An Interview with Gene Hoglan Down Under
Band Photo: Strapping Young Lad (?)
Gene Hoglan’s drumming style adds a distinctive intricacy and complexity to Fear Factory, already evident in his other seminal collaborations: Strapping Young Lad, Dark Angel, Death and Testament. The ever-present irony and humour of Hoglan’s style is reflected in his playing on the recorded albums of Dethklok from the series Metalocalypse, The intensity of Hoglan’s drumming is buttressed by the constancy and accuracy of his ferocious double kick rhythms, executed to blistering tempos. Touring Australia with Fear Factory, Hoglan reflects on the early influence of Slayer, working with Devin Townsend, blast beats and the satirical element of metal.
Claire Maddocks: So how have you found the gigs in Australia?
Gene Hoglan: The gigs have been really cool. This is the bands ninth time here, and about my eighth or ninth time with Strapping and other bands. Australia's always awesome, great people, the crowds are always into it. I know the bands really excited to get out and do their thing again; it's been a few years since Dino's been back...and everybody’s really excited about the new record. I was surprised by how many people know the new songs that haven’t been released yet. We haven’t released Fear Campaign yet but everybody knows it, I saw people singing along to Powershifter last night and that was pretty cool.
Claire: You're self-taught on the drums is that right?
Hoglan: That’s right. Since I was tiny. Well I was never really tiny. Since I was really young. I remember when I was about eight or nine I started becoming the worlds champion air drummer. I'm an air drummer from way back. And I think air drumming is a fantastic way to learn how to play drums. I've told this story many times, but I would be sitting there jamming along to my KISS records or whoever, Rush or whatever, and I'd freak out if my parents would open the door without knocking. It was almost as if I'd rather have them see me crankin' it or something than see me air drumming.
Claire: Is it true that in the absence of double kicks, you perfected double bass drumming using the single kick and high hat peddle?
Hoglan: It's true. Back then, double bass was so much more rudimentary than it is now. I asked the guy I bought my drum kit from, what can I do to make it sound like this? He was like well, their playing double bass, you don't have one, if you take your left foot on the high hat it would basically sound like that...and at least you’re practising. That’s kind how I got to start there. Actually the first double bass kit I ever played was Dave Lombardo's.
Claire: Who is a self taught drummer as well...
Hoglan: Yeah. I was at one of their rehearsals one day because I'm buddies with them; I was working for them when I was like fifteen or sixteen. And his was the first double bass kit I sat on. And he has just got the double bass added to his kit, and I am ripping it up on the double bass. He was like 'fuck dude how long have you been playing double bass?' I'm like 'shit, what time is it? This is my first double bass.' So I became his drum tutor after that. I gave him a bunch of tips. Dave was just learning how to play himself, and he was having left foot issues...so I went to the studio with him...
Claire: I have left foot issues!
Hoglan: What I would tell you, is the same thing I told Dave, concentrate on your left foot at first. You know you're right is doing its thing. But add some concentration; focus on your left foot. That’s all I told Dave. I never really gave him lessons but he picked my brain about drums. I was fifteen or sixteen years old, I didn’t know what I was talking about, but I was like, try this, try that... thinking about all the shit that had worked for me.
Claire: So Slayer has consistently been a significant influence for you?
Hoglan: Sure. And if I helped do that, awesome. If I helped make their drummer better, awesome. 'Cause they made the whole world of metal better. I was always a larger Slayer fan than I ever was Metallica or anything like that. I’ve seen Metallica's early shows, before they were ever signed, back when they had their whole band actually there. They were fast, that was cool, they were kinda heavy, but Slayer came along and I just thought Slayer did it better.
Claire: In your projects with Devin Townsend, can you identify the way he influences you, and also the way in which you influence him?
Hoglan: Devin influenced me in so many ways. He was the first guy to get me to play to a click track for instance.
Claire: And you play with one all the time now...
Hoglan: Yeah totally, it’s like second nature now. That was the early influence. He's such an amazing musician and cool dude. The thing he influenced me the most on was being able to hear the entire final song upon writing. When your showing a song to your band, and all their hearing is one guitar riffing, and they’re adding their stuff to it… but when you hear everything; ‘I know what’s going to go here, I know what's going to go here’, vocal lines going to do this, cues, samples here, that was definitely a huge influence from Dev. I can hear the entire scope of the song now. And there are no rules. Listen to his music. He's going to write that over this. So that was a good thing and I know I influenced Dev by, I suppose for him, having a human drum machine. What kind of beats can I think of, you can play them. And what kind of beats can you bring to the table that I'm not even thinking of. I always just tried to serve Devin's songs as best as I could.
The Infinity album was the first solo record that I did of his and that was the second solo album that was a non-double bass record. We did it all single kick, five piece kit and I let the toms do a lot of the double bass. It made me have to approach it with a different take than just play double bass all over the place. That gets a little dull a lot of the time, when it’s just non-stop constant double bass. Its like, ok there’s one dynamic I can do, but I'm a drummer, I can play more than just double bass. It’s definitely a back and forth thing. That was cool because I love being a part of Devin’s musical life.
Claire: How would you describe sonically the difference between Strapping Young Lad and the sound of Fear Factory?
Hoglan: That's really easy to do because of Devin’s mind. He's a next level human being when it comes to writing stuff and hearing the entire orchestration of the song. And Devin is so amazing at that. I know Fear Factory, probably by intent, is a little more stripped back than that, there’s not crazy vocal harmonies going on over everything and a hundred samples...
Claire: Would you say there’s a distinctive industrial element to Fear Factory: that battery and constancy...
Hoglan: Absolutely, it’s something they strive for. Devin has the same thing as well; they just approach it from two different aspects. For Devin the riff isn’t all that important, the riff is just buttressing all the other shit that’s going on. With Fear Factory I think this album is definitely more riff oriented. I think a lot of the industrialness has been stripped back a bit, I don't know if they would agree with that, but when I finally heard the record it kind of struck me that there wasn't as much crazy industrial stuff going on as I was expecting. So it seemed like a little bit more stripped back or stripped down. Actually I don't know if Dino or Bert would agree with me on that, that’s just from being an independent ear.
Claire: You've got some involvement in Norwegian and Danish projects. That area has always produced really interesting black and death metal, would you say the scene there is progressing?
Hoglan: I don't really pay that much attention to it from an individual band standpoint. I was a huge fan of Emperor, I was a huge fan of Dimmu, I like that Old Mans Child thing that I did but really that was the only thing I did...I'm no black metal professor by any means. I played on one black metal album so I'm not a real expert but I just know from listening to it. I thought Equilibrium Nine was the coolest black metal album ever. It just to me seemed like a lot of bands tried to sound like that album. I like anybody who brings something new to the table and that was pretty new and fresh and a really good approach: you've got your black metal, then you've got you're melodic real vocals. I'm always a huge fan of indispersing both. Have your death metal, or your black metal and your fucking crazy screaming vocals, and then if your vocalist can sing as well? That’s why I thought that album was the Master of Puppets or Reign in Blood of black metal. I really dug that tune 'Progenies of the Great Apocalypse' , when I heard that song, I thought, that song has got to win the Grammy for metal, there’s not going to be any song like it this year, that song is awesome.
Claire: I always got the feeling listening to that song that if the world was ending, and we were in a cheap Hollywood movie, that song would be playing as the four horsemen of the apocalypse ride past…
Hoglan: And then I found out they got that entire thing from hell raiser, the first one, it came on cable one night...
Claire: The element of Satire that characterizes Dethklok and Metalocalypse also seems to be present in other, earlier projects of yours like Zimmer’s Hole... as the drummer for Dethklok, after releasing two really successful albums, do you find that element of satire appeals to you?
Hoglan: Well to carry that back a little further is having the element of satire that was in Strapping. Because we were a big piss take on a whole lot of metal. Like having Pantera's Far Beyond Driven and we had Far Beyond Metal. The whole comedy aspect of Strapping was that it got its influence from Zimmer's Hole, which is Jed and Byron from Strapping and the Heathen Chris Valagao, Val, on vocals. Val has been the secret Strapping lead singer for many albums, he’s been Devin's vocal whore. A lot of stuff you hear on Strapping is Val doing it. And Val's the best vocalist in metal. Best period. Fucking awesome. Our last album was called When You Were Shouting at the Devil We Were in League with Satan. And if you're an old schooler of course you understand Shout at the Devil from Motley Crue and In League with Satan from Venom. And its total comedy, and they were the first band to do it. They were the first band I saw injecting that much parody. They pay homage to their favourite bands by roasting them with their own riffs. Having those two bands in my background, as well as Dark Angel…I took the piss out of everything lyrically. We were this supposed demonic metal band and we weren’t demonic at all. Dethklok is just another more popular manifestation of that.
Claire: It's a piss take that has really resonated.
Hoglan: Absolutely, and the show is so funny. But with the second album Brendan has kind of offset the lightness of the show with a really dark record. The new album destroys the first album, it’s so much better, sonically it sounds better; the songs are actually a lot more serious. There’s some ironic humour but it’s not as overt as on the last album. The album is deadly. It’s the album of the year in my opinion, the best metal album of 2009. The way Devin was with his vocals: symphonic, orchestrated, non stop vocals, Brendan is that way with his guitar tracking. It’s rather Strapping-esque in its scope. It’s a rather large sounding album, lots of things going on all the time.
Claire: If you could go to the uber metal gig, who would you want on the bill, who would be serving the drinks?
Hoglan: Every band I've ever been in, with Hugh Hefner and the bunnies serving the drinks. Because I'm proud of every single band I've been in. How many times have you heard a band and thought, that’s cool, but their not quite doing it for me, fuck it, ill do it myself. I tend to listen to the metal I play because it’s the metal I want to hear. And there’s very little ego involved in that. It’s just like, hey I wish a band was doing this...hey, I'll do it myself...
Claire: If you could visualize your music, what would it look like?
Hoglan: A charging rhino. Wearing lace.
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