This is Hell’s new record Black Mass is essentially going to be the second coming of Metallica’s …And Justice For All. After MEB staffer Sammi Chichester spoke to guitarist Rick Jimenez about the lyrics, artwork, and direction of the album, it couldn’t be more apparent (so sorry for the frequent references). But it’s all too true especially when the record is also about being responsible and doing the right thing on many different levels.
MEB: So you said this album was going to have a thrash metal influence, how did it end up that way?
Jimenez: This is what’s going on: I’m just gonna go with it. But that’s essentially how the writing for all our albums goes. There’s not really much of a preconceived notion like, “Oh, let’s write a record that sounds like this!” Whatever comes out is what This is Hell becomes. It was a ton of fun because I realized these songs were getting more and more metal. Older influences came to mind that hadn’t been there for years. I learned how to play guitar by playing metal. My favorite band ever- and even still is Metallica. The bands I learned how to play guitar to were Mayhem, Anthrax, Slayer, Queensryche, and Testament. So it was kinda cool to go back to my first influences as far as playing music.
This is Hell is hardcore and now you’re dabbling in metal. Is there some kind of secret formula that a band like that could use?
As far as I know, not really. I just do whatever. I do what I want to hear. The thing is, if people like it, it’s the coolest thing ever. I never really go do this because someone might like you more and I’d be totally unhappy that way. As far as it being a transition and my only advice is: do what you feel. If you’re a hardcore band and feel like playing metal- play metal.
Who produced this record?
We worked with Tomas Costanza. He did Weight of the World with us also. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say producer. He’s an excellent engineer. He’s also a fan of the band, a friend of the band, and he cares a lot about the band. He has a lot of suggestions. It depends on how loosely or not you use the word “producer.” When I hear someone say “they produced the record,” I think that someone ran in, took your songs, and said, “Oh, let me do this.” There was none of that going on. I mean, he knows what we’re going for and he knows us personally. We’ve developed a very good dynamic with him.
Do you have a favorite behind-the-scenes story with the recording of Black Mass?
It was when we were actually doing the song “Black Mass” during the final mix. When we were doing the record I wanted to find a place for a gong- and it was almost a bit of a joke. For a while it was an idea being thrown around for the sake of an idea. But when we were doing the final mix I was like, “Yo that gong would go perfect here.” It was a little bit of a last minute thing but it’s not like we went out and used a real gong- it’s a sample. When we listened to it, it was like, “Holy fuck. We put a fucking gong on our record.” And we had to call everyone in to the room to check it out. We were laughing like little kids because it was so funny but so cool to us.
Is there some sort of lyrical theme on this record?
There’s a bunch of different themes that we go through, but one of the recurrent themes on this record is the battle between justice and injustice. That’s a very wide spectrum. Once one record is written, when I write the next record, it usually stays within the time period of the conclusion of the last record and the beginning of this one. So in that time period, I experienced personally a whole bunch of viewings or being the victims of injustice based on race or occupation. As far as race, lifestyle, and culture- these types of things being a cause for injustice now is just so strange to me. It’s like fucking 2011, and you’d think we’d be past that shit, especially in the area that I live. It almost seems like there’s a bit of a caste system that’s built around different ethnicities, and I touch on that a few times on the record in different ways. It’s not like that’s a groundbreaking subject but I don’t think it’s something that is written about as much as it should be. It’s a major problem that we have everywhere- even in other countries.
I think of America in 2011, and I don’t think there should be the thought of racial discrimination. I don’t think there should be the thought of discrimination based on someone’s sexual preference. But there’s so much of that and it’s so shitty. It’s gotten to the point where, for me, it’s not just something I look at and think it’s shitty- it’s something I look at like aggressive. It’s topics we’ve touched on in the past, but not as direct as it is on this new record. I hope people, if they take anything from this record, I hope it’s the lyrics because I think we say a couple of things that are very important that could be eye-opening to some people who might just think of This is Hell as oh a metal band singing about hardcore stuff. There’s more to it than that.
The artwork on the cover is beautiful- in a way, it reminds me of old political hardcore bands’ covers- is that intentional?
Yeah, it was. There was a line from one of the songs where the line is metaphorical. When we were thinking of artwork ideas, I brought up the metaphor and actually making it literal by putting it on the cover. Then ideas started to flow-let’s add this, let’s add that. I don’t know if I’m gonna ruin it for anybody by explaining what the concept was besides hey there’s a Statue of Liberty on the cover. The concept behind it was to tie in the theme of calling the record Black Mass. I don’t know if most people know, but a black mass is essentially a satanic mass. The fact we put the Statue of Liberty up there, all decrepit, being choked out by a pair of rosary beads, covered in snakes, and the backdrop is a city that’s falling apart.
I really like the idea of mixing politics and religion along with our take on how all those things right now are completely fucked. There’s no truth in religion whether it be Christianity or Satanism. There’s no truth in politics anymore- not that there ever really was. Politics is politics as it’s always been. By taking the Statue of Liberty and all that is stands for–it shows everything is darker than it’s supposed to be. The whole American dream is a load of shit. All the stuff we’re forcing in America from the day we’re born- it’s all a lie. Not only is it a lie, but it’s a lie being told by people higher up in order to trick everyone else into thinking what they think. Everything that’s supposed to be pure in this country seems to not be. That goes across the board- from the media to religion to other things. I gave the idea and lyrics to Will Blood, an English artist who we’ve worked with before on T-shirt designs. He ran with it, went crazy, and delivered a beautiful piece of artwork.
I think the lyrical themes are great and I’m glad someone’s talking about this instead of the other meaningless stuff out there.
I don’t view This is Hell as a big band by any means. But the fact that we go out on tour and put out records- I feel like we have a platform to say something. I feel like bands who have that platform and use it to say dumb shit- that drives me crazy. I’m not saying that every single song that someone writes needs to be about saving the whales. I’m not a super P.C. kinda guy, but at the same time I see bands that are just big playing to a couple thousand kids every night and the only thing they have to say is, “Oh I got wasted and I fucked this girl.” It’s such bullshit.
I saw a shirt of a band with lyrics to one of their songs and I got irritated by it. It’s a band whose catch phrase apparently is “In every fucking city, I’m touching every fucking titty.” I just couldn’t believe that somebody wrote that down and was like, “Oh my god! That’s the perfect line.” Not only could someone show that to the rest of the band and have them agree to it, but go to a studio and record it, and think that this is okay. I’m the last person to start a sentence with “don’t say,” because everyone should just say what they want. But as someone who makes music for a living, I find it insulting that another band is writing shit like that down, tours the world with that, and sells it to people. It’s just a waste of everybody’s time. I’m all for having a good time. Me and my friends get together and we write rap songs and say dumb shit. But on that level, you have impressionable kids- actually impressionable people of all ages- and you’re putting your time and energy into “touching every titty in every city.” To me, that’s insulting but it’s also just stupid. It makes me want to find those kids and pound on them with my fist. I take it seriously. People are paying money to see my band. People are paying attention to my band and I’d never want to put lyrics out there that I think are throw-away bullshit.
Seeing some of your Tweets on Twitter, you definitely have some thoughts about bands using the company KickStarter/PayPal. What’s the official position?
I’m fully capable of admitting that this may be us being old, bitter, or set in our ways of thinking we should work for stuff. But when I see a band being like, “Oh, we broke down. Here’s our PayPal. Donate,” that whole mentality just blows my mind. It’s like, “Hey everyone, give us money because we can’t take care of ourselves.” Believe me, I’ve been playing in This Is Hell for seven years and we are not by any means a money machine. We broke down on this last tour we did. It wasn’t even a headlining tour, we just went out and played shows. Sometimes we wound up playing last. We weren’t making headliner money or drawing tons of kids. We had to replace our transmission which in the end it wound up costing $4,000. It’s funny because we just said, “Alright, we’re gonna have to cancel some shows, lose some money, make up a long drive later on, and pay this.” We took the money we had and personally fucking paid for it.
We had played in Portland where our label is at, and we were just talking about how they gave one of their new bands a ton of money for a breakdown. We joked around saying that we should ask them for some money. But that’s not the way it works. We joked with them and they gave us $1000. I was blown away- not because the people at our label are assholes or anything. I just thought asking for money because our van broke down was ridiculous. When I was having this conversation with someone else, they told me that’s what you do: ask your label for money. I said, “Really? I’m fucking 31 years old and I didn’t know that’s how it worked. That’s fucking ridiculous. Our label has nothing to do with our tours or our van, like what the fuck are they gonna give us money for?” So the fact that our label gave us 25 percent of the money to fix our van…we’re not even making ourselves any money, let alone our label.
These other bands, that’s a standard? They ask their label for money and also ask their fans to donate for them? Why don’t they go play a couple of shows and make some t-shirts? I don’t know what makes these people think they’re entitled to ask for handouts. Like I said, it may be because I’m old. I toured before the Internet existed. When I was old enough to get a job, I got a job. The first time I was able to have money that I didn’t need for my mom to support me, from that point on I didn’t ask my mom for money. That could just be the way I was raised and I wasn’t raised in a fucking super privileged situation either. I think it’s really strange to ask for handouts. My pride would never let me post something on the Internet saying that I need money from somebody. Maybe it’s our work ethic. I don’t know where their sense of entitlement comes from. Touring isn’t easy and I’ve always known you’re going to lose money. It’s not like “We were in some terrible car accident” -that I could understand. Hardcore is known for when someone’s in a jam for helping out and having benefit shows.
You have a fall tour coming up with The Chariot, Comeback Kid, and Underoath. After the crowd sees you play, what do you want them to go home thinking?
I would probably always have the same answer but probably more now: to think, “Holy shit. This Is Hell blew my mind.” Or people who have heard of the band before but never heard us, to think we played great. I’m hoping to blow the minds of people who have already seen us before. We have this new album and we’re going to play a bunch of stuff off it. I think this new stuff is the most intense shit we’ve ever written, both lyrically and musically. We’ve been playing as a four-piece for three years now. We’re going out on this tour with a second guitar player which is only going to beef up our sound that much more. After we’re done playing, I want people to think we are the loudest, most aggressive shit they’ve ever heard in their lives. I know that’s a bit of a grandiose statement, but that’s what we’re going for. If we aren’t trying to get our message across every night, then what’s the point?
Thinking back to what you said about hardcore scenes pitching in and looking at your catalogue- Daryl from Glassjaw sang on a couple songs. I guess, to what extent do you let Long Island influence you?
Well it was cool to get him down to the studio with us. As far as Long Island influencing us…I think it’s in ways that are kinda subconscious because anything you listen to will influence you. I mean, a lot of our favorite bands are Long Island bands. I was always a New York hardcore guy into Sick of It All and Agnostic Front. As far as metal bands, the bands that are super important to me are mostly from California like Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth. And there are cross-over bands like Anthrax and Cro-Mags. By the time I started getting into Long Island bands, I was already set in my ways. But VOD [Vision of Disorder] is my favorite Long Island band. On the other hand, Travis grew up mainly going to Long Island hardcore shows. So he was into Silent Majority and Mind Over Matter. His brother is in The Movielife.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It’s funny. I almost always get that question at the end and I thought, “Oh, I’m going to say this!” but I don’t remember what it was. But nothing special. Check out our shit. Be open to the whole crossover movement like when DRI [Dirty Rotten Imbeciles] made the transition. I think it’s really cool nowadays in the hardcore scene as it seems like people aren’t so against traditional or thrash metal. For a while everything needed to sound like this. But now hardcore is a whole bunch of different kinds of music and I think that’s important. When hardcore becomes stagnant, that defeats the whole purpose. Hardcore should be very open across the board- music and kinds of people. Hardcore should be inclusive, not exclusive. Don’t get me wrong, there’s tons and tons of elitist bullshit in hardcore. But it’s just really cool that we can essentially put out a record that’s metal and kids are into it as opposed to “fuck this, it’s metal.” Hardcore, punk, and metal should all be under the same umbrella.
Rick, it’s been a pleasure to talk to you. I can tell you care a lot about what you do and your fans, and I thank you for that.
Thank you. We do.
The album Black Mass will be released on October 11 through Rise Records. For more information, check out our review of the single “Black Mass” here.