their interest is. We were playing with Sepultura and we always had a barricade, and that this show we didn’t and it was a low stage, and it was very much like (the kind of place) where kids were flying off the stage and stage-diving and the whole bit.
WULF: I know that it might be kind of annoying for (bands when) kids are running around on stage but I prefer the lower stage and stuff like that just because generally it makes the show more crazy.
DAVID: I don’t get annoyed by it at all, just as long as (they don’t interfere with the music). Guitar players get annoyed if like their pedal board gets stepped on a chord gets pulled out or something like that but other than that we just feed off of it, we love it.
WULF: Well, especially for like, thrash, you know? That kind of crazy show definitely makes the show awesome. So anyway, just a couple more questions because I know you’re probably really busy, but are there any plans for a US tour coming up?
DAVID: Well, we’re trying right now. We’re trying to put something together, we’re just trying to get everybody’s availability…one of our guitar players actually plays in Exodus, and they’ve been pretty busy, I think he just got home from being out on the Megadeth tour. (inaudible) We’re also going to shoot the band portion for our video for “Dying Season”, and that will be the first time that we’ve gotten together (since making the new album), and then we’re gonna rehearse on Sunday for this European tour, and we’re looking for a good supporting role for a tour in the States. So we just want to be strategic…we definitely want to get out and play in the stages, but we want to make sure that we have a strong presence here, you know?
WULF: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s going to be awesome. A lot ofbands don’t make it through the Kansas City area. Bands come through here sometimes but it’s not like Chicago or something like that. Any chance you get if you want to come through here, that would be awesome.
DAVID: Well that would be great, but there’s got to be enough kids, a place to play, and the kids gotta support when the bands come around.
WULF: I know a lot of times it’s not up to the bands anyway about where they’re going and stuff.
DAVID: Yeah, the booking agencies and stuff they’re looking at spots where the clubs are saying, “yeah, we want to have Heathen here, and we want to make sure that they make enough money to come through and if we do have a fan base and if kids will want to come.
WULF: Definitely, man. OK, so my last question is has there been any plans to record another album or a DVD or anything like that?
DAVID: Well (with) the DVD stuff, we’ve got a whole bunch of stuff and we’re trying to put all that together, but we have a multi-album deal so there will definitely be another Heathen record, but right now we’re just concentrating on pushing (the new album) as much as possible and everybody’s sort of riding the calm right now.
WULF: OK! I was really blown away by this new album, I can’t wait to check out the older albums! Well that’s all the questions I have, Dave, thanks so much for talking to me, it’s been an honor and a great interview, so thank you.
DAVID: Cool, thanks (Wulf)!