Hell : New interview with Kev Bower

No prizes for guessing our highlight of Hammerfest 2012, the awesome main stage performance by theatrical heavy metal band Hell. We caught up with guitarist / keyboard player Kev Bower for an update on the band.

It’s been quite a year for the band, has the success sunk in yet?

It’s been an amazing year, no question. Has it sunk in? I guess so, although I still find it all quite humbling and would straightaway like to thanks the fans who have supported us so brilliantly and put us where we are – they’re amazing, and very, very loyal to us. The most inspiring and exciting thing is to me, though, is the fact that we’re still effectively a new band on the circuit with only one album released and only a handful of shows under our belts – so the potential for the future is mindblowing.

What’s been the highlight of the past 12 months?

There have just been so many, Iain – it’s become virtually impossible to single just one out. I guess things like the reception we received from a rammed mainstage arena at Bloodstock followed by the BOA forum vote for ‘Best 2011 Mainstage Performance’, the major ‘Album Of The Year’ awards from magazines like Sweden Rock, the Metal Hammer ‘Golden Gods’ nomination, the dozens of incredible album reviews…..those events are really the stuff of which dreams are made, but I think that collectively as a band, the most important overall and ongoing highlight is the fact that we are mates first and everything else second, and we’re just having a blast doing this. There are no egos, no-one gets precious, upset or angry, and we’re all just thankful for the position that we have so unexpectedly found ourselves in – and no-one is going to screw that up, not for any reason.

We all just get on so well together, and our European and Scandinavian shows are really like a bunch of friends out having a boys weekend away – a typical example being the recent outing where we played on the Sweden Rock Cruise ship on a Friday – the crowd were fantastic, the alcohol consumption was off the scale (and for one of us, it was enjoyable for another reason which I had better not talk about here………….) – anyway, we played that show, then flew straight to Athens for a show with Candlemass and Ghost the next day. We then took a day off to visit this wonderful Greek city and walked up to the Parthenon – just the guys in the band and our roadcrew, sitting in the afternoon on this beautiful Athens piazza, drinking cold beers in the sunshine and watching the world walk by. It was magical.

How was Hammerfest? Looked pretty good from out front 🙂

I think it’s up there alongside the best shows we’ve played so far, and it came at exactly the right time for us, since we hadn’t done a show for 3 months because of Andy’s production commitments with Accept and Testament – and everyone needed something like that to become ‘match-fit’ for the Accept European support tour which starts next week as I speak. It doesn’t matter how hard or how often you rehearse, a live situation’s always a different ballgame and it felt really good to be back out onstage again. The whole event was great – a real metal vibe, great stage crew, great organisation, and it’s always good for us to be able to get out into the crowd after the show and hook up with so many fans for beers, signings and photos. It means a lot to them, and it’s an absolute joy for us to do.

David was in inspired form, fair to say he’s, erm, grown into the role?

He’s just epic, isn’t he? And you’re right about him growing into the role – to the extent that he totally owns it now. To begin with on the first few shows, he was pretty much directed by myself and Andy, but with every show that’s passed he’s introduced more and more of himself and his own ideas and personality into it. And it will continue to grow and develop – as will everything else we do, because one thing this band isn’t short of is ideas.

Go on then, who forgot to prime the exploding bible?

Guilty as charged, your honour 🙂 Next question….

Honestly, if someone told you a year ago that you’d have toured the major festivals of Europe, played Download, would you have believed them?

Absolutely not – and with every month which passes, something happens to top what happened last month. There are two shows in the pipeline right now, for example, which I can’t tell you about because they haven’t been confirmed yet….but we’re talking 6-7 times the size of Bloodstock. Everything about it, including the album sales, have surpassed our wildest expectations. I remember almost wetting myself when the ‘On Earth’ video had 10,000 hits after the first few weeks – it’s now just topped the quarter million, and it increases with every single show we play. ‘Roy Of The Rovers’ doesn’t even come close.

How has your life changed in the past 12 months, does hitting the stage in front of thousands of roaring fans make real life seem a little, I dunno, dull?

The rate of change is accelerating all the time as the band continues to grow – and obviously the success we’ve had has meant changes in all sorts of areas. I’ve already had my first stalker 😉 and have less money than ever (lots of touring flightcases and other equipment to buy) – but we all know that we aren’t 25 years old anymore and that we’ll never, ever get the chance to do anything like this again, so it’s a series of opportunities which we’re grabbing with both hands. And yes – it’s a bit of a comedown to fly out on Friday night to a festival in somewhere like Sweden or Finland, arrive back home on a Sunday night and then have to drag yourself out to work the next day – but hey, there are millions of people who’ve just spent that same weekend sat bored in front of a TV, so we’re all grateful for the great times that we have.

When we spoke to Andy Sneap at Hammerfest he said he’d love to give up other work and make Hell his full time job, I assume that’s the same for the rest of you guys too?

Of course. Name me one guy in a band who wouldn’t. I think all of us would make that jump in a heartbeat.

How close is the band to becoming a full time job?

To be honest, for myself and Andy it almost is already – except that we don’t get paid. There’s always a lot to do – stuff like merch mailing, the general admin associated with social networking sites, the website, booking flights and hotels, organising tour logistics and rental equipment, dealing with agencies and the record company…of course we could get other people to do all this for us, but that costs money and we’d rather spend it elsewhere. You’ve seen how the stage set and the show have gradually expanded – that’s where we spend it. It’s basically a continuous investment in the band, making the whole show experience better and better for the fans, and easier to manage, transport and run for ourselves.

In terms of it becoming full-time (as in actually earning a living from it), realistically that’s not going to happen in the foreseeable future. The most important reason is that the whole industry model has changed – there are probably half a million people out there now who have a copy of ‘Human Remains’ in their possession – but way less than 10% have actually paid for it thanks to illegal file sharing.  I saw just one site the other day which has so far clocked up 27,000 downloads of the album – and there are hundreds of these websites. Until the industry and the ISP’s do something about it, nothing’s going to change. But we’re doing OK – we manage our finances carefully, we live within our means and accept what we have with good grace.

You have some pretty loyal fans, how does it feel to see the same people down the front show after show?

It’s brilliant Iain, and the number of those familiar faces is growing at a remarkable pace – the number of rows back from the front barrier literally grows with every show that we do. Those people are our lifeblood and we’ll never forget it, which goes back to what I was saying earlier about getting the chance to go out and hook up with these guys after a show. Many of them have become more like friends now, rather than just fans – a good example being the crowds from King’s Lynn, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire who come and see us almost everywhere we play.

It’s also enormously humbling to see people taking days off work and booking hotels and flights from Ireland or Germany to see us play a show in the UK, and I can only again express how much we appreciate the time, finance and effort people expend on supporting us. We do try and stay pretty close to our fanbase – I remember one girl who approached me at Hammerfest being astounded that I knew her name. But then again – she had posted a photo of herself on our Facebook page in full Hell regalia complete with corpsepaint, crown of thorns, bloodied mouth and an inverted cross on her forehead. She was pretty easy to remember 🙂

The metal scene is flourishing at the moment, do you think Hell filled a gap in the “market”, as almost no one was doing the full theatrical thing anymore?

I’d like to think so. For us it’s come totally naturally though, because it’s what we always did. Having seen so many bands yourself, you’ll appreciate that the majority just amble out onto the stage in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, and then promptly just stand there and play. That’s never been good enough for us and never been what we’re about  – and the way it all started was that back in the ‘80’s our music was considered progressive and adventurous for its time – it wasn’t something which immediately sunk in for a new audience -so the whole deal was initially conceived to make people stay and watch because there was so much visual activity going on. They would then come back again and again, and gradually they would get their heads round the music and become lifelong fans. Plus – I think that when an audience actually sees us do the show, it all locks into place and they somehow ‘get it’.

Andy and I went to see Rammstein a few weeks ago – their stage, lighting and pyro show was simply in a league of its own – just breathtaking. But the most important thing to me about that gig was that I’d never really been a massive fan of their music beforehand – but when I saw them doing it live in the context of that show, it rose to a whole different level and just locked those songs into place in my head. On a way smaller scale, that’s what we’re trying to do.

Who designed the “Church of Hell” stage set?

The stained glass stage scrims were Andy’s initial idea – but the artwork was executed with his usual genius by Dan Goldsworthy, the ‘Human Remains’ album cover artist. Dan’s been such an amazing find for us, to the extent that he’s almost the invisible sixth member of the band now, and we’ll be working with Dan again on ideas for the second album cover and associated bits. Since I’m a carpenter by trade, I built the pulpit using a foam latex Gargoyle provided for us by a mate of Andy’s whose name embarrassingly escapes me right now  – but that pulpit’s huge, bone-crunchingly heavy, and impossible to transport anywhere outside of the UK, so for the European shows we’ve just conceived the ‘Diet Pulpit Lite’ which is a full-size, hi-res digital fabric print of the entire structure which wraps around an aluminium spaceframe and all collapses down into a hand-held holdall. Elsewhere, the organ pipes, the ‘Plague’ pyro staff, the video flame stands and other bits were more of my creations, along with the now-legendary ‘Non-Exploding-At-Hammerfest-Exploding Bible’.

It’s great – we have a theatrical metal band featuring a record producer, a prop maker and a professionally-trained Shakespearian actor. How much better could it get? But as I said – we have dangerous ideas and there’s lots more in the pipeline….

Human Remains continues to garner rave reviews, how on earth are you going to follow that up?

That’s a really important question. One of the challenges always faced by a band who have released such a critically-acclaimed first album is that the expectation level for the follow-up is inevitably huge – but what often happens is that a band in this position will go out on the road for maybe two years, touring and promoting it like crazy, and all of a sudden there’s all this pressure from the record label wanting the second album. So they hit the studio with almost nothing written and nothing prepared – and the second album is often just noodled stuff thrown together in six weeks. Ask Andy Sneap about that – in his career as a producer he’s seen it happen time and time again. So rather than fall into that trap and just stopping work when ‘Human Remains’ was finished, I just carried on writing – to the extent that I have almost all the keyboard, choral and orchestral stuff for the second album already done, like totally ready to record. There are the makings of probably seven killer new songs, some of which we’ve previewed at live shows, and the reaction has been unanimously positive – in fact many people have said that one new song in particular is amongst the best things we’ve ever done.

We also still have a certain amount of older HELL back catalogue from the ‘80’s which we will possibly rework and re-record in a similar vein to the songs on ‘Human Remains’. Remember also that this is a band which has other talented writers in it as well – Andy sent me a demo of one of his new songs a few weeks ago and it’s killer – this is the guy who wrote all the music for the first two Sabbat albums, for heaven’s sake. David has some great ideas, too, he’s writing incredibly strong lyrics like there’s no tomorrow, and Tony’s been busy woodshedding away……… so there won’t be any problem in maintaining the quality for future releases. In fact, with what we have in the pipe right now, we genuinely think we can make an even better album than ‘Human Remains’……….

How’s work on the new album coming along?

Apart from some demos we’ve put down as tryouts, we haven’t really started working on it seriously yet – but that will start to happen when the tour’s over and done with. We have the basic concept, working title and song framework already pretty well mapped out, along with grand plans for the artwork and cover which will be something really unique which has never been done before to the best of our knowledge.

Now I’m going to hack you off and not reveal anything else 🙂

And when can we expect to hear it?

Quite simply when it’s done, and when we’re happy with it. One of the best decisions we made early on was that the deal we have with Nuclear Blast is a licensing contract – what that basically means is that we produce it and retain all rights to it, they market it and distribute it. So we’re under no pressure whatsoever to produce a release within a given timeframe – and since everything about this band is done to a level of quality, it won’t be heard until it’s 100% killer. Realistically, we’re aiming for maybe the first quarter of 2013 –but we’ve still only done 20 shows and there’s massive mileage in the first album yet. The world’s a big place and we’re still getting this first album out there.

And finally, do you have a message for the ever-growing army of Hellites ?

Just to express our endless thanks again for the way they have supported us. I know it’s an old cliché, but it’s those people who have put us where we are, they’re the guys who pay our wages, and they’re the guys we ultimately do this for. I know that ‘thanks’ is just a small word, but it’s truly meant. All the best to everyone.