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A Chat With Heathen Frontman David White

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19 years after their last album, “Victims Of Deception,” Bay Area thrashers Heathen return with “The Evolution Of Chaos.” The album shows the band drawing heavily from their earlier sound, with a few modern touches here and there. Loaded with guest musicians and brimming with intensity, Heathen’s third studio album is an early candidate for many “Best-Of” lists at the end of the year. I recently had the opportunity to speak to vocalist David White about the new album, how it felt to write new material after a long hiatus, and the most underrated Heathen song.

Heavytothebone2: What is the meaning behind the title of “The Evolution Of Chaos”?

I think it takes all the songs and puts them all together, combining just how this world is right now and how it’s been, where it’s been a sort of evolutionary process of control by chaos. How we are divided so that we can be manipulated to certain extents. Whether it would be in war or street gangs or whatever with the economy, it’s just different ways to divide us so we don’t rise up and stand against the powers that be. They keep us in chaos so that we are confused and uneducated and aggressive against each other in certain circumstances.

Heavytothebone2: That seems to be reflected in the cover art, as it shows the evolution of man. Do you see the evolution of man heading into a black abyss, like the cover art suggests?

Well, it could be possible. Man has a way of destroying things. The way we treat our old people and the way we treat our sick people, we’re definitely headed for a fall. It’s pretty interesting because the artwork was done by Travis Smith and we didn’t really have a concept or a vision for the art. I just gave him a bunch of lyrics and some of the music and that was his vision.

Heavytothebone2: Are you satisfied with the way the cover art came out?

Yeah, definitely. Actually, if you open up the album itself, the full cover is actually a rectangle piece of art. So the front cover is only half of the piece.

Heavytothebone2: Lyrically-speaking, what was your inspiration for “The Evolution Of Chaos”?

I took a lot of inspiration from a lot of different things. “Dying Season” was one of the first songs I wrote for the record and what I was trying to get across was how archaic war has become. In a day and age where we have solar power and all these different types of energy and so much food we can feed anybody, we’re still going on the battlefields and launching rockets and shooting bullets at each other. We can’t see to resolve it verbally or democratically. It’s prevalent to where we’re at now because it’s time of war, so it’s dying season. I could go through each one (laughs), but there’s a lot of life experiences there, like in “Fade Away.”

“Bloodkult” was actually from an idea from Jon Torres (Heathen bassist), who wrote the music for that. There wasn’t a drive-by shooting, but there was an incident where an Italian family from South San Francisco was driving on the freeway and was cut off by another driver. They just sort of gave a look to the driver, like “What are you doing?” and that driver proceeded to shoot into the car and kill members of the family. It’s turned out this guy was a gang member and Jon wrote a song about the gangs and what’s going on. He’s actually written some lyrics and tried to convey his opinion and his ideas and his frustrations in words and I took what he wrote and sort of embellished on it and finished what he had tried to start.

Heavytothebone2: Going into the studio, what was the band itself looking to accomplish with “The Evolution Of Chaos”?

To make the best record we possibly could.

Heavytothebone2: It’s been 19 years since your last album. Was there any hesitation at first when you guys were starting to get together and write the new material?

No there was no hesitation. I think everybody was pretty excited to get their ideas out and get a new record out. We definitely had some material that had been floating around in our heads and on tape. We shared ideas over the years and some of the ideas and riffs are going back to 1992, '93. That’s why I think that there’s an element there where we definitely preserved the Heathen sound. There’s riffs that capture that time because they are from that time and then they just grew into something more.

Heavytothebone2: The album has several guest musicians. Could you just briefly talk about the ones involved and which one was your favorite to work with?

I hate them all (laughs). No, I’m just kidding. Everybody was great. I wasn’t there when Gary (Holt, Exodus) laid down his solos, but I was very grateful for him to come in and shred like he did. Steve DiGiorgio came in and he played the sitar in the beginning of “Dying Season,” in the “Intro.” We wanted to do a sitar and Juan Urteaga, our producer, is good friends with Steve and said, “You know, Steve has a sitar.” Actually, we asked him to do that and then we talked about doing something for “No Stone Unturned.” Creatively, I think Steve was my favorite, because he’s a total metal guy, but he’s such a hippie too. It was really cool to get him on “Dying Season” with the sitar and then the fretless stuff he did on “No Stone Unturned” was very jazzy. We actually got that down in the mix a bit because we weren’t sure how that would go. It was really out there. It was amazing what he did.

Jon Allen, the drummer for Sadus, came in and did rain stick and some chimes and things like that in the “Intro.” On “Fade Away,” during the chorus, there was something missing on that…when Gary came in to do his tracks, Rob Dukes (vocalist for Exodus) came in and Lee had an idea to have him scream out the fade away part and it turned out amazing. I love that part and him coming in on that. It added a different dimension, as far as vocals go.

Heavytothebone2: Is there one song that you are particularly proud of on “The Evolution Of Chaos”?

I think both “Fade Away” and “No Stone Unturned.” Vocally, I’m pretty proud of most everything on the record, because there are a lot of variances from song to song. In “A Hero’s Welcome,” the part in the beginning is very different for me; a lower tone. I like messing around with my voice and coming up with different sounds. I don’t want to sound the same in every song.

Heavytothebone2: How have you kept your voice in shape these past two decades?

I take good care of myself. I don’t smoke and I swim and run pretty much everyday. I just take good care of myself and that’s what it takes to keep your vocals. I take good care of my voice vocally and hopefully that will stand the test of time. So far, so good.

Heavytothebone2: As a singer, what do get out of doing slower songs, like “A Hero’s Welcome” and “Red Tears Of Disgrace,” that you wouldn’t get out of a “Dying Season” or “Undone”?

Room to breathe (laughs), literally. It gives me a chance to flex vocally. Something like “Dying Season,” where it’s really fast pace, it’s very demanding as well. Live, it’s like, “Oh my god.” There’s so much happening at a fast pace to where it’s a real demand on the voice and on the breathing. With the other songs, where there is a little bit of air or space to stretch out, you can really let your voice do what it does best and be a bit more emotional with your voice.

Heavytothebone2: Is there any leftover material from the studio that wasn’t put onto the album?

No. We probably had about 15 or 16 songs that were in production as far as writing and the ones that you hear on the record are the ones that were completed. Any other material that we did have we didn’t record them in the studio because they weren’t quite finished. A lot of that stuff you’ll probably hear on the next record.

Heavytothebone2: Will we have to wait 19 years for that one?

(laughs). Well, maybe. No, I don’t think so. As long as this record does well and there are no problems with the label and they are like, “Let’s do another one. Let’s get it done,” we will be back in the studio very soon. We’re not spring chickens anymore. We want to definitely keep the ball rolling, so we’re definitely not going to wait 19 years. I don’t think I can wait that long. I can’t even believe it’s been that long. It’s surreal really, but I’m just happy that for now it’s going on.

Heavytothebone2: What are the touring plans for 2010?

We’re going to Europe in April. We’re going to go there for a few weeks and do a promotional tour. It’s going to be a headlining tour and then we’re looking to book festivals over there in the summertime. Hopefully, try to put something together for the states and then we’ll put something together for the fall, which should be a big deal. I think that going to be a European thing, but we might even end up bringing that to the states. We’re in the planning stages right now. The first thing is a tour of Europe in April/May.

Heavytothebone2: In the states, is the band looking for a headlining tour or would the band not mind supporting somebody else?

I think it would be better for us to go out in a supporting role with some of the bands that have been doing it for the last few years. Bands like Megadeth or something like that, where we can get out there and get some exposure on a bigger level.

Heavytothebone2: What new songs are you looking forward to performing live?

I’m really looking forward to playing all of them. It’s going to be really interesting to hear the response. We’ve done a lot of shows in the last seven or eight years and we’ve been playing old stuff and a few new songs along the way, like “Dying Season.” I’m kind of sick of those songs, you know? It’s time for a fresh set, so I think we’re going to play any one of them at this point.

Heavytothebone2: In your opinion, what is the most underrated Heathen song?

I would say “Fear Of The Unknown,” off of “Victims of Deception.” It’s one of my favorites on the record and as far as what we’ve seen on our Web site and MySpace, it hasn’t been a fan favorite necessarily. If you listen to the song, there’s so much going on, with bass guitar work and great drumming. It’s a very powerful tune and I think it’s one that’s been caught under the radar.

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1 Comment on "A Chat With Heathen Frontman David White"

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1. Nekromaniac writes:

Great interview! Heathen's new album is probably the best of their career so far, and I have a feeling that if they continue they can redefine the way people think of 'thrash metal'!

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