I got the idea of making this interview almost a year ago as soon as I heard the news about Herertic’s reunion, but due to tight schedule and huge time difference I wasn’t able to approach musicians until now (2012 – ed.). I guess a lot of metalheads discovered Heretic because of Mike Howe who replaced David Wayne, while anathematized Wayne formed a new band Reverend with the rest of heretics. Now Heretic finally has a chance to step out of the shadow of Metal Church. Here is what Brian Korbain (guitars) and Julian Mendez (vocals) had to say during our interview.
Please tell me about your reunion – who came up with this idea? And why did it happen only this year and not 10 years ago, when there was literally a wave of reunions of classic bands?
Julian: I was contacted by a promoter I know back in 2004 said he had a Metal Blade show he was putting together and would love to have Heretic on the bill! contacted Dennis O’Hara who contacted Brian Korban and we put Heretic together with Stuart Fujinami (ex-Reverned guitarist) and drummer Ryan Moore for this one time jam in San Diego with Bitch and Black’n’Blue. It went pretty good, but I guess the timing wasn’t right because we didn’t stay in contact. It wasn’t until 2009 Brian Korban and Glen Rogers called me and hit me with the Idea of resurrecting Heretic. It took awhile to settle in, that I was asked to front Heretic in a serious attempt for a comeback! It took about a year before I contacted Brian Korban and asked him if he was still questing the Idea! We contacted Glen who was out on Tour with Hirax and he was all in. We waited until he completed his commitment with Hirax and started our work on contacting the rest of the Band!
Brian: I played for so many years, I guess I just needed a break from playing. I continued to write songs all the years I wasn’t in a band, but I would just write whatever came out of my brain (rock, acoustic, beats) anything that came out. I have a home studio on my MAC. When vocalist Julian Mendez approached me about doing a few local live (California) shows, I couldn’t say yes fast enough! I already had the idea in my head because – long time friend guitarist Glenn Rogers had been touring with the band Hirax, and he told me that a Heretic reunion would do great in Europe. From the beginning, we knew we had a special chemistry that was going to be something incredible. The first thing I did was start writing new songs, and before I knew it, we we’re recording “A Time Of Crisis”
In the early stages of this reunion Dennis O’Hara was in the band but he split eventually. What was the reason for that?
Julian: Dennis O’Hara is one of the best Musicians around, Bottom line. And it was a difference in the vision of what was to become of the band that was the problem, and the reason for his departure.
Brian: Dennis had some personal issues to deal with that I would rather not discuss, but we wish him the best in all his future projects. He is a great talent, and was a huge part of Heretic’s history.
You already did some shows with Malice and Bitch, for instance. What can you say about reaction of the audience? Do you attract a lot of young fans? And how is Betsy Bitch doing at the moment? Does she still walk on stage with a whip?
Julian: The reactions we’ve been getting are overwhelming, and it’s great to Hear from fans and our Peers welcoming us back to the Metal scene, and we do see a few of our younger Metal heads out there ! its always good to see that no matter what age you are the Metal Roots still Live Strong !As for the Bitch she is doing just as great as ever! Her voice is as strong as hell, and yes she still swings the whip!
Brian: We had a great time playing with Malice and Bitch. The crowds were excellent, with a mix of young and older fans. It will take some time to get the word out to a lot of the younger fans throughout the world, but with your help we’re getting a good start. And YES, Betsy still walks out on stage with her whip to keep her sex slaves in line!
Your new album is called “A Time Of Crisis”. What kind of crisis do you mean – economical, spiritual or something else?
Julian: This album touches all forms of the very word crisis! From personal, Religion, Economically, politically the whole world at hand as of 2012! That is the Basis and concept of the record! It deals with the World is Going Through Right NOW!
Brian: Global climate change and the destruction of our planet is #1 without a doubt. We should be doing so much more to help save our planet, but that is not where all the money is. WAR is a big topic on the CD. All the pain & suffering it has brought throughout time, you would think by now mankind could find a better way to solve our differences. We start wars for religious beliefs, and start wars for political gain. The BUSH years in the US created a domino effect throughout the world, bad decisions created loss of jobs, economic crashes, panic, fear and a loss of hope for the future.
The album sounds like you were really angry writing and recording it. What influenced you to write such malicious music?
Julian: Each song is a serious story of conflict in the perspective of the narrator, taking it to heart I portrayed the lyrics as one who was anguished with their situation at hand, and no other way but to Shout out its meanings ! in frustration. You Would Be Correct, Each situation, of every song
Brian: Metal is an aggressive style of music to begin with. The subjects I tend to write about are usually negative or things that concern and anger me. This translates through the five of us as we are working out the songs and recording them in the studio. Our singer Julian’s screaming voice puts the final touch of aggression in the mix.
Please tell me about the working process – how long did it take to write and record the album?
Julian: Brian Korban is a writing Machine! Recorded in 6 days.
Brian: The songs came together very fast. We recorded the CD in three sessions, three weekends to be exact. We would pick three or four at a time (whatever we could afford $$) and blast out everything in a few days. This would not have been possible without our brilliant producer John Haddad. John brought out the best in everyone. We have all been through the meat grinder, so we knew what was at stake. The professionalism with this group of musicians really shines on each of these tracks.
After the reunion Glenn Rogers joined Heretic. How did you get him in the line-up? How substantial was his contribution to the new album?
Julian: Well after we stole him from Hirax !!! JUST KIDING, sorry Katon. No, reality is that Glen Rogers was the one who convinced Brian Korban to resurrect Heretic because of the demand to do so! Glen and Brian have known each other as far back as grade school! And as for his contributions to the sound and writing process of the band Glen Rogers is Bar none a true professional to his craft as a Kick ASS Guitarist!
Brian: Glenn and I have been friends since childhood, and we have played in several bands together throughout the years. When re-forming the group, he was the first person to come to mind. He is a true professional. His contribution to the band is immeasurable. His songwriting ability and his knowledge of the music scene is the main reason Heretic has made it this far, so fast.
Another new guy is the drummer Ignazio Coppola. Why did Federico Dupay leave the band? And what happened to Rick Merrick? Did you try to bring him back in the band?
Julian: Well I’ll start answering from last to first question. Yes, we asked Rick Merrick in 2004 and 3 times since reforming. He is a very busy individual, and has his own practice as a chiropractor. Federico Dupay is a speed demon and a great guy but we felt we were holding him back from his true calling as a Speed Metal Drummer. Ignazio Coppola a.k.a. “Iggy” is one HELL hound shit bent for leather of a METAL Drummer who I happened to come across when I went to see Dennis O’Hara tribute band and was floored by this young man and his talent of not only being a showman but an awesome drummer who was well noted by the crowd reaction as I witnessed him play. I mentioned him to the band and told them we need this guy and to set up an audition. The guys were blown away.
Brian: Federico tried out and filled in for our first couple of shows, but it turned out we needed a little bit more from our drummer than he could handle. Federico is a great guy, and he helped get Heretic back on its feet. So, I am forever grateful to him. Ignazio is a beast on drums. It took one song into his tryout, to know Iggy was our guy. As for Rick Merrick, I believe he is retired from drumming.
What songs from the new album are your favorites and why?
Julian: I like “Child of War” because it brings me to the days when Metal was young and everything was anthemic!
Brian: “Child Of War” is awesome live, but I personally like “For Your Faith” the best. I’m really proud of the lyrics, and the riffs are “monster old school metal”. It took a long time for the band to finish that song, and I was worried it wouldn’t even make the CD. I love the end result!
Do you have any artistic goals which you didn’t achieve yet? Do you have any plans of recording another album with Heretic?
Julian: Well, coming out of retirement I am always striving to get back to where I was and try to achieve the goals and sounds of Heretic from which it was back in the day and try to portrait what it should be of now. Definitely, we already have the next album written and have no means of stopping as long as there is a longing for Heavy Metal music.
Brian: A goal of mine would be to have a CD that sells millions, but that is not too realistic. I am happy just jamming in front loud amps again. And yes, I have most of the next CD already written, so the lad’s better hang around for a while. Heretic has a lot of unfinished business, and we want to add to the bands legacy for years to come.
Headbangers Open Air festival has announced your appearance in 2013. Have you ever played in Europe before? What are your expectations from this event? Will you play any songs from the “Breaking Point” album?
Julian: Heretic has never played in Europe. As for the expectations we just released the album “A Time of Crisis” from Metal on Metal out of Italy and just trying to spread our music through Europe. And yes, we shall be playing music from “Breaking Point” considering I’ve sang those songs for years previous to Mike Howe recording the album.
Brian: We are looking forward to playing in Germany 2013. Europe is where our market is, so we will try to make a small tour out of our visit. Our live set consists of about 60% old 40% new material.
Let’s speak for a while about early days of Heretic. Mike Torrez left Heretic after recording the song “Impulse” for “Metal Massacre VIII” compilation. Why did it happen and how did you get to know Julian Mendez?
Brian: Mike Torrez left Heretic to join the band Abattoir (who had a record deal better than ours). Julian was making a name for himself in a band called Hierophant. Once we heard his voice, and saw his great stage presence, we asked him to join immediately.
Julian, please tell me how did you get to know Brian and join the band? Did you sing in any other band
Julian: I did not know Brian at the time but, I knew Rick Merrick through a mutual friend Francisco Russo who brought us together when they were auditioning for singers and they went through dozens of singers before I got my opportunity. I sang 3 songs and they told me I had the gig and from there me and Brian established a relationship. I sang in “White Wrath” at the early ages of 14 to 15 years old and “Impaler” with Brett Erickson from Viking.
What can you say about your collaboration with Metal Blade Records? Did this label support you?
Julian: That label was awesome at the time; I see they are apprehensive to deal with us now at this age. But, they kicked ass at the time we were with them and still kicking ass.
Brian: Everyone at Metal Blade was great. They gave us our first shot at making records, and I am very grateful to them for giving us our start. It is a true metal label. William Howell (DJ Will of KNAC.com) was our main A&R man, and John Sutherland really pushed to get us noticed. What can I say about Brian Slagel, he had metal knowledge that was way before his time. His ears brought us Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth.
What are your best memories about the “Torture Knows No Boundary” era?
Julian: Oh My God, I can’t even explain what my memories were with this EP. With that EP we got to open up for every major act such as Saxon, Motorhead, Wendy O’Williams, Megadeth, Metallica, and our dear great brothers of the Southern California Metal world Armored Saint, we toured hand in hand with them.
Bbian: We got our first taste of success around this time, and were a force to be reckoned with as a live band. We opened for great bands such as Saxon and Motorhead, Armored Saint and The Plasmatics. We we’re young and hungry and a bit crazy! We played constantly in a Hollywood scene that was thriving, and sold out everywhere we played.
By the way, this EP starts with the song “Riding With The Angels” mostly known as a song performed by Samson. Why did you decide to make this cover version?
Julian: During this time we deeply respected the new wave of British Heavy Metal and we would have loved to do some early Maiden but, it was too early in the day to cover tunes from them. So we went back a band and grabbed a song from the greatest singer of the time which happens to be Bruce and the best song writer of their time written by Mr. Russ Ballard and it was a no brainer for us to cover it in respect to them and our fans tend to love that song.
Brian: Mike Torrez first introduced the band to this song. It was Bruce Dickenson’s vocal excellence in Samson that made us want to cover the song. It is a fun, rocking tune that makes the crowd sing. We still have the song in our live set today.
As far as I understand you left the band because your management and label didn’t want you to be in the band. Is it correct? Were they unsatisfied with your work?
Julian: I did not leave the band, I was asked to leave because of circumstances beyond my control or understanding at the time but, knew it was coming because David Wayne of Metal Church called me from Europe and told me what was coming because of the intermingles of management and record labels that was happening with him and I was the only dude to be asked out.
Was it an easy decision for you to replace Julian with Mike Howe? Don’t you think that was a mistake considering what happened later?
Brian: Mike Howe is a great singer, but yes it was a mistake to replace Julian. Going into the recording of “Torture Knows No Boundary” Julian came down with a severe cold that affected his vocal performance on the EP. He sang his heart out (and I love every track), but our manager and recording label expected more of the band. So management and Metal Blade persuaded us to consider Howe as a replacement. It was a very hard decision to stop working with someone we loved as a brother.
Julian, what did you do after your departure from Heretic? Did you try to start another band? And did you like the album “Breaking Point”?
Julian: Immediately I left Heretic and joined Stone Soldier and had a profound whiplash of fans that joined in on the soldier mission. But, never lost contact from my brother’s of Heretic and they were always at my shows. I never listened to “Breaking Point” album until I got back together with Heretic because it was such a bitter pill that I played those songs LIVE for years and Howe came in and recorded our songs that I been singing prior while he was on tour with us in a band called Snare. Never could swallow that and barely can swallow it now considering he changed the original way the songs have been played and recorded.
Many people consider “Breaking Point” as the best album by Heretic. What are you brightest memories about that time?
Brian: Opening a small local show for Metallica was a high point for us. I was in my prime as a metal songwriter; the band was a huge draw wherever we played. We we’re ready to show the metal world what we we’re made of.
Kurdt Vanderhoof produced the album “Breaking Point” and it was him who introduced Mike Howe to Metal Church. Did you feel any offence about it? After all, Mike’s departure destroyed such an amazing band!
Brian: Mike leaving the band devastated us. Vanderhoofs’ motives are pretty obvious. We had worked so hard to get to where we were, and our wings were clipped before we could fly. So yes, I feel we were blindsided, but life moves on and everything worked out well for all of us.
Your formed the band Reverend together with David Wayne who was fired out from Metal Church. How did it happen? Did you consider this band as a kind of revenge to Metal Church?
Brian: Metal Blade exec. John Sutherland suggested we hook up vocalist David Wayne as a way for us to get “major record label interest”. We auditioned a few vocalists, but chose to disband Heretic in order to form Reverend. The plan worked, and we soon signed with Virgin (Karisma) Records
Was it easy to work with David? What are your best memories about him?
Brian: With me, Dave was a very private person. I really never got very close to him outside music. He was a giant personality in any room he entered, and this is the reason is so beloved. I could not tell you much about his private life.
The band Reverend deserves a special interview and I believe I will do it one day but can you say a few words about your favorite album by Reverend?
Brian: The first EP is by far my favorite. It is unofficially the follow-up CD to “Breaking Point” The song “Wretched Excess” still blows my mind, and “Power of Persuasion” is pure metal.
Well, to round up this interview please say a few words for Russian fans and readers.
Julian: To all the Metal heads in the infamous words of Ronnie James Dio “Long Live Rock n’ Roll!!” I Love my brothers and sisters in the Metal coalition \m/! “Don’t Turn Your Back on the HERETIC”!
Brian: Thank you for the interest in our band, I hope you enjoy our music as much as I do! Nothing would please me more than to be able to play in Russia.
Konstantin, August 2012