Interview by Carina Lawrence / Dark Art Conspiracy
Havok are an American thrash metal band that formed back in 2004 and on May 1st 2020 they are releasing their fifth and new album titled ‘V’ via Century Media Records which is their most experimental release yet.
We caught up with founder, lead vocalist and guitarist David Sanchez to talk about the upcoming release, the band’s history and of course the strange and troubling times we are in now with Covid-19.
Before we talk about the new album, can we go back to the beginning…how did you come to form Havok?
I started the band when I was fifteen and with a drummer that I went to high school with, I played the guitar, we both knew a bunch of Metallica songs so we got together and jammed and played Metallica songs for fun then eventually started writing songs and that’s when I discovered that I wanted to write more songs and actually play in a real original band and not just play other bands songs. I think I wrote my first song when I was like fifteen and that song is actually on our first record. Our first record was kind of like a path for the future, we have the very first material that was ever written and stuff that was new shortly before it came out as well, so we wanted it be a representation of the very beginning to catch people up to speed if you never knew who our band was and you didn’t know what our old stuff sounded like so there was some really old stuff and newer stuff. Some of our first songs on our record you could tell that they were written early on because the guitar parts and vocals are super simple and some of the lyrics sound like they were written by a fifteen year old, because they were but the band started with me and another drummer jamming Metallica songs then starting writing our own stuff and then got joined by a guitarist and found a bass player that I also went to school with and we started playing shows and that was that, we started playing shows before we even had a bass player actually, we went through many a line-up change since then but we started touring when I was just out of high school, started playing guitar at thirteen, was playing for about a year and a half, started writing music and then a couple of years after that started touring so I have been touring since I was seventeen and that’s when we started to get our name out there a little more and signed a record deal two years after that then our first record came out when I was twenty and we have just been marching along ever since.
So how did you come up with the band name?
Havok was the name because it looks cool, it’s a good metal band name. I figured if I changed the C to a K it makes the logo symmetrical and looks cool, I sketched it up in my notebooks in high school it looked really cool and I was like well I can’t find any other big bands called Havok so I’m going to call my band this and that was that. So basically just because it looks cool. There is an old punk band called The Havoc but they spell it with a C and have the word The on it so I don’t think there is much confusion.
Moving onto the new album I read in a press release that you said: “A lot of experimentation went into the writing and recording of ‘V’, can you tell us a bit about this and what it involved? Did you actively seek to experiment more on this release?
Some of it was intentional and conscious and some of it was just by accident but there’s definitely some different flavours on this record that we have never really put in our music before but experimentation is extremely prevalent in the production side of things, we took a long time to refine the guitar tone and get the drums sounding right and really put extra time and attention to shoot on different microphones and cymbals, different drum heads, different guitars, different speakers, different amps and cabinets, like we went crazy with experimentation in making the record sound the way that it does. It was a lot of work but it was worth it for me as I learnt a lot, not only did I learn a lot but the end result of the sonic characteristics of the record paid off for that.
How happy are you with how the album turned out and how excited are you to release it on 1st May via Century Media Records?
I’m stoked on the record and how it turned out, the only thing that is unfortunate is the state of the world right now as we can’t go on tour to support the record, our first tour date was supposed to be May 1st the day the record is out but now all those plans have changed and a lot of things aren’t looking very good for touring for a long time. But one silver lining is people can actually sit down and listen to the record.
How do you think you have evolved since your last release ‘Conformicide’?
I think a big focus on this record was to make the two guitars and the bass kind of played differently and work off of each other instead of all locking into the same piece of music, so there is a lot of times of this record where all three strings instruments are playing different musical lines and I think it adds up to a really dense? Piece of music and a more interesting listen, it increases the replay value of the music because on a first listen you can’t totally absorb everything because there’s three different things happening at once on top of drums and lyrics. We expanded on the musicality, we took full advantage of the fact that we have two guitar players on this record more than any other.
Can you tell us about any particular lyrical themes that occur on the new album?
The lyrical theme that is new for the band…there’s a lot of anti-political lyrics that won’t surprise fans of the band because we have had a lot of that in the past, that’s kind of a never-ending well, there’s always an inspiration as there’s always stuff not going the way it should but for like new lyrical themes there is a big psychedelic theme of this record, there’s a lot of lyrics talking about the psychedelic experience and expansion of consciousness and the war on drugs.
You have recently just released new single “Fear Campaign”, can you tell us about the song? How has the reaction been from fans?
The reaction has been really positive, I think we have gotten a better reaction out of this song than the other ones that we have released so far. It’s more a rock ‘n’ roll song, a little more straight forward song writing wise but as far as technicality and difficulty to play I think there’s still some pretty gnarly chops on display on the guitar and drum area on that song but lyrically the chorus is “They use fear to control you” and that’s the case for us right now and probably going to be the case forever in humanity until there is a worldwide revolution. Fear is the currency of control…I knew the song was going to be relevant but I didn’t know it was going to be this relevant.
The new album was engineered, mixed, mastered by Mark Lewis (Cannibal Corpse, The Black Dahlia Murder) how was it working with him?
It was cool working with Mark, he has got a super good ear and is very particular about making things sound good and I really appreciate that and I learned a lot of things watching over his shoulder and picking his brain about certain things but it was cool that he was down to help us see the vision of the record through, instead of dismissing ideas or wanting to just trudge through it, he actually did help a lot in where we wanted to be in the end and that was really cool, especially his patience with getting tones and stuff like that, it’s not something that most producers are down to do but before we even hit record he asked me if I would be down to try all these different guitar speakers and trying them out and I’m an audio engineer so I said “Hell yeah!”. It took a lot of extra time and effort but for me it was all worth it, getting to understand what the speakers actually sound like, getting to shoot them all out and then, you know even with one guitar amp we were able to try out ten different guitar tones just from changing up the speakers and they all sounded so wildly different, it was pretty shocking to hear the difference between them and it’s not an opportunity you would usually get because we had everything mic’d up in the exact same position and same cabinet, all the controls were there the only variable was the speaker and doing an experiment like that is a lot of work and isn’t simple or quick to do, so that was really cool that Mark let me in on that experimentation and I guess it worked out for both of us because I was down to do it and a lot of bands would maybe not be down to spend the extra time, I a lot of bands wouldn’t care and just be like that sounds good let’s use it. It was multiple days of extra work but worth it for me.
The artwork for the album is amazing, how did that design come together?
We asked Eliran Kantor (Testament, Hatebreed) to do the artwork and he said yeah so I gave him a pretty detailed concept and basically left him with that and a note to say something like Caravaggio meets Salvador Dali and he crushed it, all of us are really happy with how it turned out and how brought the concept to life in a really interesting way. It definitely doesn’t look it everything else.
Given the current lockdown, have you been using this time to work on or at least think about new material for the future?
I have actually been so busy I haven’t had time to work on new material, I have been busy mixing other bands and working on Havok music videos, one of which is going to be coming out very shortly so I have had my hands full with that stuff but once things chill out a little bit and I have more free time I completely plan on writing new music and adding to the riff pile and getting ideas together for future recording. I have been just as busy as ever, all the people that are bored I’m kind of jealous.
How excited are you to eventually tour the new album and when that time comes what new songs are you looking forward to playing the most?
It’s definitely far away but I’m going to be excited to play any of it, it’s all fun to play and I think a lot of the ideas are important in today’s world and it’s always fun to go on tour and play new stuff. It will be great when things are more normal but I really hope that financially people are able to still go to shows because the entertainment industry is a luxury and if people are struggling to pay rent and put food on the table I can’t count on them to show up to concerts or buy t-shirts, nobody can so I really hope that they spring back in a big way so that artists, actors, visual artists, performers of all kinds can get back to their regular life, without that artists and travelling bands we are going to suffer for a lot longer than people anticipate.
Do you think you might do any virtual shows?
We don’t live in the same areas, we are pretty spread out, our guitar player Reece is like 2000 miles away from me so doing a Livestream is not very easy, the only option would be to like independently record stuff and do one at a time and stack them together but that’s a lot of work and it’s cool but it’s not playing together, if we are going to spend that kind of time doing musical stuff, I would rather put that time into writing new music. I wish we could do a virtual so but it’s not possible.
Back to the good days when you were touring, what was it like touring with bands like Killswitch Engage and Anthrax in the past? Have you got any particular highlights?
That tour was really fun, we played a lot of really packed shows and people were there early to see us so we had a great time and the fact it was only three bands was pretty epic being on the road with two bands that are that successful and big with really strong fan bases. Every tour has it’s positives even the worst ones, there’s definitely something to take away from it that’s good, I can’t really say anything bad about it, we had a really good time and I can’t wait to get back out there again and doing what we do best.
Anything you want to share or add, maybe some tips for the lockdown?
Yeah lockdown tips, I would say listen to the new Havok record that comes out May 1st and I would say pay attention to the lyrics and if your super bored after that, I can’t help but think of the Metallica lyric when people tell me they are bored during this time, there’s a Metallica lyric where he says: “Boredom sets into the boring mind”, we all have supercomputers in our pockets and literally an infinite well of entertainment and knowledge at our fingertips so utilise it, anything you’re interested in or want to learn about or be distracted by, you got it right in front of you so there’s plenty of things to do.
For more on Havok: