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Interview

"The Atomic Clock" Gene Hoglan Interviewed

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Branded the most brutal metal drummer of our time, Eugene "Gene" Victor Hoglan II, has been consistently acclaimed for his creativity in drum arrangements, including usage of odd devices for percussion effects and his trademark lengthy double-kick drum rhythms. His highly technical precision of playing increasingly fast and challenging tempos, with extreme accuracy, earned him the nickname "The Atomic Clock." He is best known for his works with the bands Death, Strapping Young Lad and Testament.

Completely self-taught, Hoglan got his first drum kit when he was 13. He began his music career in the early 80s, playing drums during concert sound checks for legendary metal band, Slayer, and working as their lights engineer on tour. He also formed the well known thrash band, War God, with Michelle Meldrum. At the end of the same year he was asked to drum for the thrash metal band Dark Angel, and wrote most of the lyrics for their next three albums. He achieved even greater notoriety during the 1990s playing with Death, recording an album with the thrash metal band Testament, and making the acquaintance of Canadian multi-instrumentalist Devin Townsend, forging a lasting friendship. He has since recorded several albums with Townsend, both as part of the speed/industrial/death metal band Strapping Young Lad and Townsend's solo albums.

Hoglan recently played on "The Dethalbum," for Adult Swim's animated TV show, Metalocalypse. "The Deathalbum," debuted at #21 in the Billboard 200, making it the highest charting death metal album in history. He just finished touring with Dethklok, selling out shows in every city. Hannah and I got to sit down with Gene and discuss the Dethklok tour, various percussion instruments he's created, and the recent loss of his dear friend Michelle Meldrum.

Roya Butler: You have been highly acclaimed for your creativity in drum arrangements. Can you tell us about some of the odd devices for percussion effects that you've used?

Hoglan: Let me see. I've always said that I'll play anything on stage; if it's big and metal and clang-y and horrible sounding, I'll play the hell out of it. I started playing a lot of ash trays when we were over in Europe--I'd find these really cool ash trays to play; I'd just stick a cymbal stand through them (to mount them). Then I found this huge brass three-pronged boat propeller, and every time I'd hit it, it would spin and I'd get three different tones out of it. I've played on an M14 shell, and now I've got a Howitzer shell that I just picked up. Mounting is always the hardest part about playing weird procession devices on stage--it's a canon shell, it's made for killing people, not mounting on a drum set.

Roya: Tell me about your nickname "The Atomic Clock"?

Hoglan: The atomic clock is the most precise clock on the planet. They just kind of dubbed me that, because I keep pretty good time, I suppose.

Roya: How was it working with the bands Death, Strapping Young Lad and Testament?

Hoglan: Death was killer metal that helped create a genre--as was Strapping Young Lad, which was my favorite band I've ever been in. I did the "Demonic" album with Testament--God, we were listening to that on the drive up the other day--it's been a while since I've heard that record. It was pretty stormy album, and it was the least Testament sounding album. I always like it when a band evolves and just comes out with something so ball-crushingly-heavy; when they come out wielding a fully heavy slab of metal after being around for a long time, I think that's really cool. The new one out, "The Formation of Damnation," is incredible; it's the best album those guys have ever put out.

Roya: How do your previous experiences, like the sense of humor in Strapping Young Lad, compare to playing with Dethklok?

Hoglan: Well, I've been extremely fortunate to be involved in three very humorous bands: Strapping Young Lad, Zimmer's Hole, and Dethklok. Zimmer's Hole has been around since '92--it was the first band to ever start poking fun at metal. I'd been trying to get into Zimmer's Hole for the past ten years, but they wouldn't let me in the band, because I did not share their same love of AC/DC. So my audition was like, "Hey, Byron! I love AC/DC now!" With that, he said, "Cool, you're in." I like being involved in humorous bands, and if anyone doesn't like it, then get a sense of humor you dick! It's one thing to get your crowd to make the "grr face"--that ugly metal face. But when you've got them smiling, laughing, and then cracking up, while you're assaulting them with vicious metal, that's really cool. Dethklok is great, Brendon is a stand-up comedian by trade; he's just a really fun, humorous dude, and it's a good time to be on tour with him and all the other guys. If you can play a live show and have a great time, all while playing totally vicious metal, what else can you ask for?

Roya: You've worked not only with many famous metal bands, touring extensively, but also as a session drummer. Do you prefer studio work or live performance?

Hoglan: Fortunately, I get enough of both so that I don't burn out on either. In 2007, I recorded 10-12 records. I remember recording five albums, back to back, in the early part of that year. Then I felt the itch to go on tour. I ended up getting a call from Unearth, who had lost their drummer on the middle of their tour. The timing couldn't have been any more perfect. At the time, I hated being in the studio--the studio was just the bullshit you had to go through before you got to go on tour. But now I don't mind it. If I'm lucky, I get the songs a week in advance, so that when I get into the studio I can track the songs as I go; I like rehearsing material, but I rarely get to. For example, on the Dethklok album, they said: "here's the song, learn it and play it". So the drumming on Dethklok album is unrehearsed. We laid the tracks down right away, the first time I'm ever playing those songs. But, that's a pretty common occurrence in the industry. It's always nice when you get to rehearse, because then you get to sit with the song and work out the parts a little bit instead of coming up with an entire album's worth of insane drumming on the fly. So, rehearsing with a band is a lot more fun than getting in there and bashing it out, but you can get 10-15 albums done in a year if you don't rehearse too much.

Roya: So you just finished up touring with Dethklok, tell us about that.

Hoglan: It was about thirty cities--all sell-outs. It was pretty cool to have a sell-out tour. People love their cartoon Death metal! All jokes aside, it was a great time; we all got along well, and being on stage with Brendon Small (creator, vocalist and guitarist of Dethklok) was pretty cool. Definitely doing sound checks with these guys was cool, because there are some serious players in this band: Brian Beller on bass, Mike Keneally and Brendon Small on guitar, and me on the drums.

Roya: How do you compare to Pickles, the cartoon drummer of Dethklok?

Hoglan: That guy's a fucking cartoon character, man--that guy can't play drums, he's a joke! This goes back to what I was saying about not being able to rehearse and stuff like that. It actually kind of troubled me in the studio that I wasn't familiar with Pickles' style when I was going in there. I would have given him more of his own style, instead of just pulling out a whole bunch of Gene Hoglan licks. The album sounds more like its Gene Hoglan playing on it, than it does Pickles. But now that I've got Pickles down a little better, on the next album I can emulate his style a lot better.

Roya: What is Pickle's style like?

Hoglan: Spastic and drunk. He's just too damn drunk, man. He's gotta learn how to play drums.

Roya: Although having drummed since age 13, you got your foot in the door as lights engineer for Slayer. Tell us about that.

Hoglan: I used to go see Slayer all the time as a kid. Growing up I used to go see all those L.A. cock-rock thrash bands in all the clubs--when they were club bands; I saw Metallica's first few shows and I used to go see Death Angel, as well. Slayer was a band I used to go see all the time; I really loved that band, and used to think: "No one will ever get this band, because they're just way too heavy." They'd be playing for thirty or fifty people at places like Woodstock or Radio City, places like that in and around L.A. I became friends with them, and then one night Tom asked me to do the lights. So I went on the road with them; I was about sixteen at the time--the worst roadie ever--I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. Around that time I met Michelle Meldrum, and we put together the thrash metal band War God.

Roya: Tell us about the album you're now recording with the band Meldrum.

Hoglan: My guitarist from the band, Michelle Meldrum, passed away in May. Her passing was devastating to us all, and we're still pretty shattered by it. We're playing strong, though, to keep her spirit alive, and going in a heavier direction. We're not returning to the thrash roots or anything, but we definitely have thrash and lots more metal going on in the writing of the latest album. It's coming out pretty good, it's really heavy. We've got a new line up for it. We've got Michele Madden from Australian band Tourettes; she's about the most amazing, wielding vocalist on the planet--she's also an awesome lyricist. On bass we have Laura Christine from San Diego; she's actually doing guitar and bass tracks on the album.

Roya: Can you tell us about Michelle Meldrum's passing? The metal community has lost a groundbreaking female musician.

Hoglan: She had a cyst on her brain that we weren't aware of. The last month of her life she was having a lot of headaches, which we were attributing to a possible sinus condition. She just basically went to sleep one afternoon and never woke up; she took a nap and never came out of it. Her loss is something that we think about every day. There's not minute that goes by where we don't think of her, and that's why we're here doing this right now. We're trying to keep her spirit alive, and she's there right next to us. It isn't easy, I'll tell you that.

Roya: Tell us about the benefit concert for Michelle Meldrum.

Hoglan: We're still trying to settle on a good date. It was such a shock, so un-timely, that trying to get something together so soon is tough. I think we all need more time to come to peace with her passing. I'm hoping to have the concert on May 21st of next year, so everyone could get involved that would want to get involved. The concert will be a tribute to Michelle to celebrate her life and her music. She was a progenitor in music; Phantom Blue was the first all-chick shredder band with shredding leads. Back then the only known chick bands sounded like The Bangles, The Go-Gos, and Vixen--horse shit top 40 pop, nothing that meant anything. Michelle came along with Phantom Blue and really turned some heads, showing that chicks can shred on the guitar and belt strong vocals.

Roya: What can the metal community do as a whole to keep her spirit alive?

Hoglan: Buy the new Meldrum album (keep a look out for the Feburary 2009 record release date), and definitely just crank her music.

Transcribed by Hannah Wagner

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