Many, many moons
ago, I spent a good deal of my high school years in downtown St. Pete
at a club known as Jannis Landing. There, one hot, sticky Florida evening,
I was blessed to bear witness to a live performance by the colossal Dark
Angel on their "Leave Scars" tour. While time has slipped like
sand through my fingers, never has a solitary moment of that show eroded
from my recollection. Over the years, I've run across Gene Hoglan every
now and again as he seems to have made it a personal quest to participate
in as many practically inventive outfits in need of drumming talent as
he possibly can. Never will you meet a more experienced, kind-hearted
student of music and human-nature to talk with, so I began our interview
by probing his ability to change drumming styles like most of us change
channels on our TVs.
From the get-go, what -really- impressed me, generally speaking, is how
Gene Hoglan sounds different with every band you play with. For example,
Old Man's Child Gene doesn't sound anything like Strapping Young Lad Gene
and that's different from Dark Angel Gene. How do you do it?
Gene Hoglan: I actually try to work on that a little
bit because if I were to play Testament, it shouldn't sound like Strapping,
and that shouldn't sound like Dark Angel, who shouldn't sound like Old
Man's Child, or Punch Drunk or anything like that. I try to do something
a little different. A lot of that is very easy to work around whatever
band you're with -- you'll work around their style of music. You know,
that helps me a lot. When I'm doing Strapping, that calls for a lot of
chaotic double bass, and a lot of aggro stuff puttin' out a lot of crazy
two handed double bills, like Death was. Death's music was very musician-oriented
at the time. Chuck Schuldiner would say [to me], "Hey man! Go sick."
Having an influence like Sean Reinert from "Human", the pallet
was wide open to paint after that. It was really cool to use the band's
own sound to help create the next level of that band's sound.
CoC: Having followed
your career, I noticed you seem to take whatever the band was before and
morph it into you, a little bit, without detracting anything from the
band's own originality. Your work with Death is a great example, I think.
And I would assume groups would appreciated that.
GH: I think so,
I think he did. Chuck always stressed, "Go sick, go nuts. I can play
over everything you're laying down." I think we only ever changed
one beat on all the songs he and I ever did together, and that was just
because the producer was like, "Dude, I'm not feeling the riff and
the beat working together." So that was no problem. I think we did
that twice: "Individual Thought Patterns" and "Symbolic".
For all the riffs that we put together and all the other drum beats and
stuff, we only ever had to change one per album.
CoC: As far as Strapping
goes, it is my impression that the interplay between the drums and the
bass play a huge part in this band. How do you feel?
GH: Yeah, Byron
has such a great style. Byron isn't a flashy bassist at all, but the bass
lines that we lay down are real solid to augment everything. There are
so many metal bands that the bassist is just an extension of the guitarist.
He's playing basically what the guitarist is playing. With us, man, Byron
is like root note bastard; he pounds on the root note. If you gotta play
the same note for sixteen bars or whatever, that's okay, it's -where-
you place it. A lot of times, if you're doing a polka beat, we'll boom-bat-boom-bat-boom-bat
instead of laying the bass on the 1 and the 3, we'll lay it on the 2 and
the 4, you know... bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam, so it just sounds more
CoC: You guys work
so well together, it is not like Byron's bass playing taking a back seat
in the music at all; I hear him just as much as the guitars, drums, and
GH: He'd love to
hear that. I agree, 'cause Byron is a very important part of this whole
CoC: This album,
"SYL", seems to have taken Strapping to the next level. I am
extremely happy with the length of this album. In my opinion, it is the
perfect length for an album of this kind. It's not too long and it really
emphasizes what you guys want to demonstrate in the appropriate amount
of time. Was that intentional or something Devin had in mind?
GH: No, we didn't
say we have to have this album this certain length. Even though some of
the tunes seemed kinda long, like "Aftermath" and "Bring
on the Young", but I was like "ahh... fuck it!" There's
some three minute tunes on there and that's cool. Just turned out that
way -- nothing preconceived.
CoC: When you went
in, I assume that some of the songs were written, but it didn't seem like
there was a strategic game plan in place. You guys just went in and did
a tremendous album.
GH: Actually, we
worked on these songs about eight months before we went in. We started
writing in January and started tracking on September 10th. We just went
in a laid it down. Everybody had their parts sowed together.
CoC: Sure seems
like a well oiled machine. What do you think about the feeling that nearly
everytime I go through this release, I pick up something new. Would you
call that multi-layered?
GH: Yeah, it definitely
is. It is one of the more stripped-down records that we've all put out
together. Like Death music totally has, you listen to it once... you get
the overall gist, then you put on some headphones and get something else
out of it, you get stoned another time and start listening to that other
thing you got goin' on there. The new Strapping record is the same way.
We could have done a whole industrial side to the whole thing, and had
samples everywhere, but we were not really feeling the samples. Everyone
else is doing it to the tenth degree anyway, so why not just make it a
stripped-down metal record? A prime example of what we think a good metal
CoC: This engages
the listener to a degree that is fairly rare on the metal scene today.
This is provoking, there was a lot to communicate with SYL to the listener.
GH: I can see your
point totally. Ultimately it did come down to just trying to be the best
metal band we could be. That means thoroughly crushing. If we are the
best metal band we can be, that means all the other metal bands are gonna
start feeling some pain.
CoC: Would you say
that there is some type of parallel between SYL and a band along the lines
of Hate Eternal? It devastates and that's a lot what I get from Erik's
music, too. There seems to be a lot of commonality there.
GH: There's some
Morbid Angel influence on the whole thing. That's one of Jed's and Dev's
favorite bands, too. I think we are way more familiar with Morbid Angel
than Hate Eternal, though I know Jed loves Hate Eternal. The stuff I've
heard from 'em, I think it's totally rippin'. There's nothing wrong with
CoC: I am -so- impressed
with those clean vocals on "Force Fed" -- I think Devin's done
an incredible job with that song. What was his thought behind having those
vocal styles from clean to out-and-out devastation with what he does on
GH: Well, that's
Dev, he is the all-encompassing vocalist. He can do anything. That's the
main reason Strapping is as crushing as we are -- our vocalist is not
tied down to one style or even the two styles of the soft verse and heavy
chorus. Dev's dynamics are all over the place and I remember him saying
as he was writing the vocal line to the record, "I wanna make things
that we can pull off live. Never gonna be a problem for me to sing."
We stay within a certain range and get crazy within that range, so any
song we wanna pull out of a hat on a given night, we're like BOOM, we're
there. When we were writing the songs, Jed would come up with a riff,
we'd start honkin' on it. Five minutes into the song when everybody's
got their riff down, Dev's already laying down vocal lines right off of
that. Dev was saying, "I remember back in the day when I used to
take the songs home, listen to them in my head, come up with these crazy
vocal lines that were great to sing in the studio, but to do them live
when you've got fourteen other songs in your set and you're hittin' this
range that is just killing you... I'm not going to do that on this record."
Any song from the record we can pull out at any time. That's pretty cool.
CoC: I think, personally,
-very- few bands are able to pull that off...
GH: We all wrote
lyrics for the record, too, you know? Dev had a few lyrics for a few of
the songs, but a -lot- of the songs were, by God, "I gotta go record
this, so let's all sit around in a group and toss out words." [Dev]'d
come up with a line and say, "I'm kinda lookin' for somethin' along
this line" and Jed'd throw out a line and I'd throw out a line, Byron'd
throw out a line... All of us would be in there firing in a line and we'd
all come up with vocal lines for him too, and he'd be like, "Yea,
cool -- let's try it!" That's the first time I've ever tried this,
and it's pretty unique and I like it.
CoC: Would you say
the lyrics are as important as the music to Strapping Young Lad?
GH: We were more
going more for the function rather than the form. The lyrics themselves
weren't the important thing -- it was the emotion behind them. It was
the aggression that had to go into them. Sometimes even the actual syllabic
count of them and come up with the lines right then and there. It works.
It's cool. And that's why I personally find it humorous when people are
like "I read all this -heavy- stuff into the lyrics." I'm like,
"Man, you know how we wrote the lyrics to this song?" <laughs>
CoC: Wouldn't you
say Devin communicates the emotion of the song with -how- he sings it?
GH: Oh, yea -- totally!
Exactly. Most of this album has first-take vocals. Everything, really.
This is pretty much a first-take -album-. I got my drum track done in
five hours. Byron got his bass track down in five hours. Jed did pretty
much all the guitars on the album, so it took him ten hours. Dev was laying
down vocals from the very first day and some of the vocals Dev laid down
even before we laid down the bass or guitars we kept 'cause they were
so amazing. There's this one line in "Devoured" that's like,
"Oh God help me with these dreams of 100 million souls washed away"
-- that was one take! We got that on film, too. Dev was kinda sitting
around in the corner to himself and he's like, "I'm going to go try
this thing really quick." We had the cameras rollin' for everything.
We filmed like 24 hours of footage from the recording of the album for
future DVD use or whatever. Dev screams out this line. Chills are goin'
up everybody's spine and he comes back and he's like, "That was okay.
Lemme try that again." Everyone was, like, "NO!!" So much
on this record was like that.
CoC: With all your
experience in all these bands, have you ever come across anybody who's
able to do that?
GH: Naw, that's
Dev. There's so many things inside this man that other people cannot do.
That's why every member of this band is totally important and we all feel
like we're on a roll -- to a 'T' -- totally.
CoC: You guys have
stuck with Century Media straight through. Would you say Strapping has
a pretty good working relationship with the label?
GH: Up and down
there for awhile. Right now it's on the up. Century Media's doing a great
job! Everybody there's working hard and the record is selling great and
everybody is really happy. We're all working well together and [the band]
has a good working relationship with 'em. I think it is totally killer.
The things bands need -- we get and we try to be accommodating as well.
We try to keep our requests reasonable and they understand that. We renegotiated
the contract before this record and it's all killer; it's a good working
relationship and hopefully we can keep it rockin'.
CoC: With Strapping
Young Lad, it seems to me that you are able to flex your drumming muscle
that you are known for. Would you say that to be the case?
GH: I guess I'd
say that I flex the amount I choose. No one is telling me you gotta do
more -- that bums me out. No one is telling me you gotta do less -- it's
like, "Dude, you're the drummer, you come up with the part."
Also, I love it when others come up with the parts, too. One of the greatest
things that I've done is when someone else comes up with it on a drum
machine or tying to get a pattern across to me, I'd be like, "Hey,
cool -- I wasn't even thinking about that. Let's try that!" I get
to flex what I want. With this record, I push myself, but there is no
song that I dread playing. I remember, my favorite tune from Strapping
is "Oh My Fucking God" and I dreaded playing that one every
night until I got really comfy with it. That was the first song that Dev
and I wrote together. We wrote it in five minutes in our very first jam
together, and I was so excited I was doing this crazy stuff, but I dreaded
playing it every night. I'm to the point where I don't anymore -- I love
playing it live. On the new record, there's nothing I dread. I'm like,
"Fuck it! Let's play all of it."
CoC: That chunky,
fat, heavy, thick part of "Aftermath"...
GH: The fast part?
CoC: Yea! That is
the track I keep coming back to on the album. If I had to point to a spot
on the new album, that is where you're able to flex the muscle you're
GH: I remember when
we wrote that. We had the slow part of the tune together for a couple
of months and we knew we had to take that song somewhere. We even came
back to the intro and we pinched it down a half-step and were going through
it and we got to the spot where it kicks into the polka beat and it breaks
down. One day, we played through it and kept chuckin' on the main riff
and then that part [you were talking about] came up and it wrote itself.
I went into full-on hullin' double bass and Jed went into that triplet
riff there; Byron was poundin' -- we all got chills! We were all like,
"We got this song now."