Interview with guitarist Dan Watson
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: October 9, 2017
The California Metal scene back in the early eighties spawned many new Metal bands trying to make a name for themselves with their DYI-demos and wild and crazy live shows. One of those bands started as Paradox but soon changed their name to Hexx. A year later they were snapped up by Shrapnel Records, home to such names as Chastain, Exciter, Wild Dogs, Hawaii and many more. Hexx's debut album, No Escape was released in 1984. Unfortunately, the album didn't get as much attention as it deserved. That same year the band added guitar player Clint Bower to provide more firepower.
In 1986 the band had changed singers from Dennis Manzo to Dan Bryant and found a new home on Roadrunner Records (one of the leading record companies at the time) and put out the band's follow-up album, Under the Spell. It was much better received due to better promotion.
In the later half of the eighties Hexx went through a musical transformation with Clint Bower taking over vocal duties while the band turned into a Thrash and Death Metal hybrid, completely forgetting their Heavy/Power Metal roots. The EP Guest for Sanity (released on Under One Flag in 1988) and the EP Watery Graves (released on Wild Rags in 1990) got the band some attention from extreme underground fans. It was a successful change despite how radically different Hexx sounded from their first two albums. Hexx's swan song Morbid Reality, which was released during the hot Death Metal boom by Century Media Records in 1991, kept the band going until it was put to rest at some point in 1995.
As times have proven, there are reunions happening all the time. Hexx was pulled out of its half-open grave after almost twenty years to perform at the Keep It True festival in Germany and a new era had started.
Guitarist Dan Watson, who's the only original member left (going back to the Paradox days), wanted to share with The Metal Crypt some of the reasons behind the band's reunion, the band's comeback album Wrath of the Tyrant and one funny episode that happened at one of the band's gigs back in 1984.
Luxi: Let's take it easy for starters; how's it going Dan?
Dan: It's going very well Luxi! Thank you for your time and the opportunity to do this interview!
SHOCKING HEXX BACK TO LIFE
Luxi: Can you tell the readers of The Metal Crypt what triggered you to bring Hexx back in 2013? Was playing at the Keep It True Festival in 2013 a real turning point to gather the troops and start making new music?
Dan: Yes, getting the offer to play at the KIT festival was the catalyst for bringing Hexx back from its smoldering grave for sure! That shocked the band back to life.
Luxi: Outsider help can be very important. If not for Laurent Ramadier and Oliver Weinsheimer and their undying support for Hexx, do you believe this reunion might not have happened?
Dan: Yeah, if not for those two guys, Hexx would still be slumbering and rotting in its grave instead of getting ready to release our comeback album. They are the reason you have Hexx back in the game today! If you are a fan of Hexx be sure to thank those guys, they deserve all the credit!
Luxi: You are the only original member left in Hexx who has been in the band since the beginning. What have been some memorable ups and downs during the band's history?
Dan: Oh man, I can tell you it has been a real rollercoaster ride of triumph and defeat right from the very beginning. It seemed like every album was a miracle that it ever got made and released. Luxi, I have written out in detail the entire history of Hexx including many funny stories and the details of how each record came to be. It is included as a 50-page booklet that comes with our Metal Blade 30th anniversary Under the Spell CD/DVD box set. It is also available to read for free online in the history section on the official Hexx website: www.hexxmetal.com. I welcome your readers to check it out. The whole story of the band is there for anyone who wants to take the time to read it.
Luxi: Talking about Hexx in 2017, how does the chemistry you have today compare to the past?
Dan: The chemistry of the band has never been greater! Not to put down the contributions from any of the past members but this current line-up is working really well. I am very happy with it. Each of the other guys from the band's past brought something special to the table. Dennis Manzo, Clint Bower, Dan Bryant, Dave Schmidt and Bill Peterson all contributed to the sound and direction of Hexx and the band's unusual history.
Luxi: What have the "newest guns", Bobbie Wright and Eddy Vega, brought to the band?
Dan: It's hard to believe but Eddy and Bobbie have been with the band for two years now and it has really worked out great. Both guys have had a fantastic impact on the band. Bob's awesome guitar playing and Eddy's amazing vocal style really help define the band's sound as is very evident when you listen to the blistering tracks from our comeback album Wrath of the Reaper.
Luxi: Bobbie Wright is a seasoned musician, also playing in the legendary Heavy Metal band Brocas Helm. Is it easy for him to share time between Hexx and Brocas Helm? Is Brocas Helm a less active band for him nowadays?
Dan: Yeah, from what Bob has told me the bass player and drummer don't get along too well so they only get together once in a while, to perform at festivals if there is enough money involved.
THE REAPER'S BACK
Luxi: Hexx's comeback album is titled Wrath of the Reaper and you have returned to your original Heavy Metal sound of No Escape and Under the Spell. Why didn't you continue on the Thrash/Death Metal route that the band chose on your previous album, Morbid Reality?
Dan: The promoters at the KIT festival were only interested in having the band perform songs from our first two Power Metal albums, No Escape and Under the Spell. We got the message from the promoters and from the fans that they did not really care as much for the band's technical Speed/Thrash/Death Metal releases so we figured we better stick to the older stuff.
Luxi: To me Wrath of the Reaper represents what I loved about Hexx back in the day; true, rootsy, dangerous and even mean Heavy Metal, which many bands played in the 80s. I suppose the 80s is very important and meaningful to you personally and some magic truly did happen during that period of Heavy Metal...
Dan: Oh yeah, for sure it was a magical time for Heavy Metal music, especially for us. We were so young and full of hope for success because we could see our friend Kirk Hammett having such great success with Metallica and we thought for sure if he could do it so could we! Ha! Boy, did we turn out to be wrong...
Luxi: One of my favorite songs off Wrath of the Reaper is "Swimming the Witch", which is an eerie, hypnotic and dark song with great lyrics. You did this song together with Bill Peterson, who left Hexx in 2014. Would you kindly tell us more about this song?
Dan: Sure, Bill Peterson wrote the main riff for that song way back in 1983 or 84 or something. We were attempting to come up with something that sounded like Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow. It was originally going to be used in a song we had going with Dennis Manzo at that time called "Desire." We never got around to recording or using that song so I thought it would be cool to use the riff again. I composed what is now known as "Swimming the Witch" around that riff. Then when it came time to record the new album I invited Bill to play the bass on the track and also invited John Marshall to come up with a new intro for it. Both of those guys are total pros and I think that song came out great!
Luxi: Another favorite of mine is a song titled "A Slave in Hell", which is somewhat Maiden-esque with all those catchy melody lines. You wrote both the music and lyrics so my question is does this song reflect something in real life?
Dan: On the song "A Slave in Hell" I was playing around with the lyrics in such a way as to provoke and conjure up more of a mood and atmosphere than just flat out try and tell a story or make a statement. I wanted the listener to use their imagination and create in their own minds what the lyrics mean to them. The song is loosely based around the idea that if there is a place you might call Hell and if you were an evil person in life and you went around hurting innocent people or creatures you might have to spend some time there. And if you were a real asshole there might be a place there where the flames might burn just a little bit hotter for you. It would be really bad to have to "go to Hell" so to speak, but it could be so much worse to have to spend eternity as "A Slave in Hell" instead.
Luxi: What about the album cover's reaper? Has Mr. Reaper come back with a storming vengeance, symbolizing nothing can stop Hexx now that you have returned to the biz, hopefully for a long time?
Dan: Ha! Yes! Very good! You caught that. I guess you could say that Hexx has cheated the Grim Reaper to rise from our grave and walk the earth once again! And that by doing so have indeed evoked the "wrath of the Reaper". Of course, now he is really mad that he has to chase after us again!
Luxi: What kind of plans does the band have for the future as far as live appearances are concerned?
Dan: Well Luxi, as of this moment we have just a few local SF Bay Area shows coming up. We do not have any tour support and no invitations yet to play in Europe so we will just be waiting to see how well this comeback record does for us. If this record is not a success then I'm afraid that our friend the Grim Reaper might indeed catch up with us again and send us back to our grave. I sure hope not though because we are enjoying our time above ground again!
Luxi: Is it crucial for the band to play live? Undoubtedly working at some studio can be rewarding but playing in front of your fans is the thing that keeps the band alive and kicking, right?
Dan: Yes, you are so right. We love to write and record but the whole purpose is to bring our songs to the people that like and can understand them. To stand before them, connect with them and drive them into a frenzy! That's the best part of being a musician and playing in a band like Hexx.
BURNING FOR HEXX
Luxi: Do you have any cool and/or crazy stories to tell about some of the fanatical Hexx fans that have crossed your path over the years?
Dan: Oh yeah for sure! One of the funniest things that ever happened to us was right after we recorded and released our debut album, No Escape. This little story goes back to when Manzo was still performing with the band back in late 1984. We were doing a show at the Keystone Berkeley on University Ave one night. In those days Dave had a little low-tech pyro trick he did at the end of our set. He would soak two old sweat socks in gasoline or something and tie them each around a pair of old drum sticks. At the end of our last song we would have a long dramatic pause where we would all hold a power chord for a minute or two. During this time, Dave would take the opportunity to light his drumsticks on fire and then hit all his cymbals furiously! Well, for some reason on this night, one of those flaming, stinky old sweat socks came flying off his drumstick and went right into the first row of the crowd! It landed right on top of this dude's head that was at the front of the stage and burst his hair and whole head on fire!! We could not believe what had just happened.
The people around him started hitting him about the head to extinguish the flames and he quickly disappeared under the crowd. After the show we were all back stage in our dressing room drinking ice cold beer and talking about what had just happened when the guy who we caught on fire was escorted into our dressing room by the Keystone security. "This guy has something he wants to say to the guys in Hexx", said the security guard. I thought for sure he was going to start telling us how his father was going to sue us all and the night club or something like that. Instead he had in his hand a flyer from the show and what was left of Dave's old burnt up sweat sock.
This poor guy had a big bald spot burned on the top of his head and had obviously suffered some serious burns to the top of his scalp. He held up his flyer from the show and asked us if we would all sign it. We quickly got him a cold beer and he went on to say what a great show we had put on and how it was the greatest night of his life because he got to "Burn for Hexx" as he put it. We just could not get over it, but we were very relieved he did not try and bring legal action against the band or the club. Needless to say, that was the last time Dave Schmidt did his famous flaming drumsticks trick.
Luxi: Last question and we are done, what are you hoping to achieve in 2018 with Hexx? Some nice slots at some European festivals (Party San, Headbangers Open Air, Hellfest, Tuska, etc.), etc. maybe?
Dan: Yeah that would be great to be able to perform in Europe again, especially with the strong line-up the band has now. I feel like we never really got the chance to give the fans a really good performance when we played at the KIT and the HOA festivals. We would love the chance to show what the band has evolved into and be able to give them the performance from Hexx that they deserve.
Luxi: Thank you Dan for your time. I wish you all the best with the band. The last comments are yours...
Dan: Thank you Luxi for this interview and for helping us spread the word about our comeback album!
I would also just like to thank all the fans of Heavy Metal for supporting your favorite bands and helping keep this form of music alive.
All the best,
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