Michael Chavez of Bay Area Thrashers Hemotoxin and Cartilege talks new music and touring
Categorizing what kind of music Hemotoxin makes is harder than it would seem. Their brand of melodic death/thrash springs from a whole host of metal influences: progressive death metal (e.g. Death, Atheist), classic thrash (Megadeth, Slayer and others), and even some black metal and prog rock. Zoran Theodorovic aka Iron Serbian recently had the privilege of chatting with guitarist/vocalist Michael Chavez at an undisclosed location deep in the heart of somewhere secret.
How did you first get in to music? Who turned you onto rock/metal?
Pinpointing the exact moment is tough. I remember hearing St. Anger on the radio when it first came out, but I remember really liking Sevendust when I was 12. My friend Erik’s dad noticed and he exposed me to Slayer and Exodus so that was the gateway, I haven’t looked back since, I also have not had a real hair cut since.
How did you become a singer or guitarist and are you proficient in any other instruments?
I started with guitar, my uncles and grandpa all played guitar and I watched them play since I was a kid so I always wanted to play. I started at 11 learning the basic stuff like Black Sabbath and Zeppelin then I went off from there. The singing came when I got more into metal, I was inspired by James Hetfield and Tom Araya to wanna sing and play at the same time. I consider myself a pretty good bassist, not just inherently from guitar I do actually practice playing bass. I also played Trumpet in high school, I was getting pretty good in my senior year but I haven’t touch a trumpet since.
Were you forced to go to church as a youth, if so were you an altar boy or participate in some other ways?
Yes, I grew up in catholic family, but I didn’t have to be an altar boy, I did have to go CCD and I had to do the confession and communion, but I didn’t get confirmed. I lost my religion around 14 and thats when I started asking questions. Even today I still don’t really know how to feel about religion, I don’t believe in any god or gods, but I’m also not one to tell someone else they don’t exist.
What was the local scene in like in the beginning in the Bay Area, was there a particular band you aspired to be like, favorite local bands back then, favorite local bands now?
When I started going to shows there was a very awesome scene out in the East bay. Venues like Red House, Kazem, Color Blind, The Hazmat and Evil Dead shed were still around. I looked up to bands like Hysteria, RU36, Geryon, JBD, IT, Deadly Remains, Virulent Death, and Laceration. Today there are still just as many awesome bands but now they’re all in Oakland and SF, Necrot, Black Fucking Cancer, Rude, Ion, Augurs and the northbay bands like Trecelence, Scythe, and The Axiom Collapse. There are too many to name, but those are a few I really like.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
Right now I’m really in to solo artist like Frank Gambale, Shawn Lane and Allan Holdsworth. If you listen to any Hemotoxin you know I worship bands like Slayer, Death, Megadeth, Metallica and Black Sabbath.
How would you best describe your sound?
I would describe it right now as Progressive Death/thrash, we have evolved over time, we started as a very Teutonic thrash then we just became better musicians. So there’s an element of teutonic riffing with musical sections that can have different feels that satisfy multiple musical tastes. Over time I become more open to letting outside influence shine more on songs. I won’t be doing clean singing any time soon but I like having clean guitar sections and using jazz chords in my riffs.
How did the band meet and how long did it take to finalize this lineup? How many other musicians did you try out that didn’t make the cut? How stable is the current lineup?
When I first started Hemotoxin with Joey Banduccii who was our original drummer and we had Clayton from Apothesary on guitar for a while and from there went through two other guitar players before we found Michael Rohwer. Nathan and Brandon I had met before Hemotoxin, we were in our first band Aeon of Death together, so when Joey quit Brandon transitioned in seamlessly and same with Nathan after we let Josh (original bassist) go. We’ve had the current line up for almost 5 years, it’s been very stable no huge fights or anything. After our next album unfortunately Rohwer will be stepping down temporarily to take care of some personal issues, but details are being hammered out still.
You most recent record Biological Enslavement came out last year, how did the writing process and recording process differ from your debut album Between Forever….And The End? What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome to get it out?
The biggest difference was writing songs that were for one album, BFATE is basically a collection of old songs we had with new songs that were written over two years. Biological took a year and a half to write and the biggest obstacle for me was writing lyrics, I put it off for certain songs all the way up to when the drum recording started. My biggest regret was not taking my lyrics more seriously for those certain songs. With help from Scott Fuller who recorded the album with us, he helped me with “Not of this World” and other songs on the album, thats something I’m definitely not going to do with our next album.
How soon can we expect new Hemotoxin music. Will it be a continuation of the first album. Will it be released by Unspeakable Axe Records like Biological Enslavement . What has Unspeakable Axe Records done for you that you couldn’t do yourself?
I’m hoping early 2018 we’ll be releasing our 3rd full length. The new albums theme is still be worked out, but it will still be music about shit that pisses me off, like the old songs. Unspeakable Axe will be putting it out, they’ve been able to get us the promotion we were unable to get on our own such as being in magazines and putting our music on platforms like itunes and Spotify. Eric specifically helped us with the presentation of the band on the album, he did the layout for Biological Enslavement and even made an EPK for us, I’m very grateful for all his help.
What was the first music you bought and what have you bought more than once?
The first album I ever bought was “The Eminem Show” technically my dad bought it for me, but it was really the first time I was hyped for an album to come out. I’ve bought the same albums on multiple formats, I have a copy of Leprosy from Death on CD and cassette for example as well as a picture vinyl and cassette copy of South of Heaven from Slayer and 3 copies of Ride the Lightning on cassette.
You also play in Cartilage, you have a full length on Bandcamp and a cassette by Transylvanian Tapes. Do you own a cassette player, are cassettes silly? What does Cartilage give you that you don’t have in Hemotoxin? What can we else can we expect from Cartilage for the rest of the year tours, shows videos?
I actually do own a cassette player and a huge collection of tapes my drummer gave me, I think it’s silly to listen to a format of music thats harder to obtain and play and to be honest sounds worse than a high quality mp3 or youtube video, but I also enjoy the nostalgia and unique sound you get on a cassette tape. Cartilage gives me more freedom as a guitar player because I’m not singing the whole time, also the style of Cartilage’s music being rooted more in Grind and death metal allows me to have a little more fun and not focus so much on the neck of the guitar. Not to say playing in Hemotoxin isn’t fun, it just takes more concentration from me. Cartilage will be doing a west coast tour this July with Succumb, the flier and details are on the facebook.
Whats the biggest show you have played so far and do you still get nervous before a gig?
The last big show I played was probably Oakland Metro with Exhumed or Slaughter by the Water III with Hemotoxin. I used to get really nervous before certain shows, especially shows where we open for a band I really look up to like Destruction, Dying Fetus or Havok, you never know who is or isn’t watching and that thought used to get to me, now not so much.
In March you released a new music video for Bleak Prognosis, how do you like making videos and are they still an essential promotional tool?
Making videos is pretty fun, its just us and a cameraman in the room bashing our heads in front of a camera for a few takes. A music video is definitely essential, it gives the music new life and gives a much more clearer view into the band, song and its message. We could have timed the release of the Bleak video a lot more strategically but I think it turned out amazing.
Out of all your songs which one touches you the most when you perform it? Are there any political or social issues hidden in Hemotoxin songs ?
I’d say Bleak Prognosis or Transparent Eyes, the lyrics for those songs are very personal so when I scream out the words from those songs it gives me chills almost every time I play it, at least live for sure every time. I tried to get political at times, but I don’t really say anything specific I speak as someone looking at my peers and exposing our weakness and strengths as a generation. I don’t like to get too deep into politics, because I am so fed up with how they work in this country I’d rather be ignorant to whats going on in the news and focus more on what’s in front of me and the people I care about, wrong or not I can’t put all my energy into something I can’t really change.
What endorsements do you have and what endorsements do you still want? What gear are you currently using, amps, effects, guitars?
I have no endorsements, I have friends with guitar center discounts, but beyond that no one is sending free guitars to me house, unfortunately. Right now my set up is my Sterling JP70 with Ernie Ball Power Slinky strings, inTune picks, Monster cables, Peavy XXX through a Marshall 1960B cab, and a Boss GT8 in the Fx loop.
Bands you would love to tour with and musician or artist you would like to meet and interrogate.
I’d love to tour with any band, but the ultimate for me is Slayer, there’s no better endorsement than opening a Slayer tour and although I’m not sure that will ever happen for us it’s my ultimate goal. I really hope one day I can meet Ron Jarzombek and get some sort of guitar lesson, that man is basically god of guitar and riff writing.
Song to be played at your funeral and 3 albums to take to your grave?
I would want High Hopes from Pink Floyd to play at my funeral and to the grave I’m taking Control and Resistance by Watchtower, Rust in Peace from Megadeth and Off the Wall by Michael Jackson.
Whats your next gig?
Hemotoxin is playing Codeword in San Francisco July 9 with Apothesary and Name. After that we’re heading to Fresno August 12 for Fesno Deathfest, then hopefully sometime after that we’ll start recording. Cartilage has the tour I mentioned earlier, as well as some local shows all through out July and August including Bay Area deathfest.
Final thoughts, shout outs, dirty jokes?
Watch out for new music coming from Hemotoxin very soon, we’ll be playing new songs live hopefully by Fresno Deathfest. Come check out Cartilage on tour this July and we’ll also have some new materiel coming together soon as well. Shout to all the local bands currently killing it in whats left of the club/bar scene all over the bay area and Sac and all the bands on the Unspeakable Axe/Dark Descent records roster!! I suck at dirty jokes, but I’ll quote a classic.
“I believe that there is an equality to all humanity: We all suck.”