Hatebreed: Interview With Jamey Jasta

Photo courtesy of www.myspace.com/hatebreed

Photo courtesy of www.myspace.com/hatebreed

He was the host of Headbangers Ball, he owns a few businesses, and he’s in two successful touring bands. On face value, one might think Jamey Jasta would have little to complain about, and even less angst to vent through hardcore music. But such criticism loses grounding when taking into consideration that he’s “turning negatives into positives,” as he puts it, by attempting to transfer difficult childhood experience, as well as recent tragedy, into song. Calling from Pittsburgh on the second-to-last night of the Decimation of the Nation tour (featuring Chimaira, Winds of Plague, Dying Fetus and Toxic Holocaust), Jamey shoots the shit with Hellbound’s Jay H. Gorania about Hatebreed’s new, self-titled release—easily the most diverse and dynamic output of the band’s career.

By Jay H. Gorania

You have a million hats on. Hatebreed, Kingdom of Sorrow, your clothing line, your label (who has just put out the awesome sophomore album by Thy Will Be Done). How do you avoid spreading yourself too thin? Are you just someone who’s developed a good ability to multitask?

You know, as long as the records sound good and have quality songs on them, I think that’s the only thing you wanna make sure. You just don’t wanna let it affect the creative process, and I feel like looking back over the body of work of albums I’ve sang on and written music for, I feel like I’ve always put a good amount of percentage into the songwriting and the work so the songs are memorable and people will wanna listen to them to this day. All the other stuff, you don’t want it to get in the way of that. You don’t want it to get in the way of you communicating a great song to somebody. So, the music comes first and everything else comes after. Going into this new Hatebreed album (released September 29th), I wanted to make sure that was my main focus, my main priority.

I imagine, at times, you have to be stern and, basically, quick with loved ones and close friends, because you have things to do. Is it a matter of prioritizing your time?

Yea you’ve gotta prioritize, and you have to have lists and a plan. I have five days off in between this tour and our Alaska shows, and I’m going to go see my sister and her kid, her mother, my mother and her mother, my daughter. I schedule it all out. When we get back from Alaska, we start doing more press, do a new photo shoot, possibly work on a new video. It’s not necessarily a bad problem to have. It’s been a lot of years at work getting to this point where we can tour, record, write and do everything on our own terms.

Tell me about the lineup change this time around. Guitarist Sean Martin was obviously a longstanding member.

I just talked to him. His hip hop record came out, and I went out and bought it. When I first heard him doing all those beats and stuff I really told him, “Look, if this is what you’re passionate about, you need to pursue it. Because he wasn’t really writing anything in Hatebreed ever. He wrote one riff from one song on Supremacy, but his creative outlet was always indie underground hip hop.

Never would have seen that.

I know he had put himself out there. He was really spread thin and he needed to finish the XO Skeletons record and the Cage record and the House of Blow record, and there’s no way you’re gonna finish 3 records when you’re going into the biggest touring cycle in Hatebreed’s career. Just this tour alone, and Europe, there was no way he would have been able to do it. We were going to Europe where we’ve been catapulted into this headliner position at these festivals like With Full Force.

Two years? That’s intense.

Think about it. We started back in May, There’s this tour now, and after this we go to Alaska, then we go to Japan. We have the CD release shows, then we have some guerilla shows, like some secret kinda thrown-together CD release, like small club/bar shows that won’t be announced till, like, the day before type of thing. But then also we have the full US tour November 6th to December 20th (the second installment of the Decimation of the Nation tour, which will also hit Canada, features opening bands Cannibal Corpse, Unearth, Born of Osiris and Hate Eternal – JHG). And then we have the full European tour where it’s us and Machine Head: January 23rd to February 27th. And we have stuff way beyond that as well. We’re just getting into the bulk of everything.

So was With Full Force was your biggest festival appearance, your biggest headlining slot, thus far?

Oh yea! Keep in mind we were the bridesmaids in ’04 and ’06. We were direct support to Slipknot, and then we were direct support to Korn. So to then headline and play above Amon Amarth, Sepultura and Suicidal Tendencies, I mean, it was a big deal. And just having 40 thousand people sing every word. And the pit was huge. We filmed it for a DVD because it was just ridiculous.

With (previous album) Supremacy, I was getting the feeling that a lot of it was more of the same. With this one, it’s easily the most dynamic thing you’ve done. It’s just more adventurous. I mean, you’re singing. What prompted this idea to spread out far more than you really have before?

Well, you know the thing with Supremacy was when we decided to…we were unsigned. We were obligated to Universal, but we were technically unsigned because our contract was basically up, but we wanted to do the right thing by Universal. We didn’t wanna be like, no we don’t wanna renew with you, but we had lost all our staff and we really didn’t know anybody there anymore, and we wanted to…look…Universal…we put out two great records with them. They were great to us. They were friends. Monte and Avery Lipman, the brothers, the president and the vice president, I mean these are great guys. They saved my life. They helped me so much as a musician and I learned so much from them. So when we were saying, “Look, we don’t really think it’s right to do another record on Universal,” they were nice enough to help us get over to Roadrunner; it’s the same parent company. There was no red tape. There was no hurt feelings or contract bullshit. It was very easy. But during that time, because it had been three years since The Rise of Brutality, there was a lot of speculation about the record and the sound and because of what started to become really popular. Think about how the landscape of music completely changed, and plus I was the host of Headbangers Ball, which completely changed music forever.

And all of a sudden, Hatebreed is on this main stage with System of a Down, Disturbed and Avenged Sevenfold. People started saying, “Oh they signed to Roadrunner, they’re gonna be on the main stage with all these modern rock acts. What’s the record gonna sound like?” And we were like…we didn’t understand it. We were like, “What the fuck? People don’t trust that we’re gonna make this kick-ass heavy record?” We felt like we had to take a stand. We said, let’s put out a thrashy, more hardcore, more in your face record. People were saying, “Oh, they’re gonna try to sound like Killswitch. They’re gonna try to sound like Slipknot, Stone Sour.”

Roadrunner liked the record. Roadrunner said let’s make the first single “To the Threshold,” and let’s put it on the Headbangers Ball soundtrack. In hindsight, a lot of our fans were really stoked. We still open our show with “To the Threshold.” And the record went on to outsell a lot of the quote-unquote bigger records of ’06, ’07. Our record performed well considering we were lost. But it could have been a better record. We didn’t utilize Frank, who had joined after the record was recorded, but we put his picture in there and started having him do interviews and get involved. But right then and there people heard the record and said, “Where are all the two-guitar parts?” That record was already done, and we played it safe. But it’s produced, like, six or seven songs that are still in the set that the crowd sings every word. “Destroy Everything” ended up being our biggest downloaded song, one of our biggest videos in Europe. It ended up being our biggest ring tone. We were never like a ring tone band, you know what I mean? So that record produced a lot of great things.

And it’s a hard-ass, mean record. It’s not the best record. There’s definitely five or six songs on that album that we’ll never play, whereas The Rise of Brutality maybe has two songs that we’ll never play. But this new record maybe has one song that we’ll never play. So that already says to me that this new record is better.

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Do you still write riffs on an acoustic guitar?

Yea. I did more. It was kinda split into three parts. I have a Jackson that Chris, our bass player, gave me that I love just everything about that I wrote like three or four songs on. And then I had my acoustic which Zeus jokingly calls the hit-maker. That’s the one I wrote “I Will Be Heard” on, and “Live for This,” and “This an Now.” Some songs I wrote on The Rise of Brutality I wrote on a mini Dime, on a mini Washburn, but I don’t have that guitar anymore. It was lost and then it was found, and yada, yada, yada. I got two Epiphone Prophecies that look like Les Pauls that play amazing. And I also have an ESP that Monster Energy drink gave me. So I have more tools in the arsenal. And I have one tuned to B, and two Epiphone Prophecies tuned to C, and I have them in different places. So if I got inspired I would write wherever I was whether it was at my house in Connecticut, or on the bus on the Kingdom of Sorrow tour I wrote a bunch of stuff. So I just made sure that when I was inspired I had something around. Something to record on my laptop, my mini recorder, my iPhone, my sidekick. I’ll record riffs on my sidekick. And then Chris came to the table with so many great ideas. He was sending me MP3s, and we were collaborating. We collaborated on the song “Hands of a Dying Man,” which he had these two amazing riffs that I really wanted to somehow make work with my riffs. And since two of my riffs I knew were gonna have solos on them, I would play along to his MP3s. And that’s how we did it for “To the Threshold” and “Define Judgment” on the Supremacy record. So there was a lot of collaborative stuff that came out even better because we were prepared and we had a lot of time.

But am I right about your idea with the acoustic, that if it sounds heavy without distortion, it’ll sound really fucking brutal when distorted on a proper metal guitar?

Oh yea, totally. And there’s a song called “As Damaged as Me” which I wrote on the acoustic, and it’s just so mean. It’s just so heavy.

I think it’s the heaviest song on the new album. It gets my blood flowing.

[laughter] That one, I played to the guys from Chimaira last night, and they were just like, “Holy shit.” It felt good because they’re always, I’ve played them every album throughout the years before it’s out. Before The Rise of Brutality came out, I went to Cleveland to see Matt Devries and James from Ringworm and we all took a limo over to the Ozzfest, and our record wasn’t coming out until October, but I had it. This was in August and I had the master, and we were playing it in the limo and they were giving me the approval and it felt good. So this time around playing it for them again, it was nice to see, because we really tried to get rid of anything we felt wasn’t giving a charge to us. And even though we did that with Supremacy, we over-thought Supremacy, and we went back and changed songs at the last minute. Made them shorter, made them less interesting, made them almost too similar to the formulas on Satisfaction is the Death of Desire.

You mentioned that you were writing some stuff while you were on tour with Kingdom of Sorrow. It seems obvious that some of your melodic vocals have been influenced by Kirk. Has he been a long term influence, or just playing with him in Kingdom, has that kind of rubbed off on you?

On the Kingdom of Sorrow record, he didn’t wanna sing. “I just wanna play guitar. I don’t wanna be the singer.” So when we put out the record, people thought that was him.

He does no singing on that album?

No, he does some. But there’s a lot of parts that people thought it was Kirk. But then he didn’t do the majority of the Kingdom touring with me, so he wasn’t really there to influence anything that I was writing. But really on this record there’s two songs that I experimented, and I thought, “You know what? That’s just enough. It’s not needed on every song.” But yea, I guess on those two songs, the gruff screaming in key is similar to his style.

How did fans react to the covers album?

It was split. Our fans are very diehard and they bought it because it sold very well. But as far as other people, like people who aren’t Hatebreed fans, they’re gonna be the most vocal about the material because it gives them something to talk about. And that’s not necessarily a bad problem to have. When you do other people’s songs, you fall under intense scrutiny, and that was good for us to get our name out there and get the word out there about us, you know?

It’s like the old adage: There’s no such thing as bad press.

Exactly.

So tell me Jamey, your band’s been around for a long time. You’ve accomplished a lot. How do you view things. I’m sure when you started the band it was the idea of sitting down and making cool songs. What are your goals?

I just wanna keep exposing extreme, aggressive music to larger audiences. I wanna keep recording, making records. I’m really exciting about having my own studio now. Being able to just really expand my horizons just beyond music. We’re starting to score films and score TV shows. I’ve done a lot of work with ESPN, with putting music behind sports clips and stuff. And I’m just always trying to stay out there, keep my name out there and keep working.

So you do a lot of hands on production, just yourself in the studio?

Well I’m learning, and I’m working with other bands and I’m trying to pass the information along. And it’s rewarding when you put out a record like Thy Will Be Done, for instance. They’re doing really well. They’re in Europe right now. A lot of people have said to me that’s a great signing. That’s a great band. And I executive produced it with Zeus, and helped them with the songs, and it feels good. So you just wanna keep doing something positive that makes people feel good.

So, why aren’t you writing pop songs? How can a popular band express anger and rage? Where does it come from in your heart, basically?

I like to do every record like a snap shot of my current situation. But because each song is written at a different time, and each song is…it’s never forced. It always comes from some sort of experience. For some reason, I’ve never had a shortage of things to scream about, and I’ve never had a shortage of inspiration when it came to writing heavy riffs. I love to riff out. I love the feeling I get. It’s my escape. So, I mean, if you look back to Supremacy. People go, “Why is that such an angry record. The band was so successful, what were you so depressed about? What were you so rage-filled about?” It was more than just what I wrote about in the liner notes. I wrote about all that stuff in the liner notes because I wanted people to know that the music really does come from a deep place. And it has a cyclical power.

It’s different now. The problems are different. As you grow older, where I used to think of my problems from my childhood, now I sing about my life’s experiences. And not all of them are angry. There’s songs on Supremacy that aren’t angry, but they come from a place of anger, and the anger grew into another emotion. Like “Give Wings to My Triumph.” It’s a very cleansing song. Even though it’s a hard, heavy-hitting, angry sounding song, it goes beyond the emotion of anger. It’s actually about a renewed ability. And the same with “Destroy Everything.” Even though I’m saying, “Destroy everything,” it’s not exactly saying, “Go out and smash things with a baseball bat.” I’m saying, “Destroy the problems within yourself, your own doubts, your own feelings of grief, anger and injustice. Destroy those feelings within yourself so you can try to be a better person.” So with this record, there was no shortage of anger or any sort of emotion that I could fuel into a Hatebreed song just because of what I had gone through over the last three years. Losing my grandfather to pancreatic cancer was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.

I’m sorry.

It’s life. We all face this stuff.

Pain and tragedy, they’re great equalizers.

Yea, and at the end of the day, all I’m doing is making music and trying to live my life, and do whatever is fulfilling. And music and words are channeled through me. Sometimes I don’t even have a choice.

Hatebreed was released September 29th.

www.hatebreed.com

www.myspace.com/hatebreed

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.

  • FTP

    Awesome interview, thanks