Interview: David of Havok
Interviewer: Paul Hutchings
Colorado based thrash band Havok were formed in 2004 by vocalist and guitarist David Sanchez. They released their debut album ‘Burn’ in 2009 and since then have established themselves as a major player in the US thrash scene. With a relatively steady line-up since 2010, when lead guitarist Reece Scruggs and drummer Peter Webber joined the band, Havok have released three further albums, the most recent being 2017’s ‘Conformicide’. With new album ‘V’ due for release on 1st May, Paul recently caught up with David from his home in Colorado for a low down on all things Havok related.
The Razor’s Edge: We can’t start without checking on how things are with you and the Corona Virus outbreak.
David: Things in this part of the world are hard to take seriously because the media sensationalises everything. [note: At the time of the interview, there was a lot of cynicism about the threat of the virus – by the time I typed this up, the whole situation had become a lot more serious]
The Razor’s Edge: I’ll get on to the new album in a bit but having had a couple of listens I have to say I think it is your best work so congratulations. Let’s start back in the day. You started the band back in 2004, and up until 2010 you had a fluid line-up until Pete and Reece hooked up. On reflection, was that constant change good for you in forming what you wanted Havok to look like?
David: I just kept trudging along, you know, out of necessity. I wouldn’t say it showed me how I wanted the band to work, it just showed me how many kinds of people there are in the world and I’m sure the reasons some of the people left is on me and some of it is on them. It’s really hard to be in a band with people, especially when you start touring a lot. It’s like being married to three other guys and then you work together. Especially early on, touring and you are not making any money; that makes it super hard and I can totally understand why people did not want to stick around during those tough times. We’d be coming home from tour and we didn’t make a dime on this trip.
The Razor’s Edge: Pete and Reece have been on board for about a decade now. So, what is the difference with them. What keeps them in Havok?
David: I think they genuinely like the music we do, and they want to tour and play in a cool band. They entered the band at a really good time, when we started getting some tours opening for bigger bands. Every year has got better for the band, we started getting more professional at each level.
The Razor’s Edge: You are obviously very driven about what you want but tell me a bit about what got you into thrash and heavy metal. What triggered your interest in it?
David: Well, the band that first made me fall in love with music, like a lot of people, was Metallica. From there into a lot of other stuff but when I was a kid, I got into AC/DC, Ozzy, Megadeth, Slayer, Testament, Exodus, Overkill, you know, Death, Dimmu Borgir, Cannibal Corpse. Shit like that. My first love was metal, heavy stuff. Since then I’ve grown a lot. My musical tastes have evolved, I listen to a whole lot of stuff that is not metal which still influences our sound and finds its way into our metal ‘stew’.
The Razor’s Edge: I’ve never spoken to a metal musician who tells me that all they listen to is metal.
David: For sure. I can say that metal is not what I listen to most of the time. I love playing it and it’s fun to write, play and perform. I listen to other genres of music way more than metal, but my heart and soul remains there.
The Razor’s Edge: I’m a lot older than you so I can recall the first explosion of thrash, seeing Metallica with Cliff Burton etc. You go for the classic old school thrash style and I wondered what it is about that style that attracted you as opposed to any other type of genre by some of the other bands you’ve named.
David: The thing that defines thrash is a lot of tight riffs with a punk style and it’s upbeat and aggressive and it’s what we’re into; we like fast, tight, heavy stuff. I guess like Reece and myself, we grew up learning to play guitar largely from bands like Metallica; how to play music from those bands so that’s what comes naturally to us when we are writing. If someone says, “make up a riff right now”, I would just start doing some palm muting and weird rhythmic patterns on the picking and some weird evil notes, that’s just what I know.
The Razor’s Edge: I’d like to go back to ‘Conformicide’ and I remember listening to it at the time and the message was clearly about people thinking for themselves. Three years on and the chaos that the world continues to put itself in, does it drive you to despair or do you think, well, that still gives me lots of material to write about as people are so fucked up?
David: That stuff still irritates me a lot. There are a lot of beautiful things in this life but there are a lot of things that are very corrupt and fucked up and those things really boil my blood. I can’t just shout about that shit forever, you know, that’s not what I’m about. Me getting that stuff out of my brain and into a listener’s ear is very therapeutic for me and I feel like I’m just one guy, what can I actually do about this stuff? I’m glad I have this outlet for this to get it out, and if I am making any contribution to fix the problem then that’s it. The sonic arts. I have no interest in becoming a politician, organising an armed rally to storm the Capitol Building or anything like that, that’s not me. My contribution is through art, and I am glad I have that outlet.
The Razor’s Edge: I’m sure most fans are happy that you have that outlet as well. It resonates with us and also tells us that even though you are a musician you care deeply about the same things we do, which is important.
The Razor’s Edge: When ‘Conformicide’ came out, Donald Trump was just coming into power. I’m not interested in the political side, but I am interested in how you feel America has changed since he came to power?
David: I haven’t noticed a giant change but what I can tell you, no matter who is in office, things don’t change that much. The media is a circus, the bankers and the giant companies are running the world, and none of that changes, no matter what colour tie the guy in the White House is wearing. As far as Trump coming in and the country changing I don’t see too much of a change other than, and I don’t know if this is a symptom of Trump but there are all these very hyper politically correct people going out of their way to destroy peoples lives and I don’t know if that is because of Trump or the world that we are living in today. I am indifferent about him. Frank Zappa said it very well “politics is the entertainment division of the military industrial complex”. No matter who is in office, the military budget goes up, and we never get our troops out of other countries and we never stop interfering with other parts of the world and that never seems to change. But if there is one good thing about Trump it’s that I have never seen a president get hated so much so maybe people are at least waking up to the political system; you know it’s bullshit, it’s a nonsense and we shouldn’t subscribe to this. What’s so fascinating is that people will then still say you have to go out and vote for one of the same two parties that have been in power for a hundred years; the two party system is just two heads of the same snake. Both are about big business, neither give a fuck about the American people. It’s mind numbing.
The Razor’s Edge: Moving onto something more interesting, album ‘V’ comes out on 1st May. I’ve had a chance to listen to it and for me it seems tighter, a more fleshed out overall song structure to it and from what I understand there was a bit more collaboration across the band including new bassist Brandon [Bruce]. Is that reasonable?
David: Yeah, it’s true. This was the most collaborative album we have done. Every time we do a record we write about ten songs so every time we do a new album we have ten more different songs under our belt; things we could have done better and we keep learning and soaking up as much information as we can about honing our craft and I think it is evident on this record. The songs are the most musically dense and we’ve made an effort to trim a lot of the fat off and make sure things don’t overstay their welcome, so you want to hit replay when the album is over.
The Razor’s Edge: I think it’s about right, 11 tacks, 45 minutes, that’s about right. You know the tracks are going to be tight. I’m also really interested in ‘Don’t Do It’, the album’s closing song which is over eight minutes long. It’s quite different to the rest of the album. Talk me through it.
David: Well, the intro was something I made up and added on layers and it had a cool vibe and atmosphere, that’s where a lot of the length of the track comes from. Some of those riffs have been around for, I don’t know eight, nine years. Lyrically the song is about suicide. I read an insane fact that over the past decade the rate of suicides in kids and teenagers has tripled. Three times as many kids are killing themselves today. That blew my mind. I’ve had mental health issues in the past, and I’ve been depressed, so when I read that statistic, I put myself mentally where those kids are and wrote the song. I really hope it inspires someone to do what the songs say – ‘Don’t Do It’.
The Razor’s Edge: I think what is so impressive is that the track before, ‘Merchants of Death’ is a short full-on thrash track and then this huge epic song with an important message comes up. It’s in the right place.
David: Thanks. You know, I’ve been there before, I’m hoping that the message can get absorbed by someone and help them.
The Razor’s Edge: The rest of the themes in the album; you are looking at getting people out of this media stupor, songs like ‘Post Truth Era’, ‘Fear Campaign’, ‘Betrayed by Technology’, the first three tracks are all about that. Social media is obviously a necessary evil for bands these days.
David: Yes, it can be fun to post things and to talk about shit back and forth with your fans. It is strange that 25-30 years ago, you went about your life, you’d meet up with fiends, you could call but that was it. There was no sharing videos and stories, memes. We live in a way different world. But for a band it’s almost essential. You can go ahead with no social medial but you probably going to be better off with merch, tickets and people just knowing what’s going on with your band if you have a social media presence. It’s interesting how these things have infiltrated our lives. You can’t pull out of it.
The Razor’s Edge: The album cover is a really compelling piece by Eliran Kantor. Can you tell me a bit about it?
David: Yeah. Eliran had done a bunch of album covers for Testament, Crowbar, Hatebreed, Hate Eternal. I was introduced to his work from a Crowbar cover and I asked those guys when we were on tour with them, who did that. They told me Eliran had done it. I looked him up and saw all the Testament work he had done, and some other art he had done that I knew but didn’t know his name. So I put a shout out to him and asked him if he’d be interested in working with us and he said yeah, so I sent him over the album and the art concept and he just knocked it out of the park. I think he nailed it. We are all happy with it, and I can’t wait to see it on a poster. The pre-orders for Europe will include a poster that will be about six-times as big.
The Razor’s Edge: This is your second album with Century Media. How is it working out?
David: So far, so good. They don’t step, we have complete control over the music which is nice to have because you hear some horror stories. All the music you hear is from us. Occasionally I’ll ask our producer, Mark Lewis, which one do you think, option A or option B, and he’ll go B. Solved. We made it easy on him making choices, because we went into the studio musically 95% of our stuff was already sorted.
The Razor’s Edge: Tell me a bit more about Brandon and how he’s working out
David: He’s from Florida, and we met him when we were on tour through mutual friends. He’s toured a couple of times, hanging out on the road. He caught wind that we needed a bass player and he said, “let me do it”. He’s a guitar player, but also plays drums and piano. So, I sent him over some songs, with the bass isolated and said, “can you play these” and he learnt them and sent them back and he could play them all so there we had it.
The Razor’s Edge: Did he make any adjustments on the new stuff
David: Yeah, we got together and hammered stuff out. He’s got some great ideas.
Our last discussion focused on the band’s tour plans. Considering the Covid 19 outbreak, that part of the interview seems a little superfluous at this junction. Suffice, Havok intend to get over the Europe at some point to promote ‘V’ and in the meantime you can support one of the best thrash bands on the circuit by picking up ‘V’ when it hits the shops (on-line probably!!) on 1st May.