An Interview With This Is Hell Guitarist Rick Jimenez
Band Photo: This Is Hell (?)
This Is Hell has turned out to be one of the more exciting thrash bands in recent memory, but it wasn’t always that way for this New York quintet. They originally took inspirations from the NY hardcore scene for their first two albums, “Sundowning” and “Misfortunes,” before taking cues from bands like Municipal Waste on last year’s “Weight Of The World.” Just a year later, they have completely turned into a thrash act with “Black Mass,” though not without a few hints of their past still present. I had a chance to speak to guitarist Rick Jimenez in late October about “Black Mass” and how long-time fans will react to this new direction for This Is Hell.
The band just released their new album “Black Mass.” When somebody hears a title like that, they may think of religious undertones. Do the lyrics have any type of religious undertones to them?
Rick Jimenez: It’s not like we wrote an album about religion or anti-religion or pro-religion, but that’s something that’s been a recurring theme with us. The title track, “Black Mass,” uses a lot of religious references and metaphor, but more so, it’s a metaphor behind it, as opposed to a literal meaning. The way we came up with it was a lot of themes on the record are presented to the media and the public in a very positive way, when in fact, they are negative and evil and selfish. That kind of mask that is used, especially in our media and politicians. Everything comes across as, ‘Oh, this is a good idea, this is a positive thing,’ and a lot of times, it’s just a cover for negative things, a cover for greed, and a cover for power.
This album was released just a year after the band's last one. What do you credit to the fact of the short time between albums?
I don’t really know. That wasn’t a premeditated thing. We were touring on “Weight Of The World.” We recorded that record in February 2010 and went right to an Australian tour, came back and did a full European tour. We did a states tour, released the record in June, then did a full states tour over the summer. We were non-stop prior to recording that record throughout the recording and the release of it, all the way to December. For about a year-and-a-half straight, we were on the road.
After we were done with our second Australian tour in December 2010, we were home for five months before we went on another full tour. In that five months, I just wrote a ton of music; different types of things too, not just This Is Hell. I think overall in that five month period, I wrote three full-length records and two EPs for different projects. One of those full-length records just happened to be a This Is Hell record.
It was just a matter of being home without anything planned and there was no, ‘Oh, we only have a month home. We only have two weeks home.’ It was kind of, ‘We’re home right now. We don’t know what we’re going to be doing next.’ We had a good four months where there was nothing planned. It was a nice freedom time to be relaxed and creative and productive. That’s how it kind of worked out.
Tell me about some of the other material you were writing at the time.
It was all over the place. I started another project with a couple of friends of mine from home, which is an extremely early D.C. influenced hardcore band, early ‘80s-styled hardcore. Me and three of my friends have been working on that band very slowly. It’s just another fun thing to do, so there’s no rush to get anything going. We may or may not play a show, but we’re going to record a record. I wrote a full record of melodic pop-ish - I hate to use the term pop-punk - but it’s somewhat in that vein. I threw around a couple of ideas of what I may do with that. Maybe I’ll sing on it and be a solo-type thing, or maybe I’ll get some different singers that I like to lay down vocals on these.
There’s a good chance it won’t really ever leave my iPod. I’ve been doing that since I’ve known how to play guitar and play drums, just recording music just for the sake of listening to it myself because I enjoy it. One of the EPs may turn out to be another Soldiers record, which is a band I sing in. The other EP, I have no idea what I’m going to do with that. It’s just another type of super-heavy, almost hip-hop-ish type of thing. Whether I do music for a band or not, I’m always writing and recording stuff, even if it’s just for me to listen to or show some of my friends.
Going back to “Black Mass,” this album has a lot more thrash-orientated riffs and melodies than past albums. What did the idea come to from to make the crossover thrash elements more prominent in the sound?
I get asked that question so much, and it’s hard to pinpoint. The bands I played guitar to, especially when I learning to be creative with the guitar, instead of just mimicking things, were bands like Metallica and Megadeth and Testament; early thrash metal. As far as music, I was always into music and always wanted to do a band. Those early thrash bands are the bands that I really focused on, like ‘Okay, this is what I want my life to be. I want to be involved in music. I want to play fast, aggressive music. I want to have a band and go out there and do it.’ Those are the bands I learned how to play guitar in a creative way, and I did a few bands somewhat of that nature when I was younger.
By the time we started This Is Hell, all I wanted to do was hardcore. That’s what This Is Hell started off as. We were very rooted in traditional hardcore, and we’re still very rooted in traditional hardcore. We wrote “Sundowning,” we wrote “Misfortunes” and “Weight Of The World” started to go more into the crossover thrash direction. I think when I was writing “Black Mass,” the first songs I was messing with were way more in that direction; a bit of a leap. Then there was kind of, ‘Hey, this is what’s coming out,’ and it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I’m going to start listening to stuff I used to listen to.’ I never stopped listening to those bands, but I ended up listening to way more Metallica and way more Megadeth again. It was like a resurgence to me from what I listened to through high school and such. I matured as a guitar player too, so I was like, ‘I kind of understand what they are doing now. I can play something of this nature.’
Did you write most of this music on “Black Mass” before bringing it to the band? Was the band okay with bringing on those thrash influences?
The writing process went the same for “Weight Of The World,” for the most part. I’ll mess around with my guitar, and especially now that I learned how to use a computer correctly, I can record my guitar and drums to a computer and make songs on a computer. I essentially write the songs and demo them out on the computer, and then I show everyone. If people are into it, it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s great. Let’s go with it,’ or ‘All right, let’s learn the song,’ and after we learn how the song is, we’ll mess around with it so everybody is happy with it. That’s usually how it goes. I’ll write the song musically, show it to the band, and once we get past that, I’ll do the same thing with lyrics and vocals. All of a sudden, we have a record (laughs).
Have you noticed a backlash from long-time fans that know you guys for the hardcore sound you guys did on the first two albums?
I think that “Sundowning” and “Misfortunes” were pretty similar. I think our second record, “Misfortunes,” was a progression, but it was still very much in the same vein. I think we got more of a backlash on “Misfortunes” from “Sundowning” than we did from “Weight Of The World.” So I didn’t really know what to expect from “Black Mass.” I expected there would be some people like, ‘Oh, this is really cool. You’re doing something different,’ and then a lot of people who get mad when we do anything that’s not “Sundowning.” “Sundowning” was five years ago. There’s no chance we’re going to write “Sundowning” again. If that’s what people want, that’s what people want. It’s their prerogative to dislike everything we do.
So I didn’t really know what to expect, but surprisingly, we’ve gotten way more positive feedback on the new record than negative. You can’t please everyone, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t really care to try to please anybody, outside of myself. It’s most important for me to be excited when I’m playing, especially if I’m going to spend my time touring on the record. If people like it, that’s great. That’s why we take it on tour, instead of just listening to it on our iPods, like I can do with other music I write. It’s not my main concern to please people with what we do, but it’s way cooler if people like what you are doing.
Do you think this album opens up new avenues for the band to explore later on in the future?
On paper, it does. It’s like, ‘Oh, this album is way more metal. You can tour with this band and that band.’ We’ve always done tours that were odd or off for us anyway. I even hate to use the term music business or industry, because I hate having to be involved in that, but when it comes down to it, the music industry and the music business has so little to do with actual music that it’s kind of ridiculous and a mockery of itself. I would like to think, ‘Oh, this record is way more thrashy and way more metal. Maybe we can possibly do a tour with Machine Head or do a tour with Anthrax and Megadeth.’ That’s what I would think as a fan and that’s what I would hope as a musician, but there’s so much politics and bullshit and nonsense that goes into things, that it almost doesn’t matter what a band sounds like.
If they have a manager that says this, that and the other thing about the band or pushes a band in this or that way, or a label that’s going to buy a band on a tour, almost any band can do almost anything. It might not make a difference in the long-run. You know, one of those new pop-punk/breakdown bands can buy their way onto an Anthrax tour and even convince the marketing people, ‘Oh, promote us as a metal band.’ They play the tour and they may bomb because they don’t sound like the band that people who come to Anthrax want to see or they may go over well because people’s tastes are all over the place. Like I said, on paper, it would make perfect sense for us to start playing with more metal bands and more thrashy bands, and I would love for that to happen because I think we could really appeal to that crowd, just as we appeal to the hardcore crowd.
After all these years, do you think the band has a following, like people who show up to every show when the band visits multiple towns?
Yeah, definitely. The thing is, we have a very small amount of kids that come out every time we play a certain area. That doesn’t mean we’re any less appreciative. Like anything, sometimes I’m more appreciative that in specific towns, we have three or four kids that are there every single time. Whether we play that town five times a year or once a year, those kids show up and they are psyched. It’s kind of easy as a band that are getting a lot of hype and are internet-approved to be like, ‘Oh, this band is coming through. Of course I’m seeing them.’ There are 60, 70 kids that come to see that band every time and it’s kind of safe. It’s kind of expected for this person or that person to come see that band.
We’re not that band. So the fact that if we play a specific place and there’s only 30 people there, and five of those kids are there every single time we play, that’s awesome. They are going against the grain. They don’t like us because it’s accepted to like us or because the Internet tells them. They like us because they like us. They are going to like our new record no matter what direction we take because they understand we are a band that doesn’t write the same record over and over again. We don’t sing about the same shit over and over. We don’t do what everybody else is doing because that’s what is selling or that’s what the hyped-up thing to do at the time. I would like for that to increase from five to 10 to 20 kids in each area to 300 kids. As of right now, I don’t want to take for granted the kids that stick with us for the sake of trying to expand the band into this easily-liked, super-approved and super-safe type of thing.
The band is a four-piece right now. Did you guys lose a guitarist? Are you looking for another one?
We’ve haven’t had a second guitar player since June 2008. Our guitar player at the time gave us a little bit of notice, like ‘Oh, this is going to be my last couple of shows.’ From that point, it was like, ‘All right, do we look for another second guitarist?’ He was our second guitar player at the time. We were on our second bass player also at the time. We threw out the idea of looking for another guitar player, but were like, ‘Fuck it. Let’s just work as a four-piece for now and we’ll reconsider being a five-piece later on.’
Eventually, we lost our drummer, so we had our second drummer with us. Right after we had our second drummer with us, our second bass player left. It seemed like every couple of tours, I was teaching a new member on a different instrument the songs. At the same time, we’re trying to write new songs. It wasn’t ever a super big priority to me to find a second guitar player. Chris (Mazella), who plays with me in Soldiers and Ice Age, has played second guitar here and there, but he works full-time. He’s married and owns a house on Long Island. His time is limited, so he’s been an unofficial second guitar player for us for a little while.
At the beginning of this tour, we talked about it and I was like, ‘I’m sick of teaching people new songs.’ We’re not a band that makes a ton of money. We’re not a band that have a lot of fame. I always feel like I’m teaching people new songs, and as of right now, it feels like we have steady line-up with the four of us. It comes to a point where it’s like, ‘What’s more important? Staying tight as four people or always trying to get this fifth member in, who may or may not stick around?’ We’re a four piece, that’s it. If a second guitar player falls into our lap who we get along with and can be on the road 8-12 months out of the year, and just make enough money to get by, then awesome. Is it a priority to go and seek that person out? Me personally, that’s not my priority.
What kind of touring plans does the band have the rest of the year?
After the MetalSucks festival, we’re going to chill out essentially until the rest of the year. Kind of hope that the set-up and the follow-through with the release of “Black Mass” catches on. We just did a full U.S. tour in the summer and we’re finishing up a full U.S and Canada tour in a couple of days. We’re going to do a couple of spot shows at the end of the year in the states and in the new year, we’re going to hit every place. We’re going to hit all the places in the U.S. that we always do, all the places in Canada we always do, U.K and Europe. We’re going to get back to Australia finally.
Then we’re going to do some places we haven’t done. We’ve never been to Japan. We have so many friends who are like, ‘How come you guys haven’t done Japan yet?’ It just hasn’t worked out, so we’re definitely going to do Japan in the new year on this new record. There are a couple of places that are very difficult for bands to get, but it’s not impossible, and we want to get to those places. We’re working on getting to Mexico and Puerto Rico. We’re working on setting up a South African tour. We’re hoping very hard we’re going to get to South America within the new year also. We want to hit hard on this record. We put in a lot of time and effort into this record and we’re very happy with it. We want to get every place possible with it.
If you could tour with any band, past or present, who would it be and why?
I would choose “Master Of Puppets”-era Metallica. They were doing huge things then, but that was their last era of kind of being independent-minded Metallica. I would love to do a tour with any line-up of Metallica, especially the Cliff Burton-era Metallica, when they are playing stuff off “Kill ‘Em All,” “Ride The Lightning,” and “Master Of Puppets.” That would be amazing. That being said, “...And Justice For All” is my favorite Metallica record. I would be hard pressed to do a “...And Justice For All” or “The Black Album”-era tour either. If I had to pick just one thing as of right now, it would totally be “Master Of Puppets”-era Metallica.
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