Interview with Joe Hasselvander
Joe Hasselvander has played with Raven, Pentagram, Blue Cheer and numerous other projects. I recently got to talk to him about his long career and find out what he is currently up to.
MM- By the looks of your Myspace page you have been exceptionally busy lately. So what are you working on?
JH - I’ve been doing all kinds of things! I think 2007 was a banner year for me as I recorded 2 albums, "the Hounds of Hassel Vander" (Rock Savior records Germany) and Raven's "walk through fire"(King records Japan)! I also saw the release of an album I recorded in 2005 with the legendary Blue Cheer "What doesn't kill you..." and a re-release of Armageddon’s "1990 album "the money mask"! I also played the hard rock "Hell festival in Minehead, England with Raven! We went down a storm! We shared the bill with bands like Twisted Sister, Saxon & Girlschool! It was a blast and we were able to hang out with some of the other old men and women of metal! It was brilliant! We soon after were on a way to the Netherlands to play "Mario’s metal meeting" which was a killer show and was so well presented and put together by Mr. Mario himself! Then we buggered off to Belgium for a two night engagement that was sold out both nights and although the venue was postage stamp size, the spirit of metal was high! We ended the festivities with an exclusive interview at radio Brussels FM! I was surprised to find out that the interviewer/ DJ was a major fan of my work with "Pentagram" and the doom metal scene as he played loads of the old hits over the air from pentagram as I sat there!
MM- Who else is in The Hounds of Hasselvander? How would you describe the music and how has that project gone so far?
JH- I’ve recruited the expertise of Gary Isom-drums (Spirit Caravan, Iron Man, Unorthodox) and the beautiful Kayt Vigil on the bass (Syzlak, Hatchet face)! On the album I play all the instruments and do all the vocals. I would describe the music as proper doom metal with a commercial twist and an over all early Alice Cooper band vibe! I’ve been told by many that it's a dead cross between Ozzy, Kiss and Pentagram! The shows that we've done so far have been received incredibly well as the last one in Philadelphia was sold out! The band members I hired have proven that they have what it takes and listen to direction well and we are all on the same page! We have become sort of a family!
MM- You played some on Blue Cheer’s “What doesn’t kill you” album from 2007. How many songs did you play on and did you manage to get brought in for that role?
JH-As I said, I recorded the new Blue Cheer album back in 2005! I was brought in for three major reasons which validate the destiny that this job held for the band and me! First off, the original drummer (Paul Whaley) had some serious health issues and he also lives in Germany! Secondly, duck MacDonald; the band's guitarist is a long time friend of mine! We used to play together in legendary British blues rock band, ”Savoy Brown"! Thirdly, I am the biggest Blue Cheer freak on the planet and duck knew this and also knew that I could very easily do the job and that I would be able to help the record's budget out as I had a house they could rehearse and live in for a month as we did pre-production! I also new a very good friend with an incredible studio who worked for cheap and also happened to be a huge fan of "cheer"(Chris Kozlowski)! The band continues their association with him to this day! I originally played on all the cuts for the album. I was offered a tour with them but the pay wouldn't have sustained my home and family life! And besides, Paul Whaley wanted his job back! As everyone knows, Paul was my biggest influence as a kid coming up in the music business! The record company decided that there should be some songs with Paul on them, if not half the album! So a lot of what I did was deleted! In answer to your question, I am on five of the tracks!
MM- You played with guitarist Jack Starr in Phantom Lord back in the mid-1980’s. What do you remember about that project?
JH- "Phantom lord" was part of a three pronged record release for N.Y. label Dutch east records, "phantom lord being the first one out of the starting gate! Jack and I were working together on a project with the late Rhett Forester (Riot) and money was tight! So Jack went to his old friend at Dutch East and hatched a plan to do three albums and generate enough money to keep all of us living near him so that we could continue our work on the Jack Starr band project! We did "Phantom Lord" on a budget of $200 and we had a real laugh doing this record because we recorded it in five hours! Some of the material was made up on the spot! When it was time to mix this extravaganza, I was chosen to do the honors as Jack and company suddenly disappeared and the studio was adamant about finishing on a certain night! I had the flu so bad as it was mid- December'84 and my inner ears were infected, so I couldn't hear anything correctly and that's why the sound of that record is so harsh, not to mention that the studio was highly inadequate! I never took that record seriously, until I got requests from all kinds of magazines and fanzines from Europe to give the exclusive scoop on these little atrocities that Jack and I had recorded! It seems that "Phantom Lord" and the other two albums had become major collector’s items over there!
MM- Devil Childe’s EP was around the same time as Phantom Lord and both you and Jack Starr were in that as well. Were you doing these two bands at the same time? Were the two projects that different from each other considering some of the same people were in both?
JH-As I said, we did three albums for Dutch East records and "Devil Childe" was the second of the three that were released! This particular album was actually the first in the series to be recorded! It was done much the same way as "Phantom Lord", except that the songs were a lot stronger and there were also some very solid ideas on that one! To anyone who knows the history of "Pentagram"/"Death row" the song "Through the shadow” appears on side two! This song went on to be reworked and turned in to the title track of Raven's "Architect of fear"-1990!
MM- In the late 1970’s you ran into Bobby Liebling and started another line-up of Pentagram. I know this version didn’t last very long. What was that like and why did that version break up rather quickly?
JH- Bobby and the rock media like to refer to that line up of the band as, the "high voltage" era of Pentagram, aptly named after Bobby's little label that released "Living in a ram's head" b/w "When the screams come"-1978. This version of the band was hands down, the loudest group I’ve ever played with besides my present band "the hounds"! We worked a hell of a lot, and were loved by everyone in the D.C./Baltimore scene in those days! We were a shock rock band through and through! Black widow (Italy) released a perfect time capsule glimpse of this group on the 2002 release of "Keg full of dynamite" which will give you an idea of what was going on back then! I had my most fulfilling moments in Pentagram with that line up!
MM-How did you come to get back into Pentagram band in the 1990’s?
JH- Of course everyone knows that I’ve been in Raven for 20 years! There have been times that the band for whatever reason, has to take time off from touring and recording. During one of these times in the 90's I was approached by Victor who had just moved back to northern Virginia from Tennessee to do some simple 4-track recording at his house! I agreed, and we soon struck up our friendship again and hung out a little in the Maryland doom scene, only to find out that we had become impossibly famous in our 10 year absence! It just blew our minds at how many younger fans knew who we were and had all of our records and bootlegged gigs from everywhere! Then out of the blue, Peaceville records (England) offered a contract to bobby to re-release "Relentless" and "Day of reckoning" with a brand new follow up album, under the stipulation that he would get victor, Marty and I in on the project! Things just fell in to place very quickly! That’s how "be forewarned" came about! The rest is history!
MM-Now on “Review your choices” and “Sub-basement” you played all the instruments, correct? What was that experience like?
JH-Recording those albums was an amazing experience and a great learning period as well! I had always wanted to try my hand at "doing it all" on a pentagram release! My wish came true in a time when I had a crumby, unrewarding dirty job putting up commercial fences for someone who was extremely toxic to be around! Yet I had no choice as I was raising my then 5 year old son (Joe Jr.) By myself! To make a long story short I was ultimately fired when suddenly the black widow record contract was offered for "Review your choices" just in the nick of time! That album re-adjusted my self esteem which had been eroding under the umbrella of a negative control freak who had essentially made me think I was a washed up old rocker that chose a stupid career and had no basis in reality! After the success of that album I never listened to negative, jealous and ignorant sadists like that again! By the time Sub-basement was slated for recording, Bobby and I had become old hands at doing this type of two man album! We moved our operations to a different studio and got much better results! Bobby and I still say that sub-basement was the band's "Sgt.pepper's" album!
MM- How did you get the gig in Raven? Was playing with them a big adjustment from what you were previously used to?
JH-I had known the Gallagher brothers for some time, as I used to live with the whole band including Rob "Wacko" Hunter in a house in upstate New York! It was an odd coincidence that I had the exact same taste in bands that I liked as the Gallagher’s (Budgie, Slade Sweet Judas Priest, Deep Purple etc.)! So when Rob quit raven, I was the first person they called! We were soon signed by Combat records for "Nothing exceeds like excess"-1988!In answer to the second part of your question, the adjustments needed to play in Raven were minuscule as I had a band years ago called "Overlord" that played that same sort of Judas priest styled metal later referred to as "the NWOBHM."! I also was involved in jazz-fusion in the '70's ala-mahavishnu orchestra! This kind of music has many time changes and unanticipated break downs in the songs! It takes a certain type of work ethic to learn this kind stuff as it does with raven and their super tight and complicated music!
MM-You came to Raven at perhaps kind of a difficult time because they had just been dropped by Atlantic and the popularity they had once had around 82-84 was really fading by the time you joined. Was it tough going and how did the band approach getting back on track so to speak?
JH- I don't really think that it was tough going for me or for them, because we were three kindred souls who had found each other through the darkness! We had this unbelievable sound together that the previous version of the band could never obtain! We didn't care what anyone thought about us, we were enjoying this new monster we had created and we also knew that we would do even better than before! In reality, the band did much better and went on to do much bigger things than they ever did on Atlantic records! They made nothing with that label and were not supported or promoted properly by them! Real heavy metal only exists in the independent market nowadays anyway! You know why? Because there's more money in the band's pocket that way! Imagine that! As for Raven's popularity we've played more shows to 10,000 + fans than most heavy metal bands that I know of! We’ve toured the world loads of times!
MM-What kind of music are you listening to these days?
JH- Lately I’ve been listening mostly to unsigned bands I find on Myspace! A lot of them are doom metal or retro-'70's style groups! I always try to comment on their music and if it's good, I tell them so! I know when I was coming up in the world I would've been beside myself if one of my musical heroes said good things about my band! I probably would have stuck it out with a lot of the bands that I gave up on! I listen to so many kinds of music, you have no idea! Some of the things I like would get me put in a straight jacket if anyone found out!
MM-How do you think doom metal has changed over the last say twenty years?
JH- Doom metal has never changed! That’s the key and also what it's all about! It’s all about the blues and obscure British tube amps and extreme distortion and volume! It’s about staying in a permanent time warp from the years, 1968-1972! And do you know why? It’s because that was the most exciting time of experimentation in music, amplifier technology, drugs and sex! How’s that for the truth??
MM- On your Myspace page you have a number of horror images. Are you a horror movie fan and if so then what are some of your favorite horror movies?
JH-Yes! I am a rabid horror movie freak! I like most of the horror movies from the silent era to the mid eighties! After that Hollywood lost us! I will tell you, I have over 3,000 movies in my personal collection! I love them all like bad little children! just a few of my personal favorites because there are so many- "Mask of Satan" aka "Black Sunday" directed by Mario Bava, "the sadist" starring Arch Hall Jr., "Tombs of the blind dead" a Portuguese classic, “Night of the demon" aka "Curse of the demon" starring Dana Andrews and "The world's greatest sinner" directed and starred in by Timothy Carry! The list goes on and on and that's not counting my science fiction faves!
MM-You have played with a lot bands, toured and had a long career. Is there anything you have not done in music that you still hope to accomplish?
JH-Yes! I would like to make a record that goes platinum!!!! But who wouldn't! It would mean that I could write my own ticket and be able to help out other young bands who have lost hope! Help out starving families that have lost hope and secure my son's future! The fame part of entertainment is easy to obtain if you have a large body of work over time, but the money part of that scenario is a whole different ball of wax and is highly elusive!!
MM- Which band from the following pair do you prefer.
Blue Cheer or Sir Lord Baltimore
JH-Blue Cheer - this band lit my brain up as a child of 13 to the infinite possibilities in music! They showed me that you don't have to play by the rules laid down by the corporate norm or be restricted to conservative musical ideas invented by little scared people! After all, nobody stands the test of time mixing in with the crowd and essentially becoming common stock! You have to listen to your inner self and tune out the negative folks who don't want to see you succeed over them! I thank duckier Peterson, Leigh Stephens and Paul Whaley for pointing the way to the center of the universe, for that is where god dwells!
MM-Is there anything else that you want to say about your self or your music?
JH-I want to say to everyone who has enjoyed my music over the years in what ever group I’ve played with, even if only for a minute, thank you for noticing! Because I do this for you guys and not for myself! I don't know of anything that gives me more excitement, joy, sorrow or triumph than that one little musical note played on eleven!
God bless all of you! Doom on!!!Joe Hasselvander "the godfather of doom"