Posted on September 12th. 2017
Questionnaire by Stefan on behalf of METAL TO INFINITY WEBZINE BELGIUM
Hexx (pre-Paradox) was founded by axe man Dan Watson back in 1984, their magical “No Escape” effort has been released by legendary Shrapnel Records. Metal from the Bay Area always fascinated me so Hexx became a fave of mine right from the start. The Heavy/Power and Thrash scene there had a lot to deliver those early years of the 80s and actually nowadays, it’s still the same. Hexx’s second effort “Under The Spell” appeared in 1986 followed by two EP’s and full length number three entitled “Morbid Reality”. Wat happened next is still an open question to me, Hexx fell under the radar for a very long time. They returned in 2013 with a demo, a must-have boxed set entitled “Under The Spell” and a split album with US Metal brothers Ruthless. The good news is that HEXX is back with a vengeance, their brand new, 4 th. album “Wrath Of The Reaper” comes along via High Roller Records. The time has come for me to have a talk with someone I always knew as great musician, Dan Watson, founding member of HEXX !
Stefan: Hails Dan, welcome here at Metal To Infinity… glad to have you on board and like to thank you for the alacrity doing this conversation. First on, congratz with the new effort “Wrath of the Reaper” we will talk about later on. First and foremost, I wanna take you to the early beginning of your musical career. Where the ambition came from to be guitarist in a Metal band?
Dan: Hi Stefan Thank you for taking the time to put together this thoughtful interview! I’ll do my best to answer all your questions. Your first questions about my musical origins and the origins of Paradox and how Paradox became Hexx is kind of a long story in its self so I will tell you everything but you might find it too long and if you have to edit it for length it will be ok by me.
So, here goes. I first started playing the guitar at age 9. It was 1968 and my uncle Joe was a teenager laying guitar in a local San Francisco area rock band called the Chaos Chorus and Stagger Band. The TV show The Monkeys was my favorite show and I wanted to play guitar in a band like my uncle and be like the guys in the Monkees. I wanted to be cool, have long hair and have girls chase me around. I saw the Monkees live that year at the Oakland Coliseum. This was my first concert and Jefferson Airplane opened the show that night. These were my earliest influences as cheesy as it sounds–keep in mind I was only nine years old.
My parents were very young and had little money for extra things like guitars or guitar lessons, but they managed to find me a cheap guitar and somehow pay for guitar lessons for two whole years. By then I was fully into the Beatles and had outgrown the Monkeys. My guitar teacher was kind enough to teach me the Beatle songs I wanted learn so I did that for the first two years. My father soon left the family and my mother got a job in a factory to support my sister and me. After the lessons stopped I went on my own trying to pick out things from the radio and my ever growing record collection. My uncle got me going on scales and would show me riffs once in a while, if I pestered him long enough. As I got older and started to play better my Uncle turned me on to Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin Robin Trower and most importantly UFO! Michael Schenker was probably my biggest influence during my teen years. I used to make cassette tape recordings of all his solos from all the UFO albums and string them together on one 90 minute tape and listen to it every night as I went to sleep. I did this for years and made similar tapes of solos from Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page and all the rest.
When I got older and was lucky enough to have girlfriends sleep over it would drive them crazy! Around this time, my freshman year of high school, my uncle’s band opened for Yesterday and Today at our high school gymnasium. That was the first time I saw Dave Meniketti play guitar. A strange footnote here, Dave Meniketti’s grandfather or uncle or something ran a music store in Oakland. We used to go there and hang out and somehow they let us purchase instruments and equipment on credit. Thinking back this was crazy because we were just kids with part time after school jobs. We got real Gibson guitars, Peavey PA systems, all kinds of stuff–and all we had to do was sign some paper and walk out with the gear.
We always made our payments, but this is unheard of today. Around this time UFO led me to discover the Scorpions and Uli Roth which were also big influences as well as Van Halen, AC/DC, Peter Frampton , Frank Marino, Pat Travers, Kiss and of course Rush. I think it was John Marshall and Kirk Hammett that brought the first Iron Maiden and Def Leopard albums over to my house. Soon after that, we all quickly got into Judas Priest and Moterhead—I think that is when I started to get into Heavy Metal. Those days are a little blurry to me now because by then we were all smoking a lot of weed and drinking beer and trying to get girls, so things are a little fuzzy–but I’m pretty sure that was when we all got into Heavy Metal!
Stefan: What’s the name of your very first band you teamed up with back in the day?
Dan: We called ourselves American Standard first. Later on we changed it to Paradox for some reason. But I guess that was the first real band that I was in. Bill Peterson and I formed it together back in the 1970’s. I used to hang out at his house on weekends and we would spend hours jamming, listening to records and trying out various drummers to jam with us. One of the first drummers we jammed with was, oddly enough, John Marshalls brother Mark. He had his dads or grandfathers Pearl drum set from the 1940’s or something. It was so old it still had real calf skin heads on it–probably worth some bucks now if it’s still around. Anyway he didn’t work out, he was a little too hyper for us. We worked with several drummers over a period of a year or two before we found Dave Schmidt.
Stefan: Back in 1984 you formed Hexx, a product of another act named Paradox. When was Paradox established and for what reason did you change the name of the band, what’s the story behind that?
Dan: We had been playing gigs around the bay area as Paradox for several years and had graduated from playing backyard beer parties and drunken house parties to playing the local northern California night club circuit. We got lucky and got to open up for bigger acts like Dio when he first went solo, Quit Riot, Lita Ford and others at much larger venues.
Stefan: Also, Hexx really impressed me with the first release of the blue colored, legendary debut album “No Escape”, after signing a deal with the great Shrapnel Records. How did the collaboration between the band and this legendary label formed by the great Mike Varney come to be?
Dan: Around that time Mike Varney wrote a column in Guitar Player Magazine that spotlighted new up-and-coming guitar players. He gave an address at the bottom of the article where to send your tape. We just finished the Paradox demo so for a goof I sent in our tape, not dreaming he would even listen to it. I figured it was a real long shot because I was sure he got billions of tapes every day and ours would end up in the dumpster like most of the rest. It seemed to me, at that time in the Bay Area, great guitar players grew on trees and he was surely getting bombarded with tapes from all over the world. I forgot all about it until a few weeks later when my phone rang and it was Mike Varney! I could not believe it–I could barely talk I was so surprised. I thought maybe it was one of the guys playing a prank, but it was really Mike Varney!
I thought he was going to do a spotlight article of me for Guitar Player Magazine. I was so thrilled and excited, and then as we talked I realized he wanted to know if I wanted to participate in a guitar head cutting competition he was putting on at the Keystone Palo Alto. I was crushed. I thought he was going to do a killer story of me in Guitar Player Magazine and from there I would become a big famous rock star. Wrong!
I tried to hide my disappointment, and reluctantly agreed to do the gig. I heard about these head cutting guitar dual offs but had never been in one. For those who don’t know, this is when you get two guitar players on stage together, no band, just the two guitar players and each one takes turn playing for a moment or so and tries to shred the other guys head off. Well, for some reason the night of the gig, the other guys in the band had better things to do than come support their guitar player so I went alone with my girlfriend at the time.
I was scheduled to go on about half way through the show pitted up against another guitar player I had never heard of. As I watched the other guitar players take the stage one after the other and witness how good everybody was, I became very nervous and uneasy. Guys that I thought were way better than me were getting their heads cut off and handed to them, walking off the stage in shame and defeat. The crowd cheering on the victor like it was the Roman Coliseum or something.
I told my girlfriend I was thinking of ducking out the back door. I thought she of all people would encourage and support me to go on but I she said something like, “Yeah, we better go.” I thought, “Fuck it! I came all the way here!” I was scheduled to go on soon so I went back stage to warm up and prepare to be decapitated and thrown to the lions. It was cold backstage and I just couldn’t seem to get my hands and fingers moving up to speed. The stage manager introduced me to the guy I was going up against.
He seemed like a nice guy but he looked even more terrified than I was to go on. Like this was his first gig or something, or first time performing in front of people. This gave me much needed confidence–until I saw the guys face who just got his head cut off come back stage. He looked like he was going to cry. Then a frosty feeling of doom came over me. I felt cold and numb. I was scared; I had never experienced anything like this. No buddies onstage to bomb with–I was on my own.
It was do-or-die, me against him. I was instructed to go first. I shut my eyes and riffed as best I could for about a minute or so then stopped and looked at the other guy. I had no one in the crowd to support me but I could hear people cheering and clapping and suddenly I felt a little better. The other guy started playing, I could tell he was real nervous too but played pretty good—a lot better than I thought he would. He had short hair and I had long hair by then so I thought this gave me a visual and psychological edge.
We kept going at it and before I knew it, it was over. To this day I don’t know who won. People were cheering for both of us. I went up to the sound man afterwards and asked him how he thought I did. He said I did great and that I was a fine player. I don’t think Mike Varney was even at the gig! I knew I was not half as good as most of the guys there. I went home thinking, “Well, that’s that. I really blew that one; so much for my big break with Mike Varney.” I was so depressed I did not want to talk about it.
A few weeks passed and I was still kind of bummed and confused about the gig. I felt like I was used. I did not get paid for the gig even though they charged tickets at the door. Somebody made money, but not me! Then one day I ran into John Marshall and Kirk somewhere. John had a big smile on his face and told me he talked to Mike Varney a few days earlier. He said, “Hey man Mike told me he wants to sign you guys (Paradox ) for a record deal.” I was stunned. A few days later Mike called me and asked if the band wanted to come over to his house in Novato and talk about doing a record on his Shrapnel Record label.
When we got there we were all very impressed with his big house and the nice area he lived in. He had two Mercedes sedans parked in his big driveway. That was the first time I had ever seen windshield wipers on headlights! Anyway, Mike was very nice and offered us beverages and snacks and showed us his massive record collection. He showed us all the releases he had had on Shrapnel records including all the US massacre compilations, Wild Dogs, Steeler and some others. He also played us the demo tape that Engvay Malmsteen sent him!
It blew us all away. I thought to myself, “Great, he’s got that guy what the hell does he need me for?! I guess you can never get enough good guitar players?” He outlined the terms of the deal with us. We were very naive and did not really know the right questions to ask. The deal was for one record with his option to pick up the second album or not. He would cover all recording costs artwork, photos etc. He said he would get us interviews in all the right magazines overseas and here in the states.
I can’t remember what the deal was with the publishing now. We did not think to ask about tour support of which there was none. At this point he said he had done some kind of name search for Paradox and that the name was already taken and we had to choose another one. This was way before everyone had computers. We were a little bummed but did not think to question him. Maybe he thought the name Paradox was not metal enough? We went home to think about it and if we all agreed we could come back next week and he would have all the contracts drawn up.
About this time we were introduced to Debbie Abono and she started getting involved with helping us along. In fact, she went with us to Mikes house that second time to sign the contracts. I think maybe she thought she could get us a deal with Metal Blade or something, I’m not sure. She was also working with Blizzard then, that later became Possessed. She really helped us a lot. After we got signed she took us to Guitar Center and bought us all new equipment–that was a real big deal for us!
We now had to come up with a new name, logo and album artwork. Mike showed us some album art that was available to us to use but we did not like any of it. That’s when we approached Alvin Petty about coming up with something. He designed our logo and did the No Escape Cover. Soon after that I think he did the Creeping Death cover for Kirk and those guys. I don’t remember exactly how we settled on the name Hexx. I think we smoked a lot of pot and came up with a bunch of names and Hexx was the only one the band could all agree on and was one that Mike thought was okay.
Stefan: “No Escape” was released as a 12” vinyl featuring 9 outstanding songs and a runtime of 31 minutes. May I ask you to tell some more details about the “No Escape Story “and on the line-up back then and the success of the album?
Dan: Ok, this is kind of a long story too but here it goes. With all the necessary contracts and paperwork officially signed sealed and delivered we were finally ready to start recording our very first professional long playing record album for Shrapnel Records……or so we thought. In 1983 we were all still in our early to mid 20’s and very naive about a lot of things, especially about how the music business worked. Before Mike Varney contacted me we had never heard of Shrapnel Records and Mike Varney was just that dude who had that spotlight article page in the back of Guitar Player Magazine every month.
When we learned that he had helped a lot of bands record there albums and some he was even able to place with major record labels, we became very excited and thought this was going to be our springboard into the big time for sure. This was just a stepping stone for us and we would soon leave Mike Varney and Shrapnel records far behind us. All we had to do was get that first album out there so everyone in the world could finally see how great we were and the giant doors to the kingdom of success would swing open wide, usher us in and shower us with riches, fame and all the things that go with it.
For a short time we were like little kids on Christmas Eve, lying awake in bed at night fantasizing about how great it was going to be to famous rock stars. Finally after all the years of hard work, learning how to play our instruments, finding the right band members who were good enough and serious enough to go the distance, working our way out of the drunken back yard beer bashes and house parties and into the local night club circuit. Yep, it was all about to pay off in spades now!
Around this time Kirk had left Exodus for Metallica and when we first heard the Kill em All recording and herd James’s vocals we thought, they will never get a major deal with a singer like that. He sounded more punk to me than a real metal singer. Remember, this is before Metallica took off and before they ruled the world. We really thought we had a much better chance of major success because of our great high pitched melodic singer and our catchy metal songs. I really thought that our song,” The Other Side” would be the big smash breakthrough hit for us. To me it was right up there with Dio’s hit song, Rainbow in the Dark which was all over main stream rock radio at that time. Well, like I said, we were very naive at that time and kind of had our heads in the clouds a little bit I guess you could say, and we still had a lot to learn…..about a lot of things.
The first jolt of reality came when Mike announced that he had booked our studio dates next month for Prairie Sun Studios in Cotati and we had to begin working with his co-producer/engineer Steve Fontano right away so they could hear the rest of the six or eight songs to see if they thought they might need a little more work or something.
We got our deal based on the strength of the 3 songs on the original Paradox demo. I had to assure Mike that we had at least another six or eight song of similar quality and style ready to record. He took my word for it.
The truth was we did not have another six or eight songs ready to record, far from it. I think I had the chord progressions for Terror and fragments of riffs and arrangements for maybe two or three more songs but that was all. I don’t think I even showed them to the band yet. I knew Manzo was working on some lyrics but I had no idea what he had either.
I remember we had to make up song titles on the spot to be included in the publishing agreements. I know it sounds crazy but we now had to write the rest of the albums songs from the titles we so hastily came up with.
At that time felt like I had to blow a little smoke up Mike’s ass about having all the songs ready to record because I was not going to tell him we were not ready and risk blowing the deal or have him put us on the back burner till next year or something. It seemed like every other band in the bay area was getting signed and there records were coming out. We did not want to miss the boat or get left behind.
Somehow we were able to postpone our first pre production meeting with Steve Fontano for a couple of weeks. We desperately needed time to put the rest of the songs together and rehearse them to be ready to be recorded. We were totally under the gun now and we knew we had to work hard and get it together fast. We quickly put Invader together based on a drum intro our drummer Dave Schmidt had been working on, I wrote Night of Pain one night in about thirty minutes and Manzo tweaked the lyrics a little more to his liking.
Bill Peterson and Manzo had most of Look to the Sky worked out and we were working out the riffs and arrangements for Live for the Night. I had the riffs and basic arrangements for the songs that at the time were called The Dragon Song and 1301. The Dragon Song became Beware the Darkness and 1301 became Fear No Evil.
By the time we had our first pre-production session with Steve Fontano we pretty much had it all together. Steve seemed to like all the songs we came up with and had some good advice to share with us on several of the songs. The material was so new to us it really helped to have a qualified producer go over it with us and point out things we had not considered.
(Around this time Mike talked us out of using Search for the King on the record for some reason, to this day I still don’t remember why. It now is included as a bonus demo track on our re-releases.)
Steve would suggest things like, we should double up the chorus here and move the solo section there, or change a word here or there. I think it was on his suggestion we changed The Dragon Song into Beware the Darkness and 1301 into Fear No Evil. He might have helped Manzo tweak the lyrics a little on those two as well, I don’t remember now.
I do remember when we were laying down the basic tracks for Beware the Darkness, Mike Varney who had been observing our progress from the studio control room, came busting into the room we were tracking in pounding out a beat on his chest and stomach with his fists. Try the kick and snare like this, he said. At first we kind of resented him busting in like that telling us how to play our song, but after we tried his idea out and kind of got used to it a little bit we started to really like it, so that’s how we laid it down. So the main beat you here on the verses of Beware the Darkness was a last minute contribution from Mike Varney.
Steve Fontano was directly responsible for helping Manzo try out different harmony parts and smoothing out some of the rough edges on the vocal phrasing. Steve was also very good about dubbing guitar solos. When we go into the studio I like to have a basic idea going for my solos but I like to improvise most of them. They just come out more alive and spontaneous that way I think. I will even leave a little slop in there if I feel the right emotions and feeling are present.
Steve would give me 3 tracks to blow solos on. He would just let me rip out the best solo I could on each of the three tracks. Each solo would be different so we would go back and listen to them and either choose the best one, or punch the best bits together from the two or sometimes even all three! It was really a lot of fun; it is still my favorite part of the recording process to this day!
After the recording was all done and mixed down we had to focus on getting the cover art and packaging together for the release. Mike Varney showed us a bunch of album covers he had access to for free or cheap. Mostly they were lousy photographs or really bad cheesy artwork. We didn’t like any of them so Mike gave us a budget of $ 500.00 and said go out find your own cover, just have it ready in two weeks along with a suitable new band photo for the back cover.
We gave the job of cover art to our long time artist friend Alvin Petty who whipped up the cover art and a new HEXX logo for us in a matter of a few days.
All we needed now was a new band photo for the back cover. My uncle Rodger Burt volunteered as photographer and one day we headed out to the Richmond Standard Oil refinery not far from where we lived. We thought it would look cool with all the pipes and smoke and stuff in the background.
This was our first album and our picture was going to right on the back of it, it had to be great. This was late 1983 or early 1984 and we wanted to look like a successful band that sells a lot of records. This was right before it was cool and acceptable to just ware jeans and t shirts on record covers. We were professional entertainers now so we figure we better look the part. So without any real coaching in this area (except our moms and girlfriends help with our makeup) we proceeded to adorn ourselves with the appropriate Heavy Metal looking accoutrements that were the style at the time. Looking at that picture now I really wish we would have settled for just the black clothes and leather jackets and left off all the straps, wrist bands, hand cuffs, bullet belts and such. The giant bullet belt Dave Schmidt is warring ended up looking like a grass skirt from Hawaii or something! It was one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time but later became a source of ridicule and embarrassment for us. Now, 30 years later it is a great source of whimsy and nostalgia!
After No Escape was finally released it was readily available in the United States but it was only available in Europe as an expensive import album. Mike had sent our record along with all his other releases from that time, out to lots of magazines and fanzines for review and for whatever free press we could get via interviews. I don’t think there was a budget for print ads.
What reviews we got were all positive and mostly from Europe. Unfortunately for us, our record was very expensive to purchase there and we could not afford to get there to perform. In the states we had no tour support either so we did as many local gigs as we could to support our release.
After several months Mike invited us over to his house to do an accounting of our sales. We had no idea what to expect, was he going to hand us all big fat royalty checks? We really did not know how these things worked. When we got there he showed us all these boxes of records that had been returned from record stores around the United States. Mike had many bands with records released that year and the year before so I naturally thought wow, all those poor bands that records did not sell and got returned, how sad. Oh well, sucks to be them I guess! So…..where are our royalty checks Mike?
Mike looked at us kind of funny and said royalty checks? What royalty checks? There’s no royalty check, these are all returned HEXX records! We could not believe it. We just stood there looking at all those boxes of returned records. He started showing us invoices from his distributors showing us records ordered, records sold and records returned. We were dumbfounded. We started opening boxes up to see if our records were really in there. We only opened up a couple of boxes but they were full of HEXX records alright. We asked him, what are you going to do with all these records now? He asked us if we wanted to buy them for 5 or 6 bucks apiece.
We were broke, we barley had enough gasoline to get to his house and back much less buy all our returned records back. We drove home that night feeling so crushed, disappointed, confused and destroyed. While Metallica and every other metal band from our neck of the woods seemed to be enjoying fantastic success, HEXX, in bleak contrast had washed out in complete and utter failure. All our naive boyish hopes and dreams had been crashed on the brutal unforgiving rocky shores of reality……..and it would not be the last time.
Stefan: What about the mutual competition among the SF Metal bands that belonged to the SF Bay Area metal scene?
Dan: Yeah the competition was fierce in the San Francisco Bay area club scene back in the 1980’s. It was crazy! You had so many good bands breaking into the night club circuit at the same time. You had to be really good or you just were not going to cut the scene.
You had bands all competing for success in the scene. Bands like Possessed, Forbidden Evil, Blind Illusion, Sadus, Anvil Chorus, Heathen, Hexx, Testament, The Dead Kennedys, Journey, Faith No More, Exodus, Metal Church, Montrose, Joe Satriani, Laazz Rockit, Primus, Y&T just to name a few. And let’s not forget about Metallica!
For the most part it was a friendly competition but it just seemed everybody and his cousin had a kick ass band breaking into the club scene at that time.
Stefan: Name some of your favorite bands in regards to the 80s era.
Dan: I listened to and was influenced by almost everybody you can think of from those times. UFO, MSG, Judas Priest, Rush, Kiss, Deep Purple/Rainbow, Montrose, Black Sabbath, Iron Median, Dio, Van Halen, Slayer, Moterhead, Def Leppard, Scorpions. AC/DC, Savatage, Thin Lizzy, Queensrych, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Led Zeppelin, Helloween, Mercyful Fate, the list goes on and on!
Stefan: The second Hexx album saw daylight two years later with the title of “Under the Spell” and was released worldwide through Shrapnel and Roadrunner Records. Why did the cooperation with Shrapnel come to an end, also a new front man was added to the fold. Tell us some more about that.
Dan: Ah, ok Stefan, I can see by your questions that your knowledge of the Hexx is great. This is another long story. Again, if this runs too long feel free to edit it however you see fit. Dan: After No Escape had been released on Mike Varney’s Shrapnel label in 1984 we decided to add another Guitar player to the Hexx line up to help fill out our sound live. Because of all the guitar overdubs I was able to do in the recording studio it was necessary so we could better recreate live the fullness of the guitar sound on the album. Enter….. Mr. Clint Bower!
Clint joined us right after No Escape came out and performed with the band at all the gigs and shows we did to support our first release. We were still pretty young and naive about how the music business worked in those days and it slowly dawned on us that Shrapnel records had done everything it was going to do for us for that album. Without any real management, tour support or label support in Europe after a year, it seemed like the buzz and interest in the band was tapering off. It was now around January or February of 1985.
Our deal with Shrapnel was a two record deal with Shrapnel holding the option to fund another album release…. or not. When I approached Mike Varney about the possibility of recording a second Hexx album he said we would have to write and demo up all the songs for the album so he could decide if the material was going to be good enough to warrant Shrapnel records picking up the option.
I had already been working on riffs, arrangements and lyrics for new songs with bassist Bill Peterson, and had the first song….witch was actually Under the Spell, pretty much finished.
I showed it to Manzo and he tweaked some of the lyrics and vocal phrasing a little bit and it was done. That night was the last time I saw Dennis Manzo for over 25 years or so, until he joined back up with us to start rehearsing to perform at the Keep It True Festival in Germany. He had decided he did not want to pursue a career in music and quit the band to start a job in the banking world.
This was a major setback for us. Even though we were from the San Francisco bay area, a well-known hot bed of talented musicians and artists, good heavy metal vocalists with a melodic high range did not exactly grow on trees.
At that point the future of the band was really in question. We were not even sure we were going to be picked up for our second album option and we had just lost our singer that had really helped define our sound. We started franticly looking around for another singer. We had gotten a few demo tapes of guys and most of them were just not good enough to follow what Manzo had done on No Escape.
Clint Bower had a long time friend and drummer by the name of John Shafer. John was always around and came to every rehearsal and gig and eventually became Dave Schmidt’s roadie and under study. Dave took John under his wing so to speak and showed him all the things and techniques he had learned. This worked out well because shortly after Under the Spell was released Dave Schmidt left the group and John Shafer took his place and is back with the band today carrying on the legacy bestowed to him by Dave Schmidt!
Anyway…..John told us about a vocalist we should check out he saw not too long ago performing at a local gig that sounded a lot like Ronnie James Dio. John somehow knew or found out where this guy lived and we all went to his house in Oakland to check out his band rehearsing one day.
This guy turned out to be Dan Bryant! He had these young kids backing him up and I think he was teaching them how to play all their instruments. Dan Bryant as we soon found out could also, in addition to being a great singer, played guitar, bass and drums! And he did have a voice that sounded kind of like Dio and we thought he would be a suitable singer to take over for Manzo and would fit in great with the group and help us sound the way we wanted our new material to sound.
We explained to Dan Bryant our situation with our record label and talked him into doing a demo with us to see if we could get our second album out. He and his band at the time had no prospects for getting signed yet so that’s how, luckily for us, we were able to snatch him away from his other project.
We were all pretty broke at that time and to this day we have not seen a dime from No Escape, but we still all had our day jobs. Dave Schmidt had a good job as a hazardous waste disposal engineer. He was on call and would have to go at the drop of a hat and go suit up and go help clean up some toxic chemical tanker truck spill on the free way somewhere. I talked to Dave just last year and he is still doing that kind of work but he is higher up in the company now.
Bill Peterson worked as a Fire extinguisher sales and service man for a company called Bay Area Fire. I worked there with Bill too for a while but was not working there at this time.
Clint Bower worked in a copy mat place where they have a bunch of copy machines and make flyers and photo copies etc.
Dan Bryant had a job making Flight cases for various music and other types of fragile equipment.
I was working in the painting trade painting houses in the Berkley and Oakland areas.
All of us having our day jobs made it possible for us to all save up and chip in to pay for what is now known as the Under The Spell Demo! Someone told us of a cool studio up in Northern California where we could get a good quality demo made cheaply. So we blocked out about a week of studio time and went up there and laid down all the songs and material we had been working on. Two of the songs did not have lyrics and we were toying with the idea of having a couple of instrumental tracks on the album but Mike Varney talked us out of that idea later on.
After the demo was all recorded and mixed I quickly sent Mike Varney a cassette copy including the lyric sheets. I think it took him a week or maybe two to get back to me. Let me tell you we were all very nervously awaiting Mike Varney’s response to our demo. We all poured our guts and money into that batch of songs and we kind of figured that if he did not like it for whatever reason and chose not to pick up the option for our second album, it would most likely be the end of the road for Hexx. Looking back now, if he had passed on the option we still had what we thought was a pretty good demo tape and could have shopped it around to other labels but of course everyone and their brother was shopping there amazing demo tapes around at that time. The competition coming out of the Bay Area at that time was becoming very fierce!
The day finally came when I was to receive the call I had been waiting for from Mike Varney…………..
On the demo one of the songs I wrote was a little more thrasher and had no lyrics and no title. We just referred to it simply as the instrumental. Mike Varney did not like the thrasher elements starting to develop in our music, however he was impressed enough with the rest of the songs we recorded with Dan Bryant to pick up the option for our second album and we were then put on the schedule at Prairie Sun studios in Cotati California to record the Second full length Hexx album! All our persistence and hard work had paid off. There would be at least one more album from HEXX!!!!!
It’s mind boggling and amazing how much hard work, effort and luck goes into being in a band and trying to get a record deal and have your music get out there and heard by the people. The odds are really against you on so many levels. Looking back we were pretty lucky to have one record out, let alone getting to do a follow up. I really think being able to get Dan Bryant on board at that time had a lot to do with us being able to continue and move forward after Manzo left the band. We figured Manzo would be a hard act for anyone to follow so he would have to be really good!
Anyway……… when you finally get to that point and are getting ready to finally record a record for real, lots of things have to happen quickly. Not only do you have to have the band very well rehearsed and razor sharp to be ready to record in the studio, …… ( After recording no Escape we had a good idea of how fast we needed to record to stay on budget and still manage to get a decent product that could compete with all the other metal records that were coming out at the time) …..but you also have to think about the cover art, who is going to do it? What should the cover be about and look like? What is the back cover going to look like? What about the band logo this time? What will be the track list….what will be the order of the songs? Which ones will go on side A? Which songs will go on side B? What about the liner notes and special thanks section?
All the lyrics have to be confirmed and proof read for errors. A photo shoot has to be set up and a new batch of photos must be taken and one chosen to go on the cover somewhere. Oh yeah……and everyone in the band AND the record label have to all agree on EVERYTHING!!!!! Believe me, this takes nothing less than a bloody Christmas miracle!! And, all this is going on while you are trying to concentrate on making the best album of your life because if it aint, it very well might be your last!
I remember we were almost finished mixing the album when John Marshall came up to visit and hang out with us for a day or two. I can’t remember if he was still Kirk Hammett’s guitar roadie at that time or not. Anyway……Metallica had just finished recording Master Of Puppets, and John had an advanced copy with him. It would not be released for several months yet but John was very close to the source…… well,….. anyway….. I can tell you that we were all feeling pretty good and proud of ourselves about our new recording……..that is until John played us all the tracks from Master of Puppets! We recorded Under the Spell in about two weeks time. John told us that Lars took longer than that just to get a snare tone he liked. Ugghhh!! We knew there was no way our new album was going to be able to compete with that record.
Bill Peterson and I had been friends with Kirk Hammett since junior high school and it was a little hard sometimes not to compare his fantastic success to our relative lack of success. We of coarse are very proud of him and happy for him, but I would be lying if I said that we weren’t just a little bit jealous. I think we still are…… a little…. even to this day!
The album was finally finished being recorded and mixed, and most all of the production parts were ready as well, except for the liner notes and special thanks section. In those days, it was a real cool thing, and kind of a big deal to be mentioned in a bands special thanks section on their album, so we wanted to make sure we included all the people and things that had recently helped us and influenced us before and during the Under the Spell project. We also managed to talk Mike Varney into letting us have a photo collage ( black and white ) on the back of our lyric sheet! ( No Escape did not have the budget to include a lyric sheet, so for us, this was a big step up! We all thought we were really big time now!! )
While we were waiting for Under the Spell to be released here in the states, Mike Varney told us that he had secured a licensing deal for us with Road Runner records in Europe. This would mean that Under the Spell would be manufactured, pressed, and distributed properly in Europe. With No Escape it was only available as an expensive import album in Europe and we were told that is why it sold so poorly there. We really thought this was really going to help us break through to the big-time with this new album.
When Under the Spell finally got released sometime in mid 1986 the metal music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area had changed a lot. All the shows and clubs seem to be catering to bands that were playing in the thrash/ speed/ Death styles. It seemed a lot harder for us to get gigs around the bay area and when we did, we did not seem to go over as well as before. The crowd would perk up a little when we would play our faster numbers like Edge of Death or The Hexx but that was about it.
Again with no tour support No Management, and continued difficulty in getting local shows, things started to look bad for the group. It also seemed like the press was not as interested in Hexx anymore. When No Escape came out I remember doing lots of magazine interviews and we were featured in many fanzines in Europe. This time around it seemed like nobody wanted to know about the band. This really hit us hard because we really thought this album was much better than No Escape and would surely be our breakthrough album. There was however, a one page article in Crash Magazine from October of 1986 that gave us a great review of the album but that’s the only one I can remember.
I could sense the morale of the band was getting low and I could also sense that Dan Bryant was quickly losing interest in the band. I think he was getting offers from other groups to do things, and that our album was going to be more or less just a stepping stone for him to move on to more successful projects.
There was one glimmer of hope though! We were told that Kerrang magazine in Europe was going to publish a review of Under the Spell in there next issue! This really gave us some hope because we thought that Kerrang was one of the biggest Metal magazines in Europe at that time and a good review from them could really get the ball rolling for us in Europe. We already had given up hope for any success in the states at this point.
I lived and worked in Berkeley at that time and would frequent the record shops on Telegraph avenue. They would always have the current imported Metal magazines for sale there. Around the time the new issue of Kerrang was to arrive I would stop by the record shops to see if the issue had been delivered with the review of our Under the Spell album. I remember thinking to myself that they are really going to love this album and give us a great review and this will save the band in this……… our most darkest hour of desperate need!
Well……. the day finally came! There it was on the shelf! The brand new issue of Kerrang Magazine. I couldn’t wait to read the gushing review of our new record and run home with the magazine in my hand to the band with the good news! I picked it up off the news stand and started thumbing through the pages looking for the album review section. There it was! And they even printed a picture of the band right in the middle of the page! My heart raced with excitement and new hope!…. Until……I read the caption printed right under the photo of the band…….it read…..HEXX , defiantly NOT Under the Spell. My heart sank, and a soul crushing, cold, numbing sense of doom came over me. I could not believe my eyes! At first I thought maybe it was some kind of mistake, then I went on to read the article. The guy that reviewed the record was just not impressed with it at all, and he told the world so in this review.
I didn’t purchase that issue of Kerrang. I just walked out of the shop, got in my car and drove home in a fog. I knew then, that this was the last nail in the coffin for HEXX. After that we just kind of lost touch with Dan Bryant. I think he went on to work with other bands and do other records.
At this time our drummer Dave Schmidt decided he had enough as well and officially left the group. Now, without our great drummer, our killer new lead singer and absolutely no prospects of getting another record deal…… and no one to help us…… what do you think Bill, Clint and I decided to do? Well, I’ll tell you exactly what we did! We got MAD!! We got REAL MAD!!! We decided, FUCK IT!!!! We decided, if no one would help us……. we would help ourselves!!! We decided we would make one more demo! We would call it The Help Yourself Demo. It would demonstrate and reflect all the anger, fury and frustration we all had boiling up inside us! Thus began our Quest for Sanity……………. But, that is another story.
Stefan: According to your own vision, can you compare both albums with each other, quality oriented?
Dan: We were all very disappointed when Under the Spell kind of fell on deaf ears. Maybe it was bad timing or something but when it got released it just seemed to get lost in a sea of other great metal bands releasing albums that year. I really thought that Under the Spell was superior to No Escape in every way. I felt like the songs were better, the production was better, the artwork and packaging was better, we had come back after Manzo left us with an even better singer plus we had the Roadrunner Records European distribution deal! I really thought we had all the elements coming together for a successful release. We were all very broken hearted, angry and frustrated when Under the Spell didn’t do anything at all for us.
Stefan: Following the first two full length efforts you released two EP’s entitled “Quest for Sanity” (Under One Flag 1988) and “Watery Graves” (Wild Rags Records 1990). The vocalist has been replaced once again, why?
Dan: Ha! There you go again asking a question that there is no short answer to. After the release of Under the Spell in 1986, with no tour support from Shrapnel Records, the band began to stagnate. Our drummer Dave Schmidt decides to quit and we started working John Shafer in on the drums. I think we did a total of 10 shows with Dan Bryant–some before the album came out and a few after. Dan Bryant was getting offers for other projects and before long lost interest in being in HEXX. I think he even went down to LA and got an audition for Black Sabbath at that time. I can’t really blame him, he was a very talented guy and I think he saw HEXX as a stepping stone for his career.
Once again we found ourselves abandoned by our lead singer–this time with no more album options left on our Shrapnel deal, we were really down. This was probably the darkest and lowest point in the whole history of the band. It seemed like all the other bands in the bay area were doing well and prospering and we were just floundering and failing miserably. We fell into somewhat of a deep depression that seemed to last for months. It was during this time the songs for what would eventually become The Quest for Sanity EP were written. Bill, Clint, John and I became very close friends at this point in time.
We felt like we were down and out and we bonded like brothers. We decided we did not want to get another lead singer type front man guy. We had been down that road twice now and we just figured fuck that! Bill, Clint and I thought that we would all take a stab at taking over on the vocals. We thought if one of us could handle the job of taking over in the vocals department this would be great because the four of us got along so well we would have no more lead singer problems to deal with. Well, Clint just blew us all away when he stepped up to the microphone to take his turn!
We just kind of looked at each other and said, “Well shit. There it is then!” Clint had his own style much more in the death metal sound and away from the high range melodic singers we had for the past two albums. He sounded really pissed off and angry when he sang and it really reflected our mood and feelings at the time. His vocal approach worked great with our faster, heavier and more aggressive songwriting direction. I had already written the music and had the title and chorus for Twice as Bright Half as Long.
Together Clint and I finished up the verses and I think the first time we ever played that song live was at our last show with Dan Bryant at the Omni in Oakland California sometime in February 1986. It was so new Dan Bryant had to read the lyrics from the lyric sheet onstage. This song was about doing speed, or meth amphetamine which was readily available in the Bay Area. The idea was the candle that burned twice as bright would burn only half as long. This song would set the tone for our new aggressive speed thrash death metal sound.
Towards the end of the 1980’s the metal scene in the San Francisco area hanged drastically. Our two power metal albums had gone largely unnoticed and unappreciated, or so we thought. If we wanted to keep gigging in the Bay Area we felt we had to play faster with more thrash style. Nobody wanted to hear our old out of date power metal anymore. Time was marching on. It seemed like the other bands around us were getting record deals playing this more aggressive speed/thrash/death metal style. Blizzard–later to become Possessed, Forbidden Evil–later to become just Forbidden, Death Angel, Sadus, Blind Illusion, and Autopsy just to name a few were all getting record deals and seemed to be doing well.
We had 5 songs at that point that we thought were pretty good. We figured we should demo them up and start sending out our demo tape to secure a new record deal before it was too late. We knew from experience how long it can take to make a demo promotion package, produce a few hundred copies, send them around to all the record labels and wait for a response. In the time it would take to do all that, we would have the rest of the album written and we would be right on track! We had our new demo that captured our new aggressive speed/thrash/ death sound at last.
We were very proud of it and no one had heard it yet. As far as the world, our friends and peers thought HEXX was dead, or at best struggling along with their brand of hopelessly out dated passé power metal. We were about to show everybody the new faster, deadlier and very pissed off version and evolution of HEXX. We had totally reinvented ourselves out of pure fury and frustration and we were ready to show everybody! At the time it seemed like no one would help us so we decided we would help ourselves and call the demo the Help Yourself Demo. We wanted to show that we could still do this even if no one helped us at all.
However, we did have help actually. Back before Paradox got signed to Shrapnel we had met a lady named Debbie Abono. She lived in Pinole and was helping local bands by letting them practice at her house and buying them music equipment. She took a liking to us and actually took us down to guitar center and bought us all new equipment. This was a real big deal to us because we were all poor and had real shitty amps and equipment. She bought me a new Marshall stack and Bill a new GK bass rig. She also managed us for a while and was there when we got our deal with Shrapnel records.
She was managing Possessed and Forbidden Evil too. When we had our tape dupes all made up we gave her a few to pass around to some of the record labels she was working with. Combat was one of them but they passed on our demo. We sent it out to every label we could think of including Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records. He did not want anything to do with the new thrash/death metal sound that was coming out of the Bay Area. The weeks rolled on and slowly we started to get back responses from some of the labels we sent our tape to. All the labels were passing on us. We had been rejected by all the ones we sent our promo package to. Depression started to set in on us once again.
We figured we must have missed the boat yet again. All the other bands around us had been picked up by record labels and we thought, “Well, who needs another thrash band from the Bay Area? Had we made a huge mistake? Should we have stuck it out and found another lead singer front man guy with a high range voice and just dealt with it?” We were out of steam. This was our last ditch effort to keep HEXX alive and going. We were all feeling the depressing sting and reality of failure. A few more weeks dragged slowly by without any word from anyone. We had not been rehearsing or even playing our instruments. All our gear was still packed up from when we finished recording the Help Your Self demo.
For the first time sense I first picked up the guitar at age 9 I did not feel like playing. It was awful. I just did not have the heart to play anymore. It felt like the best art of me was slipping away and slowly dying. We had no gigs lined up, our new demo showcasing our new style and direction had been rejected by all the ecord labels. The girlfriend who had been by side through thick and thin for ver 5 years was gone, I was totally without the comforts of a woman and on top of all of that, my hair was falling out and I was going bald. I had slipped into a deep depression the likes of which I had never known before.
By this time Bill Peterson, John Shafer, John Marshall and myself were all living together in a house we rented from my aunt and uncle in Point Richmond, California. We all had our day jobs that we all hated except for John Marshall. John Marshall had quit being Kirk’s guitar tech to join Metal Church so he was very happy and excited. Things were really on the up for John and we were all very happy for him. He was getting the chance to get out from under Kirks shadow and step into the spotlight where he belonged. Every night, after a long day’s work, instead of going to band rehearsals Bill, John Shafer and I would just stay home and drink heavily and smoke pot. It got so bad we would be so hung over from drinking the night before we would take ice cold shots of whisky, (we liked to keep whisky bottles in the freezer for such occasions), first thing in the morning before heading out for another pointless day of meaningless labor in the hot sun.
We would also smoke a joint before we left the house for work. Looking back now, I don’t know how we all managed to keep our jobs showing up reeking of whisky and marijuana first thing in the morning like that. We had truly hit rock bottom and we just did not care anymore. One night after work there was a message on our answering machine from Debbie Abono. At first I didn’t think anything of it and did not feel like talking to anyone. She just said to give her a call back when we had time. A few more days had passed and there was another message from Debbie saying the same thing, to give her a call back when we have a minute. It was Friday night, the long work week was over and we were really going to get drunk out of our minds tonight!
John Marshall said, hey one of you guys should call Debbie Abono back. I had forgotten all about it because her messages got erased. “Alright, I better call her back now before I forget again.” After talking to Debbie Abono for a few minutes I could hardly talk. I was overcome with emotion and my eyes were welling up with tears. We had given Debbie several copies of the Help Yourself demo package. She sent them to her contacts at Combat Records and Metal Blade. Both labels had passed on the demo so we thought no more about it. Unknown to us, she had also sent our demo package to a label from England we had never heard of called Music For Nations.
They were knocked out by our demo and wanted to know if we would like to re record it and release it as a 5 song EP in Europe just to test the waters to see if metal fans would accept this radical change of music style from HEXX. They were offering us a recording budget of $8000 USD, plus full budget for artwork print adds, etc. When I got off the phone and told the guys we all started jumping up and down for joy, yelling and screaming like little kids! We called Clint to give him the good news and he was overwhelmed as well. I think maybe he thought it was his fault we had failed because of his vocals.
All it took was one record label to believe in us and get behind us and we were back in action. There would be at least one more release from HEXX and it was going to showcase our new style and direction! You’ve heard that old expression, it’s always darkest before the dawn? Man, let me tell you, we really know what that means–but why do we always have to cut these things so close?! We now had good reason to pick up our instruments and start playing again. We got the contracts in the mail, signed them, and sent them right back. We did not have a lawyer look them over for two reasons. One, we could not afford it and two, it really did not matter. This was the only ship sailing for HEXX so we were getting aboard no matter what.
Things started to move quickly, we were notified of the contracts being finalized and that the eight thousand dollars had been transferred to our account. $8000 was a lot of money just for 5 songs. Our budget for both our Shrapnel records was $10,000 for 10 songs. By this time we had come up with the Quest for Sanity concept along with some basic ideas for some artwork. We knew we could not call it the Help Yourself EP. During the next two weeks, we worked on the artwork concept with Kent Mathieu while rehearsing the songs that would be on the EP. Kent Mathieu was a super cool dude, he lived in Berkeley and grew killer green buds so we always liked to go to his house , get high and kick around ideas for album cover art–it was great!
By the time we were ready to go into the studio, Kent was working on the painting for the cover. The recording took less than two weeks to complete and again we hired John Marshall to engineer the record. The recording and artwork were finished about the same time. We shipped our recorded safety masters along with the painting, logo and title overlays, lyric sheet and another photo collage similar to the one we did on Under the Spell, off to England for possessing and pressing. The staff at Music for Nations had no idea what the cover art was going to look like.
It was kind of strange to us because the first two albums we did for Mike Varney, he handled almost everything. He would pay the studio, photo shoot and artwork costs. Here, this label all the way on the other side of the world who we had never even met in person just sent us a big bag of money and just trusted us to be responsible enough to send them a sellable product. We could have easily spent all that money on wine, women and song disappearing into the night and there would have been very little they could have done about it. Another week past and our spirits were up. We didn’t seem to mind going to our laborious day jobs anymore. The heavy drinking subsided a bit as well. Or maybe now we drank to celebrate our reprieve from the “HEXX, where are they now file”.
Music For Nations, being located in England made communications a little troublesome. This is before the internet and the luxury of email. They were 7 or 8 hours ahead of us and we would get calls from their office in the wee hours of the morning waking us from a dead sleep to talk business. I got the call one night from one of our reps there that everything had arrived safely and that they were just blown away by the recording and the cover art painting by Kent Mathieu. In a very British accent he exclaimed with excitement, “It’s really quite amazing! Good job lads!”
It would still take two more months for all the production parts to be processed and the records to be pressed and another month to the release date and for us to get our promo copies, but we did not care, we were just so happy to have our music being put out there. Now maybe we could compete and start gigging with all the other speed/thrash /death metal acts that seemed to be taking the world by storm. When Quest for Sanity was finally released in Europe, Music For Nations took out half page ads in most of the big metal magazines, We were very proud. After being down and out again, we were back, meaner, faster and mad as hell! Our frustration poured from the groves of that record like a fatal flesh wound.
When the reviews started coming in from all the trade magazines who had reviewed it, it was a real mixed bag. It seemed like nobody knew we had changed styles and most people were expecting another power metal release from HEXX. Most of the reviews were very positive, but all expressed shock and amazement that we had done this. Not to mention that we could do this. The camps seemed to be divided. Most of the power metal fans did not care for Quest for Sanity. Maybe they felt betrayed and they might have thought we were just jumping on the band wagon of the new death/thrash metal craze that was taking off. To a cretin point that may have been true, but what was also true is that we had become very pissed off and frustrated.
This naturally manifested itself in our music. We did, however, manage to pick up a whole bunch of new fans that seemed to love it! It took a little while for the word to get out that HEXX was back with a new release and that we had changed our style. In some ways this really worked to our advantage because there was a cretin curiosity factor there. We started getting asked to play shows again. We began doing some shows with Sadus and Autopsy. Soon we were opening for bands like Destruction, Dark Angel, Coroner, and playing the Keystone clubs again. We were having a blast! We would play Quest for Sanity in its entirety and throw in Edge of Death, Under the Spell, A time of War and Out for Control. We now had a killer live set and we could really get the mosh pit going full tilt!
We started looking around for an American Label to release Quest for Sanity omestically. We were told after a while from Music for Nations that EP’s don’t ell as much as full LP’s and that’s why the sales in Europe were just okay and ot great. Still, we figured someone would surly pick us up now. Pretty much the same thing happened with Quest for Sanity as did the Help Yourself demo. We sent the EP to all the metal labels and they all said they weren’t taking on anymore thrash/Death metal bands at this time. SHIT! The EP had pretty much un its course in Europe.
Again without any tour support we were going to be ery limited with how many records we would sell there. It became obvious that it was critical that we get Quest For Sanity released here in the states as quickly as possible or our goose would be cooked—again. We were doing a show somewhere in Los Angeles when after the show we were approached by a guy calling himself Richard C. He explained how he had a small record label called Wild Rags Records here in LA. He seemed to know all about HEXX and wanted to know if we had a release date for Quest for Sanity here in the United States. We told him we have not yet found a label to release it domestically yet. He asked us we would like to discuss the possibility of putting Quest for Sanity out on his Wild Rags Record label? We said sure why not? After all, at this point we had nothing to lose.
We reached an agreement and signed the necessary contracts and documents. It turned out that Richard C. owned a retail store in LA called Wild Rags. It was a hip clothing store for hard rock and metal fans. He had a large inventory of rock and metal t shirts and record albums and cassettes. As well as all kind of heavy metal accessories like spiked wrist bands leather gear and so on. He operated his record label out of his store. He showed us some of his releases but we had never heard of any of the bands. He also had an underground Heavy Metal newsletter called the wild Rag.
He said he would arrange for us to play in New York and in Texas with some of the bands from his label. As well as print up Quest for Sanity tour shirts to sell on the road along with copies of the EP. It was actually a pretty cool set up for us. Richard C. pressed the new US version of Quest for Sanity within a few weeks and it was ready to ship out to his distributors and hit the awaiting US market. We were very happy! We managed to luck out again with just enough support to keep us going, plus we were going to tour in the US to support Quest for Sanity come springtime.
Things were going great–we were becoming much more popular in the bay area than we ever had before, and now our EP Quest for Sanity was about to be released in America. Richard C. wanted us to have a special Record release party show in the bay area to kick off the release. This would help generate interest in the release as well as help get us some much needed press. Richard C. was already paying for print ads in some of the major US metal magazines but was more focused on the underground fanzines to help get the word out cheaply. We had booked our Quest for Sanity Record release party show to be in October (1989) at the Omni in Oakland California the weekend right before Halloween.
We were all very excited about it because we were headlining of course, and Sadus was going to be our support act. Richard C. came up with the idea that he would give away a free copy of Quest for Sanity with every paid ticket to the show. This really helped us stir up some interest in the show. There was a lot of buzz going on about the show and presold tickets were strong. On the flyers for the show we advertised about the free record giveaway. When they made the announcement over the P A system that we were giving away free copies of Quest For Sanity at our merchandise booth, he was mobbed–it was total mayhem. He started to tell everyone to form a line and, of course, that just went out the window!
By now our fans were nice and drunk and fired up by our performance. They just mobbed him like animals and took every last record we had as well as some other stuff we didn’t really want to give away for free. We got to do some touring in the United states that summer. We toured through Texas and on the east coast and back to the west coast for some more shows. After we returned home at the end of that summer Richard C asked us if we wanted to go back into the studio and record another EP to follow up Quest for Sanity. Clint had just written Watery Graves but we did not have any other new mmaterial ready enough to record right away. Richard C suggested we record peed/trash/death metal versions of Edge of Death and Under the Spell.
We had been performing them in our live set anyway so we thought, why not? We ent back to Starlight Sound Studios in Richmond Ca and again with John Marshall at the helm knocked out the three song EP in about 4 days. It was great because this gave us another chance to hang out with our artist friend Kent Mathew again, smoke a bunch of pot, drink a bunch of beers and dream up the cover art for the new EP. This time we would have our android friend from the cover of Quest for Sanity washing up on the beach after a bloody futuristic battle at sea. The title being of course, Watery Graves. Watery Graves was a limited pressing and only released in the US at this point.
It got us some more press and some more reviews in the trades but because it was only a 3 song EP it did not break any sales records. We knew we had better get to work on a full length album right away. Having released two EP’s in our new style we were ready to take it up another notch with our music. We did not realize until many years later what a courageous gamble changing our style over to the speed/thrash/death metal style really was. Looking back now it was the only thing we felt like we could do or really felt like doing. We felt like we had been accepted by our fans and felt warranted pressing on but we were still looking for a big break.
The right label to get behind us and a chance to really flourish and bloom as musicians and creative artists. We managed to avoid defeat once again by the skin of our teeth for at least the time being. We were still restless and unsatisfied and there was a storm brewing in all our collective consciences that would fuel our fires of passion and frustration. Little did we know that our long and troubled Quest for Sanity would lead us to a Morbid Reality.
Stefan: Some of the songs became harder, more aggressive, actually more Death/Thrash Metal oriented. A finding which was underlined even more of your third album “Morbid Reality”, released through Century Media in 1991. Line-up remained the same, on the other hand the label was changed once again… an explanation please.
Dan: Ok, this is the circumstances that led us to create the Morbid Reality album. Quest for Sanity was originally released first in Europe on the Under One Flag, Music for Nations Label. Then, almost a year later in America on Wild Rags Records. The Watery Graves EP would follow about six months later. Our anger and frustration grew at the lack of success with Quest for Sanity and Watery Graves. We certainly did not receive the recognition or payoff we hoped for with our evolvement from the power metal style of our first two albums to the speed/thrash/death category.
We gigged and toured the U.S. as best we could and thought the albums really our best efforts to date. “What the hell do they want?” we thought, “Not heavy enough? Not fast enough? Really?! Obviously we will have to take it up a notch–or two!” So we did just that, and got going on writing another album–fast! This was our attitude when we were writing songs for what would become the bands last and most brutal, aggressive and complex musical offering of our collective careers. We were still smoking all the pot we could get our hands on and consuming as much alcohol as we could get down out gullets. We did not speak it aloud but knew this would likely be our last album if it was not successful–so we had an all or nothing approach to the songwriting.
We became completely obsessed with writing the most brutal album we could generate. Clint Bower and I were the main songwriters, like a Lennon and McCartney team. We had a friendly rivalry going to see who could write the most brutal, complex and hard to play songs. I would go and write Morbid Reality and he would come back with Birds of Prey, and so on. We were also in a friendly competition with our friends Sadus to see how ridiculously complicated and brutal we could make our music.
Morbid Reality was written first which set the pace and sense of urgency and intensity of the album. I had been studying piano for years off and on and had been working on a piece that was a variation of Russian classical composer Alexander Scriabin’s work entitled the Poem of ecstasy. I used a slight variation of his theme for the piano intro I played and recorded for Morbid Realty and if you listen, the theme is continued throughout the composition, particularly at the end of the piece.
While Clint was working on The Last Steep and Birds Of Prey I was working on Morbid Reality and Blood Hunter. Blood Hunter was inspired by every vampire story or movie I had seen and applied to your average greedy business man, or in our case, record executive. We already had Watery Graves in the can so as Clint finished up Fire Mushrooms I was put the finishing touches on Persecution experience. Both of these songs are pretty self explanatory if you read the lyrics. Spider Jam was something we would goof around with at practice or gigs just for fun.
The musical arrangement was based on the music soundtrack to the old 1960’s TV cartoon Spider Man. After we had all the songs together we made a live recording and shopped the tape around to all our record label contacts. Nobody wanted anything to do with it. By this time the whole heavy metal thing had pretty much run its course and the Seattle Grunge rock sound was starting to take over, so we could not get anyone to fund the next HEXX record. This only added fuel to our fire—and pissed us off even more! We figured, “Fuck it. Fuck everybody!
We will somehow come up with the money and record the album ourselves and even start our own record label if we have too!” Nothing was going to stop us. We would not be ignored We were determined to make this album and shove it down everybody’s throat whether they liked it or not! Again, keep in mind, we were smoking a lot of dope, and drinking excessively during this whole process. That being said, we all somehow managed to come up with about a thousand dollars apiece and still managed to keep our day jobs through all of this. We booked a two week block at Starlight sound studios in Richmond California and talked John Marshall into spinning the knobs in the studio for us.
We were so well rehearsed, determined, and focused that the recording went very quickly and easily. The whole album was recorded and mixed in two weeks and we were working with Kent Mathew on the concept for the cover art. An explanation is probably in order regarding the cover art for Quest For Sanity, Watery Graves and Morbid Reality: we were smoking a lot of pot and we came up with this totally baked idea of a reverse trilogy concept using the android you see on the cover of Quest For Sanity, this is the end of the trilogy, he has totally gone mad and is trying to let all the demons out of his head by using the bone saw. Watery Graves is the middle part showing our guy washed up on the shore after a brutal but meaningless battle with the forces of evil–so he thinks.
Morbid Reality is actually the begging and origin of our character being borne of technology. Note the baby ripping his way out of the technological vagina. This was no accident, again in our defense we were pretty pissed off–and did I mention we were smoking a lot of pot? Good times. Morbid Reality to us was representative of the fact that despite all our hard work and determination, we had still failed; failed to be successful as musicians, as songwriters and as recording artists.
With the artwork completed we shopped our package we had worked so hard on and put everything into. Nobody would even acknowledge we existed—not even to tell us to fuck off. Here we felt we made the speed/trash/death metal masterpiece of the century and yet we could not even give this stink bomb away. Another soul crushing highlight in the career of HEXX! I had all but given up hope of getting this record out. It seemed our genre of music was becoming extinct. Then one of the guys from Sadus told us we should send our stuff to this German label called Century Media.
I got the mailing address and sent our last package in. In fact, I think it was my last personal cd of the record but I did not care, I would never listen to this music again–a reminder of our miserable failure. A few weeks passed and had forgot all about sending the package to Century Media. As I got home from work tired and dirty from a long days toil of painting houses in the California Berkley hills, I noticed the light was blinking on my answering machine. I was only half listening to the playback while fixing myself a strong cocktail when I heard some woman talking in a strong German accent saying something about how great Morbid Reality was.
I spilled my cocktail all over my dresser wildly trying to get to the answering machine to replay that massage. It was Century Media offering to put out our masterpiece, Morbid Reality! We were saved again at the last possible moment. I remember thinking, “Why do we always have to cut these things so close?!” This breathed new life into Hexx. This would be the best record deal we would have to date, with distribution in Europe and the U.S., tour support, a budget for print ads in all the major magazines and tons of interviews in the trades. We ere happy beyond our wildest dreams.
They seemed to really get the record and believe in it, and us. Of course, we never let on that we had pretty much given up and were ready to kill ourselves right before they called us. This record being released was a big deal for us being that it would be our first release on the new digital compact disk format. Yes, we are that old! With tour support from Century Media we were lucky enough to tour the US to support the release. We had a great time and we really thought that we were finally going to break through up to the next level in our careers. After the tour was over we quickly got to work writing another album, thinking Century Media would surly want a suitable follow up to Morbid Reality.
We probably should have checked with them first. We spent months writing the new album, this time we were going back to our power metal roots. We discovered how hard it was to perform those long complicated speed metal epics night after night on the road. We had 10 songs finished, and when I tried to contact Century Media about setting up studio time to record, they would not even return my calls. Apparently most of the personal who was supporting us at the label had quit or been fired. By then the metal scene was dead and Nirvana and grunge rock was all anyone wanted to know about, so that was it for HEXX. We had not the heart to continue anymore. We really gave it everything we had for over a decade but the struglin’ and lack of success finally crushed the life out of our dreams. We laid the band to rest in 1995.
Stefan: After releasing Morbid Reality there was a deadly silence about Hexx, we had to wait for more than twenty years for the release of a demo called “Up from the Grave”. What happened with Hexx, what kept you busy during all those years?
Dan: Well, Clint Bower went on to do Abscess for several years and now he does not play music any more as far as I know. John Shafer went on to play for a local rock group called Lavish Green and toured with them for many years. I was totally burned out from playing heavy Metal music with no gratification or appreciation of success. I used to refer to it as “Metal Fatigue”. I really just needed to step away for a while and take a break from it.
I was starting to become more and more interested in roots music like the blues guitar and vocal styles of artists like Robert Johnson, Son House, Howlin Wolf, Big Bill Broonzy, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters just to name a few. I was also listening to old country and folk artists like Hank Williams, The Carter Family, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Woody Guthrie Lefty Frizzell, Wynn Stewart, Faron Young and many others. I had been fooling around on the piano starting in my early teens and was also very interested in the blues and Boogie-woogie piano styles such as artists like Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, Mead Lux Lewis, Fats Waller, Piano Red, Professor Longhair, Clarence (Pinetop) Smith, Ray Charles and Nat King Cole.
This all led me straight into the fusion of all these styles that ultimately evolved into 1950’s Rockabilly and the origins of what is now known as ‘Rock and Roll”. I became interested and started listening to artists from the 1950’s like Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Bill Haley, The Everly Brothers, Chet Atkins, Bo Diddley, Sam Cook, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Duane Eddy, Wanda Jackson, The Collins Kids, The Johnny Burnet Trio, Jerry Lee Lewis and of course the King, Elvis Presley.
I am leaving out a bunch of other influences but you get the idea. During the first year after Hexx broke up I started to teach myself to sing by trying to emulate all these artists in my car on my way to and from work every day. In those days I had an hour commute each way so I got at least two hours of singing in 5 days a week and then on the weekends I would practice as well. Around this time I started studding the piano more seriously as well as teaching myself how to play Blues and Rockabilly on the guitar. I began to try and write my own songs incorporating all of the above influences.
After about a year or so, Hexx bassist Bill Peterson and I started to experiment demoing up some of the songs I had been fooling around with. They all a kind of had a 1950’s rockabilly/Rock and Roll and old school Country style to them. We eventually roped our buddy John Marshall (Metal Church) into joining in on the fun and acquired a drummer by the name of Greg Kavala. We called ourselves the TombsTones.
In this project I play guitar, piano and sing lead vocals. Bill Peterson eventually acuired a stand up acoustic bass and taught himself how to play that „slap bass“ style and also taught himself how to sing harmonies. John Marshall taught himself how to play lead guitar like Paul Burlison from the Johnny Burnette Trio.
We recorded a 20 song demo and eventually went on to record three more studio albums of original material with a cover tune or two thrown in as well. This went on over the time of eight or ten years. We played lots of parties, weddings and club gigs doing a mixture of 1950’s Rockabilly and our own originals.
During this period I answered an ad in BAM (Bay Area Music) Magazine for a band looking for a Psychobilly guitarist. I was the only one who answered the ad that even knew what Psychobilly was so I got the gig. The band was The Hellbillys. (Psychobilly is a music style that blends 50’s Rockabilly with Punk and Metal) I was only with the group for a month or two and we were off to perform at the Big Rumble Psychobilly festival in Great Yarmoth England. We went on to tour in Europe two more times and record several albums for various record labels. The album“ Hellbillys, Blood Trigoly Volume 1“ was recorded and mixed by Troy Luccketta (drummer for Tesla)and featured Hexx bassist Bill Peterson on the stand up bass. I wrote a lot of songs for all those records but did not always get credited for them.
It was fun to play with the Hellbillys because the music was so simple and easy to play compared to the musical discipline required to play in Hexx. I could get as drunk as I wanted to and still be able to put on a great show! It was a blast!
The Hellbilly are still together and in fact the drummer for Hexx (John Shafer) is now playing drums for the band as well. We still get together occasionally for gigs and we might even make a new album here one of these days if we can find someone interested in funding the project.
It was because of my experience with the TombsTones and and the ability to play Heavy Metal and Rockabilly that made me a good and unique fit for the Hellbillys.
Also I should add that during this time I managed to get my rock n roll/Boogie woogie piano skills up to the point that I got a gig as piano player for “Rockin Lloyd Trip‘s Three Tones of Fun“ and for a for about two years did lots of gigs around the San Francisco bay area as well as two tours of the United States.
The TombsTones called it quits about fifteen years ago but before we quit we recorded our last and best album of original songs but we never got around to mixing it. It has been sitting on the shelf so to speak for all this time. After we finished recording Wrath of the Reaper with Tim Narducci, Bill Peterson, John Marshall, Greg Kavala and I decided to go ahead and have Tim Narducci mix the album. Now it is almost finished! We not calling ourselves the TombsTones any more though. Now we are just calling it, “The Hard Western Project” and we are very proud of it. We will be looking around for a licensing deal for this album if any labels out there might be interested.
Ha! Ok, now maybe you are sorry you asked this question?
Stefan: From where the decision to return to the Metal scene?
Dan: Before being contacted about playing the KIT festival, Hexx was the last thing on my mind and the notion of putting the band back together for any reason was unthinkable. To me Hexx was just a project that I put a great deal of time and hope into and failed miserably. It made me sad and angry even to think about it. After the band finally called it quits back in 1995 I totally pushed it out of my mind and didn’t think about it anymore for years and years.
In early 2012 I had been reluctant to get on Facebook and become part of the Facebook community as they call it. I am kind of a quiet and private person and am not interested in posting my daily thoughts, drama or what I am having for dinner on the World Wide Web every day.
However my wife kept bugging me about it and I finally caved in and let her set up a Facebook page for me. The day after she set it up I logged into my page and was trying to learn my way around the thing when I noticed I was being invited to have a chat with Laurent Ramadier from Snake Pit Magazine.
The name sounded vaguely familiar but I was not really in the mood for chatting so I tried to delete the chat request and being the Facebook novice that I was inadvertently opened the chat up to respond.
Laurent wanted me do an interview about Hexx for his magazine and I reluctantly agreed. Then he went on to tell me that Hexx had many fans in Europe and if I could get the band back together he knew a guy that puts on a big festival in Europe and he would fly the band over to perform live in Germany. At first I didn’t believe him. I could not believe that Hexx had enough fans any ware to warrant us getting back together to play a gig anywhere let alone in Europe. It just seemed like an unrealistic dream to me.
Laurent assured me it was all true and on the up and up and asked me to just think it over. I just assumed they wanted the later version of HEXX to play the speed /thrash material from Morbid Reality. When I found out that they only wanted us to perform songs from our first two albums it put a completely different completion on the matter. I slowly started to warm up to the idea that this might actually be doable and a lot of fun to play those old songs again. They were much simpler and easy to play compared to our later material.
Stefan: Last year, Metal Blade Records released the beautiful boxed set including both “No Escape” and “Under the Spell” efforts with a lot of bonus material. The box was also filled with a DVD recorded at HOA 2015 (with Dan Bryant) and KIT 2014 (with Dennis Manzo), the old school fans were spoiled with live performances recorded back in ‘86/ ’89 and 1990. Who came on with idea to release this must-have article and please, give up an address to order this masterpiece?
Dan: This was all the idea of Armin Stiner from Metal Blade Records. After the word got out about Hexx reforming to perform at the KIT festival he contacted me through the bands Face book page and we started working out the details for the re-releases of No Escape and Under the Spell. It was Armin’s idea to add all the bonus material we could. You can order the vinyl or the CD/DVD Box set directly from Metal Blade Records online or from Amazon.com as well as many other online vendors. Just Google up Hexx 30th Anniversary box set and it should be pretty easy to find.
Stefan: The moment I’ve heard about you guys were busy making a brand new album, my heart goes boom! Hexx signed with High Roller Records and before the release of the new album, there was a split single that came out with the band Ruthless, right?
Dan: Yeah. That was our manager’s idea Bart Gabriel. It was the first steps in letting our fans know that we were back with another new line up and recording new material. The track we used for that single is called” Burn or Boil” and that version is only available on that vinyl split single.
Stefan: Finally we start talking about “Wrath of the Reaper” that will be released on September 15th.2017. First on, tell me all I have to know about the current line-up.
Dan: Well we have the amazing Eddy Vega on lead vocals now as well as the world famous Bob Wright from Brocus Helm on 2nd guitar. Mike Horn joined us back in 2012 on bass so we could play the KIT festival and we have John Shafer back on drums who replaced our original drummer Dave Schmidt when he left the band back in 1986. And of course yours truly on guitar as well.
Stefan: Who was in charge as song writer and who’s the one behind the mighty production?
Dan: I guess you would have to say that I was in charge of the songs and songwriting style for the album. I wrote 9 out of the 11 songs for this record. Eddy wrote the song called “Voices” and Bob Wright penned the title track, “Wrath of the Reaper” The production and over all sound of the album can be credited largely to Tim Narducci who engineered the recording. He and John Shafer are responsible for the killer drum tones. I worked closely with Bart Gabriel during pre and final production of the songs, arrangements, lyrics etc.
Stefan: What’s the story behind the title of the album, “Wrath of the Reaper”?
Dan: Of all the song titles from this batch of songs our manager Bart Gabriel liked “Wrath of the Reaper” for the title of our new comeback album. It was his idea and we all agreed.
Stefan: On which topics the songs were based on? Guide us through a few of the themes please.
Dan: You mean what are the lyrics about? When you read through all the lyrics you can get a very clear idea what the songs are about but I’ll lay out a brief outline for you.
Macabre Procession of Specters is about the Nazi death marches that took place during World War 2.
Screaming Sacrifice is about ritual human Sacrifice.
A Slave in Hell is about living a life of evil and ending up a slave in Hell.
Swimming the Witch is about the witch hunts and trials that took place in Salem Massachusetts back in the early 1690’s.
Dark Void of Evil is about surrendering to and being surrounded by pure evil.
Unraveled is about substance abuse and the struggle to get and remain sober.
Voices is about gambling addiction.
Exhumed for the Reaping is about the resurrection and the bringing of Hexx back to life.
Circle the Drain is about the coming to the end of the so called civilized world.
Wrath of the Reaper is about cheating death and the grim Reaper as long as you can.
Certificate of Death is about the process of death and the ending of your life.
Stefan: Eddy Vega is the new singer within the fold, in my opinion a real good front man that reminds me fallen heroes like David Wayne (Metal Church/Reverend) and John Leone (Attacker). Was Eddy active in other bands before entering the Hexx camp?
Dan: Yeah, Eddy was the find of the century for us! Eddy is just the nicest guy you could ever meet and he has been kicking around the SF Bay Area all his life and has been in many local bands. Unfortunately none of these bands ever rose to national or international success of any kind. He has never been on a record before. This is his well-deserved worldwide debut!
Stefan: What about the other newcomers in the band?
Dan: Yes indeed! We were very fortunate to have Bob Wright from Brocus Helm fame to join forces with us. His contributions to the band have been fantastic! Very talented and very nice guy!
We also have John Shafer who joined back up with the band right after we got back from performing at the Keep It True festival in Germany back in 2013. He’s a great guy and a fantastic drummer! He really played his ass off on this record!
And let’s not forget to mention our killer bass player Mike Horn who stepped in for our original bass player Bill Peterson back in 2012 so we could perform at the KIT Festival!
Stefan: I heard all of the songs for several times so far and let me be honest with you, I just can’t get enough of the entire album, really! It feels like a blend of “No Escape” and “Under The Spell”, I’d like to describe the new piece as a purebred traditional US power metal akin to the sound of early Metal Church (“The Dark”) and Attacker’s “Second Coming”. Do you agree with me or not Dan?
Dan: Well thank you so much for saying that Stefan! That was the sound we were trying to get for this new album so yes, I agree with you!
Stefan: May I assume you are very satisfied with the album, what/which song(s) you like the most of all? I’d like to ask why as well.
Dan: Yes, I am very happy with the way this record turned out! I guess I would have to say that my favorites are probably A Slave in Hell and A Dark Void of Evil. I think they came out very well, but it’s hard for me to judge because I am so close to all the material. I really love all of it!
Stefan: The album is available on a worldwide basis, right. Where to place an online order?
Dan: Yeah, you should not have any problems finding this album online to purchase. For example the CD, Vinyl and digital downloads will all be available from Amazon .com as well as many other retailers. Just Search on line for HEXX “Wrath of the Reaper” and take your pick!
Stefan: Followed to the official release of “Wrath of the Reaper”, can we expect a world-wide Tour… hopefully a passage across Europe as well?
Dan: Well we sure hope so but as of right now the band has no tour support or any invitations to perform in Europe. Hopefully after the record has been out for a while we might get some opportunities to play in Europe again. We will just have to wait and see.
Stefan: After a long wait of more than 20 years, Hexx is finally back in business which makes me really happy, now what are the plans in regards to the next following years?
Dan: Right now our future is rather uncertain. A lot is riding on weather this album will be a success or not. We singed a two record deal with High Roller Records so hopefully we will at least be able to make a follow up album to Wrath of the Reaper in 2019. Again, we will have to wait and see how things pan out with this release.
Stefan: Plans are ‘mostly’ made to be realized so all the very best with the mission and like to thank you for the precious time doing this way conversation Dan. Do you have some final words before we finally end your story? Cheers brother!
Dan: Yes, first of all I would just like to thank you Stefan for your well thought out questions and for the opportunity of this interview. Also I would like to let everyone know who is interested in Hexx, how much it means to us, and all the guys in the band. Without your interest and attention this new album would never have been possible. Thank you!
All the best, Dan Watson – HEXX