DATE OF INTERVIEW:
4th April 2011
METAL DISCOVERY: I heard the album for the first time last week and it sounds absolutely amazing. I didn’t know what to expect really, but it exceeded anything I thought it would be. Did it meet or exceed your own expectations as to what you set out to create?
ANDY SNEAP: I kind of knew…like when I said to ya, we didn’t really plan to make an album to start off with but I kind of knew by the time we’d finished with it, we’d got something really special. Me and Kev have put so many hours into this. We really have just gone over every little detail on it; we’ve tried to make every song its own little entity which I don’t think you hear on albums nowadays. Everything’s so formulated and…I don’t know…everything sounds the same to me now. Maybe that’s because of me!
(Andy Sneap on forthcoming new Hell album, 'Human Remains')
"...we’ve tried to make every song its own little entity which I don’t think you hear on albums nowadays. Everything’s so formulated and…everything sounds the same to me now. Maybe that’s because of me!"
Hell - promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2011 Nigel Crane
MD: Yeah, stop producing!
AS: Yeah, I will! But I just think there’s so much depth to these songs that almost, by the time you’ve finished listening to one song, you’ve had as much of a ride with it that you would have with most people’s full albums. We’ve tried to put the little interludes on there and everything. It’s almost like Pink Floyd meets Rush meets Mercyful Fate with Judas Priest if you know what I mean.
MD: Oh yeah, yeah, you can hear all that sort of stuff in there, definitely. It sounds so fresh as well which is kind of ironic considering it’s material that was written so long ago.
AS: I think that’s why it does sound fresh because everything’s been getting so formulated recently and none of this has been influenced by anything over the last twenty five years, but we’ve approached it with a modern approach. We haven’t over-sterilised it or anything like that, it still sounds raw. We didn’t do any cutting and pasting on the guitar, it was all properly played, and we set out with that attitude. But I think it does; it feels like a band that’s fresh and it doesn’t sound like anything else that’s happening these days.
MD: Do you think that’s partly because Hell’s music was ahead of its time back in the day and the scene’s kind of caught up with Hell’s music? Obviously trends in metal are cyclical and come and go, so…
AS: Well, I do keep getting asked – why do you think the band never made it in the first place? I think it was just the wrong time for them. When you look at what was happening with metal in the mid-eighties, everyone was wearing dressing gowns covered in sequins and backcombing their hair, weren’t they…I mean, you’ve just got to look at Ozzy on ‘The Ultimate Sin’ tour to realise how bad metal had got! [laughs] Actually, Ozzy’s probably not a very good gauge on how good or bad metal is! [laughs] But you can see how the scene was changing back then and the fact that this music was heavier and darker in a way than what was happening back then, but then metal’s got more extreme now, hasn’t it. Even though the band’s called Hell, I don’t think it really fits into the black metal category. I think a lot of the younger black metal kids are a little bit confused by it, thinking it’s a bit of a piss-take but, really, it’s just got that theatrical side where it’s…I wouldn’t say tongue in cheek but it’s entertainment as opposed to trying to take itself too seriously and, obviously, the music’s very serious. The image of the band has got a bit of a…it’s almost Rammstein on a low budget!
MD: That’s an interesting description! I see what you mean, though, I’ve seen the video…which is very good actually.
AS: Good, I’m glad you like it. With the video we just did what we thought was right – get some cabs, get some fire, and some heavy metal – but a lot of the young scene kids are just totally baffled by it but, to me, I was like, “yeah, this is great!” [laughs]
MD: Yeah, you say scene kids but I think retro metal has come back big-time and kids who are 15/16 seem to get into Motörhead and Maiden, and the Big Four are headlining Sonisphere. I think that’s come back big-time now, even with the kids and not just people in their thirties and forties, so maybe that’s why Hell’s album’s been getting so much good press and feedback from everybody.
AS: Yeah, and the good thing about it as well is we’re not like one of these bands who are trying to be New Wave of British Heavy Metal now like these younger bands coming up who’ve all got these Union Jack vests on, and bullet belts and stuff. We’re not that, we are the real deal with this. You know, it’s the band that never managed to get there. I think it’s great that bands are taking their influence but we’re not trying to be something. Like I say, it’s the real thing.
MD: Yeah, and it didn’t fit into the typical NWOBHM of the day so, by default, it’s not trying to revive that now, like you say. How did the Nuclear Blast deal come about because I read on the press sheet that Jaap, one of the label guys, used to be a big fan?
AS: Well, I approached Nuclear Blast. It would’ve been nearly eighteen months ago now. They were my first record label to go to because I do so much work with them anyway. They sort of said, “no, it’s not really fitting; Markus, the main guy, doesn’t really understand it…” So I was still pushing them; I deal with Jaap all the time and he was trying to push ‘em onto a couple of other labels. Then Metal Blade came along and put in an offer that we weren’t really that happy with but we were thinking about it. And then we did a bit more sniffing around and there were two smaller labels – Candlelight and another couple of smaller labels. Then Century Media came to the table with an offer that we were literally about to sign on the dotted line with, then Jaap jumped back in, called me on a Sunday and said, “don’t sign anything, things have changed at Nuclear Blast and we can sign ya, we really want to do this.” And it’s worked out great, actually. I think Century Media or Nuclear Blast would’ve been great for the band. They’re both very similar labels in a way. Financially, the Nuclear Blast deal was the better deal but that wasn’t really what swung it…although it did help! [laughs] They’re doing a great job, actually.
MD: The album’s playing time is sixty six minutes and six seconds…
AS: Do you like that?
MD: Was that actually a coincidence?!
AS: It was.
MD: Was it really?!
AS: I honestly couldn’t believe it. I compiled the album and it came to something like sixty six minutes, four seconds, and I was like, I could be a bit cheeky and stretch it out a bit more! So there’s always a few little clichés like that we like to keep going. I mean, I think the sixth side of the vinyl is “side 666” because it’s a triple vinyl thing. So just for a bit of a laugh we made that work.
MD: Cool, a good selling point, I guess! I gather you’ve incorporated some of Dave Halliday’s from the old demo tapes in the new recordings?
AS: Yeah, I’ve got all of Dave’s old tapes here and I’ve been going through everything; the old rehearsal tapes and everything and got the little laughs and odd little cackle. There was a mid-section on ‘The Devil’s Deadly Weapon’ that I managed to lift out. All I’ve got is cassettes. I’ve got the reel-to-reel of the single and the cassettes but I haven’t got any multi-tracks so it’s impossible to pull the vocals out any of the recordings. But there was the mid-section to ‘The Devil’s Deadly Weapon’ I managed to synch up and use within the middle of the song. There was the intro to ‘Macbeth’ which was Tony, Kev and Dave in the rehearsal room on a four-track that I’ve managed to clean all the hiss up and add some more sound effects so Dave’s in there as well. And there were some live recordings, from Ripley Leisure Centre I think it was, where he was doing the “bring out your dead” from the start of ‘Plague and Fire’ that I managed to take his vocal and use it for the intro. So he’s in there in places. There’s the odd little scream and the odd little laugh but what we’ve also done on the bonus disc as well with the digipak is thee demo versions of all of the songs we’ve recorded so we’ve managed to incorporate Dave on the album there as well. And with the booklet that’s with the bonus disc, there’s the history of the band, and old pictures, and a lot of cool old stuff on there. So we’ve tried to put him in there as much as we could include him.
MD: So what are your happiest memories of Dave now then?
AS: He was a fucking nutcase!
MD: Was he?
AS: Yeah, absolutely. He was just really cheeky! [laughs] For me, I was twelve through to seventeen when I knew him but for me being so young and so enthusiastic about playing, he’d do anything to help me, especially when the band started getting set up. You know, all the advice and just learning from him really. He was very focussed on what he was doing, very professional about what he was doing, a strict vegetarian and looked after himself totally. For this kid, me, I’d left school with no qualifications and could’ve been out on me arse not doing anything, he was like an older brother to me and gave me a foot up, really. But onstage, he used to do the flasher scene onstage. They used to do an old Race Against Time song called ‘Bedtime’ onstage where he’d hand vibrators out to the girls and do this whole flasher type thing with a rain mac and a…
MD: Oh, hang on, I’ve seen an old photo in the gallery section of the Hell website where he’s wearing a mac with a censored sign across his groin…
AS: Yeah, he’d usually have a massive fake dick that he used to wear for that song as well! Honestly, he was a nutcase! He had no qualms about doing anything like that.
MD: Marvellous! So do you think it will end with this album or have there been any talks about recording more stuff?
AS: We’re definitely doing another record. There’s another fifty per cent of the next album that will be old material and Kev’s just been writing and writing and writing since he’s got back into playing again. All his stuff that’s sort of been pent up inside him for twenty years is just coming out so I’m just letting him get on with it. When the time comes, me and him are gonna sit down in the studio and start going through all these ideas. I’ve got tons of ideas as well and Dave, his brother, he’s a musician, he’s a full-on guitar player as well and obviously he’s very musically minded so there’s not going to be any shortage. I’ve just got to vet the material and make sure it feels true to what I think Hell is. The good thing with Kev as well, he’s not been influenced by anything in the last twenty five years as far as his playing goes. He’s a very old school player. The only way to describe it is he’s almost a bit more open with his playing. He plays a lot weirder chords, like not typical fifths or typical chugging riffs, it’s more that old school style.
MD: Still very pure.
AS: Yeah, it is, and I think that it’s important because that’s what gives the band its own sound. So I don’t really want to come in and start saying, “well, we should thrash this up and we want double kicks in this section” or anything like that. Even with the other guys, they’re very old school players and I think it’s important that the band keep true to it.
MD: So you’ll let Kev drive it, and then you’ll chip in with a few ideas…
AS: Exactly, yeah. If I think something’s getting a little too modernised, in a way, I’m gonna try and make sure that doesn’t happen. I want it to be true to what I remember the feel of Hell was.
MD: And I guess you’re better placed than anyone to judge that.
AS: Yeah, I think I am actually.