Interview: Jeremy Wagner (BROKEN HOPE)

Interview: Jeremy Wagner (BROKEN HOPE)

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How are you doing today?

I’m good, and you?

Pretty good, pretty good. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

No problem.

So, you guys are about to release your seventh studio album, Mutilated and Assimilated, which is coming out in just a couple of weeks. Do you want to talk about the new album a little bit, and then how your songwriting and recording process has changed over the years?

Sure. Well, the writing process is kind of traditional, and then … kind of not. I’ll explain. Traditionally, over the course of seven studio albums, I typically write a lot of the music for the band for each album by myself, usually at home with either a practice amp or in our home studio, Broken Hope headquarters. Basically everything is under the same roof at my house. I come up with a riff or a number of riffs that I put together for a song. When I’m pretty happy with what I’ve written, I usually bring it to our drummer, and then the two of us hammer it out song by song. That’s always been the process. With the new album, I did a couple of songs that way, but I wrote a lot of the music on the spot with our drummer in our rehearsal studio. So, that was a little bit different. It was really cool, and very inspiring, I would say. Our singer, Damian Leski, he also plays guitar. He sings and plays guitar in a band called Gorgasm. He wrote some really great music for the new album as well, and he did the process sort of like the way we just discussed. I think he wrote some riffs at home, but wrote the majority of the stuff with Mike in the rehearsal studio. So, a little bit of an old process, little bit of a new process. All very fun and cool to do.

Then, with the recording, we actually went back to kind of the way we wrote music and did stuff in the 1990’s. For the first five albums, we had the luxury of basically having our own recording studio, thanks in part to our old guitar player, Brian Griffin. Back then, he engineered and co-produced our albums, from basically Swamped In Gore through Grotesque Blessings. And it was really nice having our own studio, and having Brian at the helm. With our last album, Omen of Disease, we didn’t have Brian, and we didn’t have our own recording studio at the time. We recorded at three different studios, and kinda jumped around a lot. So, this time, between the last album and this one, I built a new home recording studio. I couldn’t have done it without Scott Creekmore; he’s the guy who engineered and produced our new album. He helped me build that studio from the bottom up. And it was great, because we were back to, like the old days, recording without having a clock running and worrying about paying by the hour or anything. We just took our time, relaxed. And I think that really helped make the best album that we could. So, anyway, that’s a little bit of the writing process and recording process that went into making Mutilated and Assimilated.

You guys have managed to ride out quite a few ups and downs over the years. You took a seven or eight year hiatus, but you just made it past that 30-year mark, which is a pretty big accomplishment. So, congrats on that. What are your thoughts on both the metal scene and Broken Hope, then and now. What’s changed?

Well, when we first came out a long time ago, there was a big wave of death metal bands that were being signed. Death metal was really buzzing, and it was an exciting genre that was really taking off. And then towards the end of the 90’s and around the new millennia, there was sort of a weird phase of death metal. Metal tastes are always changing and fluctuating, but there was a lot more new metal bands coming out. Death metal had been around long enough, to where it wasn’t like ‘Flavor of the Month’ or anything. It was still consistent. A lot of bands were still coming out as new bands, and the pioneers of the genre were still putting out music. It’s always been really cool. Right now, in 2017, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s really a shitload of new death metal albums by a lot of legacy death metal bands. Immolation, Incantation, Suffocation, I think Carcass just said that they might have a new album out by the end of the year, Six Feet Under, Deicide has new stuff, and on and on, Broken Hope, of course, and Dying Fetus. Right now is a really exciting time, I think, for death metal. There’s another huge wave again of all these metal bands that have been around for a long time, that are putting out new albums. And that makes a lot of new tours happen around the world.

Looking in retrospect to the genre then and now, I think maybe in a way death metal might be more popular now than it’s ever been. Not just with the legacy bands are putting out new albums, which is great, but there’s so many new death metal bands around the world putting out albums. And I see death metal being mentioned a lot in the mainstream media. I just read a novel called Proving Ground by an author I really love, Peter Blauner. That novel was at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, and in there, his character references listening to death metal. And that kind of made me smile, because it’s not like you read that in popular fiction or anything. So it’s sort of become a part of culture. I don’t know if I want to say pop culture, but it’s definitely recognized more than ever. And I think that’s awesome. I’ve always said that I’m a death metal lifer. I just love this genre. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do musically with a band. And so to that end, seeing recognition for death metal on a larger scale, seeing this genre really respected and embraced in bigger and better ways, I think that’s a great thing. Again, I’ve been in it so long, it just makes me happy to see that respect, you know?

Right, right. Absolutely. My next question is about the lyric video for Mutilated and Assimilated, which is a pretty awesome tribute to The Thing, which is obviously a great classic horror movie. And it looks like the cover was also inspired by that. What was it about that movie that you found so inspiring? What was so grabbing about it to you?

Well, my first recollection of seeing the movie was right after it came out in theaters. It was 1982. Back when The Thing came out, it got horrible reviews. It was the same year, actually, that E.T. The Extraterrestrial came out. So, you had this Steven Spielberg movie about this friendly alien, a nice kid story and all. Now, I was about 12 at the time, and I did see ET and I loved ET, but I was also a real horror kid. I loved every horror movie I could get my hands on. So, I liked ET, but I liked the visceral horror of The Thing. My first recollection of that movie was how really insane the story was. You know, an alien creature inside a UFO crash lands in Antarctica a hundred thousand years ago, gets frozen, and then thaws out. And to everyone’s horror on this expedition team, research team, they find that this alien is not frozen to death, actually. It’s cells are still alive. And if it gets a hold of you, it can basically assimilate your body, and look like another human or any other living creature. It’s very terrifying. Above and beyond that, the practical special effects by Rob Bottin were so state of the art and unmatched and unrivaled. Even to this day, those practical effects are hard to beat. CGI doesn’t come close to it. And other practical effects masters—or understudies—are still trying to achieve that level of practical effects. Because that shit looked real, and it looked like nothing you’ve ever seen onscreen. It was terrifying and amazing. Then you have a great director, John Carpenter, one of my favorite horror directors, and this great soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, who’s famous for doing The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and stuff. You know, really, all that together made for one of the most amazing horror movies I’ve ever seen in my life. It always had a profound effect on me. And as we are talking now, here we are with this new Broken Home album. I’ve never done a real tribute on this level to a horror movie, like I have with Mutilated and Assimilated. And, as you see, in the lyric video, in the imagery and in the lyrics themselves, I really stayed true to the storyline of The Thing, and tried to convey through death metal music how horrifying a tale this is. And with respect to the cover art, too. And the title, Mutilated and Assimilated. When I wrote that song, I never thought it would be the title track, but the rest of the band was like ‘That’s a really sick title, and we should call the album that, too.’ So, it turned into a title track. Then I got with Wes Benscoter, the cover artist. He’s a huge horror fan. He’s one of the premier horror artists of our time. It’s always great working with Wes. He was totally down to making that album cover reflect what The Thing kinda is about. It’s this entity, that has mimicked and can be a million different things from a million galaxies or from the planet. He really nailed it, I think. So, those are my thoughts on The Thing movie, why I wrote the lyrics, and the album cover artwork.

You know, John Carpenter took the original idea for The Thing from a novella that was published in 1938, called Who Goes There?, which is all about the Thing. John Carpenter really adapted that 1938 short piece of fiction into The Thing. He even used some of the same dialogue that was written in that original story. So, with respect to the author, John Campbell Jr., that’s where it all started, really. The Thing began there, if you could believe it. 1938. So, here we are, and we’re still embracing it. Remember when I said when The Thing came out, it got all these horrible reviews and it was overshadowed by E.T.? Now it’s such a respected movie, and it’s loved by so many people around the world. It’s got this cult status. It’s made a mark, definitely, not just in the horror movie genre, but just in cinema, period. So, anyway, it’s probably my favorite horror movie. And that’s a tough call, because I have so many favorite horror movies, but that one really is number one, probably. And I gotta say, it feels good to really do a proper tribute salute to it. Who knows? Maybe some death metal people that haven’t seen the movie will get turned onto it because of this album or something.

There’s a whole new generation out there, so that’s definitely in the realm of possibility. It’s interesting too, to see all the news about Antarctica and the ice sheets melting and stuff like that. I’ve seen references to that movie in comments on scientific articles about things that they’re finding and whatnot.

Yeah. Right. You know that celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain? Two episodes ago, he was actually in Antarctica, and he was at the research facility that The Thing’s U.S. research team’s fictional base was based upon. So, that was cool. Much like what you’re mentioning, it gets referenced, and you can see the parallels.

Speaking of writing, I understand that you are also a writer. So are you working on any new books at the moment or any fiction?

Yeah. My first novel came out around 2011. It was called The Armageddon Chord. Right before I got that publishing deal, I had this short story I sold to a zombie romance anthology to St. Martin’s Press. And that’s what put me on the map as far as getting my publishing deal and stuff. Since the The Armageddon Chord came out, it’s done really well. I write full time, pretty much. Since that novel, I’ve published a number of pieces of short fiction. I published an essay on writing horror. It was part of a book series on writing different genres. I was part of this volume that helped give new writers tools to write horror and science fiction and stuff. Outside of that, I have two new novels written that I’m editing, and I have another new novel that’s a current work in progress. I hope—if I can stay on schedule—to get the first draft of that written by the end of summer. And then my grand plan is to see these three new novels published over the next year or so. I can’t wait for them to come out, and have people read them. It’s been kind of frustrating, because since 2011, when that first book, The Armageddon Chord, came out, my plan was to write full time, to keep going and just focus on that. But Broken Hope actually came back into my life, and I had this opportunity to reform it with great musicians. I’ve been doing Broken Hope technically since 2011 as well. And then we officially came back and started touring in 2012. Broken Hope keeps me extremely busy. And writing full time outside of Broken Hope keeps me busy. I’ve written, like I said, like two and a half novels, so I’m not necessarily sitting back on my ass. But I’m kind of hard on myself. I’m always like, ‘Dude you need to really focus and schedule yourself and manage your time better and get these books out.’ I mean, it’s been six years since the last one was published. Hence, why I hope to publish these three new books over the next year, and make up for lost time and all that good shit, haha. But I love writing. I was a writer before I was a musician. I’ve been writing since I was a child. I just worked at my craft, you know, writing fiction. I’ve always written the lyrics for Broken Hope. It’s just one of my biggest passions, writing fiction, whether it’s short stories, novels, or lyrics.

It’s interesting, because you’ve got two very different art forms: one that is very solitary. And then one that is very much not solitary.

Yeah, it really is. It’s funny, I just had that discussion was with another author recently about the difference between being in a band and being a novelist. And I really love that part of being a novelist, because I like that solitary work, and just not having to answer to like ten other people, between band members and record label people and shit. Believe me, I love my band members, and I love the record label people over at Century Media, but it can get really stressful. And also, you gotta get a bunch of people to always sign off and approve your art. If I write riffs that someone in the band doesn’t like, we kind of have a democracy: if it’s weak, or doesn’t really fit Broken Hope, it doesn’t get used. And that’s good. That’s good quality control. But there’s some times, you know, you can be really in love with a riff that just might not work with anybody, and it can be like, ‘Ah, shit, what am I gonna do with this?’ But not with writing fiction, other than an editor saying, ‘Jesus, dude, what are you thinking? You need to cut that out.’ There is a big joy for me in being a novelist. Again, I really love the solitary work. So, there’s definitely differences there. Being in a Broken Hope, I find my joy in putting out an album, of course. And performing live is fantastic, you know; there’s no experience like that. But I just like not having to answer to a lot of people.

So I understand that you used some of Jeff Hanneman’s guitars on the album. Any comments on that or how that was for you? That must have been pretty intense.

Yeah, it was. Really, it all started with me being in the right place at the right time. As a guitarist and as a guy who has high regard for his influences, I’ve been offered different instruments from other well-known guitar players, and I just never was interested in any of that stuff from other famous artists, if you well. I’m not a collector of guitars and gear and stuff. It really has to be something special. And Jeff Hanneman is very special to me. He’s one of the reasons I became a guitar player. He was a huge inspiration to me also as a lyricist, because Jeff Hanneman wrote a lot of my favorite lyrics for Slayer. And he wrote all my favorite Slayer songs, musically. And his guitar designs—like, the aesthetic of the guitar, the guitar body and the makeup and everything—is very much like the same style guitars that I use. With that, with me being in the right place at the right time when all this all his guitars and gear became available, and I could acquire them, it was important that I be able to play them, too. You know, like the band The Smithereens, they got these huge, giant Gretsch guitars that are the size of like a 1970’s Cadillac or something. That’s a guitar I could not, never, play. I just, the body style, that’s not me. And if Jeff Hanneman, despite my love for him and how much he influenced me, if he had guitars that I couldn’t play, I don’t know if I would have ever cared about acquiring them. Part of my whole mission here was to use those instruments, because they weren’t being used. I had an opportunity to get them, and now I just want to use them and honor Jeff and his legacy. I was able to take my first step in doing that by writing the new album with those guitars, and then recording with a couple of them. So, it’s a really unique and very cool situation, I think, to, for one, give these instruments a new lease on life. And then to write really brutal, sick, heavy music with these guitars, and record with them, is also really cool. It’s in one respect keeping Jeff’s spirit alive through this music. So that’s what I did. That’s kinda a short overview of how it all happened.

I think that’s about it. Thank you for taking time out to do this. Is there anything else you wanted to close with, or say to your fans or add?

Yeah, I just wanted to first off, thank you for the interview and everything. I appreciate it big time. I always appreciate any journalist who wants to talk to me about the new album is great, so thanks for your time. And to all your readers and whatnot, thanks for the support, and to the fans, old and new. I hope everyone digs Mutilated and Assimilated once it comes out. It won’t be too long. Couple more weeks and we’ll be there.

BROKEN HOPE online
www.facebook.com/brokenhopeofficial
www.brokenhope.com
www.jsrdirect.com/bands/brokenhope

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About the author

Morgan Sylvia
Morgan Sylvia is a writer, a metalhead, a coffee addict, a beer snob, an Aquarius, and a work in progress. A former obituarist, she lives in Maine and is now working as a full-time freelance writer. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, most recently with a tale about the Scottish witch hunts in Wicked Witches (http://amzn.to/2h2kloS). She also has stories in the forthcoming horror anthologies Twice Upon An Apocalypse and Northern Frights. In 2014, she released her first book, Whispers From The Apocalypse, an apocalyptic horror poetry collection. Her debut horror novel, Abode, will be released from Bloodshot Books in 2017.

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