HEMLOCK Interview: The 2021 Double Down

One of the hardest working metal bands in the industry, Hemlock,  have recently released not one, but two full albums on February 8, 2021 titled, Violence & Victory and KARMAgeDDoN. To say they have it all, is an understatement. Hemlock is a do-it-yourself band that is constantly working and creating not only new songs, but new and creative ideas through its merch, shows, and videos, often incorporating 80’s themes. These albums are full of a diversity of styles and musical components as well as positive lyrics to make them some of the most entertaining and fulfilling listens of the year thus far.

Hemlock got its start in 1993 with two brothers; Chad Smith (vocals, bass) and Brian Smith (drums) in the city of sin, Las Vegas Nevada.  And with these guys, what happens in Vegas seldom stays in Vegas. Hemlock (prior to the pandemic) are absolute monster road warriors and their live shows are energetic juggernauts of rock and roll revelry and pandemonium. They have been a non-stop powerhouse through the metal scene since their inception and are consistently spreading positive energy through their metal outlet. They have collaborated with Tevon Giannini (guitar) and Brian Jackson (guitar) to complete the current incarnation of the band.

Brian Smith kindly chatted with Metal Nation about the band’s two new albums.

I really dig the covers of both albums but I couldn’t help but think how people who haven’t heard you guys before and know what you’re all about react when they find out it’s all positive metal positive lyrics. What made you decide on these covers?

“With Karmageddon, it was a name we had been tossing around for a while, and we had the whole concept and kind of the concept art and we tied in many subtle things related to Hemlock history. They also are throughout the album and the lyrics as well. Chad worked on the artwork for Karmageddon and what’s weird is we have been writing these for the last few years now and the lyrics were completed before a lot of the current events were happening.”

That’s shocking. They fit these times well.

“Yeah. *laughs* You see some of the content and you would think we had written it in our down time with covid, but really it was all written ahead of time. Chad already had the lyrics written, we had the whole concept already figured out. We had accidently done that in the past with our Mouth of the Swine album, ‘Living in Fear’, we had a song about that, maybe we are in touch or in tune with these things, but I don’t know, the content is real, and you mentioned the positive spin on things as well, but as far as the artwork itself, Chad had that designed. The Violence & Victory artwork he had done a little more recently, he had wanted to tie in all the different currencies and money throughout the world so there’s a lot of that as well through the artwork. That one was actually newer, even the album title.  It was interesting because we had so many songs we were sitting on. We had released our album 25 which was the 25th year of the band two or three years ago. With that album we had just gone back and rerecorded some greatest hits of sorts, so we technically had and put out brand-new material since Mouth of the Swine which was released in 2015. We have been dabbling with new music since then and were set with 22 or 23 new songs. We often have 15 to 20 and we will go through and weed out ones that sound too similar or are not as strong at the time, but with all the songs, after we listened a few times, we realize there was no way to cut any of them. We felt strong about all of them. Then we had to decide how to release them. They are two separate albums and we had toyed with the idea of putting one out and just releasing the other one in a year or two, but in the end we said screw it, the world is crazy right now. Let’s just get all the music out there. We’re done, it’s ready, let’s go. The biggest trek was figuring out which songs would go on which albums to make sure they could fit. I think it is important to find a flow where the music flows naturally, where there’s peaks and valleys throughout so it doesn’t get boring listening to the songs back to back.”

I think it is important to point out how much time and effort does go into the location of the track list and how they are able to flow the best. In the digital world, it seems people have lost that. They don’t sit with the whole album like we used to, which is really unfortunate because of how much time and effort you guys put into it.

“Sure. In a world where it is all singles and EP’s and everything, you know, I am still old school. I like to have the physical copies, even with the liner with the lyrics inside and pictures and photos and artwork, I still like to include that and it doesn’t really exist a whole lot anymore. So yeah, who cares about a track list order when you got a three song EP, or are just releasing singles every couple of months, but to me, I like the full album. I like the flow and the way it is presented. The way the band wants it to be.”

I agree. The lyrics are especially important in albums like this since they are so positive and insightful. Are you planning on releasing these albums on vinyl in the future?

“We had talked about in the past with other releases, of course we would love to and it is becoming a little more doable this day and age to do smaller runs, but it’s difficult to invest thousands of dollars, especially like right now when we can’t tour, and we don’t want to end up having 3000 albums in our garage since we wouldn’t be able to sell them on tour. Sure we can do sells online, but any do-it-yourself band makes the majority of their money on tour. With the cost ratio, it is trying to determine whether we want to spend five thousand here or get plane tickets to fly to Europe again, there is always something else. It sucks, but that’s what it comes down to when you are self-funded band. You have to pick and choose what the most logical thing to do financially is. We hope to one day.”

You guys are one of the hardest working do-it-yourself bands that was constantly on tour before the world shut down, and consistently putting out music. Definitely one of my favorite bands to see live. You are also wonderful people outside of the music. I can imagine how difficult this time has been on you all.

“Thank you for all the compliments. Yeah, normally we would be on tour right now pushing the new albums and here we are sitting and waiting since last year. That’s why we decided to release the music regardless of the situation and we will tour whenever were able to. We will have these songs polished, everyone will know them by then and hopefully be able to sing along. We realize we just needed to get some new music out there for our sake and for everyone else’s. It has been a few years since we put anything new out there so it was nice to be able to do something. Chad has made some lyrics videos which has been fun. We had fallen in love with making videos and we have some fun ideas, but with us being all scattered in different states, it makes that part a little more difficult too. It is strange to have new music out there but no tours or videos. When we first went into quarantine, I didn’t play drums in a month, and that doesn’t happen very often, only one other time actually, since I was ten. It has been a strange time for all of us and it has affected everybody differently.”

*Discussed how terrible we both are at technology and how Brian gets stuck in nostalgia, mostly cassette tapes, VHS, and everything 80’s as well as the magical moment he finally found an 80’s members only jacket*

“Against All Odds” and “Never Say Die” on opposing albums both have clean lead vocals, which you guys don’t do often.

“In the past we had dabbled with some having quite a bit more singing, but we don’t like to force it. It’s funny you mention ‘Against All Odds’ because that is actually one out of the three or four that we have been sitting on for a while. That one in particular was supposed to be on in the The Only Enemy album, so we are talking about in 2012 or so. ‘The Cleansing’ and ‘Parasite’ were the other two older ones that we finally recorded. It is interesting how some of these songs come back around again. ‘Engraved’ was actually on our Shutdown album which is still pretty true to form when we wrote it in the 90’s. What’s funny is a few people have pointed that song out which is hilarious to me that a song that was written over twenty years ago can hold up to our newer stuff. It is a song I always loved and wanted to re-record.”

It is difficult to put you guys into a genre because you have so many elements from different times and are able to pull off multiple sounds. What genre would you put you Hemlock in if you had to?

“That is tough because there are elements of groove metal and even some doom metal as well as some thrash stuff and hints of hardcore here and there. You can hear stylings of a bunch of different influences. We obviously listen to many different styles of music. With Mouth of the Swine I even felt like there were elements of Faith No More. You can hear what is engrained into our song writing styles through our influences. It is really difficult to categorize because we do keep such a broad spectrum of stylings in and out of the whole metal genre.”

Out of the new songs, which one do you enjoy the lyrics of the most and which one do you enjoy playing the most?

“That is really tough because without being able to play them live it is tough to know which one will be my favorite to play. There are some when you play live they groove really well and the crowd eats it up, so that it stands out as one of your favorite songs. ‘Engraved’ was one we have played more recently and I really enjoy playing so if I had to pick right now that’s the one I would pick. Lyrically that may be too soon for me to tell as well, ‘Convert, Leave or Die’ I love a lot. The working title for that one was ‘The Hit’, the song kicks in and has a good groove and we can picture the crowd jumping and going nuts, then we hit that big hooky chorus and we can see everyone singing along, so I think I will go with that as much other choice. It is my favorite right now. ‘Brainwashed’ is fun’.”

I was going to bring that one up, I like the riff in that one.

“Oh cool! ‘Pissing Contest’ is another fun one, I like a lot of the groove stuff. The other one that makes me laugh is the song ‘Lose Your Delusion 1 and 2’, which if you know any old school Guns ‘n’ Roses….”

I figured that is where it came from, especially with the part one and part two. The second one is really thrashy.

“We toyed with the idea of calling Violence & Victory, ‘Lose Your Delusion’, but then we couldn’t decide if we should split the songs up on the two different albums or not, but the more we listened to it, we realized they flowed seamlessly and needed to be back to back. We had never had an epic, ten minute metal crazy, big anthem song before so this was the first time we have ever done this.”

The album has now been released, what has it been like so far?

“It has been very cool seeing everyone getting their releases and sharing them with photos on Facebook and saying what their favorite songs are, it has been a really good response.”

As always I have to ask, given the way the world is right now, and with how hard musicians have been hit financially, how can people best support Hemlock right now?

“Sharing the love and sharing the word. Play the songs for your friends and share it online. Financially of course buying the albums and merch helps the most. We are having to find other ways to come up with money to do mass production and things like that, which is why we did a lot of presales and bundle packages. Chad is super creative with merch and was throwing ideas around. Him and his wife made so much of the stuff which has been super helpful. The friends and fans who have been able to help financially has given us the ability to get these physical copies in our hands. It is really hard when you are a band like us and don’t have label support and big media pushing you. It is mostly playing live show and generating money underground, not only by performances, but selling merch there. You take that whole aspect out of it, and it is even harder. You have to get even more creative. More than anything, we just like to throw positivity out there and love seeing our friends popping up with their new Hemlock T shirt on Facebook and saying how they love the new tunes. It is very helpful.”

You guys seem like you are never short of creativity. Some of the logos you guys come out with over the years are so awesome, lots of 80’s references. My son still has his Gremlins one.

“That is so cool. Yeah we like to have fun with it and even the intros of the shows we will throw in a fun 80’s intro. We have done the Indiana Jones theme song before, we have done Star Wars, Back to the Future intros, it is fun. We are still just kids basically and I get a kick out of that, it makes me smile and laugh. At least for our band, it adds a little splash of color and a fun 80s throwback. It just reminds me of being young and having fun still. We have never been the serious, angry band, mutilated bodies, that is great for a lot of bands, it is part of their imagery and that’s fine, but for us it is just smiling and having fun and rocking out.”

I have not seen you guys with the Star Wars intro, I am hoping to in the future.

“We will have to do a special, even if it is a one off, just for you. Oh we did the A Team intro once too and that was a blast. Of course I am going to kill it on the drums after that, I am all pumped up *laughs*”

Hemlock continues to impress with not only their musical and creative skills, but also their very humble and down to earth personalities. These guys are some of the most sincere humans in the metal industry. Their talent is a big added bonus and their positive lyrics give you a sense of calmness and happiness that we all need right now. Please make sure you check these albums out and support these fantastic musicians!

Brian JacksonBrian SmithChad SmithHemlockKarmageddonTevon GianniniViolence & Victory
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