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HELL: ANDY SNEAP CAME AT THE RIGHT MOMENT


« Talking with guys like this is what makes me realise how much I love my job » is what I was telling the Animal as I was re-reading this interview. How many times have I talked about those old asses (far too numerous in our musical world) who confuse « knowledge » with « intelligence »? Andy Sneap is not one of them. He can really claim to have been there in 1980 and to know more than young show-offs. Because the mass of his knowledge and his unquantifiable experience amount to much more than just a résumé. Knowledge is only respectable by the way that we use it or that we analyse it. In this way, Andy Sneap inspires respect because not only does he speak very fascinatingly and with many anecdotes (we tend to forget, or even ignore, that at the time, e-mails did not exist), but he also has a true historical analysis.

Speaking of history, Hells story is full of hope on many levels: it’s the story of a fan who fought for a band he loved to live again. The story of a producer who is still fueled by passion. The story of musicians who reached their highest instrumental level after a twenty year break. The story of a band that came at the wrong time and failed and, years later, had a second chance. The story of a producer who actually wanted to be a guitarist and who’s dream finally came true. The list goes on.

There is no excuse to miss this interview, in order to better understand or even re-live a part of rock history through the story of one band. By the end of the interview, you will also have a brief insight of what being a producer means.

Definitely enlightening.

« It’s always been in the back of my mind that it would be really cool to do this, get these songs out to the general public and get Dave Halliday recognized for the talent that he was. […] I wish Dave was here to do it himself. I’d much rather watch him up on stage going on doing this. »

Radio Metal : For how long have you been in contact with the band Hell and what kind of relationship do you have with them ?

Andy Sneap (guitar) : I knew these guys years ago. When I first started learning guitar when I was 12 years old, I was having lessons with Dave Halliday, Hell’s original singer and guitar player. I’ve really known them since then. Then when the bands split up in 87 (Dave died in 87), we all kinda run our ways. I met Tony [Speakman] and Tim [Bowler] again about 10 years ago now. We lived in the same circles, we had the same friends so we saw each others. Then, 3 and a half years ago, I met Kev again through his son being a fan of a lot of the metal bands I was producing. They kept recognizing the name on the album covers, so we got back in touch. It’s been good. Then things go as it goes for friends from years ago. It has been great getting to know each other again and working on the record after all this time. We’ve been working on the album the last 3 years. We probably spent 12 weeks in total on it, with downtime between meeting and production. That’s how it all came down.

I’ve read that you were always in the first row at their concerts in the 80s’, so was it your dream to see the band reform ?

Yeah, it was really. I was always there, the first one in the gigs, right on the middle, just to get the best spot. I’ve always heard these songs at such an amazing volume. I’ve seen the stage and appreciated the song how they should sound. People now only have all these old demos from 20 years ago. They never got to actually see the band and hear the songs with the power they should have. After the band split up, I was their guitar player and now I’m doing the production… It’s always been in the back of my mind that it would be really cool to do this, get these songs out to the general public and get Dave Halliday recognized for the talent that he was. It’s something that has been in the back of my mind for a long time. I haven’t been able to do it because we didn’t know where Kev was and we didn’t have a singer that could do the things Dave did. Slowly, all these things fell into place and allowed us just to do this now.

So playing guitar and playing live with them was a childhood dream?

I wish Dave was here to do it himself. I’d much rather watch him up on stage going on doing this. It is a childhood dream, it’s great to be in a band with a group of guys I’m such good friends with. We all get along so well, and the music’s a great fun to play actually, it’s a great challenge as a musician. It’s not the same as the Sabbat stuff that I used to play because I was on my own material and I was very familiar with it. This actually pushes me a bit more as a player. It’s not quite as scratchy and a bit more rock at times, so they’re great songs to play.

Hell split in 1987. In 24 years, is it really the first time Hell considered to reform and release an album or did it occurred to them before?

Kev [Bower] actually left the band at the end of 85. With Dave dying in 87, there was no thoughts at all of this happening. It was really me getting the guys back together again and saying “what if we just recorded some old songs for a bit of fun?”, then we started to realize the potential of this. There was no option for the guys to do anything like this before, and merely with my involvement on it. That obviously held the whole process along.

Without you, they wouldn’t have decided to reform.

They wouldn’t have even met again. So yeah, it happened thanks to me to be honest.

« I think the good thing about Kev is that he hasn’t been following the metal scene for the last 20 years. […] Back in the 70s’ and the 80s’, when you heard bands like Maiden or any metal band on the radio, you could tell who it was straight away. They all had their own identity. Bands now haven’t got that. »

In the band’s biography, it’s said that Kev and Tim had stopped playing music since 1987. How long did they need to get back to the required standards?

To begin with, we sort of pieced it together. We did two or three songs a time. They were both struggling a little bit to start off with but they both could still play. You don’t forget how to play, you just get better at it as you practice. So they came in and we did this. We followed the songs as well, just followed the songs as it sounded like. We went through it gradually, got the drums over a couple of days for three songs and Tim got warmed up into it. We paced it gradually, so the guys managed to get back in step and playing again. Kev has put a lot of time into playing and getting back on top with it. He’s actually probably playing better than he ever did back in the 80s’ now. We have some pretty solid rehearsals now for the live gigs we’ll be doing the next month. It took a little bit of time. It obviously helped having recordings of the songs as well because when you start listening to the songs and enjoying them then you have an idea on what to sound like because even if you’re not actually playing, it gets in your head. So yeah, they sound good.

Apparently, when he started to play music again, Kev felt really inspired again. Isn’t it a bit frustrating to realize that after 24 years?

I think the good thing about Kev is that he hasn’t been following the metal scene for the last 20 years. He stuck his head down in the sand and walked away from music. I think it’s what gives Hell a kind of a fresh edge now. He’s not trying to sound like anyone else. He’s not trying to be metal at times, he’s not trying to be trashy at times, he’s just doing what Hell always did. I think that’s important now that we have something that brings a bit of fresh air into metal, because I think that so many bands coming up sounds so similar. You can’t tell them apart now. Back in the 70s’ and the 80s’, when you heard bands like Maiden or any metal band on the radio, you could tell who it was straight away. They all had their own identity. Bands now haven’t got that. Kev really hasn’t listened to anything, and I think he’s done it well in a way. I think it gives us that slight edge in sounding different.

« Back in the early 80s’, it was very different for a band to try and promote themselves. There was no internet, not even fax machines back then. Even for a phone-call, you had to find a phone-booth… It was really limited to try and get labels interested. »

Do you often ask yourself what would have become of the band if they hadn’t stopped playing music for all these years?

Yeah I do, and obviously I wonder what would Dave Halliday be doing now if he hadn’t died in 87 as well. With all the changes taking place in the music industry today, would he be still able to do this now? Unfortunately, life gives some cruel blows sometimes. You know, this band didn’t get the praise that it deserved back then. They were around in a bit of a weird time. Although we get in line with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal sort of label, the band Hell came after that. They formed in 82, when the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal is kinda dying out. Things were getting more commercial, you got a lot of band that started to broke, a lot of american (American) bands getting signed by labels in the UK around 82-83. They were looking for the Def Leppard-type thing. And then trash came along around 86-87. They missed the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene by about a year and they missed the thrash scene by about a year as well. They were right between them. I think they were actually 2 or 3, 4 years ahead of their time. It’s a big shame that it didn’t work out for them back then. The cause of their rejection was just that the labels weren’t looking for a band of their style back then. The Mausoleum deal was the only one that they got and unfortunately something went wrong in the label then.

Lars Ulrich from Metallica was at the time very enthusiastic about Hell. Are you guys somehow in contact with Metallica?

No, Lars was actually into Paralex, which was Kev’s band before Hell. Metallica was actually talking about doing the “White Lightning” song on the Garage Days EP originally. I asked Lars about that years ago and he said that it just didn’t worked out. It just didn’t fit in with the Budgie song and the Killing Joke one they did for that. That’s all it was. Lars was into this New Wave Of Bristish Heavy Metal. He picked a few band he liked back then and Paralex was one of them, but I don’t think they’re actually familiar with Hell.

« It’s not a joke, you know, but we don’t take ourselves as seriously as a lot of bands take themselves. It’s entertainment in the end of the day. […] I miss that, the story-telling and imagery in heavy metal now. […] It’s like we were put into a deep freezer in 1987, and then dusted down and brought out… Yeah, and now we’re just enjoying ourselves, not realizing. »

The band biography states that « the band couldn’t have pursued its promising ascension maybe because it was too avant-garde, too different, too extreme, or above all, to musically intelligent and visionary ». That’s a very strong statement. What is the source of such confidence for the band?

Us [he laughs]! I mean if not, why producing these songs? Their songs are a lot deeper when you look at it. Back in the 80s’, there was no bands that were doing songs about Shakespeare or stuff like that and with that kind of theatrical element. People who saw them, a lot of the local scene in the UK here really got it. People outside of that, journalists and people based in London who never saw the live experience and just had recordings never got it, and they don’t remember as well. Back in the early 80s’, it was very different for a band to try and promote themselves. There was no internet, not even fax machines back then. Even for a phone-call, you had to find a phone-booth… It was really limited to try and get labels interested. You had to go and do showcases in London, it was expensive and it was a poor time in the country. For record labels and journalists to really appreciate what a band wanted to do with the theatrics on the stage, it was very difficult to go across. I think now, with the way the world got smaller, it’s a better time for that. Picking up on a different genre in the metal is easier now, it’s not as limited as it was back then. In the 80s’, people didn’t get what Hell was trying to do.

Do you think that’s still relevant today? Heavy metal is a very established style nowadays…

Yes it is. I was referring more to how it was back in the 80s’ and how people didn’t get what Hell were about. I think now, it’s the time. I think that people will get it. The metal now has got a lot more in depth and a lot more variety to it. It’s a lot more open to concepts like the ones of Hell. I was referring to the journalists that wouldn’t understand Hell in the 80s’.

Don’t you think that maybe Hell was visionary at the time, but today it can maybe sound a bit dated?

Yeah, maybe, I know what you’re saying. The time has moved forward. What we wanna do with this… We’re not really worried. It might come across as dated, but it’s also theatrical and fun as well. We wanted to just really take what the band was doing in the 80s’ and just take it a little bit further and give it of a modern approach. I mean if people like it, great, and if they don’t, I don’t give a fuck! [he laughs] We like it, we enjoy it, and that’s what matters for me. If other people like it, great. If they don’t, we’ve made the album we wanted to make.

There is a song in the album called « Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us » on this new album. Is this song a criticism of religious people that call themselves saviours of the human kind ?

I didn’t write it so I can’t really give you an in-depth reading of that. We put an intro on it with the pope and the Roman catholic thing because of the way the song can relate with the modern news now. It was written 25 years ago. It kinda fly across the boundaries of time. It’s just really referring to people who try and push their opinions on you.

The video for “On Earth As It Is In Hell” as a very kitsch aspect which recalls the imagery of the first heavy metal bands. The lyrics and the artwork also have this kitsch dimension and more: the album will be released in Friday, the 13th. Everything is in there! Is it a way for the band to tell us this album should have been released in the 80s’?

You gotta love that! Like I said, we hadn’t really thought about it. We’ve just done what we enjoy. It’s not a joke, you know, but we don’t take ourselves as seriously as a lot of bands take themselves. It’s entertainment in the end of the day. The image, the music, it’s all deadly serious, but we’re not guys that go out and burn churches and take that to that sort of extend. It’s pure entertainment. It’s good old-fashion heavy metal. In the imaginary too. Why not? I miss that, the story-telling and imagery in heavy metal now. When you look at what bands where doing in the 80s’, even like Maiden on Number Of The Beast, they weren’t taking themselves seriously, it was story telling at the end of the day. That’s where the band is coming from. I was just kinda taking what they were doing originally in the 80s’ and apply it now. If people like the music, great! If people like it and really dig what we were doing across the board, great! If they don’t like it, I don’t care. The way the metal scene’s gone now, everyone’s trying to be way to serious and way to image-conscious. Everyone tries to be tougher than everyone else. To me, it’s always entertainment. I love what Rammstein is doing, for instance. I think they’ve got it right. They’ve got this theatrical side… It’s a real show. It’s good music, it’s theatrics, and during the show, the music complements the imagery and the imagery complements the music. That’s really what we wants to do with this.

Do you picture the band as a bunch of guys living in the 80s’ who would have hibernated during 20 years and then be ready to live that era again?

Pretty much! It’s kinda like that. It’s like we were put into a deep freezer in 1987, and then dusted down and brought out… Yeah, and now we’re just enjoying ourselves, not realizing. Fortunately, we were frozen when growth happen so we totally misgrown… It’s good thing [he laughs].

« I gotta say, you’re dead right when you say I missed playing guitar. Guitar was Plan A for me, and when that didn’t work out I went to Plan B which was production. »

Apparently, this album was produced a very old-fashioned way. Was it a new exercise for you as a producer?

I’ve never been more prepared for a bunch of songs than for this album. I’ve been listening to them for 25 years and usually, when I go into studio with a band, I haven’t even heard the songs most of the time. I’ve knew what we wanted to do and I’ve knew how it should sound from the beginning. Kev as well is very creative and very musical. He had all these ideas in his head for a long time. It was actually a very easy process. Obviously we had to record the songs digitally as everything is now. We didn’t as much as cut in the pace. I got the guys to play their instruments all the way through. We went for really good time performances, because the guys are old school players and they keep playing their instruments. It would have been a shame not to try and get the identity of the players down while we recorded it. It has actually been a very fun process recording the album, because they’re very creative and we didn’t have any time constraints: we didn’t have a label saying “you need to be done the 28 of march, it’s gotta be there on this desk for this day.” We just kinda did it over 3 years and then went to the labels with it. We had time to sit back and reflect on what we’ve done, change a few bits, like if we didn’t want the vocals there we went and changed that a little bit. It was very easy. The hardest part was actually making the final mastering, waving it good bye and sending it to the labels, because we spent so long on it.

Do you think that the problem is that nowadays bands have release dates that are told by the label so they have to finish the album very quickly?

Yeah it’s the problem, I think you’re very right there. I think the problem is the way the schedules are now, the way they want bands to tour around and deliver albums at the same time… Everybody got this touring schedule now: the band gotta tour in October or in June and July in festivals, then the label wants the album 3 months in advance so they’ve got the lead in time, since they’ve got certain windows were they can release it and work with the magazines and stuff. So it’s very tough on bands now, they come of a year-long tour and they’ve got 2 months to write an album and then a month and a half to record it. It’s very difficult to them to be creative and do something fresh. They just have the time to go back to the formula they had with the previous records or to what’s current. I think that’s cause in a lot of the stagnation with bands. I think you’re very right.

Nowadays, people tend to oppose the clinical productions from today to those from 20, 30 years ago which were less precise, less loud, but more lively. What is your opinion on the evolution of nowadays productions?

I think that one thing that people don’t take enough on it isn’t quite the production but the style of playing as well. For instance with the Accept album I did, I really approached that differently. The style of playing isn’t as busy, the drums aren’t as busy for starters, the effectual proper riffing keeps changing, so as the melody within the songs… To me, when I get a more modern band produced, it’s to set the tone the way they wanna sound. You know, I know where people are coming from. It’s getting very clinical and very boring, there’s a lot of copyin’ and pastin’ going on, and bands kinda expect you to be able to twist them in the studio. I just prefer it with a little bit of looser edge as well. Like for the DevilDriver album for instance: I gave them the same sets-up and sounds as some older band, and it wouldn’t work because you can’t hear the bass-drum on these old records. The band wouldn’t like it. It’s not about the clarity that they need to process playing, there’re other things you’ve gotta think about as well. There’s so many bands now, there was 4200 metal releases last year, so obviously there’s a lot of things sounding very similar. Music production tools got smaller so a lot of people are doing things themselves on computers now, and it all sounds very similar. People are getting very right up on that sound because it’s an easy way for bands to create something very cheaply and quickly. They might not be to the level of the stuff I’m doing but for way cheaper, you can have something half-decent and do it yourself. That’s the way it’s going: I know what you’re saying and I know what people are getting at, but I also think that’s the style of playing the people are hearing as well as the production.

Most of the bands refer to producers to benefit from an external opinion on their music. If you were a musician, would you give up your producer role and ask the advice of another producer?

That’s a good question! I know what you mean. If I was working with a producer whose work I value, yes, I probably would. I wouldn’t give up 100% still. I’ll still be quite opinionated because obviously I’ve got so much experience. If the band I was in wanted to work in another direction or work with someone else and it was agreed then yeah, I probably would, and I’d probably learn something from it as well. I enjoy learning from another people so… I don’t think that situation will ever arise, but yeah, I would definitely take a step back and I’d quite enjoy the pressure to be off a little bit.

It seems that you miss playing guitar and being on stage a lot. Will this experience with Hell encourage you to play more often, or eventually to put together a new musical project?

No, we’re gonna keep going with Hell. I’ve put the Sabbat thing on ice back then, but with Hell we’re going to do a local show in the middle of May in the UK [note : this interview was conducted in April], then we’re going to do the Metal Fest shows in Europe the next week-end, then we’ve got a show in Sweden the following week-end, and a show in Donnigton at the Download festival the next week-end. We’ve got festivals in July. In fall, in September/October we’re looking at doing a full-year European tour. We’re looking at taking Hell further and getting this on the road. There’s gonna be a second album as well. We’re looking forward to this. I gotta say, you’re dead right when you say I missed playing guitar. Guitar was Plan A for me, and when that didn’t work out I went to Plan B which was production. Fortunately that puts me in a position now where I can go back and do this again. I’m gonna dedicate a bit more time to playing and actually enjoying myself and getting out and play live because that’s what I always wanted to do. That’s what I intend on doing.

As a producer, is it always the band that contacts you or can the producer introduce himself spontaneously to a band and tell them “I love what you do and I wish to produce you” ?

Yeah. A lot of the time, it’s the label that contacts me. Some labels like Century Media Records, Roadrunner or Nuclear Blast would come to me if they got something they think would fit with what I’m doing. But likewise, for the Accept album for instance, I approached them through their web designer who I knew. He told me “hey the guys are doing a new album”, so I was like “well, they’re one of my all time favourite band and I really think it’d be good to work with them.” Then after that I flew to Nashville to my expend to go and meet them, sit down and talk. It became something really good. It does work both ways. Usually though it’s the management or the label who contacts me, but other times I will get in touch with the band and meet the band somewhere, at a gig or a festival, and tell them how good I think they are, like “next time give me a shout if you’re looking for someone else to work with.” You have to socialize in the industry a little bit. It does work both ways.

But is it possible to contact you directly?

If the management contacts me, yeah. That’s usually the way. But for bands like Testament and Exodus, I’ve got such a good relationship with Gary [Holt] and Eric [Peterson] that we talk all the time, so when they have a new album coming out we just chat on the internet like “hey we need you for September next year, are you free?” and I pencil them in. I do my own management and thing.

When a band contacts you, do you reserve yourself the right to refuse?

Yeah I do. If I don’t like what they’re doing or don’t feel like I’m really relating to what they’re doing, I’ll turn to them and say “no I’m sorry guys, but you need someone who could put a little more of itself into this than me.” If I don’t like a band, there’s nothing personal. If I don’t like their music it doesn’t mean that they suck, it just means that I don’t think I’m the right guy to do it, because as a producer, you need to enjoy what you’re doing to be a good input into a project. If someone’s gonna spend 35 000 dollars on a producer, I’d rather they spend that on someone who’s gonna be a good input into the band. I’m not in this for the money. I’m in this because I enjoy heavy metal. I work with bands who I can relate to and who I was listening to for years and I feel I can put an input into the songwriting, into the sonics and bring the whole album together. That’s why I do it.

Can you update us on the state of the production and eventually the future shows you will be doing?

I’ve just finished the Arch Enemy album. That’s the last thing I’ve done. I’m gonna fly to LA on Friday: the next thing I’m gonna be doing is working with Johnny Tempest. I’m also working on some software in Sweden for a drum thing I’ve been doing. I’ve got some Testament stuff after that. I’ll be working on the next Testament some time this summer. I’m out with Hell in May/June doing festivals, and then there’s gonna be some Accept stuff layered on it. We’re looking at starting their next album, and starting songwriting for middle-late August. So really, it’s Testament and Accept albums coming up and Hell’s shows at the moment. There’s also a mix of Stone Sour I’ve been doing as well and that I’m just finishing of.

Interview conducted on April 10th, 2011 by phone.
Transcription : Chloé

Hell’s website : www.hell-metal.com
Andy Sneap’s website : www.andysneap.com



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