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18th January 2010
MD: When you reformed in 2001 for the Chuck Billy benefit gig, was that only ever meant to be a temporary reunion or did you foresee…?
LA: It was just a one-off. I mean, that was like the beginning of when we started thinking we’d reform. But, it wasn’t going into it; it was just that one show when the whole Bay Area got together for him. It was like, “yeah, sure, we’ll play”, and that was about it; we’d just play that one show. But once we’d played, and at the practice thing, everyone was kinda having fun, and it was fun again. I remember when we broke up and it was just a nightmare….nobody was enjoying it, and it was like “why are we doing this again?”, because when we started out it was fun and exciting. So when we got back together, it was again that kind of feeling. It was just, let’s give it another go. Everyone was trying to talk us into…like all the journalists that were at the show, they were like “you guys should definitely do another album”. And I’d seen a lot of friends from the old days, you know, the journalists that helped us out along the way to the guys from Rock Hard in Germany - we were still friends, so Goetz is the one who recommended us and said “you know, I’m just gonna kind of push you in that way and see what you think; I’m gonna get you on Wacken so you‘ll have another show and then you can decide if you wanna do this or not”. So, basically, this conversation takes place over beers and then he actually called me and said “hey, I’ve got you on Wacken, what do you think about that?!” That was great, and when we did Wacken we were “wow, this is seriously fun, maybe we should really give it a go”, and after that show we’ve been working on it more serious. It just went from then on and, as I said earlier, it was still hard to get everybody together. When everybody had a minute, we’d work on something.
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(Lee Altus on the future of Heathen)
"I think the future mainly depends on this album and, to be honest, because if this album does well, then we’re able to dedicate more time to be more serious."
Heathen frontman, David White, on the Thrash Domination tour, 2009
Photograph supplied by, and used with permission from, Karl Demata at Eleven PR
Interview by Mark Holmes
Official Heathen MySpace:
Albums & EPs
Thanks to Karl Demata at Eleven PR for offering and arranging the interview
Breaking the Silence (1987)
Victims of Deception (1991)
Recovered EP (2004)
The Evolution of Chaos (2010)
MD: There seems to have been quite a resurgence in thrash metal’s popularity during the past five years or so, or at least here in the UK - have you kind of experienced that increased level of interest in Heathen since reforming, and do you find you can also attract a new, younger generation of thrash fans?
LA: Yeah, I’ve seen it, it’s like everybody’s talking about it and everything, and then you just kinda look at the kids and…wow! I remember dressing like that in 1982! I haven’t experienced it really with Heathen because we’ve just recorded an album, and I’m sure we’ll see it, but I did experience it when I went to play with Exodus - you know, all these new kids on tour that we were just talking about and, wow, I guess this confirms the resurgence. For us, it was like “ahhh, this will blow over”, but I definitely see young kids getting into it. There are also a lot of bands that are copying this style. That’s kinda like flattering, but it’s also that they’ve gotta move on and create their own thing. When we started out, sure, we were copying the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, but we were also trying to combine it with some other stuff we really liked - punk rock stuff like GBH, The Exploited and Discharge. That’s how this whole new thing came out. You can’t just copy. Sooner or later you have to move on and discover yourself. I guess this whole genre and the resurgence, or whatever you want to call it, I think the best bands are gonna be able to do that. They’re the ones who are gonna survive in the end.
MD: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s great to see bands like Heathen back with a new album amidst all these new, younger bands playing stuff in the style of Heathen and other eighties thrash bands. It’s good to see the original guys back doing it, I guess.
LA: Oh sure. I mean, it’s nice to be back; it’s been a long time, but when you’re coming back it’s interesting to me how it all changes, over the years, the whole scene. The younger kids are telling me that the new sound, or whatever we’re doing, is not old school enough! This is what confuses me!
MD: Kids are saying that?!
LA: Yeah! I don’t know what old school is! I mean, growing up, who was the old school? Did we call the Deep Purple guys the old school? We never even had that, you just kinda do your own thing.
MD: You’ve been playing guitar in Exodus, of course, too - is it since 2005?
LA: 2004 or 2005, I think, yeah.
MD: Do you find it difficult juggling commitments between both bands?
LA: No, not too hard. I mean…[laughs]…except for if we play together. Exodus, we tune down to D, and with Heathen we still stay in four forty in E, so I have to bring extra guitars or have the guitar tech change the strings really fast. Other than that, for the recording, I still went back and used the stuff that I liked using with Heathen. For Exodus, we’re always looking for new amps and whatever…but live we always use the same stuff. When we played in Japan, when I had to do the two sets, Kragen used Gary’s stuff, and I obviously used mine for both. It worked out just fine.
MD: I was gonna ask how the Thrash Domination tour went in Japan last September - was that a good experience?
LA: Yeah, it was great; Japan is always great. It was a little tough playing two sets - I was a little scared on how…you know, it’s not like I’m twenty years old and able to do this! But it went over great…and it was fun.
MD: Fun, but tiring!
LA: Yeah! [laughs]
MD: You’re over here in March, of course, for Hammerfest and one date in London - when’s the last time you actually played in the UK, and are you looking forward to coming back here?
LA: Oh, definitely looking forward to coming back. The very first time I remember was when we were doing the Sepultura tour, and that got announced, and that’s the place that I was looking forward to going the most. A lot of the influences came from there - Deep Purple; Black Sabbath; Judas Priest; Iron Maiden; the New Wave of British Heavy Metal; and punk rock. I mean, it’s all UK, so that’s a very special place, and it was like “yeah, we’re going where it all started”. So I’m definitely looking forward to coming back there, as well as the rest of Europe. Germany’s really metal, and they’ve treated us really well, and there are a lot of other places too. The last time we were there, I don’t even remember the year, but we did one or two shows with Nuclear Assault…I’m trying to remember what year it was but I’m just drawing a blank!
MD: Is that since reforming, or was that in the old days of Heathen.
LA: It’s since reforming - a warm up tour, like a week to ten days in Europe.
MD: I’ve read in an interview, I think one you did quite recently, that you’re quite taken with Holland as a country and Dutch culture?
LA: Yeah, I remember when I went there first how nice people were. They were so polite and nice to me, it was so different…everything about it.
MD: Yeah, it’s a very different mindset in Holland, a laidback one, to any other country I’ve been to.
LA: Yeah, in Germany you have more aggressive kind of people which is, coming from the States, I have no room to talk! [laughs] Everybody here’s got their guns and you look at them the wrong way, and “what are you looking at?”, and right away they want to fight. But there, everybody was so relaxed…are they all stoned, or…?!
MD: I’m sure it’s not just the dope! Do you have any Dutch dates on the March tour?
LA: Yeah, I think we’re doing two or three. Dynamo, the festival, back in the day, that was the one you wanted to play.
MD: Finally, what lies ahead for Heathen, and will it be such a long gap again before we get more new material?…or will there be more new material?
LA: It’s like, who knows?! I’ve done a lot of interviews, and everybody’s asking about it, and I’m like “I really can’t promise”…let us get this album out and see how it does. I think the future mainly depends on this album and, to be honest, because if this album does well, then we’re able to dedicate more time to be more serious. It’s just different times, I mean, we have to support our families and we have responsibilities now.
MD: There seems to be a lot of buzz over here in the UK about the new album, before it’s come out, so hopefully it will take off big time.
LA: Well, yeah, but like I said, we’re not expecting to suddenly sell a million. Honestly, you hate to make it about money. When we started out playing, it wasn’t like “oh, we’re gonna do this for money; we’re doing it for the love of music”. It’s just back then we had a lot more free time to do it, and worked a lot harder. So yeah, it would be nice if the album does well enough so you can pay the bills and then, if that’s the case, maybe some of the people don’t have to work as much, and they can dedicate themselves a little more to the band.
MD: Well, I really hope it does take off because I think the new album is pretty phenomenal, so real best of luck with that.
LA: Oh, thank you, I appreciate it.
MD: And thank you very much for your time.
LA: Well, thank you, and I hope I’ll see you sometime when we’re touring over there.