Like all bands, the up-and-coming Hellevate endured several fluctuating lineups and styles for several years. The band came together in late 2009 with drummer RJ “The Machine Gun,” Whitmer (brother of Danöwar), and Zack “The Ripper,” Burke on bass guitar. Current vocalist Drew “Blood” Lufkin and guitarist Josh “The Boss” Cole joined the band in early 2013.
How did you first get in to music? Who turned you onto rock/metal?
My parents were always big into rock, so I was raised my whole life around it. My mom was a big hair metal fan, bands like Ratt, Poison, Great White, Whitesnake, and classic rock bands like Cheap Trick, Foreigner, and Styx. It was only a matter of time before I crossed to the other side of metal, and sometime in middle school I got into bands like Metallica, the rest of the Big 4, Priest, Death, etc.
How did you become a guitarist and are you proficient in any other instruments ?
My dad one day in middle school asked if I wanted to play the guitar, bought me one, and it was basically it from there. A few years later I got into thrash and decided that was the primary genre I wanted to play on the guitar. I also play a bit of bass, nothing too special, and I’ve been looking into picking up drums, which is something I’ve enjoyed for a long time.
What was the local scene in Kansas like in the beginning, 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, I think the scene was a lot smaller. I’d primarily go to shows for bigger touring bands, and we’d see local groups open. One of the first I saw was a local KC band called Vanlade, who are a speed/power group and are incredible. My personal favorites are Vanlade, the thrash groups Bleed the Victim and Meatshank, Moonsick, and the Bigfoot death metallers Troglodyte.
Has there been times when drugs and alcohol were beneficial to the band.
They rarely aren’t.
How would you best describe your sound?
Hellevate is a bit hard to pin down, but we’re power/thrash, or speed/thrash, something like that. Thrash that really likes being melodic and having catchy choruses. Sort of in the vein of Heathen or Forbidden, but a bit power-metally. Drew really helps, being able to sing clean as well as do that thrash bark that everyone loves.
Is doing pre-sales the same thing as pay to play?
They can be. If selling is a requirement to play, then there isn’t a lot of difference as far as I’m concerned. We really don’t enjoy doing it, it’s a massive pain and the way people like buying turns it into a logistical nightmare, trying to coordinate with all of these people to get them tickets before the show.
What was the first music you bought and what have you bought more than once?
Probably Metallica’s Master of Puppets, which I’m pretty sure I’ve bought twice. When I first discovered them and thrash, I’m pretty sure I spun the entirety of their 80’s output every single day.
DIY forever or signing with a label at first opportunity?
We aren’t too worried about getting on a label, though we aren’t against the idea. If a good offer comes along we’ll take it, but we’re just now getting the hang of doing this on our own.
Whats the biggest show you have played so far and do you still get nervous before a gig?
For me, and I think for Hellevate as a whole, it was when we opened for Danzig. Probably the biggest name as well as biggest venue we’ve played for. That was a personal favorite for me, I love playing big stages because we really get to spread out and give a good performance. I don’t really, and to be honest I never have. I just get pumped up and ready to rage.
Is commercial rock radio dead?
Maybe in some places, but it definitely is not in KC. They don’t really pay much attention to local artists here, especially not metal bands, but they have a lot of sway in what is popular in the city. It’s actually pretty scary, because a band that’s playing massive venues here one year is playing dumps that we won’t even go to another year, because the rock stations stopped playing them. Kind of makes me happy that we aren’t a part of it.
Favorite songs on the latest album and why?
Street Reaper, The First Flame, and Memories of Battle and Death. They all encapsulate what we try to accomplish. Ear-catching riffs, neck-destroying thrash and incredible melody. Street Reaper is like a whirlwind of energy, and First Flame as well as Memories are real crowd pleasers, headbanging always ensues.
Out of all your songs which one touches you the most when you perform it?
Probably The First Flame or Regicide. First Flame, because like I said, it’s massively heavy and it creates a unique energy in the room that I love. Regicide is so gut-punchingly heavy and epic that I always feel great playing it, though we haven’t had it in the set for a little while now.
Are there any political or social issues hidden in Hellevate songs ?
A lot, Drew loves stuff like that. Kill Confirmed, from the 2014 EP, is about drone warfare, Street Reaper is about South American death squads, Hall Pass to Hell is about school shootings, Switchblade is about African child soldiers, and I’m sure there’s more I’m not mentioning. In my opinion, thrash is at it’s best when it’s discussing social or political issues, it really helps get you right pissed off.
What was the process of putting the songs in order.
We spent a year or so writing, before coming up with the songs we really liked to use on the album. Some were done collaboratively, some were written by a single member and brought to the band to learn. After that, the actual process of arranging the songs. It sucked, and it’s one of my least favorite parts of making an album. We all came up with an order, and then argued about it until we gave up and decided to it together, coming up with the one on the album.
What endorsements do you have and what endorsements do you still want?
None at the moment. Personally, I’d love to get one from ESP and ENGL, as I love their products and they’re really all I ever use. Also D’Addario and probably Dunlop. D’Addario’s strings are great, and I religiously use Dunlop Ultex Sharps. You can also never have too many strings and picks.
Bands you would love to tour with and musician or artist you would like to meet and interrogate.
Hellevate would love to tour with the mighty ManOwaR, who could probably be described as the band’s all time favorite. Personally, I’d love to tour with either Blind Guardian or Exodus, as they’re my two favorite bands. I’d love to sit and talk to Andre from Blind Guardian about song-writing, because he’s a huge influence on me in terms of expanding my song-writing. I’d love to sit and talk with Alex Skolnick of Testament about guitar-playing. Lastly, I’d like to sit with Lee and Gary from Exodus and talk about guitar tone and songwriting. I’ve done this a few times with Lee already when we’ve opened for Exodus, but I’ve always got more questions.
Song to be played at your funeral and 3 albums to take to your grave?
Probably stuff from Hellevate as well as my other band, Ealo. Probably also Metal Command by Exodus, The Bard’s Song by Blind Guardian, Run Riot by Def Leppard, and The Thin Line by Queensryche. Just songs I really love. Albums would be Tempo of the Damned by Exodus, Imaginations From the Other Side by Blind Guardian, and Operation: Mindcrime by Queensryche, three of my favorite albums and ones that are the most important to me.
Final thoughts, shout outs, dirty jokes?
If you’re a fan of Bay Area thrash, German speed metal, and/or USPM, check Hellevate out, cause I’m sure you can find something you’ll like. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, Bandcamp, as well as at hellevate.com. Check us out next year if we’re playing near you, because we’re gonna have a new album. Hail Satan, tip your bartender, and most importantly, stay heavy!