A Conversation with HELLRIPPER
Updated: Jan 27, 2020
This is the full transcript of JayKeeley's January 25th 2020 "live" Twitter conversation with James McBain, the mastermind behind Hellripper! Many thanks to James and JayKeeley for allowing Denim & Leather to became a small part to this event.
Alright for those keeping up, this will be a live twitter chat with James McBain of the almighty Hellripper! (It’s a Q&A so bear with us as we tweet away our questions and answers.) Right then ...
Let’s start here: you play every instrument on your releases. And you’re only 24. That blows my mind!! So talk to us about learning how to play the drums, guitars, etc. Was a lot of this self taught?
I had a few lessons on guitar when I was younger but I absolutely hated it and quit after just a few lessons. Haha! Other than that I am self-taught. I basically just learned by playing along to songs that I like. I still can’t read music very well. Haha!
That’s amazing to me. I mean, one instrument is incredible, but drums as well!? I assume you’ve been recording and producing your own music as well? Surely that’s another art in and of itself? Do you have some studio equivalent at home. What’s that setup?
I do play drums a bit but definitely nothing special. Guitar is my main instrument and the bass for Hellripper mostly just follows the guitar so that’s easy enough. With vocals I don’t really know what I am doing but it seems to work. Haha!
And I do record and mix my own stuff. It’s fun for me and it’s cool to learn while I go along! It’s also a lot cheaper and more convenient! I usually send my stuff away to get mastered by someone else just to get a fresh set of ears on the project at the end.
My studio setup for Hellripper is as simple as I can make it. Gibson Explorer into a Marshall amp and a cheap unbranded microphone that I really like. That goes into an interface and then into Reaper. I usually just DI the bass for ease.
“I do play drums a bit”, OK that made me chuckle. Fucking glorious drumming mate!!
OK so in the last 4 years you’ve released 5 splits, 2 EPs, a comp & a full length. That’s a lot. Are you constantly writing? Do you have an archive of riffs waiting to be turned into songs?
For practical reasons, the drumming on the recordings are programmed so sorry to disappoint there! Haha!
For me to do that myself would make the process take way longer and would cost way too much. Doing it my way means I can constantly get stuff recorded and released.
I do write almost everyday & just write down anything that sounds good! I keep an archive of riffs and song lyric ideas I come up with etc on my computer. I like to release a lot of stuff and splits are a good way to get a single song out while collaborating with other bands!
I would never have known about the drums, so I applaud your drum programming prowess.
Either way, is it fair to say there’s been a fairly quick progression in your musicianship and songwriting over the last 5 years? I mean, if I consider how ‘raw’ the Manifestation EP is, by the time you get to “Full Moon Witchery” and “Nekroslut” you’re already double tracking guitar harmonies and cranking out killer solos. And that was already in a space of 11 months.
Yeah definitely!! The first EP was just me figuring out how to do everything so I had no idea what worked, the best way to track anything, EQing, etc. The goal at the start was also to keep the music simple and raw so I didn’t have to be the best at mixing etc.
As I got better at recording/mixing, I could execute my ideas better and could do things that I couldn’t at the start. So there are less and less limitations as time goes on. It also depends what I am listening to at the time. I was heavily into d-beat and 1st wave black metal in the early days for example but for ‘Coagulating Darkness’, I wanted to incorporate more speed influences into that sound too.
It’s interesting that you mention d-beat. ‘Hardcore punk by imitators of Discharge’. I don’t think a lot of folks realize just how much Discharge influenced the thrash metal scene. But much of these influences were way before your time. So how did you discover it all?
For sure!! Discharge are a favorite of mine and ‘Protest and Survive’ was one of the first songs I played as part of a band!
I discovered most of my influences through YouTube. I was just getting into metal when the “thrash revival” was happening.
I was into Metallica and Megadeth and stuff before from seeing music videos on TV and stuff so I would listen to that and find bands like Warbringer and Toxic Holocaust or Exodus and Slayer and Venom on YouTube video recommendations.
From there I just kept exploring and discovered lesser known bands and newer bands.
For anyone reading this, I wholly recommend they look up Discharge’s Why? album and consider that it came out in 1981.
So a Metallica and thrash influence in general, some speed metal, a sprinkle of Bathory ... but a little Motörhead too? I’m thinking “Hell’s Rock n Roll”
The early stuff was mostly influenced by Venom, Toxic Holocaust, Discharge, Anti-Cimex & other Swedish punk. Hell’s Rock n Roll was actually written with the intention of starting a new project in the style of Discharge but it came out as it did and fit better for Hellripper.
OK - let’s get into your debut album. Coagulating Darkness. I immediately hear the “Bastard of Hades” main riff and it’s like comfort food. It’s me at 15 years old hearing “Hit the Lights” all over.
Fucking LOVE IT.
But I want to dig into “Anneliese” just for the subject matter. A true story. Catholic priests performing exorcisms over 10 months, as recently as 1976, on a woman who otherwise clearly needed psychiatric help. Fucking scary stuff. How did you come about this story?
Thank you for the compliments there!
And yeah, the story of Anneliese is a fucked up one for sure! I can’t remember how I came across it. Most likely just on the internet while doing some research. Quite a few of my songs are based on true stories but that one does stick out because of the nature of it.
Well yeah. You also wrote “Demdike”. The song composition is outstanding.
I learned all about the Pendle Witch trials thanks to this song. Remarkable period in the 17th century, which essentially reads like a family feud with one accusing the other of witchcraft. It strikes me that you don’t have to look too far to find real life inspiration for subject matter. Were you also raised in a religious household by chance?
Thank you! Demdike was initially my least favorite song on the album during recording but it seems to be a favorite among others now. Haha!
There’s so much horrible and unbelievable shit going on in the world that it’s often better to write about that than making stuff up.
Witchcraft is a recurring theme in my lyrics and there’s a few tracks on the new album that follow that theme. The title track of the new album (not announced yet - Haha!) is based on some extreme shit that went on in France in the 17th century too. There’s just so much that can be explored around that topic and it just fascinates me!
I was not brought up in a religious household either.
OK, I do want to get to the new album shortly, but hold that thought!
Oh by the way, speaking of witch hunting during the French inquisition, I immediately think of King Diamond’s The Eye album. Check it out if you haven’t heard it.
Black Arts & Alchemy.
Wow, wow, wow! Eeeeeasily one of the best releases of 2019. That’s the thing for me, give me a release of ‘choice cuts’ than a 40 min full length with half filler skip tracks any day. What’s been the general reaction to this release?
For sure! Massive fan of King Diamond and that release!
Overall response to the EP has been very positive which I am grateful for! It’s my favorite release of mine so far and it’s opened up some great opportunities for the band! Most of which I would never have even dreamed of when starting Hellripper. So definitely no complaints from me here. Haha! And i really appreciate those kind words from you on it!
The title track is just fucking KILLER. I don’t even have a question here, I’m just gushing over how this was one of the best songs of 2019.
Tell me it’s one of those songs where it the stars just aligned because it’s possibly the greatest Hellripper song to date.
Yeah! I remember just messing around on guitar and played the main riff. It was a lot more technical than my usual stuff and my intention was to get it sounding like a mixture of Darkthrone and Artillery (the By Inheritance album in particular)
Now that you mention it, that makes total sense. By Inheritance is a great, great album. “Bombfood” is one of my fave thrash tracks.
By the way, any chance you can release the Running Wild “Iron Heads” cover on Bandcamp or Spotify? It wasn’t on the vinyl release.
Great album! One of my favorites!
And unfortunately no plans for that in the near future. The cover was recorded with the intention of being a CD only bonus track but you never know!
Gah! *shakes fist in the direction of Scotland*
OK wrapping up with a couple more...
You’re no longer just a one man band given Hellripper are performing live. Are you finding you’re getting more and more gigs lined up? I see you have Red Crust and Pitfest on the horizon.
We are being given the opportunity to play more shows definitely! Last year was our first tour which was great!
I’m still very selective with the shows we play right now. All 4 of us live members live in different cities with our drummer being 12 hours away from myself.
So aside from making sure everyone is available at the same time, the travel costs are much higher for us. But we do have some cool stuff planned for later this year and for 2021 that will be great if it all goes ahead!
Well that’s a good segue to wrap up the interview...
... you’ve recently signed with Peaceville - massive congratulations by the way - & a new album around the corner. You mentioned you haven’t picked out an album title yet, but anything you can share about the new release?
Yeah! Signing to Peaceville was great! It’s a label I really respect and I own a whole lot of releases from them. It’s just amazing and strange to be on the same roster as some of my favorite bands! Haha!
And yeah new album will be out in the first half of the year for sure. No specific date just yet, but I do have an album title that just hasn’t been announced yet. Everything is done and we are just waiting on the usual manufacturing process etc. to determine the final release date. I’m really excited to finally get this out there and am confident that it contains some of my best songs yet. It still very much sounds like a Hellripper album but I’ve added some new elements to the sound which I think makes things more interesting! Hopefully people like it as much as I do. Haha!
Seriously cannot wait. I suspect it will kick 2020 into gear!!
I want to thank you for this chat. Any final words?
Thank you very much for taking the time out to do the interview!
Yeah, check out the music on Bandcamp/Spotify etc. and follow the band on Facebook/Instagram for more updates!
And my final reco to everyone is check out ALL the Hellripper material. The back catalogue is stellar!
Over and out!
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© 2020 JayKeeley, © 2020 Denim & Leather by permission