THIS IS HELL’S RICK JIMENEZ: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
Long Island’s This Is Hell has been plugging away since 2004, building a fanbase over four heavy albums and hundreds of live shows worldwide. Given the slew of reunions in just the past year, a hardcore band actually staying together seems an extraordinary feat, some sort of rare bird to be studied or dissected. In this interview, conducted last year just prior to the release of their latest album Black Mass, I asked founder and songwriter Rick Jimenez about the band’s more metallic sound as well as his thoughts on the nostalgic “reunion culture” of hardcore today.
How did you approach this one?
Honestly, it’s funny we approached the record the same as we usually but the end result was pretty different. Whenever we start to write a new record, it’s essentially whatever we feel like. There are some ideas floating around. Usually it’s just very general ideas. I just pick up the guitar and start to fuck around a little bit. That’s what happened but this time it came out way more metal.
What do you think contributed to that? Is that what you’ve been listening to or where your tastes have been in the last year or so?
I guess a little bit of both… When I learned how to play guitar, the first genre of music that dominated and that made me want to play music was metal. I was a metal guy first. Through metal I found punk and found hardcore. My first favorite band that I kind of went crazy about was Metallica and that’s never really left me. I was in bands and played music for years and years before I started doing hardcore. When we started This is Hell, we were very rooted in traditional hardcore. I think sometimes you go back to whatever your specific beginning is. When I got into punk and hardcore, I never stopped listening to metal or anything. I was more into hardcore for a while. We’ve always had that metal influence. With this record, it just took over. It might have been because I started listening to more metal than I had for the past couple of years again, but to some extent I don’t think that’s true because it’s not like I ever stopped listening to metal. I listened to it just as much as I listened to hardcore…
I like to think that we’ve never written anything over and over again. Every This is Hell album is pretty unique to itself. I think the last album people were like “oh you went a little more in this direction because the last album, Weight of the World, was thrashier than anything prior”. The new album is way thrashier and way more in that direction than anything we had prior.
I think it’s interesting, this new direction. You’re one of the founding members of the band and you and Travis Reilly are the sole founding members left in the group, if I’m not mistaken. How’s it been working together all these years and how has it changed or evolved with the songwriting and performing over this time?
We had the first lineup for a bunch of years. We replaced the guitar player and the bass player around the same time. Our first bass player was an extremely important part of the band. He was the one I wrote the music with and, at the time, was the main lyric guy. That was a big deal. The first lineup change seemed like the biggest deal in the entire world. The new guitar and bass player fit right in really quick. That lineup change made a really big difference in the band in the way we write music, the way we tour, and the way we perform on stage. In all actuality, it was extremely smooth which was good. We had that second lineup for a long time until we lost our second guitar player, we had to replace a drummer and then our second bass player left. After that second lineup dissolved, we were onto a third lineup. That whole thing fell apart in a few months period. We said the same thing “this is fucked up. This is going to be a completely different band”. It didn’t feel like that again. Maybe we’ve been lucky because we brought in friends. We didn’t bring in random people. “Oh shit, we need a guitar player so we’ll have this random guy play guitar”. Anyone that we replaced a member with has been a friend prior. It was someone that we felt comfortable with so that it made it easier to play with that person.
As of right now, we’re on what’s essentially a fourth lineup. We’ve kept in the tradition of sticking with people we already know; friend that we could click with. I’m kind of getting used to the fact that we had different lineups. It just seems like the nature of the band at this point. I don’t want to say that we’re used to it because it sucks. It’s like your friend going away for a while. We haven’t had many people leave the band on bad terms. I think out of all the lineup changes, there is one person that we’re not still real tight with. If anything though, I think it solidified me and Travis’ friendship and our working experience and our objective overall. It made it that much more concrete because it’s a pain in the ass even though it’s not the end of the world, it still is extremely inconvenient especially for me because every time we get a new member, I got to sit down and teach this person songs again. That sucks because it’s boring. Yeah, I’m going on a tangent here.
No, no, it’s fine. It’s good insight because you guys have been around for a while. You’re not some new jack band coming around. You have experiences.
Yeah, yeah. It kind of solidifies the desire we have to do it because it’s not like we’re doing this for the money. There is little to no money to be made through This is Hell. I know a lot of hardcore and metal bands are making tons of money but that’s not us. We make a little bit of money here and there to pay some bills. Stuff like that is cool and you want to be able to live which is nice. It’s not about that. It’s about being able to get by in real life while doing something that is not just something that we enjoy, but we have a passion and desire for. That’s something that me and Travis share and that’s why we’ve continued to do it and go through all of the lineup changes and all that stuff. The way that it’s been for quite a while is that I’m the principal songwriter. It’s not like I’ll write songs and show people and be like “hey, learn this or else”. We have a way of doing things so that we’re not derailed when someone leaves the band or if something comes up in that nature. In a lot of ways, things haven’t changed that much with the lineup changes but, of course, the dynamic is going to be a little bit different because you have different people onstage and recording the songs.
It seems to me that in hardcore, especially these days, is an obsession with bands reuniting. It’s gotten to the point where it’s almost like it should be an insult to the bands that keep going, the bands that don’t stop. I categorize This is Hell as one of those bands that’s still going, didn’t put out a record and broke up and come back 10 years later to play that record again. What’s it like for you guys being a hardcore band in this environment where there this nostalgia for older bands that put out a couple of records and come back?
There is a saying in pro wrestling that nobody ever retires. First of all, pro wrestling is built on storytelling and they’ll use someone retiring as an angle or whatever. Inside the industry, somebody is like “I’m retiring. I’m done”. They had their last match, they sit out for a couple of years and A. they miss it and B. the money is not there. “Oh I’m going to come back. I’m going to come back and do a couple of more matches, make a ton of money and retire”. That happens over and over again until someone like Ric Flair who is 60 years old is still wrestling. I think bands, especially hardcore bands; the lifespan of a hardcore band is so short. Unlike other genres of music, a hardcore band can put out a 7″ and be legendary and be around for a year and a half, break up and kids will buy their t-shirts forever and ever. 10 or 20 years later, when that person is way older look back and say “oh that was the greatest thing ever and if people are into it, I can go relive my youth and do some shows and make a fucking shitload of money doing it”. In that way, I can’t really fault someone. If someone said “hey, you can go and play little league again and make 20 grand doing it” I would be like “that’s the best idea ever”.
From that point of view, that’s fine especially for someone like me. I never got to see Youth of Today. They were broken up before I got into hardcore. They do reunion shows here and there and that gives me a chance to see a band like that.
They headlined at This is Hardcore. I didn’t see them back in the day, so it was fantastic to see them live.
I heard that their set was insane too. They were tight and sounded great and had important things to say. I was bummed that I missed it. From that point of view, I’m totally fine with it. I look at it in a positive way, which is really weird because I’ve never been an optimist my entire life. Recently some people go “what the fuck is going on?” “What do you mean?” “You sound like a fucking optimist”.
This is Hell’s Black Mass is out now on Rise Records.