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Hexx's Dan Watson: "…no matter how polished and clean a metal track is, if I don’t hear the story or can't get a grasp of what the message of the song is after a minute or two I lose interest"

Interview with Dan Watson from Hexx
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 23 August 2020, 10:39 PM

Learning from what is deemed as mistakes, only to come back a winning team with a spectacular effort in hand. Now that is how you do it, some might not check within and consider making changes just because of matters of ego. Gladly that the Bay Area longtime bashers, Hexx, wanted more out of themselves, even if their record shows that effort is one of their names. Taking on the Metal scene by storm with an old school banger, “Entangled In Sin”, things are going to heavy, nasty, non conformistism and somewhat brutal. Steinmetal had a chat with the longstanding Dan Watson regarding the new album, anti-religious philosophy, capturing the new Metal scene and more…  

Hello Dan, it is a tremendous honor to have you for this interview on Metal Temple online Magazine. How have you been doing sir?

Hello, the honor is all mine. Thank you for the interview! I have been doing well, all things considered. Thanks for asking!

This Covid-19 situation hasn’t been easy on anyone, especially when it comes to the live scene of Music, and everything cultural. How do you guys of Hexx cope with the situation? What have you been doing to keep the spirits of the band’s music flowing to the fans and newcomers nowadays?

Like most recording artists and live performers, we are dead in the water at the moment. Luckily for us, we managed to write and record our new album before the Covid-19 Pandemic hit. Releasing an album amidst a worldwide pandemic is new territory for us, and everybody else too. For Hexx it has been next to impossible to tour and do the occasional festival under the best of conditions so I’m fairly certain that it will be unlikely that we will be able to perform anywhere to support the new release. That really sucks because we are getting older and we wanted to get out there and perform as much as we can before one of us becomes too old, sick, or dead to continue.

Hexx has always been a band from the Bay Area nation which I felt that could have received much more attention than it had all these years. The changes that went through the band throughout its career are interesting and it brought to the table new dimensions that could only be deemed as an advantage. Nonetheless, maintaining your true nature of US Power Metal has always been your goal isn’t that right?

Yes, ever since we reformed to perform at the KIT festival it has been our goal to return to our early US Power metal roots. Hexx has always been an underdog band. Coming out of the San Francisco bay area in the early-mid 1980s the competition was fierce. You know how it is, there is only so much room at the top.

That return to the band’s original self took shape on your comeback album “Wrath Of The Reaper”, yet it intensified, and I might add enhanced, with the coming of your brand new “Entangled In Sin”. But let’s start with what is the leading idea for the theme that guides the new album?

There is an anti-religious sentiment that makes itself clear throughout this album. Several of the songs deal with the hypocrisy of religion and their followers. I grew up as the son of a religious cult leader in the 1960s and 1970s. I saw at a very young age first hand how religion and religious leaders manipulate and control their weak-minded followers. How they use their followers' lack of intellect and critical thinking skills against them to serve their own purposes.

The artwork featured, which is well made, shows various scenarios of how religion is called to justice while displaying the grimmer side of abuse. When you look at it, what comes to your mind?

With this album art, I wanted to engage the viewer and make them think. To expose the hypocrisy and evil that not only Catholicism and Christianity have perpetrated on humanity for thousands of years but also other mainstream faith-based religious doctrines like Islam. As an atheist and free thinking metal musician, I feel it’s my job to piss off religious people by exposing their ignorance and hypocrisy.

With religion still as a guide for people worldwide, is there that sort of blindness, or call it blind faith, towards the messengers?

Yeah, the term ‘blind faith’ is redundant. When it comes to religious faith, faith by definition is belief without evidence and reason. Coincidentally that is also the definition of delusion. Unfortunately, faith relies on hope and ignorance. Only education and critical thinking can allow us the means to correct our mistakes. Religious people become prisoners of their beliefs and unfortunately ‘belief ‘ is not reliable criteria for reality so we find most of these people spend their entire lives in an auto deceptive self-delusion.

Faith in one’s belief produces a barrier to further investigation. Religious groups that differ in beliefs from other societies cannot see past their own barriers. When hate enters into the prison of their beliefs, the seeds for violence to act out against other societies come to full bloom. History teaches us that no other cause has brought more death, suffering, and misery than the word of somebody’s god.

While pretty much continuing the musical efforts of “Wrath Of The Reaper”, the new “Entangled In Sin” has stronger qualities, especially with the fine fusion of the old and heavy US Power Metal, yet without disregarding Speed and Thrash Metal elements as appetizers. In your opinion, what, in terms of the music featured, how did Hexx make progress with “Entangled In Sin”?

With this new album, we took the lessons we learned from recording "Wrath of the Reaper" to heart and made the necessary improvements. The material from its inception was designed to be easy and fun to play live yet still deliver a powerful and dramatic experience whether you are listening to the recording or watching us perform live.

What key features of “Entangled In Sin” do you believe will make a difference for Hexx and its image among such a varied local scene?

I think it is still yet to be seen what difference or impact this album will have if any. If there are any key features I would say that the performances by the guys in the band are the main key features. Everybody played their ass off on this record. The songwriting is probably the next best feature.

What changed in your songwriting methods and style on “Entangled In Sin”, in comparison to “Wrath Of The Reaper”, that you made realize that lessons were learned and conclusions put into action?

I like to think that I am constantly evolving and improving as a songwriter. The material on “Entangled in Sin” is more focused and refined. A direct result of the things we thought needed improving on the "Wrath of the Reaper" release.

 “Entangled In Sin” re-established the crunchy, and lively, the sound of the late 80s, which was also quite dominant within Bay Area Metal bands. How do find this sound pattern on the new album against the larger sum of productions done nowadays that are heavily polished and clean?

I really love the way this album sounds. It has that raw energy I wanted to capture from the group. We made a conscious effort to recapture that sound from that period of the late 1980s.
I think if we tried to polish and clean it up too much we would lose our identity. We are what we are. We do what we do. Besides, we have never had the recording budget to get to fancy with the production. Probably a good thing.

Closing the album there are the classics “Night Of Pain” and “Terror” from the debut album “No Escape”. The new recordings set them off with a tougher, rougher edge in comparison to the past. Any particular reason for the decision to come back to these songs and re-record them? How did it feel to work on these again, any nostalgic memories were raised? Did Eddy Vega nail
them?


Oh yeah, Eddy just crushed everything on this album and he did an exceptionally great job on the re-recordings of “Night of Pain” and “Terror”. He just fucking killed it! I am so proud of him. He really stepped up and delivered the goods on this recording. He did a fantastic job on “Wrath of the Reaper” as well but he really took his vocal contribution to the next level on this one.

It was our manager, Bart Gabriel who suggested it might be a good time to re-record a couple of the most memorable songs from our debut release “No Escape”.

The thinking here was that it would be great to re-record those two songs because the production on our first album was not that great and we thought we could do a better job of it now with the new line up and with the advantages of current recording technologies. Back when we recorded that first album we were still recording on two-inch master tape. If we needed to make an edit sometimes you actually had to cut the tape and splice it back together Fred Flintstone-Frankenstein style!

The idea was to have our original bass player Bill Peterson record bass on both of these tracks but unfortunately, he passed away a week before his studio session so it was hard to deal with at the time.

I was very surprised how “Signal 30 I-5” didn’t reach the tracklist of the album and only came up as a bonus track. The song’s direction is borderline Thrash with a pattern of groove that is quite different than most of the featured tracks, quite refreshing. What can you tell about this tune?

Signal 30 is an old California Highway Patrol radio code used in the 1950s and 1960s for a highway fatality. I-5 is short for Interstate 5 that connects San Francisco to Los Angeles and runs up California and through the states of Oregon and Washington. In the United States, they also made a driver's education film of the same name. It was aimed at new drivers as a means to stress the dangers and responsibilities of driving a motor vehicle. They showed actual footage filmed at the scenes of fatal auto accidents. Very bloody and gory.

Years ago I bought a DVD called “Hell’s Highways” it contained most of the early drivers training films including Signal-30. The video also contained a lot of unedited color footage from the 1950s of fatal auto accidents in California. This was back before seatbelts were mandatory and the cars Detroit was churning out were made of much thicker steel. Even the dashboards were made of steel and safety glass was not yet common.

About ten years ago I was driving back to the bay area on I-5 from Los Angeles with the bass player from the Hellbillys after spending the weekend mixing the new Hellbillys album "Blood Trilogy Vol. 2" when we came upon a grizzly auto accident. A car had tried to pass other vehicles on the four-lane highway and clipped the cement base of an overpass.

The vehicle had spun out of control and collided with several other motorists resulting in multiple fatalities. Bodies were scattered all over the interstate. Mostly families returning to the bay area from the long holiday weekend. It was horrific. I had never seen men, women, and children’s bodies severed and ripped apart like that up close. Most were killed on impact but some were still clinging to life. I will never forget the look in one little girl's eyes as we drove slowly by the scene. She had been torn in half from the waist and she was still alive. There was nothing anyone could do. It made a lasting impression on me. I am now a much more cautious driver.

I wrote the song Signal 30 I-5 not only to remember those who were unfortunate enough to lose their lives in an auto accident but also as a reminder that life is very fragile and may be taken away at any moment.

Ohh dear, I cannot believe this, this is a blood road no less, such a terrible memory to bear. You are right there sir, life should treasured and not taken for granted

The title track, “Entangled In Sin” along with “Touch Of The Creature” are remarkable energetic songs of the meaning of being a Metalhead, a kind of sinner, free will, and robust sensation of a live Metal show. You guys really went down and dirty with these two, straightforward to the bone. I presume that this will be making it to the live set right? Is this kind of approach missing in nowadays Heavy Metal, that mid 80s toughness and directness?

All I know is that ‘mid 80s toughness and directness as you put it, is what I like and respond to. I love to hear well-polished metal music as well but for me, I consider myself a songwriter and storyteller first and foremost so no matter how polished and clean a metal track is, if I don’t hear the story or can't get a grasp of what the message of the song is after a minute or two I lose interest. If the message is clear but is a well-worn subject or metal trope it will bore me so I make a conscious effort not to make those, what I consider to be mistakes during the songwriting process.

With artists nowadays pretty much out of the picture when it comes to live shows, there has been a rise of virtual touring and live streams. Will Hexx be getting there or just sit tight and wait until it is permitted to go back out there?

That’s a good question. I don’t have an answer for that at this time. I’m reminded when the Beatles recorded their immortal classic album “Sargent Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”. They were sick of touring and live performances because the crowd was so loud they couldn’t hear themselves well enough to play. They couldn’t evolve as musicians and songwriters. The idea was that the record would go on tour, not the band. If you can’t see your favorite artists in a live setting like today the next best thing is to blast the record and lay on your bed reading the lyrics and liner notes like the good old days. Sometimes it’s the simple pleasures in life that matter most.

Talking about live shows, there was, I think last week, an open-air show in Newcastle with the audience divided into small stages, or pedestals. To me, it looked strange. What do you think about that? Is this a proper way to do a Metal show?

I don’t know. I’m a little worried that the world may never go back to the way it was or at least it may take several years to get this pandemic under control and contained enough for things to back to normal. I’m afraid we are in the new normal now and that’s the way it’s going to stay. At least here in the states until we have competent leadership in our government. I’m not going to hold my breath for that though.

Any plans to start working on new material for a next Hexx album, with plenty of time given to do so?

I don’t know. We have fulfilled our contractual obligation to High Roller Records so maybe if this release stirs up enough interest in the band we might get offered an opportunity to make another one. I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Dan, it has been awesome, you guys really made it happen with “Entangled In Sin” and I cannot wait for you to unleash another 80s driven power metal album. Cheers sir.

Thank you, for your kind words, all your thoughtful questions, and this interview. Best regards, Dan Watson


 



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