Interview: Jeremy Wagner of Broken Hope

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There are some classic bands that live in the past and some that push onward and reach new levels, Broken Hope is the latter.  Their upcoming album Mutilated and Assimilated stands strong alongside any of their classic material.  Damnation was lucky enough to be able to speak with founder Jeremy Wagner and discuss the new album, how it relates to his favorite horror film and his inspiring level of love and passion for metal.

D: Mutilated and Assimilated comes out June 23rd, how are you feeling with the release just around the corner?

J: Man, I am really excited and just really happy. Every time I’ve ever done a Broken Hope album it’s always been exciting. It always means a lot to me. Even to this day, I don’t take it for granted. When I was a kid and Broken Hope got our first record deal and our first record, Swamped in Gore, was just coming out I was super stoked just anticipating the moment that I was going to hold a Broken Hope compact disc in my hand. I thought that was the big deal and I am gonna tell you all these years later, this is the seventh studio album, and I am still just as excited about all of that. I am excited to get the Mutilated and Assimilated digipack and the vinyl in my hands. I haven’t changed bro, I am still excitable, enthusiastic and in love with Broken Hope and with death metal. The album is coming out and I can’t wait dude. It’s not just the anticipation and excitement of the release, it’s also that I am so fucking proud of the new album. I am looking forward to the whole world finally getting their opportunity to hear the whole thing and hear what Broken Hope has done this time.

D: For sure, the album is unreal. Arguably the best work you’ve put out in every facet. Specifically, Broken Hope has always had killer riffs, whether they are super technical or groove oriented. When you approach the writing process do you find it important to have that balance stylistically or does it come about organically?

J: Well, there’s two things that come into play when writing Broken Hope music and I’ll tell you about both. One is more of a subconscious mission and one is the organic part that you mentioned. The subconscious mission is in my mind I want to always write the heaviest riff I can cause I’m a guitar player and I’m in a death metal band. One thing I love is a super sick guitar tone and super heavy, crushing, brutal riffs. I always try attain the heaviest guitar tone that I can and I also try to attain the sickest riffs I can. So, in the songwriting process I am trying to write the heaviest shit I’ve ever written. You know man, I also try to keep it fresh. When you’ve written about a hundred death metal songs spanning several albums, you would think it would be a challenge coming up with new ideas but whatever my muse is, or such a thing that’s inside me, I am grateful that’s it’s allowed me to keep new ideas and new songs coming. I really want to retain the brutality and give people something new to hear as well. Now the organic part, I can honestly say I’ve never written a more organic way before than I have with Mutilated and Assimilated and I’ll explain why. To me when you write organically, you’re writing from your heart. It’s 100% honest, it’s pure integrity and it’s pure passion. Passion for death metal and passion for Broken Hope. Our whole band, all five members, work together with a love and passion for Broken Hope and death metal. We all work so well together, feed off each other, strive to make the best quality songs and the best quality production on an album together. Bro, we are the best of friends too. We are all on the same page. It’s a refreshing Broken Hope. I honestly can’t say there was a Broken Hope like this before. It was always maybe three guys on the same page and two guys not on the same page, not really sharing the passion that we have. Damien, Mike and I have been doing this Broken Hope thing since 2011 since we came back from hiatus. We have Diego Soria on bass and Matt Szlachta on lead guitar. Those guys, it’s almost meant to be. I am talking between musicianship, professionalism and personality. Personalities can kill a band or make a band great. We all have the same personalities. We are all cut from the same cloth. We all have the mission to be the best band we can and write the best material we can, and we did that. We did that together. That’s what I am talking about with writing organically. I have never written an album organically like this where there’s brotherhood, passion, comradery and there’s fucking love. Love, for writing sick fucking shit. You made a great point when you mentioned organic, that is just exactly how we did things. Which I think that’s what help make such a great sounding album.

D: You know, I think I appreciate the music even more hearing that it comes from such a loving, passionate and artistic place. Death metal as an art form doesn’t generally get looked at in that light and doesn’t garner any level of artistic respect often. So to hear an album so brutal was made from a place of love is very cool.

J: Thanks for saying that, I really appreciate it.

D: So, we know you wrote and tracked the album with the Jeff Hanneman guitars, how did that impact the vibe of the album?

J: I swear to god that there’s something magic in the Hanneman instruments. They played a major role in Broken Hope’s album. When I acquired the Jeff Hanneman estate, which is a bunch of guitars, gear and other Hanneman related items, I did so cause I have to credit him for inspiring me as a teenager to be a lyricist and an extreme metal guitar player, and that’s what I am. I write all the lyrics and I’ve written a whole bunch of the Broken Hope music. Hanneman was one of the few heroes of mine that was a catalyst for me to want to buy an electric guitar and become a serious guitarist and form a death metal band in particular. He’s why I’m here. Despite all of that, he’s in my life in a big way. A deep meaning is attached to the instruments I have that Jeff once used. When I made my declaration that I was gonna write the new album with Jeff’s guitars and record with them. I wasn’t screwing around. That wasn’t something I was just throwing out there for publicity. That was a heartfelt pledge that I was giving to Jeff and Jeff’s widow Kathryn. I would use these guitars to keep Jeff’s spirit alive in one way shape or form. To see that these instruments continue to be used and played, because that’s what they were made for. Frankly, the words from Jeff’s widow’s mouth to my face was “Jeff would want these to be used and if anyone’s gonna do it it’s you, so promise me you’ll use these and keep his spirit alive.” Well, that’s a fucking no-brainer for me! I would be honored to use these guitars and keep Jeff’s legacy alive. I want to do it in a lot of ways from now on. My first step was using the guitars to write and record the album so his spirit is on the album. When you hear the album, all the rhythms and harmonies are Jeff’s instruments. Jeff’s in the DNA of the album in that respect. In the future I hope I can share a Hanneman museum with the public in one way shape or form. Just keep it alive, cause he was one of the greatest fucking thrash metal musicians that this world has ever been lucky enough to see. His contributions to Slayer are of epic proportions. He’s not here anymore but I’m gonna fly the Hanneman flag high. Keep that spirit of riffing and passion for Slayer, the love of his life, and guitars, the other love of his life, alive. Now, back to what you were asking, did they inspire me? I am telling you, after I got these instruments and got to play them all, I got two guitars that I thought sounded really amazing. One was his famous punk rock Jackson guitar that he used for years. The other one was this ESP custom that Jeff played from “God Hates Us All” album and numerous tours. I call it the “God Send Death” or also the “Bloodline” guitar. It’s the one he used in the “Bloodline” music video or if you watch the War at the Warfield concert DVD, he uses it primarily in that. So, that guitar actually at the end of the day just sounded uniquely better than the others. It just felt great. I just started writing riffs with that guitar and bro, I don’t know if you call it, no pun intended, divine intervention, or channeling Jeff from some other place through my fingers and my amp. I just started writing riff and riff like nothing. Riffs were flowing from me, you talk about organic songwriting? I wrote riffs with Mike in the same rehearsal room and he would start putting drum beats to them. Honest to god we were churning out one song after another. If you listen to the title track “Mutilated and Assimilated” or if you listen to a song called “The Necropants”. Those are the first two songs I wrote using his guitars. When it came time to track the album we used only Hanneman guitars for the rhythms and the harmonies. With all respect to Matt and his lead tones and how he plays he used his own guitar. We dedicated the new album to Jeff as well. It’s just a special thing bro. How unique is it that someone like me has Jeff’s instruments and is using them and injecting new life into them. Doing things where people can hear these instruments or see them on tour. It’s just a really cool thing. If you saw the “Carrion Eaters” video I use the main Hanneman guitar. That’s the instrument I used for the whole album, there’s a little trivia for ya.

D: That’s very cool. Speaking of the videos, let’s discuss your imagery. Your album art is always amazing. How important is imagery to you and how did the artwork for Mutilated and Assimilated come about?

J: It’s always been important to me when we do an album that the packaging conveys the vibe of the new album. I always say an album is forever, when you put an album out that’s it, you’ve given it to the world and there’s no turning back. So, you better make sure the fuckin songs and production are great but also the packaging and the artwork too. Just as a fan of metal the artwork symbolizes what that music contains within. It should be memorable. I think of album covers that blow me away, just looking at the album cover I can tell the music in that album is fucking amazing. The artwork can even bring me back to when I first saw it. Judas Priest Screaming for Vengeance is an amazing one. If I see the cover of Metallica’s Ride the Lightning it takes me back to a sentimental place, it changed my life. Same with Slayer’s Reign in Blood, Carcass Symphonies of Sickness, or Alters of Madness by Morbid Angel. Wes Benscoter, god damn man, he’s my favorite artist. I am talking horror artist and album artist. We have a long history with Wes. He’s done four albums for us out of seven. He is a great friend to me, he likes Broken Hope and he’ll tell you that Loathing is one of his favorite pieces of work he’s ever done. He thinks Mutilated and Assumilated is now one of his greatest works. When we came up with the song “Mutilated and Assimilated” the lyrics are about John Carpenter’s The Thing, and also the original novella Who Goes There by John W. Cambell Jr. written in 1938. Basically I wanted to lyrically pay tribute to that. It’s my favorite horror movie. The concept of The Thing has always horrified me. I wanted to write a song about it and the other guys in the band loved the song title so much they wanted to call the album that. So, I write Wes and ask if he wants to do the new album cover and he says “do I wanna do it? I better fucking be doing it man”. So I gave him the lyrics to the song. He is quite familiar with the movie and I told him to make a cover that embodies the true horrifying nature of what The Thing is.  It is an alien creature that has traveled the universe and imitated a million life forms from a million planets. Now it’s on earth and wants to replicate humans and all earth species. What he did, when you look at that cover, is capture this creature in an Antarctic ice cave, as in the movie where the spaceship was found, and it’s as if you’ve stumbled upon this creature as it’s transforming into a thousand different creatures from around the universe. It’s like a snapshot of this thing. Fuckin ‘a’ if Wes didn’t capture this horror, I don’t know how but it exceeded my expectations. The cover just blows my mind.  

D: You’re right, it is awesome. I can’t wait to see that one on vinyl.

J: Me too dude! I’m dying for that vinyl!

D: To relate to you, when you referenced all the album covers that bring you back, Loathing takes me back to riding in my friends Volvo to high school listening to that or Swamped in Gore.  Speaking of Swamped in Gore, you guys revisited that album with a track on the new album. How was it going back to record that old material?

J: The track that we put on the new album is called “Swamped in Gorehog”. When we play live, I am not kidding, since 1990 to now, there has never been a time where we have not performed “Swamped in Gore” and “Gorehog”. Those are two staple songs that we always play. When we play live we will get right to the bridge of “Swamped in Gore” and we will hold out a chord and go right into “Gorehog”. Last year was the 25th anniversary of our first album being released. We recorded it to be a single to celebrate that but it didn’t come out as a single like we wanted it to. So we decided we will throw it on as a bonus track. In doing so we accomplished two things, we still acknowledged the anniversary of the first album and also it’s 2017 and we are releasing our seventh album and this bonus track is a nod to where we came from. One thing, as long as I’m alive, Broken Hope is never gonna forget where we came from. No matter how many albums. I always keep one of my feet in the underground. That’s where we came from, that’s my way of celebrating that cool anniversary. Here’s to being around this long.

D: Between “Swamped in Gorehog” and using the Hanneman guitars it’s almost a culmination of your entire experience in metal. It really puts it into perspective which is extremely cool. 

J: Exactly, Man.

D: Is there anything you’d like to add? 

J: First of, I just want to thank you and Damnation Magazine for the interview. I really am grateful that people like you want to actually talk to me about Broken Hope. It always means a lot to me. As you can hear by the enthusiastic tone of my voice as I ramble on, how much I love talking about Broken Hope. For all the readers and fans out there, fuckin ‘a’ I appreciate and love you all. I really hope you all enjoy Mutilated and Assimilated.  I think it’s our finest hour and we will keep it going as long as I’m walking the planet.

D: Really excited to hear that and very excited to see how the metal world reacts to the new album. Thank you.  

J: Thanks a lot, brother.

 

Interview conducted by Sean Cantor

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