|HEMI is the latest band from the United States to worship at the feet of Dio, Maiden and Priest. The Chicago, Illinois group have recently released their debut album, Fire in the Sky, and I caught up with band leader Trent Zuber and guitarist David Perez to hear how the band came together to create some good old fashioned heavy metal thunder.|Who are your major influences, and what inspired you to start HEMI in the first place?
My main influences derive from that essential core of heavy metal bands that were so responsible for the British and American influx that came through in the 70s and 80s such as Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Manowar, Iron Maiden, and Metallica to name a few. These are all bands that I love so much that my goal was to incorporate influences from each one in any music that I make. When you really get down to it you can see how powerful these bands are because to this day their influence on all metal stands just as strong as it did when they initially came out and really it was no different with us!
When we started the band in 2002 it was at the peak of the 'nu-metal' era and we were almost frustrated because there were so many bands coming out left and right but none of them were really incorporating the sound style of bands we were influenced by. We would go to Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden concerts and see thousands and thousands of fans like us there who still loved that true metal sound and thought that if no new bands are going to put out music like this then we will and see what we can do. We were all friends from high school and literally no matter what line-up changes we have had, remain that way so we knew the synergy would be there, it would just be a matter of putting it to paper and making something happen!
I wasn't in the band from the beginning but I joined HEMI because I know that Trent has a dream that will not die until it is realized. His drive and passion for success has influenced me greatly in a time where I felt I've given up on hopes and dreams. So, I'm here to do everything I can, to help take us where we need to be.
A lot of bands that play the same style as you direct their gratitude towards Maiden, Sabbath etc, but have you got any, more obscure influences?
I have many influences as I don't confine myself to one genre or style, thankfully, this has helped me dramatically in the rhythm department.
I definitely am with Dave here. To limit your influences is ridiculous. I hate whenever I hear
people say things like 'I like everything except country and jazz.' for example it makes me
wonder if they have ever even bothered listening to country and jazz because there are
so many wonderful things one can learn from both of those amongst many other genres
Personally, my all time musical hero is none other than Frank Zappa. I don't think you hear
many metal artists naming him as an influence but to me is one of the most innovative
artists of our lifetime. The things he did lyrically, musically and compositionally are
beyond words and directly push me to step out for that one extra step to take in whatever
I do to a level that sticks out just a little more than the next guy. Lynyrd Skynyrd is also a
huge source of inspiration and influence because of their amazing synergy and storytelling.
What inspires you to write the music you make?
Life. Every day life is an endless storyboard of influence that you can never stop experiencing. If you ever ask anyone to describe what exactly a 'feeling' is you rarely get an answer because it's extremely hard to really accurately explain it but for me, the music I make is an audible description of those feelings. Whether it be anger or happiness or even sadness, the music will put it out there for interpretation.
Fans. Simple and blunt. I want to put on the best show we can until they know we're number one. I want our fans to understand that it was worth their time to come out and see us, or to pick up our music and immediately feel us.
What was the recording process like for 'Fire in the Sky'?
The album was recorded prior to my joining the band but I seemed to pick most of it up quickly because I've heard the album many times before and have been there during the creation of most of the tracks just through my association with Trent. Learning the intricacies of my parts came together well due to the positive attitudes and synergy between us. This harmony has me looking forward to the years of being together and creating new material.
The Fire in the Sky recording process was extremely interesting. We had cut a few demos with Jason Walsh of Farview Studios in the years prior and then basically decided that it was time to just take it to
the next level and create a finished product. If I remember correctly the album was completely recorded over the course of 2 full days in the studio not including mixing time that Jason put in post recording. It was a lot of fun and such a learning experience for us because we were so under the gun financially and time-wise. We funded the entire thing ourselves so we had to be very concious of the time and progress we were making so we really had to work smart and make sure we kept on schedule. But what I remember most is the vibe we felt making the album. We are all such good friends and to know that we all shared a part in creating something together that will live on for years to come is such a great feeling to take away from it all.
What is it about classic heavy metal that remains such a timeless influence in so many bands for you? Is it the purity of the original metal vision, the so called 'true'-ness of the genre, or is it simply because it allows you to write songs that you like to listen to?
To me it's a genre that never had any delusions about what it portrayed. It's t-shirts, jeans, long hair, loud guitars and a fuck you attitude to everyone who stands in it's way. The way I saw it, Metal never put itself out there to be accepted. It was always the outcast in the music industry and coinciding with that it's fans were mostly those same outcasts so it served as a voice for the fans to really express and explain their feelings through music. For that fact alone I always felt that metal was the most real form of music out there.
It's both. That 'true'-ness is what makes a group/album/song worth listening to....something raw that you feel in your heart IS why it works. No over-production, no effects, just music. Additionally, if you don't like to listen to your own music, something just isnt right.
Have you any more HEMI tracks in the works just now, or are you just planning on working 'Fire in the Sky' and see the reaction? I understand it has been received generally quite positively, is that validation for the work and passion you have for the music, or would you continue to do this even if it had been slated?
New material is constantly being composed with every practice session, it's just a matter of seeing which one 'sticks', and which ones we can actually remember... however, we're focusing on what we're known for so that there's no gaps in our performances. Our goal is to ultimately put on the best show possible without the worries of experimenting with a new song until we're 100% ready to
bring it to an audience. In either case, we'll continue to do what we do and even translate negative reception into a way to step our game up and improve whatever needs to be addressed.
Currently we have a few more songs completed towards what will ultimately be the follow-up album to 'Fire in the Sky' so as Dave mentioned, it's just a matter of composing more and getting to a point where we feel we have a concise amount for the new album.
If the album had been slated there is no doubt it would suck but at the same time it would have only driven us further to make the second one better. The worst thing any band can do is be content and the greatest thing HEMI has always had going for it is that we have never been satisfied 100%. The second we are, the output will suffer. We are always striving to top ourselves and outdo the last performance. Keeping that attitude is what will keep us moving forward, bottom line.
I like your attitude toward the album reception; the whole 'fuck it if no one likes it, we do'. Its the archetypal metal attitude and its good to see that its still in full force. Are you pleased with the reception you guys have gotten so far?
I am very happy with the reception that we have gotten thus far but never pleased so to speak. Personally, I can never be because there is always room to get even better and grow even more. The archetypal metal attitude is a great motivator in the sense that it keeps your confidence high but you always have to know when you keep it in check. The main goal that it brings out is that it drives us to bring the people to our music. Of course we are going to like what we do but if there are people out there who don't we are going to do whatever we can to make them. They may never but the drive to turn as many heads as possible keeps you constantly working harder and harder.
I personally haven't heard anything that wasn't positive regarding our music and honestly think
we are our own worst critics. I'm not saying we're the best (or even great) or anything like that but I definitely take into consideration that people may hear the rawness or drive in our music or see it at our shows and are attracted by that. It's hard to say really, it may just be the music, hah.
Whats the music scene like in Chicago? Do you guys play a lot of shows with bands like you, or is it more of a mixed bunch. I know Illinois has produced two of my favourite bands of recent years, Pelican and Russian Circles. They are stylistically different to you guys, but are there other good bands coming through in the area that the general public should know about?
Like any other part of the world, there's an incredible amount of talent coming out of Chicago. However, as the story goes, the variable is if their efforts fall onto deaf ears or not. Most don't understand or want to realize that this shit is a hustle; you get back what you put into it. Whether it's a few hours of your life or your soul, the return is usually pretty balanced. Anyways, without sounding preachy...I'd like to think we play with the folks who have similar styles as us but I'm personally more into playing with bands that have the same long term goals and passion as us. Styles come and go, but my ears are more in tune with the heart and raw emotion that comes from the groups who actually give a shit about (or feel) what they do, regardless of what they're playing. As far as promoting other bands than us, I'll leave that type of question to my guy Trent.
The scene here is VERY diverse. You have everything from polka to death metal touring the circuit so it's definitely one where there is something for everyone. That being said, the biggest problem we face here is the booking and promotion. I can't begin to tell you the amount of times we have played shows with bands that sound nothing like us, not even in the same genre. There have been times where we have been booked with a blues band, emo band and jazz instrumentalists all in the same night! It comes to a point where you wonder if the promoter has even bothered listening to the bands they are booking. It's so counterproductive because it does not help build a following for anyone. It's not just us either, a lot of bands were being dealt this same issue of just 'being on the bill' with no rhyme or reason. However recently we have begun to work with some really amazing promoters who have a very good ear for how to properly book a show so at this point we have weeded out who NOT to use in the future.
Chicago definitely has some really talented bands that need to be heard right now. Right off the bat I want to mention Cealed Kasket. Mere words cannot describe the experience they bring to a live show so I urge everyone to check them out. They are just amazing. We are actually opening for them on February 12th at the Abbey Pub for the second time so I am very excited about sharing the stage with them once again. Another great band is Trials, also from Chicago. They are extremely talented and so focused on the quality of their sound, it really comes through big time when you hear their recordings.
And, with the New Year upon us, what does the year 2010 hold for HEMI? A new release? Touring?
2010 already seems like it will be a progressive year for us, we're exactly where we need to be, musically, as well as emotionally. We got a few shows lined up as of now, and are constantly working on new shit. It's just a matter of getting back into the studio and pushing out work. Also, we've got quite a few prospectives lined up overseas as well as locally and it just appears there's constantly big things in the work. So, time to stop any little shit we were comfortable with, and double our efforts. Much love to all our fans, we do this all for you.
2010 is looking really really good so far. Currently we are planning a new full length album by(the) years end coupled with even more shows than previous years. Along with that we are working with Ravensfilm Productions (www.ravensfilm.com) on the upcoming motion picture called The Fixer which our song Fire in the Sky is being featured in. The movie is set to be released in the next few months so we are very excited for that. We've also been talking about releasing more video footage of live performances and backstage/practice sessions to personalize the band more and basically introduce us as individuals to our audience so that's definitely something Dave and I will be working closely on. So basically, stay tuned because it's going to be a busy year!