- Hello, Dan! So, that band was firstly formed in 1983, and was known as Paradox. What was the original line-up? Why did you decide to change the name to Hexx? And what is the meaning of double "x" instead of usual single one?
- The original Paradox and first HEXX line up was Dennis Manzo – Vocals, Dan Watson – guitars, Bill Peterson –bass, and Dave Schmidt – drums. We changed our name to HEXX because when we signed our record deal with Mike Varney’s Shrapnel Records he did a worldwide name search and told us that there were already several bands using the name Paradox so to avoid confusion we should rename the band. We were unprepared for this and had to quickly come up with a name that we all could agree upon and live with. Everybody went home and we each wrote down as many names as we could think of and the next day we all got together and discussed all the possibilities. HEXX was the only name we could all agree on and would satisfy Mike Varney’s name search. We added the extra X because we thought it was cool and also thought it would be less likely that there would be any other bands using the name HEXX spelled with two X’s.
- In 1984 you already released your debut full-length, "No Escape". That was just the very beginning of the whole era of Metal, what were your main influences at that time? What was the local metal community like?
- Back then I was influenced by all the heavy bands with strong lead guitar players. UFO, Deep Purple / Rainbow , Rush, Judas Priest, Scorpions etc. as well as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Kiss and all the rest.
At that time, real Heavy Metal was just starting explode on the bay area scene with Metallica leading the pack!
- Tell us a bit about the recording sessions of "No Escape". Where did you record it? Was it your first time experience in the studio? How did you like the result?
- Mike Varney had a deal with Prairie Sun Studios in Cotati Ca. This is where he liked to record all his bands. A guy named Mooka owned the place. It was a top notch studio at the time. We had lots of studio experience by this time, recording various demos and such. Most of those were 16 track studios, this was the first time we got to record on 24 tracks and had to record a whole albums worth of material in a timely manner and on budget. It was a very good experience for us all and although some of the drum fills got lost in the mix, it was still the best recording we had done to date and we were very proud of it. We really thought we were on our way!
- Next album was released in 1986, "Under the Spell". The line-up was changed a bit, you got the new singer, Dan Bryant, and an additional guitar player, Clint Bower. Tell us a bit about those changes, and why did Dennis Manzo had to leave his position?
- After No Escape was finally released, we were pleased at the good reviews and press we received in the trades and metal magazines and fanzines. However, without any tour support the excitement soon died down and Manzo didn’t see anymore future for the group and decided to hang it up and took a job in the banking world. This left us scrambling for another lead singer if we wanted to have another shot at recording a new album. We found Dan Bryant and then added Clint Bower to help fill out our sound live to cover all the guitar overdubs I laid down on No Escape.
- Regarding the music, it became a bit more aggressive. Was it the influence of current metal situation in the world or just your natural play-style development?
- Yeah, by that time if you wanted to play shows in the San Francisco bay area clubs you had to compete with all the other bands that were coming up. Death Angel, Forbidden Evil, Possessed, Blind Illusion, Exodus, Metallica etc. It seemed like the power metal style we had been known for was already over and we had to start playing faster and more aggressively to remain relevant. It was either that or just hang it up and wait out the 30 some odd years it took for our first two albums to be discovered again.
- How did Clint and Dan contribute to the song-writing process? Did you feel that the new chosen direction was the right decision for you?
- Yeah, like I said we had to change our style gradually in order to survive in the bay area scene. Clint was a few years younger than us and was already heading and pushing us a little into the heavier direction. Clint did not have much songwriting input on Under the Spell but by the time we started writing songs for what would become the Help Your Self demo he was writing complete songs to contribute. Dan Bryant did not contribute much with writing on Under the Spell either.
- Could you tell us the story related to the original cover of "Under the Spell"? And how then you decided to change it to what we have now with the release?
- Our friend Alvin Petty did the No Escape cover for us last time and he had just done Metallica's Creeping Death cover as well so we wanted to try something a little different this time around. My father was a very good artist, he worked in oils and had been painting most of his life. He was known for being difficult to deal with and had not sold many of his paintings. So I got the bright idea of having him do the cover art for us. He was broke--just like his son--and could use the $500 we had for the cover art. I thought it could be a good break for him to possibly get more jobs doing album art. The guys had seen some of his artwork and agreed to give him a try. We went over to his house one day and brought 10 or 15 current metal albums to show him examples of what our cover art would have to look like to compete in the market place. My dear old dad was never quite up on current trends of music or fashion - or anything really. After looking over all the album covers we went ahead and pitched the idea we were all talking about.
We wanted something darker and a little more disturbing than the No Escape cover, to reflect what we thought was our newly evolving heavier and darker sound. We described to my dad something like a real scary looking voodoo witch doctor dancing around in a lit up hexagon with a bunch of bones and sculls and shrunken heads on sticks under a creepy moon-it sky in the jungle or something. He seemed to like the idea and said he would come up with some preliminary sketches for us to look over in a few days. When we went back to look over the sketches, they actually looked pretty cool, and much like we envisioned--except for one little thing. He had not put in the bones, skulls or shrunken heads on sticks we requested. When I pointed this out he just shrugged it off like it was no big deal, this was just a rough sketch kind of thing; so we thought nothing more of it and told him to go ahead and start painting it. A couple weeks went by and he called me to have everyone come by and take a look at the finished painting. We were all very excited and thrilled to see the next Hexx album cover art!
When we got there and went up into his art studio, he unveiled the painting for us. At first we all kind of gasped with excitement because it was very colorful and interesting, quite well done and very close to what we had described for him. However, there were some obvious problems with the painting. What was supposed to be a real scary voodoo witch doctor, turned into a mildly frustrated and pissed-off looking Mayan tribesman. Also, there were no bones, sculls or shrunken heads on sticks!
After several moments of awkward silence I finally said to my father, who had obviously put a lot of time and effort into this painting, “Say Dad this is really great--but I thought you said this was finished. Where are all the bones, sculls and shrunken heads on sticks we had asked for? He said,“As far as I am concerned it IS finished! I won't ever allow any bones, sculls or shrunken heads on MY artwork!” Another long awkward silence ensued. We all knew this artwork, would not be scary or shocking enough to compete with the other metal album art that was flooding the market at that time. The manner in which he said that to us let us know there was no hope of working with him further or convincing him to add the sculls and shrunken heads and things. Weall just intuitively looked at each other and silently walked out of his house. I was so embarrassed, and angry with him that I did not speak to him for two or three years after that. Many years later he gave me the painting as a kind of peace offering. The painting was just as we had left it, except he painted in our logo on the lower left side.
So we moved on to plan B. We already had wasted too much time with that whole debacle and time was running out. We had to find another artist fastand start over from scratch. Luckily Mike Varney was working with an artist that had just done some work for some of his other bands. He put me in touch with Guy Atchison, I think he lived in Chicago. We had some phone conversations and I believe it was his idea to change our original idea from a witch doctor dancing around outside at night, to more of a wizard in a cave conjuring up spirits and things. I told him the story of what had happened with my Dad, and that we were in kind of a hurry. He asked me if we wanted him to paint our logo on as well and I told him, “Whatever you do, do NOT paint the logo on the artwork!” I told him we had an overlay to use so we can decide the best placement for it on the artwork.
I guess he didn't like the idea of us having control over where our logo would sit on his artwork because after a few weeks the painting showed up at my house, and sure enough he had painted a big weird looking red logo right on the artwork. There was nothing we could do about it. It was too late, we had run out of time and the painting had to go into production just the way it was. Big weird looking red logo and all! We were pretty bummed about it, but at the time we just had to live with it. The artwork itself we thought was amazing. So we eventually got used to it. But now, almost 30 years later, Metal Blade records is re releasing No Escape and Under the Spell and we have corrected the problem by having the blue logo from No Escape put on the Under the Spell as well!
- Where did you record "Under the Spell"? Recording the material, did you have any particular difficulties or any funny stories? How did it go this time for you?
- We have good memories from recording No Escape, and we loved recording at Prairie Sun Studios. It was in Northern California on this large ranch-like property. They had these cool little guest houses we would stay since it was too far for us all to drive up there every day. It was great fun for us! We would pack in lots of food--mainly crap like potato chips, pastries, cookies, candy - you know, rock star food! Of course we always had lots of ice cold beer, and plenty of killer green bud as well! We would record in 8 to 10 hour shifts. It took us about two weeks to do the whole project. In those days, we would record the bass and drums first - live! Then we would overdub all the guitars, then record the vocals, and then do all the mixing!
On the morning of January 28th 1986, at around 8:30 am we were all just waking up in the guest house we had rented and were starting to stir around. Someone turned on the television set just in time for us all to watch the famous launch of the United States Space Shuttle, Challenger.We were still rubbing the sleep from our eyes when the ship just blew up! We could hardly believe it--they kept showing it blow up, over and over again on every channel! We finally just had to turn it off and get back to work on our new album.
One night I was scheduled to track more of my lead guitar solos. I was having technical issues with some of my equipment that could not be resolved until the next day for whatever reason. There were some bass overdubs that still needed to be done so our producer, Steve Fontano said to go and fetch Bill so we can track his bass. Well, back then we liked to party as much as possible - smoke weed, drink beer and whisky, and a little cocaine once in a while as well. When we were involved in one of our recording projects, be it a demo or a full blown album, whoever was not slated to record that day would usually be indulging in having a good time with everyone that was there or just hanging around. I was scheduled to record all night so both Bill and Clint had been drinking and smoking weed, and who knows what else, all that afternoon. We could not waste the studio time so poor Bill had to do his bass overdubs totally wasted - ha, good times! Luckily for us all we had a lot of experience performing under the influence of one thing or another and Bill was able to lay down his tracks, no problem - after all, we were pros!
I remember we were almost finished mixing the album when John Marshall came up to visit and hang out with us for a day or two. I can't remember if he was still Kirk Hammett's guitar roadie at that time or not. Anyway, Metallica had just finished recording Master Of Puppets, and John had an advanced copy with him. It would not be released for several months yet but John was very close to the source. I can tell you, we were all feeling pretty good and proud of ourselves about our new recording - that is until John played us the tracks from Master of Puppets! We recorded Under the Spell in about two weeks time. John told us that Lars took longer than that just to get a snare tone he liked. Ugghhh! We knew there was no way our new album was going to be able to compete with that record.
Bill Peterson and I had been friends with Kirk Hammett since junior high school and it was a little hard sometimes not to compare his fantastic success to our relative lack of success. Of course we are very proud of him and happy for him, but I would be lying if I said that we weren't a little bit jealous. I think we still are a bit to this day!
The album was finally finished being recorded and mixed, and most of the production parts were ready as well, except for the liner notes and special thanks section. In those days, it was a real cool thing and kind of a big deal to be mentioned in a bands special thanks section on their album, so we wanted to make sure we included all the people and things that had recently helped us and influenced us before and during the Under the Spell project. We also managed to talk Mike Varney into letting us have a black and white photo collage on the back of our lyric sheet. No Escape did not have the budget to include a lyric sheet, so for us, this was a big step up. We thought we were really big time then!
The photo collage that you get on the back of the lyric sheet with Under the Spell was a lot of fun to make. First thing we did was get ferociously stoned on killer green buds, then start cutting up our only, once in a lifetime photographs of that time we had acquired, and pasting them onto a big sheet of cardboard.
We did it quickly in one evening because it had to go to the printers the next day with the rest of the production parts for mass reproduction.
Back-tracking bit, this little story goes back to when Manzo was still performing with the band in late 1984. We were doing a show at the Keystone Berkeley on University Avenue. Dave had a little low-tech pyro trick he did at the end of our set. He would soak two old sweat socks in gasoline or something and tie them each around a pair of old drum sticks. At the end of our last song we would have a long dramatic pause where we would hold a power chord for a minute or two. During this, Dave would take the opportunity to light his drumsticks on fire and then hit all his symbols furiously! Well, for some reason on this night, one of those flaming, stinky old sweat socks came flying off his drumstick and went right into the first row of the crowd. It landed right on top of this dudes head that was head banging at the front of the stage and burst his hair and whole head on fire!! We could not believe what had just happened. The people around him started hitting him about the head to extinguish the flames and he quickly disappeared under the crowd. After the show we were all back stage in our dressing room drinking ice cold beer and talking about what had just happened when the guy who we caught on fire was escorted into our dressing room by the Keystone security. This guy has something he wants to say to the guys in Hexx, said the security guard. I thought for sure he was going to start telling us how his father was going to sue us and the night club or something like that. Instead, he had in his hand a flyer from the show and what was left of Dave's old burnt up sweat sock. This poor guy had a big bald spot burned on the top of his head and had obviously suffered some serious burns to the top of his scalp. He held up his flyer from the show and asked us if we would all sign it. We quickly got him a cold beer and he went on to say what a great show we had put on and how it was the greatest night of his life because he got to "Burn for Hexx" as he put it. We just could not get over it, but we were very relieved he did not try and bring legal action against the band or the club. Needless to say, that was the last time Dave Schmidt did his famous flaming drumsticks trick!
- With this release you moved from Shrapnel Records to Roadrunner, how did it happen? Did you feel more comfortable with those guys? Did they give you a bit more of support?
- The way that played out was Mike Varney had a licensing deal with Road Runner Records in Europe and they agreed to release Under the Spell. It was just a licensing deal, no tour support or anything else.
- The next release marked a significant change in your music. "Quest for Sanity" EP was your first Death Metal record. Tell us, how did it happen? What kind of events and bands influenced you so much?
- After the release of Under the Spell in 1986, with no tour support from Shrapnel Records, the band began to stagnate. Our drummer Dave Schmidt decides to quit and we startedworking John Shafer in on the drums. I think we did a total of 10 shows with Dan Bryant - some before the album came out and a few after. Dan Bryant was getting offers for other projects and before long lost interest in being in HEXX. I think he even went down to LA and got an audition for Black Sabbath at that time. I can't really blame him, he was a very talented guy and I think he saw HEXX as a stepping stone for his career.
Once again we found ourselves abandoned by our lead singer--this time with no more album options left on our Shrapnel deal, we were really down. This was probably the darkest and lowest point in the whole history of the band. It seemed like all the other bands in the bay area were doing well and prospering and we were just floundering and failing miserably. We fell into somewhat of a deep depression that seemed to last for months. It was during this time the songs for what would eventually become The Quest for Sanity EP were written.
Bill, Clint, John and I became very close friends at this point in time. We felt like we were down and out and we bonded like brothers. We decided we did not want to get another lead singer type front man guy. We had been down that road twice now and we just figured fuck that!
Bill, Clint and I thought that we would all take a stab at taking over on the vocals. We thought if one of us could handle the job of taking over in the vocals department this would be great because the four of us got along so well we would have no more lead singer problems to deal with.Well, Clint just blew us all away when he stepped up to the microphone to take his turn! We just kind of looked at each other and said, “Well shit. There it is then!”
Clint had his own style much more in the death metal sound and away from the high range melodic singers we had for the past two albums. He sounded really pissed off and angry when he sang and it really reflected our mood and feelings at the time.
His vocal approach worked great with our faster, heavier and more aggressive songwriting direction. I had already written the music and had the title and chorus for Twice as Bright Half as Long. Together Clint and I finished up the verses and I think the first time we ever played that song live was at our last show with Dan Bryant at the Omni in Oakland California sometime in February 1986. It was so new Dan Bryant had to read the lyrics from the lyric sheet onstage. This song was about doing speed, or meth amphetamine which was readily available in the Bay Area. The idea was the candle that burned twice as bright would burn only half as long. This songwould set the tone for our new aggressive speed thrash death metal sound.
Towards the end of the 1980's the metal scene in the San Francisco area changed drastically. Our two power metal albums had gone largely unnoticed and unappreciated, or so we thought. If we wanted to keep gigging in the Bay Area we felt we had to play faster with more thrash style. Nobody wanted to hear our slow old out of date power metal anymore.
- What was the feedback from your fans? I assume you lost some parts of followers as well as you gained new ones. How was it?
- Yeah, I think we lost some of our fans that preferred our power metal style but most of them were in Europe and we could not get to them and they could not come see us stuck in the bay area. We did gain a lot more fans here in California and in the states as well. It just took a little time for people to warm up to our new direction.
- In 1991 you released your last full-length, "Morbid Reality", representing the culmination of your efforts and researching of Death Metal. What can you say about this album now, after almost 25 years after its release?
- Well, we were smoking a lot of pot by then and we were still letting our frustration come out in our music. Listening to that album now all I can say is…what the hell were we thinking!!!
In our own defense I should mention that we were in a friendly unspoken competition with the guys from Sadus to see who could smoke the most pot, drink the most beer and come up with the most ridiculously hard songs to play and record. I think Sadus won that competition!
- Where did you record it? Why did you decide to work with John Marshall on producing? Are you still satisfied with that decision?
- We recorded Morbid Reality at Starlight sound studios in Richmond, same place where we recorded Quest for Sanity and Watery Graves.
John Marshall has been involved with every recording we had ever made up till then so it was very natural for us and we were able to get the results we wanted with the tight budget we had to work with.
- The title tracks starts with a nice piano performance, who played this part and how did you come up with that idea?
- Hey thanks! Yeah, that was me. I have been playing piano off and on most of my life and had been fooling around with that classical sounding piece and we just decided to stick it front of Morbid Reality for a goof.
- That album was released by Century Media, and as a result we have all your records released by a different label. Why was it like that?
- Well I guess that was because none of our albums were successful enough at the time to warrant whatever label we were on at the time to record a follow up so we would just move on and find another label to record with.
- After that release the band split up. When and why did it happen?
- After we had done what little touring we could do in support of Morbid Reality we started writing songs for a follow up album for Century Media but in a style that was more like Under the Spell and Quest for Sanity. We had all the songs for the album written and when I went to contact them to send them our demo tape it turned out that all the staff and people that we had worked with had left the label for one reason or another and no body there would even talk to us about it.
We had just burned out and had nothing left to give. All the fight was taken out of us. Besides by then the grunge rock movement had taken hold and we did not want to have anything to do with that so we just called it quits. We new we would not be able to get another record deal in that climate.
- In 2013 Hexx was reformed! Why did you decide to bring back the band after so many years of silence?
- Well, what happened was my wife finally talked me into getting on Face Book and not long after that I got approached to reform the band and perform at the Keep it True festival in Germany.
I had no idea anybody thought about HEXX anymore. I just chalked it up to another miserable music failure of my life. But after we played at KIT and met with all the fans there that remember our music I realized we might have a slight chance of maybe playing more festivals and maybe even getting another record deal going and releasing a new album.
- Recently, Metal Blade re-released your first 2 albums on vinyl. Tell us a bit about how it happened and what kind of edition it is.
- Right before we played the KIT I was contacted by Metal Blade through Face Book and asked if they could re release No Escape and Under the Spell. This started a yearlong battle with Mike Varney to be able to release our two albums on Metal Blade. After all the agreements had been made and the contracts signed , Metal Blade released a limited edition vinyl pressing of both records and planes to release the 2CD/DVD box set this January 2016.
- I also wanted to ask you about Bill's current state. How is he doing? Can people still help him anyhow?
- Bill Peterson has had a very rough time of it these last several years or so.
About six months before we were to perform at the KIT he was hospitalized with a serious heart condition and has been in and out of the hospital ever sense with various life threatening issues. People can wish him well and or donate funds for his benefit on The HEXX group page!
- So, what are the current band's plans for the future? Can we expect a new record from you or any live appearances?
- We have just made official press release announcement of new lineup changes for 2016 along with our new management deal with Gabriel Management. We now have Eddy Vega fronting the band on lead vocals. He is amazing! He can hit all the high notes that Manzo and Bryant hit on those old records. He does a fantastic job of emulating both of those guys’ vocal styles!
We also just added Bob Wright from Brocas Helm on 2nd guitar! He is amazing as well and a super cool guy. I am very happy and confident about this version of HEXX. It is by far the best incarnation of the band to date.
We have already written 7 or 8 new songs that we feel are strong enough to be considered for the new HEXX album and are talking to several record labels including Metal Blade about a new record deal.
With the added contributions from Bob Wright, Eddy Vega and our bass player MIKE HORN, the new songs are really going to be KILLER!!!
- Thank you for this interview, Dan! Would you like to add anything in the end?
- First of all, thank you Dima for the opportunity to be interviewed for Tough Riffs Magazine! And as I said before, we hope to return to Europe next year show and our fans the new HEXX line up for 2016. Hope to see some of you next year!!