Here Comes the Pain
CoC chats with Grant Belcher of Hurtlocker
by: Jackie Smit
As debuts go, very few bands can lay claim to having delivered the kind of knockout combination that Chicago's Hurtlocker have done on _Fear in a Handful of Dust_. A pleasantly surprising entry into 2005's already impressive slew of quality releases, it's the perfect antidote to the camp theatrics of the snore-core dreamt up by the mainstream favourites like Bullet For My Valentine and Trivium. Equally stupefying is the fact that this record comes courtesy of one of black metal's oldest stalwarts in Napalm Records. Hurtlocker vocalist Grant Belcher was on hand to explain the unlikely pairing.

Grant Belcher: We've been shopping demos for years in the States and we did have a couple of offers from some smaller independent labels over here, who had very similar bands to us on their roster. With Napalm I don't even quite remember how we got our promo packs out to them, but when it came down to the offer they just showed us a lot more commitment than anyone else and they just seemed willing to do more for us than any of the other labels that were interested in us at the time, because we were the only band like this on their label. In fact, I think we're the only American band on their label, and they definitely want to break into our market, which they told us from the start is why we're an important band to them. They've made us a very high priority and they've put a solid amount of money behind us, so the commitment that they've brought to the table just meant that all the other things like the other bands that they have on their roster just doesn't matter to us so much. They were the first label to come around that offered to give us everything that we were looking for.

CoC: Well, listening to the new record -- and this is in no way an attempt at brown-nosing -- I am stunned that labels like Century Media and Nuclear Blast weren't falling over themselves to get you guys on board, particularly when I hear some of the bands that they are signing at the moment.

GB: For a lot of those labels, like the ones you mentioned, they told us that they had a lot of bands like us on their label already. At one point, Century Media had just bought up Olympic Records, which had brought a bunch of death metal bands to them; so much so, that a lot of bands were getting sort of lost in the shuffle. Eventually we did actually have a few offers from some of those labels, but never to the extent that Napalm offered us. People call us metalcore or deathcore -- which is something I'm not so sure of, because we never listen to other bands and try and sound like anyone else. We were talking to guys like Metal Blade and Victory Records, but a lot of those labels basically wanted our album for free, and they were just going to get behind us with distribution and not give us any real tour support. A lot of bands have taken up those kinds of deals, but there's no priority behind them. The labels just sign them up so that no-one else does -- just in case they break, you know? Unless you're a big band on one of those labels, there's no real promotion, no advertising and no big tour support. Napalm came to us with a deal that included getting us into Europe, getting us into magazines and really giving us a big promotional push. There wasn't any big problem with the other labels, but they just weren't offering what we were looking for.

CoC: It seems to be symptomatic of a very short-sighted attitude by the labels. In my opinion you guys straddle the divide between heavier stuff like Dying Fetus and Lamb of God perfectly and I think you're bound to be a conduit into a lot of more brutal music for younger listeners; which ultimately these labels are going to miss out on now, because they're not willing to invest in anyone for the long-term.

GB: Yeah, and we hope that we're going to be able to do what you just said as well. I mean, I like the God Forbid album and I like the Shadows Fall album, but I do think that we're a little bit different in the sense that we don't have a lot of melodies, and we don't do any clean vocals. Especially with this album, we were just going for the one-two punch; we wanted a thirty or forty minute record of just fast and brutal shit, and in my opinion if you haven't heard us before then you're going to get a really good idea of what Hurtlocker is about. We don't know what we're going to do on future albums, but for this first one, we didn't want any questions about what kind of a band we were. I don't want to say that all the songs sound the same, but they are all heavy and fast and that's exactly the way that we wanted it to go.

CoC: What made you decide on using Zeus -- who had produced bands like Hatebreed and Shadows Fall in the past -- rather than Chris Djuricic, who had done all your demos?

GB: Well, what actually happened is that we used a guy named Balls to do the production, and basically it was because we were able to go to a bigger studio with the money that Napalm had given us. We felt like this guy understood our sound and understood what we wanted to do, but as it turns out we ended up pretty much having to do the whole thing ourselves. So, in retrospect, I think we should have probably stayed with Chris, although we did luckily get to go to Zeus afterward, who mixed down the album and really tightened things up and gave us the big sound that we were looking for. I think that his contribution really was like a shot of steroids for this album.

CoC: It must have been quite frustrating having the opportunity to go to a big studio for the first album and then ending up with someone who didn't really understand where you were looking to take the music.

GB: Yeah, I mean, we learned a lot of lessons this time around. I think in general, as a band, you're always learning a lot of lessons and when you get the opportunity to do things again, you know what to do differently. You go from what you learned the last time. In this case, we rushed into who we used as a producer. I mean, the studio was great, but this guy just didn't have enough experience of recording a metal band -- let alone an extreme metal band like us. We just had trouble there from the start. We fired our bass player about two days into the whole thing, and then we had trouble with the producer. Even when we were mixing the record, we still had to be sending files over the computer of material that the producer had left out. So we were MP3ing files and Fed-Exing things and stuff like that. But thanks goes out to Zeus, who managed to hold it all together and let it come out great in the end. No offence to the producer. I thought he was a great guy and I liked him a lot, but I wouldn't go through all this again, that's for sure.

CoC: In my experience, most bands are always the most critical of their debut album. When you look back on things and you listen to how this record has turned out, what are your thoughts on it? Do you feel like there are things you could have improved or things you will definitely be doing differently next time around?

GB: I think we're all pretty proud of the album. I mean, of course, when you go back you're bound to hear little things here and there that you'd like to change or that you would have wanted to do differently. It's also worth bearing in mind that a lot of songs got shortened or got sped up as we were developing the vision of what we were trying to do. A lot of these songs that are three minutes long now, were like four or five minutes long before we went into the studio. So maybe next time what we will do is to keep the music a little more fleshed out and maybe do a couple of cool things like intros and stuff like that. But overall, we're pretty fucking proud of this record. It's us -- it's exactly what we're like on stage, and what you see is what you're going to get. Whether people like it or not, it's a very accurate representation of what we're like as a band.

CoC: With newer bands like Lupara and yourselves, as well as a handful of more popular stuff like Disturbed and Soil, what is the scene like in Chicago right now?

GB: To be totally honest with you, apart from the bands you mentioned, there's not too many good bands coming out of Chicago right now. There's not much of a scene at all, actually. There are no metal radio stations at all; there's no station that you can turn to when you're in Chicago and hear metal. The best you can hope for is Metallica or Disturbed, and I don't consider either of those bands to be really heavy fucking metal. The bands that you do have, there's no attitudes or competition between any of them. We're all happy to be able to play, and we're all happy when bigger bands come here and some of us get to be on the bill. I know the guys from Lupara -- we've played a couple of times with them in really seedy little joints where you can fit in maybe 100 or 150 people. But then we've always played with them in really cool places where we opened up for Obituary and Turmoil and shit like that. I wish the scene was bigger, but to be totally honest, there's not really a market for that.

CoC: You mentioned touring earlier and the fact that Napalm is planning to bring you guys out to Europe. What are the plans for Hurtlocker in support of this new record?

GB: Well, as of right now, the first tour that we have lined up starts on January 28 and we're flying over to Poland where we start the tour with Cryptopsy and a couple of other bands. That tour will take us pretty much everywhere from Dublin to Paris right through until about March. Then we're coming home, and for that we're working on some stuff at the moment for the spring to happen over here, and then maybe go back out to Europe after that. So we're hoping that we'll be able to work as much as we can, but at the same time we don't want to waste our money or Napalm's money by going on tours that don't make any sense for us.

CoC: Is it a big deal for you guys to be able to tour with Cryptopsy?

GB: Yeah, that's going to be fucking huge. I mean, we're not quite death metal, but the bands that we always end up doing real well with are bands like Cryptopsy, Misery Index and Dying Fetus. We always go over really well in front of those kinds of crowds, so to be able to come to Europe and tour with a band like Cryptopsy is humbling, to say the least. I probably won't believe it's happening until the first show.

CoC: Anything else you want to add as we wrap this up, Grant?

GB: Thanks for having us, and thanks for the interview and the opportunity. Hopefully it will be the first of many, and hopefully people will go out and pick this album up and give us a try, because that's all we can possibly ask for.

(article submitted 2/1/2006)

11/4/2007 J Ulrey 7 Hurtlocker - Embrace the Fall
11/24/2005 J Smit 8 Hurtlocker - Fear in a Handful of Dust
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