Jesse then moved to Texas and Craig moved to the bassist position, the band cut all ties with Wild Rags Records in September of 1992 after bogus sales figures were found to be reported and after having problems finding a suitable replacement for Joe over the next year, Craig lost interest and you wete left alone, can you sum up this period?
In summary, it sucked! It was just a time when I joined another band and didn’t really care about HELLWITCH too much.
Why did happen so often line up changes within the band?
People had no job, or no money, or drug problems, or no car, or felt they should guide the musical direction. Many reasons, really.
In early 1994 you found drummer Joel Suarez and the „Anthropophagi” demo was soon recorded with you playing all instruments except for drums, how did that happen?
Joel and I practiced together and went thru a few bassists and none worked out. Finally, I decided we should just record and not worry about finding members.
How did you find Joel exactly?
He called me out of the blue.
Could he replace Joe perfectly?
NO way, Joe is a one of a kind kook/god drummer!
In November of 1994 the „Anthropophagi” demo was released, it contains five songs including „At Rest”, „Days of Nemesis”, „Torture Chamber” and a reworked, non-instrumental version of the classic ’86 demo track, „Fate At Pain’s End”, in what kind of mood were the songs written?
Many different moods as they were all written in different times, different years even!
Did you write them alone?
Some yes, some no.
How was that demo recorded at all? Can you give us details regarding that demo?
It was done in a warehouse on a cassette 8-track recorder with Dennis Munoz (ex-Solstice, ex-Demolition Hammer) producing/engineering. It took about 2 months to record. Joel quit to join a rap/metal band before the project was even finished!
It has sold around 1500 copies to date, did you also shiop it around to attract labels interests?
Yes, thats how we signed with N.E.P. in ’96!
How did you view the metal scene at this point? Would you say that the various forms of metal (death, thrash/speed, power, traditional etc.) went out of fashion and the crap grunge and nu metal swamped the scene?
I wasn’t really much into the „scene” at that time, so I’m not sure. I didn’t go to shows, buy magazines, etc. I just listened to music at home and that was it.
Was metal completely dead or was it rather on an underground level?
I have no idea.
Both the independent and major label were mainly focusing on signing grunge/pop punk and nu metal bands and they didn’t take no notice of the metal bands (scene) or at least, they didn’t want taking notice of the metal bands, such as Roadrunner, what’s your opinion about it?
Thats a shame, really. But, in the end, bigger labels are all about $$$, thats all!
Around the time of the „Anthropophagi”, J.P. Brown joined as second guitarist and Craig Shattuck also rejoined, but in early 1995 Joel decided he was sick of death metal and wanted to join a rap band, what’s your comment on this?
Joel was a poser....
After many months of looking, Gabe Lewandowski (ex-Killing Addiction, Naphobia) was recruited as drummer were you familiar with these bands?
I’ve heard the names.
Did Gabe come also from a technical death/thrash surround or was he rather a brutal death metal drummer?
He was a technical drummer of the death/thrash variety.
The members worked profusely on new material that would secure them a new record deal, did you write a lot of original at this point?
Not really, just a few.
In late 1996 Hellwitch signed with Nazgul's Eyrie Productions (Germany) for the release of the next album, how did you get in touch with them? Does it mean, that no US labels showed an interest in the band?
They contacted us. Yes, no US labels showed any interest.
Due to the distance between Gabe and the rest of the band an enormous strain was put on the relationship, does it mean that you coudn’t often rehearse and the distance hindered the work of the band?
Some of the newest songs were „Final Approach”, „Epitome of Disgrace”, and „Mythologicalies (Enlightened Paganus)”, did the other guys also have a big hand in the songwriting?
Yes, they did.
Rehearsal versions of the newest songs were recorded but were never properly captured in a studio setting, how did it happen? Why didn’t or couldn’t enter the studio to record the new material?
We didn’t enter a studio to record them. Gabe was a big pain in our ass, so we just gave up on planning to record with him. He was hated by us at practice, so we knew that we’d kill him in the studio.
After a year of writing/rehearsing and numerous delays concerning the new recording, things reached a point where no one was really happy and the band split again in 1997, correct?
The band only split ONCE, in ’97. No split occurred before then.
On Halloween 1998 the last line up reformed and played a show with Deicide and Acheron in Hallandale, FL., how about this show as a whole?
It was a good show. Deicide was GODLY back then and Acheron had that bald god guitarist and a female keyboardist too!!
The band remained split from then until early 2004, what have all of you done during this period? Did you remain in touch with each other by the way?
I took it EZ. You’ll have to ask Craig and JP what they did. Somewhat.
Did you never loose your interest and eagerness as for Hellwitch? Do you consider or have you Hellwitch ever considered as your own baby, that you never give up?
Yes, I did/have lost interest in HELLWITCH. I used to, but now I like working with Craig and JP more than when I wrote alone.
December 13th 2001 is/was a sad day in the history of metal…He was considered as the godfather of death metal, how would you describe him as person?
He was a cool dude who liked horror, gore, metal and having a good time.
How often did you meet Chuck? Was Chuck the person, who made the biggest impression on you?
I met Chuck 2-3 times and he stayed at my home once for a couple days. He performed live with us on 10/25/86 too. No, others have made more of an impression on me than Chuck.
What about the „Final Approach” compilation, that was released in 2003 by Progressive Arts Music? How deeply were involved into the making of that material?
I played guitar/vocals on all the songs so I was very involved with that material.
In your opinion, was it a good stuff to draw the fans attention to the band again? Did it help getting perhaps new Hellwitch fans?
That was the plan, but it didn’t sell too well. I don’t think it attracted any new fans.
Around February 2004 Joe „Witch” and you reestablished contact and began to practice the old songs just for fun whenever either had some free time, but soon, things became more serious and around April 2004 Craig Shattuck was asked to rejoin on bass, tell us more please about it!
It was a blast playing with joe in his garage again. First we only played 3-4 old songs, then we added more, then we decided to move ahead and called Craig and then J.P.
I think so, that Joe didn’t forgot to drum so incredible, did he?
He didn’t forget, but he needed to rebuild his „chops” initially.
The band played their first show in 6 years on July 24th, 2004 in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. with Malevolent Creation and Divine Empire, how did you feel staying on stage again and performing the Hellwitch classics? How did the setlist look like?
I was nervous/uncomfortable. I don’t recall, but it was mostly Syzygial songs.
Around September 2004 , J.P. Brown rejoined as 2nd guitarist and in hat month the band also played again with Deicide, did these shows lead to the band’s reunion? Did all of the bandmembers take the reunion seriously?
No, the reunion lead to the shows. Yes, we were all serious.
How was that Deicide show?
It was great. Good turnout, good time. Sold a lot of merchandise! I met/hung out with Glen’s son who was 14 then! Wow! Very polite kid.
In 2005 Hellwitch began working on the „Epitome of Disgrace” demo, the new recording consisted of the tracks, „Final Approach”, „Epitome Of Disgrace”, „Opiatic Luminance” and „Mythologicalies (Enlightened Paganus)”, all of the were brandnew songs, weren’t they?
They were all from ’96-’97.
Can you tell us more about the demo?
It was NOT a demo. It was a promotional CD solely to shop to labels. It was recorded at Mercury Studios with Gus Rios (M. Creation/Sickness/Kult Ov Azazel) engineering.
This new demo landed them a deal with Dave Rotten and Xtreem Records in Spain, but did you send this demo to other labels as well? Would you say, that it was an impessive material, that convinced the label of signing the band and resulted in a contract with them?
Yes, we shopped to about 20 labels. Yes, the songs kicked ass and Dave had the brains/taste to realize they were uphill from anything HELLWITCH had done before!
Shortly thereafter, Hellwitch worked a deal with Open Grave records to re-release their first full length album „Syzgial Miscreancy”, but Open Grave never released it, so that opened the door for Displeased Records to re-release this masterpiece, what happened exactly?
Open Grave IS A TOTAL RIP OFF! Beware! We were VERY lucky that James Mattern from Open Grave never honored the contract we had with him or we would have lost $$ again! A few months after O.G. stopped replying to our phone calls/emails, we were contacted by Displeased to do the release.
Whose idea was to add the demo materials to the disc?
Displeased re-released a lot of cool old school materials, such as Atrophy, Master, Deathrow, Toxik etc. how did you view that re-issues? Did you hope, that Displeased will do a good job with the re-release of „Syzygial…”, considering the layout, booklet and stuff?
They were great! Yes, I hoped they would do a good job on ours as well. They DID! Haha!
Before you started working on your comeback album „Omnipotent Convocation” a split release with Storming Steel came out titled „The Twin Bestial Forces”, what have we to know about it? In my opinion, Storming Steel’s material is boring…
It was just an avenue to spread our name around. Yes, S.S. is not that intriguing, but they DO have a song called, „HELLWITCH POSSESSED”, so thats cool!
During that year the band finally entered into Studio 13 to record the long awaited „Omnipotent Convocation” with Jeremy Staska at the helm, can you tell us more about the recording sessions? How did it go at all?
Jeremy is a legend having worked with such bands as Poison The Well, Divine Empire, Malevolent Creation and over 100 others! We were sooo high hangin’ out with Jeremy that we couldn’t even play most of the time… a recipe for a classic HELLWITCH album! Joe Witch floated off his drum seat and flew away one night! He never came back! As for changes from the old days. I think we’ve come up with music that “flows” a bit better now as opposed to the off-the-wall type stuff I was writing in the ‘80’s. Also, we are healthier, wealthier and more physically exuberant these days! That has helped. With the advent of ProToolsHD, recording is much more efficient than anytime before. I really love recording with digital programs. All the mistakes magically go away! Wha-La!
Were all of the songs ready when you started recording them or did you still jam a little bit in the studio?
They were all ready to record.
Were you prepared to record the material?
Yes. We had rehearsed a lot by the studio sessions.
It took from August 08 to May of 2009 to complete work on this masterpiece, what did cause this long process? Why did take so long to record the material?
Because we’re perfectionists.
During the recording of this album Joe „Witch” Schnessel found Jesus and started walking the straight and narrow path, what’s your opinion about it? Do you think, that Joe denied his past?
Straight and narrow path?? Ha! Thats funny! He smokes weed and takes pills even when he found JESUS! I think it was just another of his kooky phases that he goes thru from time to time. No, he realizes his past.
Is it true, that just following Joe’s rebirth he demanded that you alter the lyrics in „Infernal Death” from, „we praise Satan” to “we hate Satan” and after the entire band vetoed that idea Joe said he could not have anymore to do with Hellwitch because of our new found love for the Dark Lord? It sounds so laughable.
Yes, it’s true! Joe has gone thru other kooky phases in the 20 years I’ve known him, so it doesn’t really surprise me too much.
Lee Harrison founder/drummer of death metal legends MONSTROSITY, has agreed to fulfill all future recordings and engagements with HELLWITCH, does it mean, that Joe’s drumparts hasn’t been recorded yet? Were all of the drumparts played by Lee?
The O.C. album was recorded with Joe and Lee was recruited just 5 months ago.
Was he your first choice as for Joe’s replacement or…?
We thought about finding a drummer locally, but agreed Lee was a better choice as he had already been in HELLWITCH in ’88.
I read, that Alex Marquez also drummed in the band, at which point was he the member of the band?
Never, it was just talk.
„Omnipotent Convocation” is the glorious comeback of the insane thrash/death metal, there aren’t radical changes compared to „Syzigial…”, you didn’t became neither downtuned nor modern, but followed the path of the first record, is that correct?
I don’t know. It is what the listener feels. I do agree that there are less radical changes. It flows much better than any previous material.
As I told you, the #3 release on my the top 20 albums of 2009…
I’m honored! WE’re honored! Thanks Leslie!
What do you think about, that what’s even more important is that the songs sound more like songs, the production is thicker and deeper and that HELLWITCH still sounds like Hellwitch and nobody else? It succeeded in keeping your own sound, right?
Oh fuck yea, it’s HELLWITCH 2009 all the way! I STILL stick to the firm belief of HELLWITCH SOUNDS LIKE NO OTHER!
„Omnipotent Convocation” finds the band at full force and claiming their rightful place as one of the originators of progressive/technical death/thrash craziness, how do you view this?
Yes, it covers all the musical bases pretty thoroughly I think. Not enough acoustic guitar passages, but still great songs. Again, HELLWITCH does NOT SOUND LIKE ANY OTHER BAND!
Does the record have a crispy tone of it that demonstrates well the constant flurries of guitars and there is no denying that HELLWITCH can be trusted to deliver the goods with a maximum effect?
Oh yea, the new CD has great production, great mix and great instrument tones! The production is SUPER heavy but you can in fact hear EVERY INSTRUMENT individually, right?
Who came up with the DEATH cover? Was it meant to be as a tribute to Chuck?
We’ve been doing that Death cover since ’86! It was my idea in ’86 to play this song.
No, it was not meant as a tribute to Chuck, it was just one of our favorite songs of all time!
Was the song originally recorded in this form? Why did Chuck alter the lyrics later on?
Yes, we perform the ’85 demo version of this song. Chuck changed the lyrics in ’86 because he didn’t like Satanic lyrics anymore then. Kam acutally wrote the lyrics originally.
The truth remains that HELLWITCH is/was in fact a pioneer in the underground death metal scene and shall always be recognized as an innovative and uncompromising force in music…
Thats what our bio says!
As a long dedicated, enthusiastic musician you are, how do you view the developement of the death metal scene? I mean, how is the situation of death metal compared to the early/mid ’80s?
Originality is fading each day. The situation sucks now compared to the old days.
What do you think about the reformation of Cynic and Atheist?
I think they are doing it to make $$$ mostly. At least ATHEIST is!
In your opinion, are the fans nowadays paying more attention to the band, than 20-22 years ago? Was Hellwitch a popular acts, such as Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse etc. or were you always underground warriors?
Yes, MUCH MORE! We were never above ground like those other bands. We remained obscure.
What are your future plans? Do you go on tour in support of the record? Do you perhaps plan to do a European tour as well?
Write new songs for possibly another album. No tours planned.
Pat, thanks for the interview, if somehing hasn’t been covered please share with us. Hail Hellwitch!
Thanks for the interview, Leslie and good luck to you and the ’zines! Check out our websites and my video site. I have OVER 12,000 concert videos for sale/trade!
(December of 2009)