The Bay Area has produced some incredible thrash metal bands over the years including the likes of Metallica and Exodus to name but a few.
One of the bands making waves in San Francisco right now is Hatchet. National Rock Review recently caught up with the band’s founding member Julz Ramos to talk about their latest album, their touring ambitions and what it was like to be out on the road with Doyle.
NRR: Thank you for taking the time to speak to us here at National Rock Review, we really appreciate it. So you recently released your third album Fear Beyond Lunacy. Could you tell us a little bit about the album and the inspiration behind it?
Ramos: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I guess it all stems from a lot of what we have going on now in our society. A lot of people are becoming social media slaves and just media slaves in general, which is kind of depicted on the cover. You are being told what you should be afraid of on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, on a monthly basis. Everybody just seems to buy into that, Americans especially.
It’s my slight little jab in a political way I guess about the state of things right now. Just you know how everybody’s just become addicted to media and in different ways. Then we don’t think for ourselves a lot of the time. So the songs all kind of dance around that concept.
NRR: The album has been described as your best to date. How did your approach to writing and recording this album differ to that of Dawn of the End?
Ramos: Well the songs from Dawn of the End, I had a lot more time to write those. A couple of them were written as early as right after our first album came out and that was 2008. So I had a lot more time on that one to kind of casually at my own leisure put the songs together and play them with the band and a lot of them were played live before we even recorded them for a couple of years actually.
With Fear Beyond Lunacy, it was more rushed I guess I would say. The whole process had to come together very quickly. I write the majority of the material, I pretty much set myself in writing mode when I was given a deadline of when we needed to more or less have it recorded for the campaign they wanted to release.
So I pretty much had to sit in my room like a hermit and kind of force myself to write and just come up with stuff and record none stop until it was a ready enough product. Then I showed it to the band members, and everybody put their spin on it and then we pretty much went right to the studio to record it. So yeah it was a much more compact session of time to get it written.
NRR: Could you tell us a little bit about the track, “Living In Extinction,” which I read about in a post on Facebook is about the Chernobyl disaster, is that correct?
Ramos: Yeah, absolutely. I hadn’t really no idea about the Chernobyl disaster until a couple of years ago. I saw the movie actually called Chernobyl Diaries just one day when I was looking at some random Netflix movies here, and I was just trying to figure out something to watch, and I ended up watching it.
I kind of became fascinated with the whole story behind it and how this abandoned town was just left and of course that leads to the imagination you know people that have survived become mutated from the radiation of the disaster and you know they become killers and stuff like that. I mean that was more what the movie was about.
I mean just the whole concept behind what actually happened there and the fact that there’s a town that’s been completely abandoned, you know hundreds of thousands of people evacuated just to me seemed like a really fast paced thrash song. Of course, a lot of thrash bands typically write about the nuclear warfare, or you know mushroom cloud explosion kind of thing. So it just kind of seemed fitting for me.
I don’t know, just all of the imagery of all of the photos I’ve seen of that just seem really striking, and it just seemed appropriate I guess.
NRR: You mentioned briefly there about the cover artwork which is by Andrej Bartulovic, which is quite interesting. How much involvement did you have in the concept for the artwork?
Ramos: You know I pretty much came up with the concept for it. I have a lot of good visuals in my mind, getting them on paper and drawn out and looking good is not my speciality. I worked with that artist before on a previous album cover, and he was really easy to work with.
So yeah, the idea I had again was to try to portray the concept behind the album in an image which to me again is somebody going insane watching what’s being continually pumped in front of our eyes on the television. What we are meant to be afraid of and all of these different things that are just there and we don’t know if they are true or not and eventually at least with this person they go insane with it.
Then there’s these other figures around the room that are kind of like demons and you know they are like our own personal demons, we are so addicted to these things, of course, I wanted to portray it in a more metal way, so it kind of came out that way. That was pretty much the concept behind it. Again great artist, love working with him, so yeah it was just an easy back and forth between me and him about concept and he was good about portraying that visually.
NRR: I believe this is your first album with the new band lineup as well. How did you come to meet the new guys because you’ve brought in Clayton Cagle on guitar, Kody Barba on bass, and Ben Smith on drums?
Ramos: Well Clayton and I’ve played alongside his other band. He has another band out here in the Bay Area in San Francisco called Apothesary. With another Hatchet lineup previous my band had played shows with his numerous times and I knew he was a good guitar player and our manager also helps guide their band a little bit, so there was kind of a connection that way. So that’s how that happened with him.
Ben he actually went on tour with this band called VX36, they supported Artillery and Onslaught, and they did a pretty extensive U.S. tour in 2014. He was one of the first drummers to write me when I posted about needing a drummer. You know I kind of figured it was a long shot and so did he because he had just started this tour and it was a two-month tour.
I got a bunch of responses, and I had people send in audition videos, a lot of them were just not good at all, I couldn’t believe people were like really that’s how you are going to audition. I mean some of the camera angles were like they didn’t even show them, one was flipped upside down you know just stuff like that, amateur stuff.
I actually had a runner-up that was really, really good but he was on the east coast, and I really wanted to limit having members being stretched across the country and I know bands do that all of the time, it just makes it harder. Especially with the drummer because putting the album together you know me and him were together the most to play the foundation and I just didn’t want to have that.
So it was just kind of a no-brainer, knowing that he had that extensive touring experience under his belt, and he also has another band in the Bay Area called Iron Assault. I’ve never played with them but I know of them, and I know they’ve been working hard, so both Clayton and Ben have that work ethic behind them and both of them have toured which is a big plus in my book to not have to go through the first tour with someone and seeing what it’s all about which is hard to do for people.
Kody he actually lives in Pennsylvania, which is across the states. He was actually trying out for Warbringer when they were looking for a bass player and he sent their manager who is also our manager a message. I guess they had just chosen their’s, and he said well I have this other band who I manage ‘Hatchet’ and they are looking for a bass player kind of behind the scenes, they haven’t really posted about it.
So he sent us a video which was good and it just kind of clicked into place from there and me talking to him you know he had some great experience behind him as well. Just in talking to him it seemed like the right choice even though I just said having members across the country is not the best thing to do but it worked, we did Skype sessions, video sessions to teach him the new songs and he came out here and laid down all the tracks and it worked great from there.
NRR: With the recent passing of Lemmy, I just wanted to ask what did Motorhead’s music mean to you as an artist?
Ramos: You know I actually have to say, I’m personally not the biggest fan of Motorhead’s most popular music at least. I like some of the more obscure stuff, and even some of their ballads believe it or not.
I guess what I take most from Motorhead is actually from Lemmy himself. Just the attitude that he gave off, the vibe, living the rockstar lifestyle you know pretty much everything that’s been said about him online and in person at his memorial. He just lived the life that he wanted to until the day he died, literally until the day he died you know and didn’t give a crap about anything else you know, and that is truly commendable in a way.
I mean it’s kind of hard to say I’m commending this person that did drugs and drank all their life but you know it’s the life they wanted to lead. They knew the consequences; they were like that’s how I’m going to live my life and I think that kind of not rockstar but just rock and roll attitude is just very commendable to just live it how you want it from beginning to end.
From my understandings, I never met him, but he was humble again up until the day he died. He hung out in the Rainbow a lot in L.A. in Hollywood and people would just come up to him and talk to him, and I know a lot of people personally that know him that way that would just show up and talk to him. From what I’ve heard from other people he seemed just like a great guy. I guess that’s what I take away from him is keep that spirit.
NRR: You were out on tour with Doyle at the end of last year I believe. What was that like?
Ramos: That was a little bit of a different one for us. You know there’s obviously that crossover of Misfit’s fans that like the Doyle era stuff. Of course, there’s that Metallica connection with them covering that and that kinda segues into thrash.
Overall it worked out good for us. In terms of the turnouts and stuff they weren’t like super great but they were decent, small to mid-size clubs. We actually made a decent amount of fans off that, and people that had never heard us. For a band like us still trying to really find our groove the kind of key is trying to find new fans every time we go out on tour. In terms of that, it was definitely a success.
Doyle’s a trippy guy. I’m sure you’ve seen photo’s of him; he’s ripped beyond belief and every day when we would show up at venues, you know he had a small crew loading in his stuff. He was always right there in the middle of the venue floor with his portable workout bench just like going at it every single day.
Not a partier at all, he’s a strict vegan. Very, very humble guy. When he talks to you, it’s kind of funny because he’s this big, huge guy and when he talks to you he’s super soft spoken and your like oh what a sweet guy (laughing). It was good overall, their crew and their band were great to us.
NRR: Do you have any plans to tour in Europe any time soon?
Ramos: We really are trying hard, we’ve had a few offers come our way but it’s been slightly out of reach. In terms of financial possibilities is usually the reason why we haven’t gone there yet. I’ve been reaching out to some bands directly actually as of lately.
We are trying to really work something out with some bands over there and see if we can tour with a band over there that has somewhat of a following. Then maybe do a swap and have them tour over here with us. Again it’s just finding the right touring; you know the right agents and making sure who we set something up with is going to be something that is doable financially first of all and it makes sense for the fans and everything.
So it’s just hard because we don’t have a huge footprint over there yet and a really good grasp on who to work with, but we’ve been wanting to for some time. Actually, one of my favourite bands is from the UK Xentrix. I would love to tour with those guys, but I don’t know I’m sure they have their own plans and stuff. That would be a band that would be amazing for me personally to tour with, but yes we are definitely open to it and searching.
NRR: So what else do Hatchet have in store for the rest of 2016?
Ramos: Well right now I just finished doing the last viewing on our music video that we are going to release here shortly. It’s looking pretty cool, so I’m hoping that will generate some more interest and be seen by a lot more people.
Besides that we are basically just open for touring man, we’ve got a lot of stuff in the works. We’ve got a U.S. agent that’s been submitting us like crazy and we’re just in that playing field where there’s a lot of bands at this level or slightly above that are all fighting for a piece of that pie to get on those key tours, so we are just kind of in there in that limbo.
We hope to tour as much as we can basically, play as much as we can and sell this album as much as possible on the road, stay on the road as much as possible at least in the States. Again we want to get over to Europe, and we are trying to reach out to some folks in the South America region as well. So if things line up, it could be a really busy year, and that’s ultimately what we hope for.
NRR: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us at National Rock Review, we really appreciate it. We look forward to hearing more from you guys this year and hopefully some day we will get to see you in Europe.
Ramos: That would be awesome, I would love to make it over there. Thank you for having me it’s always a pleasure to talk to anyone that wants to talk to me.