This Is Hell's Rick Jimenez Checks In With Post-Studio Interview
Band Photo: This Is Hell (?)
Long Island hardcore act This is Hell recently wrapped up recording for the follow-up album to "Weight of the World," which is currently set for release sometime in October. Shortly after finishing up the studio stint, guitarist Rick Jimenez corresponded with Metalunderground.com to fill us in on the recording sessions and discuss what fans are going to hear on the upcoming album.
Jimenez delves into his recent obsession with all things Metallica and the new album's more metal-centric approach, the socially conscious lyrical content that will be found on the disc, New York's hardcore scene, and even the recent death of Cipher drummer Daniel Bobis. Check out the full interview below to get a glimpse into This Is Hell's world and find out about the band's upcoming live activity.
xFiruath: I’ve heard that this new album has more of a metal influence than past records. What specifically is changing in the sound this time around, what prompted the changes, and how do you think fans of older material will receive the new album?
Rick: There's a lot that’s different this time around. The use of dual vocals is greatly increased and with the use of dual vocals there is also a few different approaches. It's not always just one dude screaming as hard as he can and then another dude screaming as hard as he can. The guitars are played in a much more metal way than before. We've always had a metal influence and especially on “Weight of the World” with songs like "The Death Of World Class" and "Fall and Rise," but these songs go even further. Tons of double picking, lots of solos/leads, etc. What prompted the change I don't think I could really pinpoint. I guess it was a combination of what I was listening to, what I wanted to hear and what came out when I sat down with a guitar and started writing as well as when I sat down with a pen and a notebook. As far as fans receiving the new material, I would have banked on anyone that likes us thinking we're crazy and thinking we've finally crossed too many lines and left a show bummed out but instead kids are fucking psyched. We've been playing a few songs live every night. Just today between songs some kid came to the stage and yelled "these new songs are fucking awesome!" I was blown away.
xFiruath: When did you guys write these new songs and how does the band write material?
Rick: The way it’s been for a while now essentially is that I sit down with my guitar when I'm home and just start writing songs. I wrote these 10 songs musically and demoed them on my computer starting in January. I think I finished the last song around early April just after Wrestlemania. Then I sat down and wrote lyrics for about two months. I was hoping to be quicker but we had some tours come up and I hate writing on the road. I think writing was completed around early June. From there we started learning the songs and figuring out what needed to be changed or worked on or whatever. Having a block of time to write both musically and lyrically was different but awesome. I think getting out of the regular This is Hell routine helped shape what came out musically and especially lyrically that much more. I'm equally proud of the two facets.
xFiruath: Tell me about the recording process for the album. Where did you go and how did the sessions end up? Did you have any particularly great recording sessions or any unexpected problems that had to be dealt with?
Rick: We planned to do exactly what we did with WOTW, go to L.A. and record at Killingsworth Recording Company with Tomas Costanza for 10 days. Last time we flew out, this time we toured for thre weeks out there, then had 11 days to record. Tomas is amazing and his studio rules. He makes us all very comfortable and brings out the best in us. The sessions started off pretty rocky with some tech problems and other weird shit going on. Everything we laid down the first day aside from the scratch guitar tracks needed to be scratched and we had to start from the beginning again on day two. I immediately stressed out and got nervous because we were on a schedule but we quickly got back on and it was real smooth from that point on. We had a weird “St. Anger” sounding snare drum problem for about 3 hours, and we resolved that issue thankfully. Like I mentioned earlier, the vocals are definitely a little different for us here and there and that was something I was a little concerned with, nailing the parts and all, but that was actually the most fun part of recording for me. Working on vocals and banging shit out in the vocal booth. Both Travis and I left our comfort zone and it was a real good time and we're psyched with the end result.
xFiruath: What do the lyrics deal with and where do you draw your lyrical inspiration from?
Rick: I guess this is extremely cliché but inspiration comes from life and what I live and what I see. I guess its cliché because it’s natural to almost everyone. I love Iron Maiden but I'd be hard pressed to write a This is Hell song about dinosaurs or the discovery of fire. What I was happy about though was that I wasn't stuck in the "I'm depressed" or "this person sucks, here's 32 barres about that person" bubble that I usually am in. Are there songs about specific people that suck? Absolutely. But the album isn't limited to that and even the songs on that plane aren't as one dimensional.
This is by far the most social-conscious TIH record so far. There are two songs that, each in their own way, deal with racial discrimination on both personal and societal levels and how although it is 2011 and we live in the USA, it seems like there is still a caste system, it’s just cleverly masked around subterfuge and figure heads. There is a song, that is just as much a story, of the bullying homophobic hatemonger that gets theirs in the end. I don't want to give away too much, but this is an album, even more than last album, that I really hope people read the lyrics and try to understand what it is we are saying on each song lyrically as much as musically. Even if someone takes a song differently than it was intended, I hope people get into the lyrics. There are a few songs on the record I know people will take very differently than what they're actually about, but that fine with me; my outlet is writing and recording them, once they’re in public view, they're for everyone, not just me.
xFiruath: I was wondering, based on some of the song titles and the bands you have toured with, do you guys put any sort of religious or spiritual (either pro- or anti-) themes in your music?
Rick: Ha... I think views of religion have made their way into each album at least a little. One of the first songs we ever wrote was "Heaven Sent, Hellbound" which was, albeit pretty sophomoric, very direct about our views towards Christianity. A few of us were brought up Catholic/Christian so it hits close to home, but overall, beliefs are great, convictions are great, morals are great... the way the majority of organized religions are run in this day and age, not great. At this point though, let’s just say that religious iconography and lexicon are very powerful and potent tools though, no matter what the underlying theme may be.
xFiruath: Do you get to play hometown shows often and what are your local crowds like?
Rick: We don't get to play hometown shows very often, but to be honest, it's not really a big deal. We aren't treated like a hometown band by any means so as much as I love Long Island and have most of my friends there and that’s my scene from a non-band dude perspective, as far as This is Hell goes, it's just another place, in fact a place where we do not-so-well. The reasoning for that at this point, who the fuck knows. The positive I take out of playing LI is that we get to play with my friends bands more often than not and I love hanging with my friends and seeing their bands.
xFiruath: Fill me in on the band’s upcoming tour dates in support of the new album. Where are you headed and who are you going with?
Rick: Right now we are finishing our summer run of which we did Canada with Shai Hulud, Naysayer, Endwell, and My Turn To Win, then we did a run across the states to get to Cali to record, now we're doing a run home with Decoder. We have a few weeks off and then hit the road for a US/Canada tour with Underoath, Comeback Kid, and The Chariot that starts 9/15 and goes til 10/20. We do a few shows on our own to meet up with that tour and then a few shows heading home with CBK and some alone. The record will be released while we're on the tour and we'll have CDs and vinyl at our merch table. After that has yet to be confirmed but we'll be busy. We'll be doing the typical TIH thing and be on tour 8 days a week til whenever.
xFiruath: What do you think of the New York hardcore and punk scenes in general these days? Are they still going strong or are the glory days gone?
Rick: Glory days is a marginal term. NY has its ups and its downs as every scene does but I would say it’s on the up these days. NYC has Black and Blue doing shows consistently which is an amazing thing. It’s very difficult to get things going in the post Giuliani NYC. Brooklyn has shows again with the new Knitting Factory and The Party Xpo. LI is difficult also but there's always someone working to make something happen. There are a lot of bands coming from LI right now, as usual.
xFiruath: I read that you’ve been getting a lot of Metallica influence lately. What are your thoughts on the latest album “Death Magnetic” and how do you think the band is carrying on now 30 years into its existence?
Rick: I love “Death Magnetic.” I take into consideration that they are older dudes now and they're also innovators. I didn't write them off after “St. Anger,” I just took the whole thing with a grain of salt, laugh while I watch “Some Kind Of Monster,” clowned on the album and hoped for the best with the next release... and I was genuinely psyched, I've been a Metallica guy for most of my life, and after aging a bit myself, I can watch their old videos like “Cliff Em All” then “Year and a half in the life of...” and so on, and see them evolve and appreciate it.
Anyway, I enjoy DM and think that its Metallica not just taking a hint that they should go with what they are good at but also just being themselves. If you followed them for years, as opposed to just taking in their whole careers at once, you can see that there was a lot of prodding to change direction and try this and that etc. and with this album I think they needed someone like Rick Rubin to come in and shoot them straight and essentially say "you tried this other shit, you went here there and there and it all seemed weird and forced... lets go back to basics."
I just finished the newest Metallica biography and what Rubin said when he signed on to produce the record was "write an album of Metallica songs as if no one knows who Metallica is and you are entering your band into a battle of the bands... write songs that you guys consider putting your best foot forward as if you're a new band, you just happen to be a band called Metallica." I may be misquoting that but you get the gist. I'm sure there was a bunch of "people didn't love ‘St. Anger’ and nu-metal is dead (praise the 4 winds) so go back to your thrash roots because people love nostalgia" going around but I honestly don't think Metallica would do anything they weren't into at this point. They have nothing to prove. I mean even that fucking idiot “St. Anger” record sold tons and tons of copies! I think them doing the Big 4 shows is amazing. Them celebrating their 30 year anniversary by doing five or six club shows in SF for their fan club... amazing. I have so much admiration and respect for that band. I'd love to hang out with Kirk Hammet for a bit. Being that it seems like I just kissed their asses for an hour, maybe someone can pass along our new CD to their manager and let them know it’s a really, really good idea to take us on tour, ya know? Let me throw this in though... one of my favorite Metallica moments is Jason Newstead singing “Whiplash” on “Live Shit Binge and Purge.” Hope I didn't just blow that tour opportunity.
xFiruath: What’s the best album you’ve heard so far this year, and what sort of music do you generally listen to in your spare time?
Rick: Fuck, I always get flustered when I get this question. Sometimes I feel like I don't ever listen to anything new but other times I know that’s not true because I like a lot of new bands. Balance and Composure's record “Separation” is rad. I started listening to Mercyful Fate this year. 30 years late, whatever. There are a bunch of albums coming out this year that I am psyched on. H20, I Am The Avalanche and Four Year Strong all have new records coming out. Biohazard was supposed to, I'm not sure what's up with that now though. I've listened to our new record a million times and love it, so that counts right? Some band Soldiers put out a record this year called "Hit The Bricks" and that's the coolest thing I've ever heard in my life.
I listen to all types of music, it just depends on my mood or sometimes my situation. Last summer I was re-obsessed with Guns n Roses entire catalog, this summer I feel like all iIve listened to is Metallica, Slayer, Pantera, Megadeth, Mercyful Fate, Anthrax, Flotsam & Jetsam, and the like. I did a seven hour drive last night and when I was done I said to the dudes "I don't think I listened to any metal tonight at all" and that was a weird thing. I guess it all depends on mood and I've been in my 14 year old mood for the past eight months...metal, metal and more metal. When I'm getting down though I like to bump Bsmooov.
xFiruath: Anything else you’d like to discuss that I didn’t bring up?
Rick: Daniel Bobis, a friend of mine and an important person in the LIHC scene passed away this summer while on vacation with his wife. It’s usually the case to glorify someone after they pass but Danny really was a great dude. He played drums in Cipher and was a middle school teacher. I met Danny after I had been involved in LIHC for a few years, but I always knew Cipher; they were a staple. He always had a smile on and was inviting. Even when discussing things that weren't exactly up-tempo, he'd end his thought with something positive or with uplifting sarcasm followed by his smirk. It’s funny because I never realized that that was how almost all of my conversations with him were til the last two times we spoke at Long Island fest. On the Friday I caught onto it and was thinking "wow, this dude actually always ends with something witty and funny and then that smile, or straight up with a positive conclusion" and then was able to wait for it when we conversed the next day at Long Island Fest. That’s super emo sounding and all but fuck all that, the dude was great and I'm so thankful I was able to consciously acknowledge how great he was before his passing. That’s how I feel towards Moe from Cipher as well. The band is filled with sincere dudes that do music for the message and outlet, not for the fame. No ego and no barriers.
I remember back in the AOL days and looking at Danny's profile and under marital status, where everyone would write shit about how much they love their girlfriend or hate their ex or whatever, Danny had "CIPHER." That might not be a big deal to anyone, especially in the Facebook era, but at the time that said so much to me about his commitment and passion for the band. I always thought about that every time I saw him and it garnered so much respect towards him. Anyway, I just thought the world of him and I know those that knew him way better than I are feeling his loss that much more. I figured I'd use this space to honor him at all if I could.
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