The World Makes Way
CoC interviews Gene Hoglan of Strapping Young Lad
by: Aaron McKay
Many, many moons ago, I spent a good deal of my high school years in downtown St. Pete at a club known as Jannis Landing. There, one hot, sticky Florida evening, I was blessed to bear witness to a live performance by the colossal Dark Angel on their "Leave Scars" tour. While time has slipped like sand through my fingers, never has a solitary moment of that show eroded from my recollection. Over the years, I've run across Gene Hoglan every now and again as he seems to have made it a personal quest to participate in as many practically inventive outfits in need of drumming talent as he possibly can. Never will you meet a more experienced, kind-hearted student of music and human-nature to talk with, so I began our interview by probing his ability to change drumming styles like most of us change channels on our TVs.

CoC: From the get-go, what -really- impressed me, generally speaking, is how Gene Hoglan sounds different with every band you play with. For example, Old Man's Child Gene doesn't sound anything like Strapping Young Lad Gene and that's different from Dark Angel Gene. How do you do it?

Gene Hoglan: That's cool man! I actually try to work on that a little bit because if I were to play Testament, it shouldn't sound like Strapping, and that shouldn't sound like Dark Angel, who shouldn't sound like Old Man's Child, or Punch Drunk or anything like that. I try to do something a little different. A lot of that is very easy to work around whatever band you're with -- you'll work around their style of music. You know, that helps me a lot. When I'm doing Strapping, that calls for a lot of chaotic double bass, and a lot of aggro stuff puttin' out a lot of crazy two handed double bills, like Death was. Death's music was very musician-oriented at the time. Chuck Schuldiner would say [to me], "Hey man! Go sick." Having an influence like Shawn from _Human_, the pallet was wide open to paint after that. It was really cool to use the band's own sound to help create the next level of that band's sound.

CoC: Having followed your career, I noticed you seem to take whatever the band was before and morph it into you, a little bit, without detracting anything from the band's own originality. Your work with Death is a great example, I think. And I would assume groups would appreciated that.

GH: I think so, I think he did. Chuck always stressed, "Go sick, go nuts. I can play over everything you're laying down." I think we only ever changed one beat on all the songs he and I ever did together, and that was just because the producer was like, "Dude, I'm not feeling the riff and the beat working together." So that was no problem. I think we did that twice: "Individual Thought Patterns" and "Symbolic". For all the riffs that we put together and all the other drum beats and stuff, we only ever had to change one per album.

CoC: As far as Strapping goes, it is my impression that the interplay between the drums and the bass play a huge part in this band. How do you feel?

GH: Yeah, Byron has such a great style. Byron isn't a flashy bassist at all, but the bass lines that we lay down are real solid to augment everything. There are so many metal bands that the bassist is just an extension of the guitarist. He's playing basically what the guitarist is playing. With us, man, Byron is like root note bastard; he pounds on the root note. If you gotta play the same note for sixteen bars or whatever, that's okay, it's -where- you place it. A lot of times, if you're doing a polka beat, we'll boom-bat-boom-bat-boom-bat instead of laying the bass on the 1 and the 3, we'll lay it on the 2 and the 4, you know... bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam, so it just sounds more solid.

CoC: You guys work so well together, it is not like Byron's bass playing taking a back seat in the music at all; I hear him just as much as the guitars, drums, and vocals.

GH: Killer, that's awesome, man! He'd love to hear that. I agree, 'cause Byron is a very important part of this whole everything.

CoC: This album, _SYL_, seems to have taken Strapping to the next level. I am extremely happy with the length of this album. In my opinion, it is the perfect length for an album of this kind. It's not too long and it really emphasizes what you guys want to demonstrate in the appropriate amount of time. Was that intentional or something Devin had in mind?

GH: No, we didn't say we have to have this album this certain length. Even though some of the tunes seemed kinda long, like "Aftermath" and "Bring on the Young", but I was like "ahh... fuck it!" There's some three minute tunes on there and that's cool. Just turned out that way -- nothing preconceived.

CoC: When you went in, I assume that some of the songs were written, but it didn't seem like there was a strategic game plan in place. You guys just went in and did a tremendous album.

GH: Actually, we worked on these songs about eight months before we went in. We started writing in January and started tracking on September 10th. We just went in a laid it down. Everybody had their parts sowed together.

CoC: Sure seems like a well oiled machine. What do you think about the feeling that nearly everytime I go through this release, I pick up something new. Would you call that multi-layered?

GH: Yeah, it definitely is. It is one of the more stripped-down records that we've all put out together. Like Death music totally has, you listen to it once... you get the overall gist, then you put on some headphones and get something else out of it, you get stoned another time and start listening to that other thing you got goin' on there. The new Strapping record is the same way. We could have done a whole industrial side to the whole thing, and had samples everywhere, but we were not really feeling the samples. Everyone else is doing it to the tenth degree anyway, so why not just make it a stripped-down metal record? A prime example of what we think a good metal band is.

CoC: This engages the listener to a degree that is fairly rare on the metal scene today. This is provoking, there was a lot to communicate with SYL to the listener.

GH: I can see your point totally. Ultimately it did come down to just trying to be the best metal band we could be. That means thoroughly crushing. If we are the best metal band we can be, that means all the other metal bands are gonna start feeling some pain.

CoC: Would you say that there is some type of parallel between SYL and a band along the lines of Hate Eternal? It devastates and that's a lot what I get from Erik's music, too. There seems to be a lot of commonality there.

GH: There's some Morbid Angel influence on the whole thing. That's one of Jed's and Dev's favorite bands, too. I think we are way more familiar with Morbid Angel than Hate Eternal, though I know Jed loves Hate Eternal. The stuff I've heard from 'em, I think it's totally rippin'. There's nothing wrong with standing apart.

CoC: I am -so- impressed with those clean vocals on "Force Fed" -- I think Devin's done an incredible job with that song. What was his thought behind having those vocal styles from clean to out-and-out devastation with what he does on that track?

GH: Well, that's Dev, he is the all-encompassing vocalist. He can do anything. That's the main reason Strapping is as crushing as we are -- our vocalist is not tied down to one style or even the two styles of the soft verse and heavy chorus. Dev's dynamics are all over the place and I remember him saying as he was writing the vocal line to the record, "I wanna make things that we can pull off live. Never gonna be a problem for me to sing." We stay within a certain range and get crazy within that range, so any song we wanna pull out of a hat on a given night, we're like BOOM, we're there. When we were writing the songs, Jed would come up with a riff, we'd start honkin' on it. Five minutes into the song when everybody's got their riff down, Dev's already laying down vocal lines right off of that. Dev was saying, "I remember back in the day when I used to take the songs home, listen to them in my head, come up with these crazy vocal lines that were great to sing in the studio, but to do them live when you've got fourteen other songs in your set and you're hittin' this range that is just killing you... I'm not going to do that on this record." Any song from the record we can pull out at any time. That's pretty cool.

CoC: I think, personally, -very- few bands are able to pull that off...

GH: We all wrote lyrics for the record, too, you know? Dev had a few lyrics for a few of the songs, but a -lot- of the songs were, by God, "I gotta go record this, so let's all sit around in a group and toss out words." [Dev]'d come up with a line and say, "I'm kinda lookin' for somethin' along this line" and Jed'd throw out a line and I'd throw out a line, Byron'd throw out a line... All of us would be in there firing in a line and we'd all come up with vocal lines for him too, and he'd be like, "Yea, cool -- let's try it!" That's the first time I've ever tried this, and it's pretty unique and I like it.

CoC: Would you say the lyrics are as important as the music to Strapping Young Lad?

GH: We were more going more for the function rather than the form. The lyrics themselves weren't the important thing -- it was the emotion behind them. It was the aggression that had to go into them. Sometimes even the actual syllabic count of them and come up with the lines right then and there. It works. It's cool. And that's why I personally find it humorous when people are like "I read all this -heavy- stuff into the lyrics." I'm like, "Man, you know how we wrote the lyrics to this song?" <laughs>

CoC: Wouldn't you say Devin communicates the emotion of the song with -how- he sings it?

GH: Oh, yea -- totally! Exactly. Most of this album has first-take vocals. Everything, really. This is pretty much a first-take -album-. I got my drum track done in five hours. Byron got his bass track down in five hours. Jed did pretty much all the guitars on the album, so it took him ten hours. Dev was laying down vocals from the very first day and some of the vocals Dev laid down even before we laid down the bass or guitars we kept 'cause they were so amazing. There's this one line in "Devoured" that's like, "Oh God help me with these dreams of 100 million souls washed away" -- that was one take! We got that on film, too. Dev was kinda sitting around in the corner to himself and he's like, "I'm going to go try this thing really quick." We had the cameras rollin' for everything. We filmed like 24 hours of footage from the recording of the album for future DVD use or whatever. Dev screams out this line. Chills are goin' up everybody's spine and he comes back and he's like, "That was okay. Lemme try that again." Everyone was, like, "NO!!" So much on this record was like that.

CoC: With all your experience in all these bands, have you ever come across anybody who's able to do that?

GH: Naw, that's Dev. There's so many things inside this man that other people cannot do. That's why every member of this band is totally important and we all feel like we're on a roll -- to a 'T' -- totally.

CoC: You guys have stuck with Century Media straight through. Would you say Strapping has a pretty good working relationship with the label?

GH: Up and down there for awhile. Right now it's on the up. Century Media's doing a great job! Everybody there's working hard and the record is selling great and everybody is really happy. We're all working well together and [the band] has a good working relationship with 'em. I think it is totally killer. The things bands need -- we get and we try to be accommodating as well. We try to keep our requests reasonable and they understand that. We renegotiated the contract before this record and it's all killer; it's a good working relationship and hopefully we can keep it rockin'.

CoC: With Strapping Young Lad, it seems to me that you are able to flex your drumming muscle that you are known for. Would you say that to be the case?

GH: I guess I'd say that I flex the amount I choose. No one is telling me you gotta do more -- that bums me out. No one is telling me you gotta do less -- it's like, "Dude, you're the drummer, you come up with the part." Also, I love it when others come up with the parts, too. One of the greatest things that I've done is when someone else comes up with it on a drum machine or tying to get a pattern across to me, I'd be like, "Hey, cool -- I wasn't even thinking about that. Let's try that!" I get to flex what I want. With this record, I push myself, but there is no song that I dread playing. I remember, my favorite tune from Strapping is "Oh My Fucking God" and I dreaded playing that one every night until I got really comfy with it. That was the first song that Dev and I wrote together. We wrote it in five minutes in our very first jam together, and I was so excited I was doing this crazy stuff, but I dreaded playing it every night. I'm to the point where I don't anymore -- I love playing it live. On the new record, there's nothing I dread. I'm like, "Fuck it! Let's play all of it."

CoC: Do you know that chunky, fat, heavy, thick part of "Aftermath"?

GH: The fast part?

CoC: Yea!

GH: Oh yea -- totally!

CoC: That is the track I keep coming back to on the album. If I had to point to a spot on the new album, that is where you're able to flex the muscle you're know for...

GH: Excellent! That's killer, man. I remember when we wrote that. We had the slow part of the tune together for a couple of months and we knew we had to take that song somewhere. We even came back to the intro and we pinched it down a half-step and were going through it and we got to the spot where it kicks into the polka beat and it breaks down. One day, we played through it and kept chuckin' on the main riff and then that part [you were talking about] came up and it wrote itself. I went into full-on hullin' double bass and Jed went into that triplet riff there; Byron was poundin' -- we all got chills! We were all like, "We got this song now."

CoC: Well, Mr. Hoglan, thank you for all your time and agreeing to do this interview while you are on tour. If there is anything at this point that you'd like to communicate to the Chronicles of Chaos readership, I'd be very happy to include it here.

GH: I guess if everybody buys a copy of the Strapping Young Lad album, nobody's gonna be disappointed. That could always help. Buy a shirt, too! <laughs>

(article submitted 12/6/2003)


CHATS
7/13/2006 J Smit Strapping Young Lad: None More Black
10/1/1995 A Bromley Strapping Young Lad: Bracing for Success
ALBUMS
6/27/2006 J Smit 8 Strapping Young Lad - The New Black
2/22/2005 J Smit 10 Strapping Young Lad - Alien
4/16/2003 X Hoose 8 Strapping Young Lad - SYL
7/8/1998 A Bromley 9.5 Strapping Young Lad - No Sleep Till Bedtime
2/4/1997 A Bromley 9 Strapping Young Lad - City
10/1/1995 G Filicetti 7 Strapping Young Lad - Heavy As a Really Heavy Thing
GIGS
9/14/1997 S Hoeltzel Testament / Stuck Mojo / Strapping Young Lad Demonic Pigwalk
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