Hung Bassist Sam Roon Talks About The Band's Self-Titled Debut Album
Death metal has had a progressive sub-genre for decades. Back in the early ‘90s, bands like Cynic and Atheist were getting verbally abused for being something other than tough-guy, Satanic-loving filth. Nowadays, this sub-genre is much more accepted, and one of the best rising bands from this area of death metal is NYC’s Hung. With a technical spin, and a prominent violin acting almost as a second guitar, Hung’s self-titled debut is not what one would call a predictable affair. I had the chance to speak to bassist Sam Roon about the band’s first album, their long history together, and the effect of having a female violinist on their public image.
You guys are a relatively new band, at least in the eyes of the public. Could you explain how you guys came together?
About six and a half years ago - actually, it starts way earlier than that, maybe 10 years ago - the guitar player (Evil Jon) and I met through some mutual friends and started to play together. We knew we wanted to start a band. Back in those days, it was more trying to become a progressive kind of thing. We searched for musicians to be in that band for many years. We even moved from our original homes in New Jersey to Philadelphia. We searched Philadelphia for good musicians, but it took its toll on us. We ended up giving up and moving back to Jersey. Then, one day, John saw an ad on Craigslist for a violinist in New York City looking to start a metal band. We gave a call and just decided to go up and see what it was like. We showed up first and we were just warming up, and Lyris walked in the room, plugged in, and was doing some warmup runs. We knew already this was the beginning of something awesome. It was all downhill from there (laughs).
When you guys first started a decade ago, how was the sound then compared to how it is now?
I think that the sound, back when it was just Jon and I, was over-the-top on the progressive side and not really focused on the metal side. It was still linear, like it is now, where nothing repeats and everything starts at one point and ends at another. It was designed like that and written like that. I think with Hung, it took more of a melodic turn, but also took a heavier turn. A lot of the first few songs were rewrites of those original old songs, just turned kind of heavy. It was much more progressive back then and much more heavier now.
How did the band think of incorporating the violin into the music? Was it to be used in the background, or as a lead melodic tool?
Me personally, I never really thought about it. The band’s name is Hung. It’s her band. When we went in there and she was this amazing player, it was like, ‘Oh, we don’t need to think about how we need to apply her. She’s going to be amazing no matter what she does.’ The way we write songs, generally, Jon basically writes a piece. It’s all guitar; he doesn’t give hints or suggestions of what he wants you to do with it. He finishes an entire piece. Some things will change later a little bit, but for the most part, those are the songs how they are today. He’ll send it to me, and I do my best to destroy his masterpieces on the bass. Eventually, it makes its way to Lyris.
It’s the same thing with every musician between Jon and the end, where we all kind of go in and put our own mark on the song. For the most part, nobody questions it, because everybody in the band is exceptionally good players, in my opinion. I think everybody I work with are some of the best in the world. When it comes to Lyris, she leaves her mark. She has a real ear, especially since she’s the last one that touches the song, to know where the violin fit, know where to leave layers. She’s very modest, just in general. You can kind of see it in her parts. When it comes to soloing, she shows you how masterful she can be.
Were you guys okay with this being her band? Did you like there would be a chance you guys would be brushed aside because her name is under it?
I think Hung is a great band name. When she said she wanted to call the band Hung, I was instantly on-board. She already owned the trademark on the name. Bands can spend years trying to come up with a good band name, and Hung is such a great conversation piece, and nobody ever forgets it. It never really bothered me. Not even since the beginning did it ever feel like we were naming the band after her, just because it was such a cool band name. The way that she is in general, being how modest she is, it never really feels like it’s her band, even though at the end of the day, it is. She allows us to be a democracy. Everybody owns an equal part of it. If we were a profitable band, I would say we own equal parts of it, but now I think we all owe a lot of money equally (laughs).
Is there any worry that the media may spin it around so that she gets more attention than the other four members?
That’s fine with me. Everybody in the band has their own thing on the side anyway, whether it be other bands or web sites. For me, I like the fact that everybody gets looked at as an individual, and the other things they are involved with can help to bring some light onto this project, so be it. It’s great. It can really only help. I think if Lyris blew up doing what she’s doing, that can only do good for us.
The band is releasing their debut album in early May. Did all this material come together over the last six-and-a-half years the band has been together, or did it come up a little sooner?
Actually, half the CD is a rewrite of both of our EPs, minus one song. So it’s really all of our songs almost in order from the beginning of the band. We have a whole other CD ready to record already. We’ve been a band for six years, but with our debut, we wanted to give the songs justice that we have recorded previously. Our first EP was absolutely terrible, but it was something to listen to that sounded sort of like us. We needed some representation of us as a band on a disc. The second CD, we recorded five songs over three days with Eric Rachel over at Trax East Studios. It was a great experience, but it was really fast. To do five songs like we play songs in three days was just super tiring, but it was a much better recording that time.
At the end of the day, spending three days in the studio does not do these songs justice. It’s got to be focused. So getting the opportunity to re-record them all, lay these things down in the way that they should be laid down, was just something we were really excited about. Even though we have newer songs, which we put a couple of them on there, but we wanted to make sure those old songs got the credit that they deserved. We’ve been refining them for six years. They needed to be recorded properly. I couldn’t be more happy with the way that it turned out.
How did the new songs on the album come together? Did you guys decide originally just to re-release the old songs, or did you intend to have the new songs incorporated in with the old ones?
It’s really difficult, because for all of us, we’ve been working on those older songs forever. With all the newer songs that we’re really excited about, we really wanted those to go down also. What we decided to do was to instead of saving super old songs to go on a future album, we wanted them to go on there, and so we put them on there. There was still space for a few others, so we put our favorites of the new songs to put on there; the ones we knew were show-stopping songs, in our opinion. We decided to put those on there, which would give us time to refine the other songs for the next album, to make sure they can also become the type of show-stopping songs.
What do the new songs sound like, the ones that haven’t been used yet?
They are extremely intense, and not necessarily in a death metal, brutal kind of way, but more of, ‘If you are a musician and you’re going to play this, you need to have your chops up to play this stuff.’ It’s relentless from a player standpoint. Some of them are brutal, so you have to imagine that kind of intensity as well. It’s really exciting music for any kind of listener. In the future, it really does kind of sound like the same idea as all of the old stuff, just new songs with completely new melodies. When you listen to the album that we have now, there are no two songs that sound the same. That’s totally on purpose. These songs are all their own entities, and so are the future songs. We could have easily swapped out any of the songs on the album now with new songs and it would have fit perfectly, because they are all so different from each other.
Since you feel like each song is its own separate entity, how are you guys able to get those songs into one package, so that somebody just doesn’t listen to songs randomly?
I think that because each song has its own story behind it, both musically and lyrically, it’s definitely going to make it so that it’s possible that people will like some more than others. I think that for the most part, they’re so unique in nature that it’s not going to allow you to stop listening to it. You’re going to need to know what happens next. It’s not like one of these bands that are cookie-cutter, ‘We have this sound and our singer sounds like that singer, it was recorded by this guy and has the production that all the other bands that that guy works with.’
Some of these cookie-cutter bands, you put on a CD and everything sounds the same. The challenge for those bands is to make two or three singles. The challenge for Hung is entirely personal. We don’t even think about singles. Each song to us is kind of like a single. There’s no filler. We have an intro on the album and we have an interlude, and even those are special in their own way. If you wanted to call them fillers, you can, but the people that I have played it for say they could listen to a whole album of those. Each thing that we put together is really focused, so when you listen to the album as a package, it’s really is going to have its own life for every song. You’re not going to want to skip ahead.
You guys are fully entrenched in the NYC metal scene. That scene is full of different genres, styles, and labels. Do you guys draw any influence from that scene as a whole when writing music?
I would say no, just for the inspiration of writing part. I think it’s really exciting to be in the New York City metal scene right now. For a long time, there almost was none. Right now, it seems like everything is blowing up, from a local standpoint and even from a larger scale. People are starting to talk about the New York City metal scene outside of New York City. That’s the way for many years we always thought it should be. There was always some bands here and some shows there, but then all the clubs that used to host metal were all closing down because nobody cared for a long time. So to be part of the scene now that’s blowing up is really awesome. We got so many friends here and supporters. I really recommend anybody who is outside of New York to come here and play with a band, or be a part of what’s happening. I think when it comes to the writing process, we don’t take any inspiration. If anything, it’s mostly European bands that we listen to, and I think it’s pretty obvious in our sound.
I find it interesting that you guys listen to more European bands than, say, American bands. Is that because a lot of bands aren’t doing the style of music you guys are?
I think it’s more about what influences you personally as a musician. We as a band all have very different influences as individuals. It’s just funny that most of that comes from Europe. For Kenny, the drummer, a lot of it comes from Latin American and Brazil. I think the vast majority of what we listen to collectively would come from Europe. It’s kind of impossible for that influence not to take place in our music. I think the United States has its own breed of metal, which is awesome in its own right. We just didn’t take that turn when it comes to writing.
If you were meeting somebody on the street and tried to sell them on the idea of Hung, how would you do it?
I think that I wouldn’t. I think that if I was to meet somebody who would potentially be interested in Hung, I would tell them, ‘Come and see us live. I’m not going to give you anything.’ Hung is a live band. For anybody, you need to come and experience what we’re doing when it’s on stage. When it comes to the album, one of the things that was most important to use was to try to recreate that same type of feeling and energy that we take to the stage. I think we’re all very happy with the way that turned out. I would say almost equally that you should check out the album also, but in my world, if I was to meet someone on the street and I wanted to sell them on Hung, I would say, ‘You need to come see it live, and that’s how you should learn about what we sound like.’
What’s a typical Hung show like?
Energetic and progressive. We like to really use dynamics in our music. For us to get any kind of emotional reaction out of people is the kicker. Most shows that we play, you get these people coming up to us afterwards and go, ‘I didn’t expect that at all. I saw the violinist warming up, and thought this was going to be total shit,’ and we get some people who are like, ‘Wow.’ That, to me, is the best reaction you can get. We’re very energetic on stage. We never stop moving. We try very hard to connect individually with everybody in the audience, making eye contact or sharing the energy that we’re putting up and they are putting out. It’s really about the whole experience. We want everybody to be a part of everything that we’re doing.
Do you get any satisfaction of having to work to get that type of reaction out of the audience, who may be a little bit leery about the band at first?
No. I think with my own personal background, I’ve had to fight for everything in my life. I don’t expect anybody to give me anything. I almost want to earn that. I think you should be skeptical, especially in this day and age, with so much music out there. A lot of times, these bands that you hear about that are getting signed, and you’re automatically going to put a target on them because they are probably crap. There’s a lot of cookie-cutter crap out there, and I’ll be the first to say it. I hope that most people come into a Hung show having never heard us, and think that we have a high potential for being one of those cookie-cutter crap bands, and we turn you as a group. Then you can come up to us and say, ‘Wow, that really was actually interesting. It was different.’ I want to earn that.
What’s the one thing you want people to take away from Hung’s first album?
Longevity. I think what’s important to me is that this is setting the tone for a long-lived career as a band. It’s been a long time coming for us, but for the rest of the world, it’s like a birth. My hope is that when people listen to that first album, they think to themselves, ‘I can’t wait to hear more of them.’ That, to me, is going to make it so that people take away this feeling of, ‘I need more.’ That will, in turn, allow us to give you more. We’re not going to be able to put out another record if people don’t buy this one and want a second one. It’s going to be all about that support.
If you could with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?
I would probably say Opeth based on their progressive nature as a band. I think it would be a very good fit for us. I met Mikael a couple of times, and he’s extremely nice and down-to-earth. I can imagine the backstage conversations would be philosophical and interesting. That’s something that would appeal to us.
If it wasn’t for trying to play for a room of metal heads, which we love doing, I would probably say Pink Floyd because they are the greatest band ever. It would be just really awesome to have tour with them in their prime. The way they have been able to create emotions with their music is very similar to the way we try to create emotions with our music. If you were open-minded enough, you could make that connection, and that would be really appealing. Even though we’re considerably heavier than Pink Floyd, it’s still kind of that same philosophy in wanting to create feeling and atmosphere with your music.
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