Broken Hope are one the greatest and also one of the most underrated death metal bands of all time. Since their earliest days in the 90s, the band have released some of the most brutal and crucial death metal ever and this continues on the Chicago bands recently released and brilliant new album Mutilated And Assimilated, one of the greatest metal albums of the year already. We had an extensive chat with founder and guitarist Jeremy Wagner to hear all about the album and its creation and lyrical topics, the influence of Slayers late, great guitar legend Jeff Hanneman on the album, Broken Hopes touring plans and much more in a fantastic interview.
Your new album Mutilated And Assimilated is out soon, how did the recording of the album go?
It went really well and this is the first time we recorded using my new recording studio back home in Chicago and the whole process is really nice because having your own studio, you’re not on the clock with someone else’s studio with engineers and everything so we had a lot of control and we also had a lot of comfort, just to leisurely hammer out our ideas as far as the recording process and arrangements. Everybody in the band puts their opinion in the hat to put them together to make the best quality album possible so this time, having our own studio gave us a lot more flexibility and time, really, to work out the ideas. I think because of that, the end result by not not rushing anything really resulted in a quality sounding album and also, our strongest material, song wise to date.
You used Jeff Hannemans guitars to write the album, did you feel that you were channeling his spirit when you were writing the album?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny you use the term “channel” because that’s a term I was just using in some other interviews recently. For example, a couple of guitars out of the collection were really suited for recording and writing and the first time I put on one of the guitars, that I used to write and record with, it’s a Hanneman guitar that you would have seen used on the God Hates Us All album by Slayer and a couple of videos like the one for the song Bloodline and also a live concert DVD that Slayer did called War At The Warfield, Jeff used that guitar primarily in that music video and in the live concert DVD. That guitar ended up being, really, like my best friend. The sound and the playability, the way it was made, it’s a very special guitar. It’s the only guitar that he had that had a reverse headstock and it also came from a short lived USA custom shop that ESP guitars tried to get off the ground back years ago. That custom shop only lasted about six months and that guitar is one of the few customs that came out of there so anyway, It played great, sounded great and when I first put it on and plugged it into an amp, I was with our drummer Mike Miczek in our rehearsal studio and our rehire ask studio, by the way, is in our recording studio at my house where we did the album, so I plugged in and we started jamming and I said, wow this sounds and plays great and all of a sudden I start writing these riffs, just off the top of my head and I ended up writing an entire song within minutes right there. I always do this disclaimer but don’t want to sound spiritual or crazy but it was like I channeled Jeff Hannemans spirit because I’m telling you man, the way that guitar sounded and the riffs were coming out of me, it was an unreal experience and the song that resulted from that was a song called The Necropants which is on our new album Mutilated And Assimilated so Gavin, when you hear The Necropants remember this story haha! I told you because that song comes from channeling something, somewhere, maybe I was just super inspired and so happy with the way it played, that’s why it came out like that, who knows but it was a special experience and that song was the first song written with Jeffs guitars and then after that, it was one song after another after another in the writing process. We wrote another couple of riffs here and there on Jeff Hannemans famous punk rock Jackson and again, when it was time to track the album, those guitars were primarily used for all the rhythm tracks and a lot of the harmonies and stuff. It was a really, really special time with those instruments and it’s really freaking cool you know and we dedicated the new album to Jeff Hanneman too, maybe Hanneman added a sinister element to the album. If he is in a better place hopefully he’s approved, either with a thumbs up or his middle finger!
How did you come to get Jeff Hannemans guitars?
It all started when Jeff Hannemans widow was gonna put a a couple of these guitars on Ebay of all places and when she did that, all the metal news sources picked up on the story with Jeff Hannemans guitars being on Ebay and I noticed it was two ESP customs that Jeff had used famously and I think a BC Rich guitar of his. I got a hold of Matt Masiandaro, who’s the president of ESP guitars because the auction was actually facilitated by Matt and ESP and they were hoping Catherine Hanneman would sell this stuff. I basically got in touch with him, I’m endorsed by ESP guitars and I’ve been an ESP guitarist, pretty much since Broken Hope formed twenty nine years ago, that’s how long I’ve been playing ESPs and Matts a good friend of mine so I just called him up and said if Jeffs widow is really serious about selling these guitars or anything else, I’ll just buy them, she doesn’t have to auction them and the reason for that, Gavin, is when people ask me about the Hanneman guitars, one thing I try to hammer home is I’m not a guitar collector, I only purchase guitars that I would play, that are aesthetically pleasing to me in terms of body shape, construction, specifications all that kind of thing so Jeff Hanneman, the guitars he played were basically built the same as all the guitars I’ve used for Broken Hope, strat style, same EMG pickups and so on so that’s one thing. The other thing is Jeff Hanneman is one of the culprits responsible for me being a extreme metal guitar player and he was also, in my opinion, a brilliant lyricist. When I was a teenager it was Hanneman who inspired me to be a sick guitarist and a sick lyricist, he influenced me as a guy who could do it all, he wrote all my favourite Slayer songs, musically and lyrically and I’ve always done that for Broken Hope, I’ve written all the lyrics and also the music so it’s always twofold. These are guitars that I would want to play, they’re definitely legendary of course and the guy was a huge, huge influence of mine so all that together, mixed in with being in the right place at the right time when it came to acquiring them, Matt from ESP introduced me to Catherine Hanneman, we began a dialogue and the next thing I know, I’m flying out to the Hanneman house and I purchased a bunch of his guitars, amplifiers and gear and a bunch of personal artifacts so I’ve got a Hanneman museum that I’ve built at my house! I just honour Jeff every day and my new mission statement in all this is to really honour and preserve Jeff Hannemans legacy the best I can. I’m in a unique position, it’s a unique thing to be happening and I just hope I’m doing him proud and I also hope that all the fans out there, Broken Hope fans, Slayer fans, guitar fans whatever really dig what I’m doing.
What’s your favourite Slayer album?
Definitely Reign In Blood, Reign In Blood for me is my favourite Slayer album and it’s probably the most influential Slayer album upon me as a metal guitar player as well and right after Reign In Blood, South Of Heaven and Seasons In The Abyss and it goes on and on, the first Slayer album I heard was Hell Awaits which I think is also a great album. You know man, Slayer is Slayer, you know when you hear them haha! It’s been few and far between where I would even say they’ve done wrong, I love the band. Reign In Blood for damn sure, Gavin, is the number one Slayer album for me from start to finish.
Yeah me too! You’re known for your horrific and vivid subject matter for your songs. What are some of the songs on the new album about? I’m particularly intrigued about Malicious Meatholes and the song you mentioned before, The Necropants.
A lot of stuff I write, either comes from true events, like stuff in the news. I’m always drawn to disturbing subject matter and horror. The subject matter on the album, some things are drawn from real life stuff. If you took The Meek Shall Inherit Shit, that’s about the global waste which is on an epic scale with pollution and all the garbage, what we’ve done to the environment and the extinction of species. I know I’m kinda treading into Napalm Death lyric matter there but I’m not really political but I’m really pissed off about the state of our natural environment in 2017 and what future generations are not going to have as far as a natural environment and not going to have as far as a diverse selection of species as so many are going to be extinct, basically it’s like shitting in our best and that’s kinda where we’re heading so that’s drawn from real life and then you’ve got something like Outback Incest Clan. You have Russian Sleep Experiment, those are based on true things as well, that are disturbing.The Necropants is actually a true thing. Those are a pair of pants that are made of human flesh and they’re on display in a museum in Iceland. That goes back to Icelandic witchcraft where they believe that the cleaning of the flesh from these human legs to make these pants that if you wear them, they supposedly bring endless wealth. That’s a crazy, crazy idea and the fact that it’s real, at least the pants are real I’m not sure about the endless wealth. That really got my interest and the title track, Mutilated And Assimilated,that comes from the movie The Thing, John Carpenters movie and I’m a big horror buff, period. All the lyrics I’ve ever written, there always an element of horror, some of it is drawn from horror movies and some of it from my own imagination. Mutilated And Assimilated is definitely my tribute to The Thing, that’s not only my favourite horror movie but it’s one of my favourite concepts for a horror movie. An alien creature crashing into Antartica a hundred thousand years ago and it’s frozen solid and thawed out in 1982 and it’s cells are still alive and when its warmed up, this thing tries to assimilate with any living creature whether it’s man or dog or whatever. You start thinking in the minds of the characters if this thing gets onto another continent, it could kill all mankind. It’s just a horrifying thing. That’s kind of a summary of where some of these ideas came from for the lyrics and what not.
You’ve done a video for the song Mutilated And Assimilated which obviously pays tribute to The Thing, was that a thrill to do that? I’ve seen the video and it’s brilliant.
Thanks a lot Gavin, I appreciate it. That was really fun to do, let me ask you a question, are you a fan of the movie The Thing?
Oh yeah, it’s one of the first horror films I ever saw.
Well there’s a gentleman who’s called Mike Ploog and he was instrumental in the production of The Thing, the original movie. He basically sketched out all the storyboards for The Thing and I actually contacted him because when we were making the video, I wanted to use his storyboards to tell the story. Unfortunately, Mike Ploog was nice. Enough to get back to me, I couldn’t believe it. He’s like the video sounds cool as hell but I don’t own of have any rights to the storyboards, those are owned by Universal Studios and I actually contacted Universal for two things, I wanted to see if I could license a clip or two from the actual movie to use in the intro to the video and also to see if I could use these storyboards of course I’m willing to license them however, oh my god, the price that they wanted just to license the clip was $10,000 a minute and the storyboards were $500 plus to use so what I did was get hold of artist Mark Rudolph who we’ve worked with before and if you know Mark Rudolph, he’s done a lot of freelance illustrations for a number of heavy metal magazines like Decibel and Metal Hammer. He’s also done a bunch of book covers and lots of other stuff, he did our album cover for our live concert DVD and live album which is called Live Disease. He’s fun to work with and he’s a huge horror fan so I got a hold of him and said “look I’d like to hire you to do the storyboards like Mike Plook did for The Thing but of course it’s you, your stamp is on it but it’s the story of The Thing told through the music and the lyrics because it’s a lyric video too for Mutilated And Assimilated. He jumped on it like yeah man lets do it and Gavin, I’ll tell you he did it for a lot less than Universal! It worked out really good man, I think we really pulled off a good video and a lot of credit goes to our director too, Tommy Jones, who’s done a bunch of videos for Slayer, Testament, Suffocation and Dark Angel and a lot of Nuclear Blast bands. We’ve worked with Tommy in the past as well and he was able to animate some of those storyboards as well and he put the whole thing together under my vision and I think, for the first video off the album, it turned out really cool you know.
My first discovery of Broken Hope was when Loathing was released, I was a teenager and I was on vacation in Florida and I read an article about the albumin Metal Maniacs where you talked about what all the songs were about.i went straight out and bought the album and it’s still one of my favourite metal albums ever. What struck me was that each song, especially from that album, High On Formaldehyde and Translucence were like mini horror films and each Broken Hope album is like that. Is that still your aim when you are writing songs?
Yeah, when I write lyrics and it’s just like when I write stories. Outside of Broken Hope, since 2010/2011, I became pretty much, almost a full time novelist. I had a novel published in 2011, called The Armageddon Chord and I’ve had a number of stories published since that and a couple of new novels written and the point of telling you all that is I’m so passionate about writing dark fiction and horror that I can do it all the time. As you know, with Broken Hope all my lyrics are horror based, in fact I try to tell a story when I write the lyrics. It’s what I would call flash fiction, flash horror fiction. It’s super condensed words as I’m working with a few minutes of music to tell the story but no matter how short a song is and whatever the length of the lyrics are, I still try from beginning to end, to tell a story and wether my source of inspiration is to write about a certain subject comes from a horror movie or a news piece or just my own imagination, when I really get something in my head that I think is really worth talking about, that really captures my interest, I start doing a bunch of research and just write every idea down. I can basically get an idea off the top of my head anywhere. I could be at a coffee shop ordering an espresso and I’ll get some twisted idea in my head out of literally nowhere, buying a box of cereal you know, brushing my teeth in the morning. I don’t know man, I’ve always said I’ve had a twisted imagination like I’m sure a lot of horror authors do and I just pull ideas out of thin air sometimes. To your point though, the subject matter, that formula hasn’t changed. It still remains horror based, disturbing and sometimes over the top. The fun thing about Broken Hope too, if you take Malicious Meatholes, those lyrics, I would never write a novel or a short story that is so over the top as those lyrics are, so graphically explicit but that’s the beauty of Broken Hope. I can unleash my inner horror freak, if you will haha. I just write crazy shit sometimes. It’s fun man, I just enjoy it you know. There’s people who write soft rock songs and romance novels and there’s people like me who write death metal riffs and horror lyrics. That’s all about the art, what I’m passionate about.
Which Broken Hope song are you most proud of writing?
Are you talking about one song over the span of all our albums or off the new album?
On the new album and overall really.
I would say, one song that I guess has always been very, very special to me that I wrote is a song that we have never, buddy I’m talking since 1990, never not played in a live set at any show, on any tour, at any festival. The song off our first album, The Gorehog, that song we always play. There’s always been something special about that song man and that one just brings me a lot of joy to this day. Just to play it live bro, I love that song. Every album had a special tune for me, Swamped In Gore has The Gorehog, Bowels Of Repugnance, I really like song The Dead Half which opens the album and then the last song that closes the album, Felching Vampires, I really like that song. If you go to Repulsive Conception, our third album,I love playing the song Dilation And Extraction and then on Loathing, I love Siamese Screams, He Was Raped, I Am God and The Cloning. Those songs are my favourites. The song Chemically Castrated on Grotesque Blessings, our fifth album,that’s probably my favourite off there. Omen Of Disease just has a ton of songs I like, Womb Of Horrors, I think that’s probably up there as my favourite track off there. This is probably going to sound super biased but Mutilated And Assimilated, dude I can’t stop listening to the album! I usually can’t say that about every Broken Hope album haha. There’s something about this new album that really just has me in love with it, if you will. It’s hard to say which song are my favourites. Right now, I’m in love with the whole damn thing!
On the bonus song on the new album, you revisit your first album Swamped In Gore with a redone version of The Gorehog. How did you approach reworking your early material with the bands new lineup in 2017 and what did you bring to the song this time around?
Well this kind of goes back to when I said we played The Gorehog at every concert, we also play Swamped In Gore, typically,at every single show we’ve ever done and we do live is, we play Swamped In Gore onstage and when we get to the bridge if that we hit an open chord and hold it open and there’s some feedback and we have a little moment of suspense and then Damian announces The Gorehog and we go right into that one. Last year was the twenty fifth anniversary of the release of Swamped In Gore and we originally recorded the bonus track that we called Swamped In Gorehog and we recorded it like we were playing it live. The only thing is, it’s a rerecording and we have the new band members on it but the whole thing was meant to be last year to be realised as a single as a tribute and a salute to the twenty fifth anniversary of our debut album and it didn’t come out as a single, that didn’t happen. We got caught up with some other work and some writing in the studio and that got put to the side so when we were doing the Mutilated And Assimilated recording sessions, we decided to put that on the album as a bonus track as a twenty fifth anniversary tribute, that’s why we did it. It’s twenty five years, a very special anniversary, it’s our first album, were still here, we’re releasing our seventh studio album in 2017 and let’s tie it in together and do something special. To that end, I could tell you we won’t rerecording any other Broken Hope songs. That was just a special deal and I just hope everybody digs it. It’s also, Gavin, one other thing in doing that is we always like to remember where we came from. We always have one foot in the underground and we, especially me, I’ll never forget what it was like to get a record deal and put out our first album Swamped In Gore. Everything was catapulted from that first album so that’s just one of those things for me about integrity. Maybe I’m sentimental haha!
What are your main memories of that time, when Broken Hope were first starting out?
I remember, when we were doing demos, before we even got signed, I was tape trading and sending my demo tapes to every corner of the globe, to every underground fanzine to get reviewed. Sometimes the fanzines liked the demo and would want to interview me and do interviews by mail. We got a really cool following from those fanzine reviews and interviews and people would order our demo from all over the world and help make our name. I used to shop our demo around and we got so many rejections from record labels. As a young man of nineteen, twenty years old, I really had to learn that rejection is a part of life and you need to persevere and I never stopped, I learned that pretty quickly and you’ve just got to keep hammering people and that’s what I did. When we got our first record deal, the only thing I could dream of at the time, it sounds so simple a thing to get me so excited but it really was a big deal, was I just wanted to hold in my hand a compact disc of a Broken Hope album, to me that was I’d made it, I’d won the lottery dude! I can’t wait for the day I’ve got our CD of Broken Hope in my hand and sure enough, I got a CD in my hand and what was cool was that all the work I’d done in underground tape trading and making a name for Broken Hope paid off. This is like 1991 and we sold ten thousand copies of the album in the first five or six months and it went to a second pressing. It really helped kickstart Broken Hope in a really, really good way and then from there, the album came out and we started getting offers to perform in different countries and different states. Outside of Illinois where we’re from, I think we’d only played Wisconsin which is just north of us and next thing I know, we’re playing all over the U.S, we went to Canada for the first time and other places. It was really exciting, all my teenage dreams were coming true and I was just so excited. The thing about me now, all these years later, I’m forty six years old now, forty seven in a few months and I’ve still got that excited, hungry teenager inside me. That teenagers what drives me to still be in love with Broken Hope, still in love with my guitar and passionate about death metal and I think that’s a good thing. I’m not like some jaded, tired old fucker if you know what I mean!I love this,I love what I write and I’m so excited about Mutilated And Assimilated and I can’t wait for everyone to hear the album. Right now, I feel like it’s Broken Hopes finest hour, it’s something I don’t take for granted, that’s just me, it’s how I roll!
You played in the UK and Europe a few years ago for the first time, how did that go and have you got any plans to come back in support of the new album?
When we played in the UK, it was fantastic. For whatever reason we never made it over there. I mean, if you look back on our back catalogue, we’ve always had amazing record labels and distribution in the UK, whether it was Metal Blade or the legendary Music For Nations, they put out Broken Hope albums and Century Media.its weird man, I can’t explain why we had never hit the UK seeing as we’d played everywhere else. That said, when we played London for example, it wasn’t the biggest club in the world, but man, it was packed to the gills and we met do many fans that had all the UK versions of our albums and we were signing every album we had man. It was totally cool as hell and we got more UK press from our live show. It was just a really great experience. Right now there’s talk of doing some dates over there maybe in September and the agent that’s putting it together, I asked him are you going to be looking at the UK because we really need to get back there and especially with the new album and the agent said yeah, he’s been talking to promoters in the UK so right now it’s all talk and we’re waiting to finalise the package and all that stuff but if everything works out bro, we’ll hopefully be back in the UK sooner than later, that’s what I’m hoping.
Hopefully this year, I missed you last the and would love to see the band live!
Definitely, I would love to have you out at the show that’s for sure. I’m looking at my stepson, he has a grindcore band called Gloryhole Guillotine. They have a Facebook page and I think they might have one song posted and they’re doing an EP soon and we’re going to bring them out. The package is looking like it’s going to be about four bands or so and we’re bringing them over so if you like grindcore, you’re gonna dig those guys. I hope we make it to your neck of the woods and you can make it to the show.
What about your other touring plans for the rest of the year, have you got US dates coming up first?
Well I’m happy people always hit us up and we always get offers for stuff but nothing concrete yet. There’s South America, that’s going to happen for us at some point, maybe some dates here and there in the US. We’re doing a record release concert in Los Angeles, the same week the album comes out, we haven’t played LA since 2013 I think so that’ll be good to go back to. Nowadays with Broken Hope, for one the US market, it’s such a big country and the market for death metal is not always that great, you’ve got to have a really strong package to make it worth your while. What we tend to like to do is to prefer to do a fly date, so we have a promoter, wether it’s in LA or New York, Miami or Seattle, Texas, anywhere in the country, fly us out we play on a Saturday, boom we do that, we fly home. We’ve hit a major market, the shows do great and you don’t have to be on tour in the United States for six weeks or something so we kind of pick and choose our own battles now. Europe though, when you tour Europe, you can knock out, just in a couple of weeks, so many amazing cities across so many great countries and have a really successful tour, that makes it worth your while. We’re just sifting through offers and trying to do things make sense.
Will you be playing much new material when you hit the road?
Yeah, it’s funny you bring that up, I had that conversation today with our drummer. I’m out of town right now do we haven’t had a band practice for our upcoming shows yet so we’re going over the setlist and we’re going to tray and weave in three to four brand new songs for damn sure. Some of the tracks we’re talking about doing are the title track Mutilated And Assimilated, The Carrion Eaters, The Necropants and maybe one other song and then we’re also trying to pull out other songs we’ve not done since the 90s. This is just talk right now, I want to see it happen but I don’t want to give anyone the impression what our setlist will be yet haha but I will share with you this, there’s an old song, Bag Of Parts which is on Swamped In Gore and the song Hobo Stew that’s on Bowels Of Repugnance, we haven’t gone that in a while. You talk about the Loathing album, there’s a song The Cloning, I don’t think we’ve played since the 90s when Joe Ptacek and Ryan Stanek were alive and doing the Loathing tour. I think maybe the last time we did it was 1999 so we’d definitely like to bring that song back and give fans something new in our set, after all these years bring some songs that people haven’t heard live in ages. There’s one or two songs maybe off Grotesque Blessings like Chemically Castrated, definitely want to do that one. We want to mix things up a but and make a nice, diverse set and a killer Broken Hope live show.
That’s been brilliant Jeremy, thanks so much. Have you got any final words for all your fans in the UK?
Yeah man, I always like to thank every fan, everywhere for always believing in Broken Hope and for the love and support and especially to the UK fans. We’ve had UK fans ever since those demo trading days. The UK has always been a death metal Mecca of sorts. Even UK bands like Paradise Lost, I remember back in the demo days, Nick Holmes and I were pen pals and I absolutely love that man. Paradise Lost was actually one of Joe Ptaceks favourite bands, we both loved them so let me say this to the UK in general, some of my biggest influences as an extreme metal guitarist are from the UK, I’m talking Napalm Death, Carcass, Bolt Thrower, great bands. I’m telling you man, the UK scene has always been great but UK fans are among the best and I sincerely hope we return to the UK no it’d be nice to do a more extensive UK tour where we hit some more cities and whatnot so to the UK fans I just want to say I love you all, the band loved you and Broken Hope would live to return to your countries and play some shoes for you guys and thank you very Gavin for the interview.
Thank you very much Jeremy, it’s been our pleasure and hope to see you soon and loving the new album.
Thats music to my ears bro, so glad you’re digging it.