Published on June 27th, 2015 | by Gareth Allen0
Broken Hope – Interview London Nambucca April 2015
Death Metal is just something you have to experience live. The pummeling guitars, blast beats and deep growled vocals are like nothing else. The absolute intensity of being in the moment with the music both emotionally and physically is an astonishing experience, and if you choose to risk it and join the mosh pit, your experience will be complete! In the mosh pit, you run, you push, and you are pushed back, as you really connect with those around you. It is completely without anger or rancor, and when you fall down you are picked up with warmth and care. The mosh pit encapsulates the intensity of connection, risk and caring that surmises the metal community at its very best.
Broken Hope from Chicago completely epitomise that feeling and ethos, as will be very evident from the review on Sonic Bandwagon’s website of their recent stunning London gig. The band was one of the early creative forces in death metal, disbanding in 2003, but then returning in 2013 with a killer album ‘Omen of Disease’. In the interim and very poignantly for the band and its fans, two of the bands founding members, Joe Ptacek and Ryan Stanek, died. Inexplicably Broken Hope had never played the UK, so their London gig this year at Nambucca was a significant and quite moving occasion for band and fans alike. It was thus a privilege for Sonic Bandwagon to interview Jeremy Wagner, founding member of the band and also a successful horror writer in his own right, prior to the band going onstage.
Drinks were offered, including vodka, to your interviewer and the very helpful Century Media Records rep Nina, our polite “no thanks”, were followed by much shared laughter.
Jeremy: Half my band is Polish, so they like vodka…both of them came into the band at different times and what is crazy is that once they started talking, they both found out that they were born and raised in Krakow, and came over to Chicago at the same time.
Member of Broken Hope road crew: Fucking American death metal. You are better with you know Polish.
Jeremy: That’s what I am saying.
Jeremy: I appreciate you making the time to do this. This is a special event for me, so it means a lot that anyone would want to make time to chit chat at the show, so thank you man.
You know, the feelings I have right now, it’s really exciting, like a dream come true. The UK has been this area that has released every album we have done, and also before our debut album, with our demos, we would get fan mail from the death metal underground in the UK. We are talking here about 1989. Then our first album comes out, then the second, and all our albums have been in the UK shops, and the UK fan base has grown and grown. Everything has been reviewed…. from the old days of Metal Forces and Thrash and Burn, through to Kerrang and Metal Hammer. But every time we toured Europe, and you could call it a UK jinx, we never hit the UK. Fans would ask why, and we would ask our booking agent why. They would always go, “you will play the UK the next time.” Always some excuse! We have been supporting our new album ‘Omen of Disease’ for 18 months and we did a bunch of UK press. Metal Hammer gave it something like 9/10, Terrorizer did stuff, and people are like why aren’t you playing here? What about Bloodstock? I always give the same response, I don’t know. This time we are headlining Europe, which is the first time out of all our tours. I told the agent I don’t want to do a damn date unless the UK is corralled! It has to be at least London. We got London, Glasgow and Plymouth, and I hate using the word jinx, but like the Glasgow show is cancelled. I have heard mixed stories, but the fans know it’s not our fault. That aside we finally got here, we landed in London. You have no idea how delighted I am. I pinch myself. I just can’t explain in words how happy I am. I have been here numerous times on vacation, I love the city and I love the UK in general. I have stayed in London and been up to the Cotswold’s. I love this country and the fans. It just means everything Broken Hope is here. We are covering songs from every album throughout our career.
I got a guy outside who is my age and he is like all shook up. He says to me he has listened to Broken Hope every day since our debut album came out. That was like 1991. I am a published author too, and my debut novel, ‘The Armageddon chord’, this fan had that. This was a bestseller in the UK. Now you would figure I would do a book tour here too! A hardcore fan like that, we hugged, and I was like dude I love you, thanks for coming. So this tour is long overdue. I will say this to your readers or whoever is checking this interview out. Imagine a band you really adore from another country, you have really been into them. There are certain bands…. like Steely Dan…they never really toured. So if you heard of Steely Dan doing a live show it would be a rare thing. We have been touring non-stop since our debut album, it’s not like we haven’t tried to come here…it’s the weirdest fluke in history; it’s almost like Spinal Tap. It’s like boom we have arrived, you have never seen us before, and we are going to deliver all this stuff. It’s probably like no sex before marriage, and on the wedding night things are going to explode. I hope that gives you an idea of how much it means.
Sonic Bandwagon: Playing at the Neurotic Deathfest sounds to have been a real highlight of the tour. What was special about that experience?
Jeremy: Well, I will tell you a number of things. Broken Hope as you may know were on a hiatus for about a decade. We came back strong in 2012, and we kicked off this North American tour with Obituary. On that tour we got signed to Century Media without even having recorded one new song. Robert Kampf, the owner of Century Media, a great guy, signed us in Hollywood on the tour. He said ‘I want to talk about Broken Hope, you came back at the right time. All the stars are aligned’. It’s true. We had offers a few years in of being gone like, ‘come play this festival, do this…’. I couldn’t get the line up together, the old line up fell apart, I tried getting that together, I tried getting part of the old line up with new guys and then we almost had the line up again, and our singer Joe Ptacek sadly committed suicide. After that I thought I am not going to do this, and then all of sudden we found this drummer, and our old bass player Shaun popped up, and we jammed twenty two songs from our catalogue, and we thought, you know what, this could work. And boom we got a solid line up and made an announcement we were officially back. I didn’t want to come back man unless it was right. When the band had fallen apart I was the last man standing. If you know like, Dave Mustaine of Megadeth or Chuck Schuldiner of Death, rest his soul, those guys are permanent fixtures in their own bands. I don’t sing but I have always written all the music for Broken Hope, and the lyrics. I named the band, though I couldn’t have done the band without Joe and Ryan, who are deceased now. I gotta say that, we were Broken Hope. When the band disintegrated I got hired hands, but it was a disaster, it wasn’t Broken Hope. Then I took a break but I didn’t mean to take a break for 10 years. I tend to digress and give you a novel, but I am getting to Neurotic Deathfest.
Sonic Bandwagon: It’s no problem.
Jeremy: When we came back to that Obituary tour. Obituary is a big influence, and ‘Slowly We Rot’ is my favourite album, and they know it. They are very close friends of mine. That tour we did in 2012 I got closer to the Obituary band members as friends than ever before. What made the Neurotic Deathfest special is a culmination of a few things. One is the 10-year hiatus I mentioned. Another is that people reached out to us. There are a lot of death metal festivals like Neurotic Deathfest that have wanted Broken Hope, but we just couldn’t do it, we were gone. In that time I was into other stuff like writing novels, and I had another band. So what also made it special was that we finally did Neurotic Deathfest, and this was the very last Neurotic Deathfest! The last three bands on were Broken Hope, Immolation and Obituary. Immolation are also very close dear friends and we did a European tour with them last year. It was one of the most fun tours. I laughed so hard. This European tour with these New York bands makes me laugh even harder. The main stage at Neurotic Deathfest was packed to the gills, and I am not meaning to at all sound arrogant, but we killed that place. It was the highlight of the tour so far.
Sonic Bandwagon: You were saying about your writing… and horror in all its forms can be a strong theme in your music, what draws you to that?
Jeremy: You know I tell people I was born with this horror seed I guess, in my mind. Since I was a youngster, and one thing when this type of question is asked of me, I bring up Stephen King, because he has been asked that his whole career. I read in an interview where he is like, people ask me why do you have a passion for horror and horror fiction, and are drawn to this scary shit and whatever. He’s like you know, it’s just a seed that’s in me. It’s like why do people like to write romance novels or westerns or any other genre, it’s something you are passionate about. If you want to write for a quick buck, sell your soul. That’s one thing. If you are really into the genre, you’re writing, and it’s because you are passionate about it. You write what you love. It’s just like me playing death metal guitar you know. I have been asked why don’t you play some other pop music, and these questions are usually asked by people that aren’t at all into what you are doing. They don’t read horror or they don’t listen to death metal, or they are like my parents or someone who just doesn’t understand. They see what’s going on, but they just don’t quite get it. Why don’t you do something that will make you more money? So it’s about the art. I love death metal; I love writing the heaviest goddamn riffs I can write that are catchy and pummeling. That’s why I really get off on writing. As a young man or teenager I was into all these heavy metal bands that influenced me and made me want to play guitar.
With writing I have always been writing, writing came before music. I was writing my own little mini short stories and I would make dramatisations or adaptations of movies I would see on TV at five and six years old. My mom was really into horror too and mysteries. I grew up in the countryside and we didn’t have cable TV or satellite TV, and we had like three channels on the TV and that was about it. I read a lot, I was in love with books as a youngster and very literate at a very young age, probably aged three. I read my first novel, which I believe was ‘Jaws’, it was a paperback, and I think that was 1976. I didn’t always understand adult themes and I would always ask my mum, what is this, and she would go never mind, usually about some sex scene. I started making up my own stories. I always had a big imagination. But I fucking loved scary shit, and my mum had this whole library full of Agatha Christie mystery paperbacks, Alfred Hitchcock paperbacks, and then tons of horror novels, and the covers always drew me and they scared me. It’s just weird how it started man and it just clicked. And I loved Halloween the season, and being dressed up and being scary. It’s just a part of me. It’s the thing I was into. There’s a reason horror movies are big business, there’s a reason action movies are big business. Same thing, I could talk about any genre, there’s a reason why, because there’s a fan base and there’s a type of individual who is into their shit. With books and with music, the things I like to read and listen too are very eclectic. I don’t listen to death metal 24/7, and I don’t read horror 24/7. I am well rounded, and I think in being open-minded and having other interests and supporting different things that trip my trigger, have helped me develop. If you want to call me an artist, whether me being an artist as a novelist or a death metal guitarist, all that shit has shaped me. I hope that answers your question.
Sonic Bandwagon: It does and it resonates because I was watching that little clip on You Tube of you playing ‘Beat it’ by Michael Jackson at a sound check, and you were having such fun.
Jeremy: That’s how we are, that’s what I love about the new line up. Everyone in the band is on the same page. We are all having a good time. I gotta tell you back in the 90s, I always wished for a line up like this. I would make comments, and have difficult band members, and I would be like I want to give you all a lobotomy and make you be like me (laughs). But I have got it now. The guys are so great.
Sonic Bandwagon: That naturally leads into my next question. I was really touched Jeremy when I read what you said about Joe and Ryan, and what their sad loss meant for you, and I get the impression with Broken Hope that it really is a band of brothers that care and look out for each other. Would that be right?
Jeremy: It is. When we came back in 2012 it was almost what I would have wanted as a dream band, but it wasn’t quite perfect. Our old bass player Shaun had returned to the band and he brought along with him our lead guitar player at the time, Chuck. They were a package deal. They had a band going on, on the side that they never left. When Broken Hope came back they came into the fold, and we were great friends, but over the past few years unfortunately things started falling apart because they just at the end ended up saying, “we don’t like death metal we basically came along for the ride”, and for this band we’ve been doing, this is what we want to do. And we had problems too. Sometimes it’s almost a control thing. I go back to Broken Hope is my baby. Diego and Matt are two new members and this is going to sound crazy for anyone in the business, but for most people if you have an established band and you bring in new members, you get royalties and a share of stuff after some time. I’ve known those guys a while, and I gave them an equal fifth.
I take care of the troops by giving them an equal share. I’m talking merchandise, the whole nine yards. They deserve it as they bust their ass. However, certain ex-members took that for granted. Just the way things ended were a sore spot for me maybe for a minute. Within a week these guys got in, and again not to sound clichéd or sound like now I have the perfect band now the ex-members have gone. It’s not like that. I really liked those guys, but they didn’t want to be a part of it. It was a blessing cause these guys are fucking awesome man, it’s like the dream team, the band of brothers you talked about. It’s weird because I have gone to hell and back around band members. It’s pretty cool dude. It’s a great time to be in Broken Hope. We are all very grateful for any opportunity we get, being in London, getting the main stage for Neurotic Deathfest, going to Indonesia. It means the world to me. We are all very grounded. We know what’s important, life is important, friendship, having a good time, being good to people.
Sonic Bandwagon: What does the future hold for Broken Hope, and will we see you back in the UK?
Jeremy: Here’s what I got to tell you. Really exciting stuff! Last August one of the most amazing concerts we have ever done in our career was at the Brutal Assault Festival in the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic is Broken Hope country. We are huge there. We played to around 25,000 people, and we had a 15-camera crew and the main stage at night. I purchased the raw video material and in July this year we are having our first ever Broken Hope live concert DVD with a bonus live album with it, all from Brutal Assault. It is badass! It’s a 45-minute set and we look like fucking Metallica up there, with the lights I mean. The director I gave it to has done all these Lamb of God live concert DVDs. He also did the Testament one that came out this last year. He’s working with Slayer now. I know the market is filled with loads of live concert DVDs, but I think in terms of death metal, I will make a bold statement, and say I think this concert DVD is going to be the most awesome, visually and sonically, that anyone has seen. It’s of epic proportions. It was perfect timing and Century Media got behind it. So that’s coming out, and we are nearly half way done writing our next full length album, so we are going to record that this year and it will probably come out 2016. As far as touring, we are coming back for a full summer tour in Europe in July, but I don’t know what’s up with the UK yet, we are still waiting. And what the fuck Bloodstock, put us on! I am sick of leaving it to booking agents as I had to practically make the booking agent bring us here, which he did. But it would be nice to be invited, we’ll see. Maybe the summer could still happen. Maybe outside of the summer dates we will come back before the year-end. You never know. We would love to play here again. I love the country. Beautiful country, beautiful people, and I am telling you I have read every comment and fan letter and everything for years from UK fans, and I know what Broken Hope means to UK fans, and that means the world to me.
Sonic Bandwagon: Thank you for the interview time, it’s really appreciated, and thank you for coming over to the UK.
Jeremy: Thank you man for coming out and having some words with me. I appreciate it big time.
There you have it, Broken Hope, one of the finest death metal bands to come out of the United States, and in Jeremy Wagner, a warm, articulate, passionate, and caring writer and musician, who it was an absolute privilege to spend time talking with.