Our regular readers out there already know that I am a big fan of Thrash/Power Metal. And I especially love the American west coast varieties! HEATHEN is yet another excellent San Francisco Bay Area based Power Metal band that deserves more ink. Their sound borders on Thrash Metal (in the traditional style of the “Bay Area” sound) but also has a firm foot rooted in melodic vocals, quality arrangements and of course the “crunchy” guitars, which creates quite a powerful sound!
The band is comprised of: David Godfrey (vocals), Lee Altus (guitar), Doug Piercy (ex-Anvil Chorus – guitar), Mike “Yaz” Jastremski (bass) and Darren Minter (drums) and were formed between 1984-1986. Of course there were a few lineup changes here and there but I am not going to bore you with the details. I will though, throw in a credit for original drummer Carl Sacco (ex-Metal Church) who played on the demo and album. Carl is pictured above, top left.
With mucho exposure in the Bay Area underground Metal scene, the band has managed to garner the respect of hordes of headbanging fans everywhere. Add in a respectable number of albums sold to date and radio airplay on at least 103 radio stations nationwide. This is a pretty impressive feat for a relatively “unknown” band.
The radio airplay was mainly due to the very successful single, a cover of SWEET‘s “Set Me Free”, which seems like an odd choice for a Metal band, but it was a good choice and turned out to be very popular. They also made a video for the single, which garnered heavy rotation on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball.
HEATHEN first rose to prominence with their killer début demo called “Pray for Death” in 1986. This demo was legendary in the underground trading circuit and was one of the best tapes we received here at Demolish. I’ve played this demo many times with standout tracks such as “Goblin’s Blade” and “Open the Grave”. And no one has the “crunch-fest” guitar sound and precision back-picking that this band exudes (except maybe EXODUS).
*Check out the “Goblin’s Blade” track from the above demo tape.
After the demo was well-circulated, they were offered a record deal with Combat Records on the strength of these heavy + high quality recordings.
Let’s fast-forward to March of 87′, when their excellent début album “Breaking the Silence” was released and has since received abundant national and international press and more radio support.
The album was produced by none other than Ronnie Montrose (who also produced Chicago Thrashers WRATH -ed) and engineered by Roger Wiersema at the Music Annex in Menlo Park, CA.
Curt King and Demolish Mag. was able to track them down on the road as the band was in the midst of a major tour in support of the album. Please join us as we chat with Doug Piercy and Darren Minter before their headlining show at Bogart’s (in Cinci, Ohio).
Curt King: So how’s the tour going so far?
Doug Piercy: “It’s going pretty good, we’re getting to meet a lot of people. It’s like the fourth or fifth day, and it’s going pretty well.”
Where did the tour begin?
DP: “It started around the Chicago-area in a place called Aurora, which is a little town to the West of Chicago.”
That’s cool, what band did you play with at that show?
DP: “We played with Zoetrope.”
Ah, another great Chicago band! Why did you start there VS maybe starting on the West Coast and working your way East?
DP: “I don’t know. That’s like a good, expensive question! It cost a lot of time and money to get there. It seems like we should have started in Marino, Salt Lake City or somewhere like that.”
Yeah, I was just curious about why you stared there, seems unlikely but…
DP: “Yeah, we just wanted to get out East (where we have a lot more supporters) where everyone likes the music.”
So how big is this tour and how many dates will you be doing?
DP: “It’s going to be around thirty dates. It’s probably going to be around thirty, but I’m not 100% sure as they keep adding more dates!”
So have you made it to the East coast yet, where your biggest supporters are?
DP: “Yeah, we’ve played in Washington DC and that was a great show! And we’ve played in Pittsburgh and now we’re supposed to play in Connecticut. We’re also going to New Jersey for two shows and from there, we go to Texas.”
So how is Zoetrope, and are you guys getting along on the tour thus far?
DP: “Yeah, those guys are great.”
Is there any chance that you guys might get a larger arena tour, say with a larger band as an opening act perhaps?
DP: “Probably the closest thing to that would be a show we are doing in Arizona, which is with EXODUS, M.O.D., PAUL DIANNO and ZOETROPE. There will be some other bands there too. It will be in a giant place!”
Great, that is a cool lineup – is EXODUS headlining the show maybe?
DP: “Yes, EXODUS will be headlining and the playing order is about how I told you.”
What band(s) would you love to go out and tour with given the chance?
DP: “Oh God, I don’t know -probably METALLICA, MEGADETH, IRON MAIDEN or JUDAS PRIEST. And if you’re talking about arenas, then we’ve got the equipment.”
The début album “Breaking the Silence” has been out since last summer correct?
DP: “Yeah, but the single, the “Set Me Free” thing, came out first. Then the LP came out in August.”
How has the album been doing so far? I know a lot of people were waiting for a long time for it, ever since the demo came out!
DP: “We’ve sold around fifty to sixty thousand copies so far.”
I heard that you parted ways with your management, what’s the story with that and are you currently looking for a replacement?!
DP: “Yeah, we did. Oh yeah, like right now we’re screwed up and on tour, so we really can’t shop for one. But, we’ve had some bites already and we’re still looking cause’, you never know.”
How did you guys hook up with guitar great RONNIE MONTROSE to produce the LP?
DP: “Actually that’s Steve’s thing (Clausie Productions, their previous manager -ed), he set that up and at the time it was pretty good. Steve set it up and our attorney helped out.”
So what was it like to work with Ronnie?
DP: “He’s crazy! One thing I must compliment him on, he kept the budget happening. The next album we are going to co-produce though as we know what we want. The demo (“Pray for Death” – ed), we co-produced and the demo, in some ways -is more classic!”
Drummer Darrin Minter has a seat at the table and joins in…
Ronnie Montrose is not really known for producing Thrash or the heavier stuff is he?
Darren Minter: “No, but he did another band called WRATH and it was really well produced.”
Was it his idea to remake the “Set Me Free” song or what made you decide to add that to the album and make the video?
Doug: “It was like, fun…we played it a little bit and we’d been playing around with cover tunes trying to find a cool cover to do. Our management heard it and decided we should try to push it as a single. Which in some ways is good, because it got us on MTV, but conversely, it screwed us with the heavier audience because they thought we were that kind of band. Actually, it’s still debatable, but I think it’s great we’re on MTV! It went over good and we made a cool video from it. But, at the same time I’m really pissed off, the band, you know, with the death/thrash shi** -we would have had no problem had it not been for that song. We just do what we do, that’s the bottom line. If they like us, fine, if they don’t, fu** em’! We have that side to us and can do things like that.”
I like the cover and your version of “Set Me Free” really caught my ear. I know it’s hard to do a cover song that sounds better than the original, but your version really does!
DP: “It caught a lot of peoples ear. It also gave us a real shot at doing better things.”
DP: “That “Desolation Boulevard” album (by SWEET -ed), I got that when I was real young. I just went off on “Sweet F.A.”, you know like “Set Me Free” was on that album too, we need to do “Sweet F.A.” too, you know, just to play it.”
Darren: “You really think it does sound better? That’s the second time I’ve heard that today!”
MTV picked up the video and that had to really help out, but I was just curious to why it was shot in black and white? Was this a conscious choice to “stand out”, or was it a creative decision perhaps?
DP: “It was cheap, and the way we did it was cool. It worked out good. The way it was set up was cool, with a good contrasting set and location.”
You have a new drummer with Darren here, tell us what happened with your other drummer?
DP: “You know, personal problems…how do I explain it?”
Darren: “He had his thing, but the band had theirs. His life changed.”
DP: “He wanted to stay close to his family. They were moving down to San Diego.”
So tell us, how did you hook up with Darren?
DP: “That’s due to “Clausie” (band manager -ed), he got us Darren. If it weren’t for him, we might not have found Darren that fast.”
Darren: “He was my old bands manager as well as HEATHEN‘s.”
Is your old band still together now that you left?
Darren: “No, they broke up after I left.”
DP: “I’ll never forget the phone call. Darren was saying “no problem, sure I already know all the songs”, and they were like in the background crying. I couldn’t believe it! You know, like what a dick! The other band was right in the same with him, he was like “I’m in another band right now, but I’ll leave right now.”
So tell us, are you having a lot of fun now with these guys and how is everything working out?
Darren: “Sure, their great.”
Did you do any shows in California to warm up before going on tour or did you come straight on out?
Darren: “We played a show at the Omni -it’s this big club in the San Francisco area. We’ve been touring up and down the West coast and practicing a lot.”
So what have you got planned for tonight’s show in the way of a song list?
DP: “We’ll do the whole album, plus we’ll play a song called by RAINBOW called “Kill the King”, and we’ve got a new song called “Killing Once Again”.”
How long is this our going to last…any idea since they are adding more dates?
DP: “It’s supposed to last until the end of March, then we are going to go home and start rehearsing for the new album in April. And hopefully start recordings as early as May. But we’re not really sure. But we want to get it out so we can start again in the summer.”
What’s in store for any future projects?
DP: “After this tour we’re going to start rehearsing all the new material for the new album, which is about 80% complete.”
Will the new album be released on Combat Records again and how many more albums are you contracted to them for (if you don’t mind me asking)?
DP: “Yes, it will be out on Combat. And we’re contracted for three more albums.”
You have a pretty heavy, but melodic sound on the album, tell us -is that what separates you from all the other bands out there (esp. the Bay Area)?
DP: “Yes, definitely, it’s by design. All the way from the beginning like that.”
“Yeah, we love fast shit! It get’s you going. It gets the audience violent, you know “gory”, like a friendly knife attack.” - Doug Piercy
What do you think of all the classifications in Metal these days and or where do you see yourself fitting in?
DP: “Heavy Metal. Fu** the classifications. Call it butt fu** metal, whatever you want to call it!”
So, like myself – it appears you think classifications suck too then?
DP: “Yeah, they suck!”
OK, getting back to the beginning of the band, what are some of the bands that had a major impact on you?
DP: “When I was little I got cardboard guitars because I wanted to play. In those days it was THE WHO, HENDRIX and HUMBLE PIE. I was like nine years old then. Then I discovered JUDAS PRIEST. Lee was into DEEP PURPLE.”
Lee Altus decides to wake up and chime in…
DP: “Alright, everybody, he IS into PURPLE! Lee was able to get DEEP PURPLE albums on the black market in Russia. Lee, did you ever get JUDAS PRIEST there too? Yo, Ivan, hey Boris, did you ever get PRIEST in Odessa too?”
DP: “Fu** you, you got PURPLE albums in Russia, that’s all I am saying.”
Lee: “You said I WAS into PURPLE.”
DP: “He got SWEET there too, which is cool. Solo-wise I like Schenker, Lee likes Blackmore and Sykes. I like anyone whose good. I don’t care about personality or if there a clone or a rip-off, if their good then I like them.”
DP: “Did you ever get SWEET there too?”
One of my favorite questions to ask is: some of your songs are pretty damn fast, is speed that important to you?
DP: “Yeah, we love fast shit! It get’s you going. It gets the audience violent, you know “gory”, like a friendly knife attack. We like tempo changes a lot too, the new album coming out has lots of tempo changes…lots. I mean, it’s almost to the point of being ridiculous. But it’s cool though, cause’ that’s exciting you know.”
So, to wrap things up, what direction do you see yourselves going in as far as the next album?
DP: “Less commercial, definitely less commercial -to make everybody who was “unsold” by the “Set Me Free” song. The new shit will be even heavier, we have a couple of new songs that by design are not as heavy, but it’s much more crunching and the tones are going to be much better.”
Ok, cool – I love the crunchy guitar sound…the more the better for me! I want to thank you guys for the interview and inviting me to tonight’s show. I am really looking forward to it.
One last question before your sound check: So what’s in the future for you guys?
DP: “The next album is definitely on our minds. And touring this summer as well”.
I wish you guys all the best on tour and I cannot wait to hear the new material! I am sure HEATHEN will be heading up the second big wave of Thrash Metal dominance (along with Metal Church, Flotsam & Jetsam, Overkill, Death Angel and Testament etc.) and should be a household name by time you read this!
*in order to transport you directly back to 1988 we will continue to keep the language in the posts “present tense” even though this is 2010.
Sometime after the tour bassist Mike “Yaz” Jastremski (R.I.P.) left the band and it seems the band went through several bass players and vocalists between 1988 and 1991. Then back in 1989 David Godfrey decided to leave the band due to personal and or musical differences. I think for a few months even Paul Baloff (ex-Exodus screamer R.I.P.) filled in for the vocal spot as there were some demos floating around with him.
The band also enlisted the late Metal Church and Reverend vocalist David Wayne (R.I.P.). But ultimately, in 1990 David Godfrey returned to HEATHEN, except under the name David White this time.
So it’s time for their second LP “Victim of Deception” to be released finally and the band grabbed Marc Biedermann from BLIND ILLUSION to help out on bass duties in the studio. This time around the album was released via Roadrunner Records.
“Victim of Deception” was a lot more technical and featured the bands signature odd time signatures and tempo changes. The album did well and received favorable press and reviews, but ultimately was not as successful as their début album. The band included a RAINBOW cover this time called “Kill the King” and also released the track “Prisoners of Fate” as a single, which garnered some decent rock radio airplay as well.
*Have a listen to “Prisoner of Fate”. Crank it!
*That year Heathen found a permanent bassist in Randy Laire and toured extensively until the untimely death of Laire and his girlfriend in a car accident. The band replaced him with Jason Viebrooks. Doug Piercy departed from the band in 1992 and was replaced by Ira Black. The band planned to record a covers EP dedicated to Laire and his girlfriend as well as White’s deceased brother Jeffery. But the band went on hiatus in 1992.
*In 2001, Heathen reunited with David White, Lee Altus, Ira Black, Mike Jastremski and Darren Minter, to play the Thrash of the Titans concert to help Chuck Billy and Chuck Schuldiner raise funds for Billy’s throat cancer treatment and Schuldiner’s brain cancer treatment. The concert was a huge success, but in 2004, Mike “Yaz” Jastremski left the band again, and was replaced by Ulysses Siren bassist Jon Torres. A full-length album, Recovered was released on Relentless Metal Records, consisting of re-recorded old material and cover songs. A new demo was released in August 2005, containing three new songs.
*check out the THIN LIZZY cover “The Holy War”
*In 2005, Heathen recruited Terry Lauderdale to be the second guitarist and toured across Europe. Also in 2005, Lee Altus joined Bay Area thrashers Exodus but remained on Heathen’s lineup.
*In November 2007, the band recruited Prototype guitarist Kragen Lum and Mark Hernandez to replace Minter and Piecy. In addition, drummer Darren Minter returned to the band. They released The Evolution of Chaos on King Records in Japan Dec 23, 2009, Mascot Records Europe Jan. 25, 2010 and Mascot Records USA in Feb 2010.
*Heathen played at the Rock Hard Festival in Germany 2009, and later supported Testament, Exodus, and Kreator at Thrash Domination in Kawasaki, Japan, where they were voted best band by the fans on the Thrash Domination forum. In support of Heathen’s first original album since 1991, “Evolution Of Chaos”, Heathen will tour sometime in 2010 after having to cancel their planned March dates.
*according to Wiki