Last year, after two years on the road, Jasta and Co. returned to the studio to record The Concrete Confessional
, an album that, with songs such as “A.D.,” “Looking Down the Barrel of Today” and “The Apex Within,” addresses social issues without overtly making a political statement.
With its guttural vocals and shredding guitar solos, “A.D.” sounds as heavy as anything by speed metal acts such as Slayer and Anthrax. The band kicks off its North American tour on May 13 in Cleveland, its first headlining show in town since 2012. We spoke to singer Jamey Jasta and Frank Novinec, a Cleveland native, in separate phone interviews.
The band formed back in 1994. Did you set out to fuse metal and hardcore from the start?
We would go down to Long Island and play with Six Feet Under and Internal Bleeding. Or we’d go up to Boston and play with Anal Cunt. We would play all these different shows. We could play a grind show or a death metal show. We opened for Napalm Death. At a lot of the metal shows, we did better with the audience or sold more merch than we did at the punk or hardcore shows. We could play with straight edge type of bands and the Victory type of bands but some of the shows and the audiences were too cool for school. We appreciated the opportunity to play for them, but we knew that the bands that had longevity and the bands that had the big followings were ones that spoke to different audiences. The first real taste of success was when we opened for Machine Head on Halloween night in 1996. We had a demo out and could reinvest in T-shirts. Before we had even played, we had sold out of every T-shirt. This was in the mid-’90s. Even the bigger name metal bands were playing smaller places. That’s how it was. Anthrax was playing small places and even Pantera had scaled it down. When we opened for Machinehead, they covered Korn. I didn’t even know who Korn was at that time. It was funny because we got offered to play a show with Korn. We didn’t know they were huge. We took another show and meanwhile the Korn show sold out 1600 people. We should have taken that show instead of the hardcore show. Instead of playing to rich kids with their arms crossed, we should have played the metal show. Right after that, we got on two dates, one with Life of Agony and one with Dog Eat Dog and Downset. We started to see the Roadrunner audience that was out there that didn’t care about the scene politics. They just cared about heavy music and having a good time. From then on, we started playing more diverse types of shows.
I wasn’t in the band at the time. I joined in 2006. In 1995, I was playing in [the Cleveland hardcore group] Integrity and had just gotten out of [the Cleveland hardcore act] Ringworm. When Hatebreed started, Integrity was one of their influences and they reached out to us and we did a split record together. We’ve had a long friendship since then. That’s how I made the connection with them and I’ve been going strong with them for ten years. In 2004, I was working at a tire store on Brookpark Road. I’m a proud West sider. I was in the tire industry for 13 years. My whole family worked for the Ford motor company. I have a strong blue collar background. In 2004, I joined [the metal group] Terror and had to make the decision to throw my job and responsibilities out the window and jump in a van. Things didn’t pan out with them, but I was fortunately able to join Hatebreed, and it’s been a fun ride for sure. We crossed over into the metal scene from doing Ozzfest and tours with Slayer and Slipknot.
You spent two years on the road after the release of your last album. What were some of the highlights?
Definitely doing the tour with [metal guitarist] Zakk Wylde because it was like a mini Ozzfest second stage for us. And we got to go to places we hadn’t been to in forever, like the Edmontons and the Montanas, places that we don’t normally hit on a headline run that were hungry for music and a great show and a diverse bill. We did Columbus on our own headlining and we had 600 people on a Sunday night. Three years later, we go back with Zakk Wylde and there are 3000 people. That’s a big step up. The more people you play to, the more receptive the audience will be the next time as long you leave it all on the stage. Going from that tour to the Slipknot show and bringing out a new lighting package was great. It put us on arena level again. It put us on arena level again. To play Alabama and we’re playing to 9000 people and our merch guy is running back to the truck four times to get more stuff. That’s a huge opportunity for a band like us, 20 years into our career to play to 30 times the people we would have had on a headline show. It was a humbling experience. It proved that with the right tour, you don’t need radio support.
I’m a rock guy. I grew up in Cleveland. I’m a KISS guy. I’m a Blue Oyster Cult guy. I was turned onto music at a very early age. I used to dance with shit in my diapers when “Smoke on the Water” came out in 1972. I had Who and Stones records when I was 7 years old. Fast forward to 30 years later, I’m playing on stage with Blue Oyster Cult because I became friends with them and we’re direct support for KISS. You can write this any better for me. It’s a dream come true. All this has been highlights. This is no rock star scenario where we hate each other. We send each other stupid fifth grade-mentality texts. We have that bond.
I think you started recording in the fall of last year with producer Zeuss (Rob Zombie, Soulfly). What was that experience like?
We did Rock on the Range and I watched Sipknot in a stadium. When we left that tour, I was joking with Jim Root and Corey Taylor. I remember seeing them in a little club. I member playing in Des Moines and seeing the guys in the front row singling along in a tiny bar. Isn’t it funny how they became stadium metal. I joked that we were arena-core. To see little songs in an arena filled with 12,000 people in Grand Rapids, I was so inspired. Every night, I would write [new songs]. I knew going back to the studio that would have big songs that would be bangers in small club but also translate to a Rock on the Range. Having that tour so close to the studio was a good thing because it helped us tap into an energy. The last time we did arenas was 2012.
We’re always working with him. With this record and the last record, we had time. There was time to reflect and go back and we could change the arrangements and what not and decide what needed to be on there and what didn’t. In the past, we might not have had the time. Jamey and Chris have written the music from day one. Nothing has changed there. It’s very complicated because Hatebreed has grown into this band that tours with Five Finger and Disturbed and will still play in a club with Napalm Death. We want to keep everyone happy and have still sound like Hatebreed at the end of the day. It’s a fine line to walk. Jamey has his ear to street and manages band and hosted Headbangers’ Ball for years so we stay where we need to be with the band. A lot of our success has to do with the fact that we were around before all the downloading started to take place. We’re very lucky.
Does the album title The Concrete Confessional suggest the songs are of a more personal nature?
Yeah. To have the juxtaposition between the two — something heavy and solid and hard versus something that’s an admission or sharing your shortcomings or anything that’s bothering you is something you can build on. If I sing about addiction or struggling with a destructive pattern in my life, I’m now 12 years removed from that. A song like “Serve Your Masters” or “Remember When” have similar lyrical content but with new eyes. It’s from today. I’m a year sober. On other albums, I was a totally different person. I needed to have that and have new territory as far as including some social issues that’s non-partisan.
We try to get personal. One of the things that people love about Hatebreed, especially in the metal community, is the positive lyrics. A lot of the metal people who accept Hatebreed feel that they’re more at one with the band and can relate to us because a lot of lyrics are uplifting and self-motivational. We hear that the lyrics help people get through difficult times. We try to be personable like that. Jamie does a good job with the lyrics.
The opening track and first single “A.D.” makes reference to the American Dream. What inspired the song?
Just the fact that now that I’m 38 and I have seen America post the housing market crash and with my daughter being in high school, I’ve seen all the music programs and physical education classes cut. Also, my grandmother was going through health issues and needs to see a natural path [doctor], which isn’t covered by her insurance. All you can do is start locally. I need to go where my money is going locally in the community. I want to make sure the people in the positions of power will work on the issues I feel are important. One of these bills is coming up and it looks like they’ll change the law so natural path will be covered by insurance. I want to make sure I vote for the people who pass that law. As you get older, there’s this idea when you’re young and in to punk rock, you see things from a leftist side. When you get older, you start to see things from a more conservative point of view. I don’t believe that. When you boil this down to a binary system it doesn’t work. I needed to see it in a song in a way that’s not part of the divisive rhetoric you hear from politicians.
Musically, it’s no secret that we’re Slayer friends. I think Jamie’s lyrics are good because he doesn’t get involved in politics. The song certainly isn’t anti-American. We’re proud Americans, maybe more than most bands are. We just want to open people’s eyes up. Maybe you’re someone who doesn’t vote or care and maybe this song can get you involved in current affairs, especially if you’re a young kid and metal is all you care about. I was that kind of kid.
Any great memories of playing in Cleveland?
Oh yeah. That’s part of the reason why we wanted to start the tour there. It’s a bit of a homecoming for Frank. Growing up, that was a big deal. If you could make it in big rock n roll metal towns like Cleveland and Chicago and Detroit and New York, that was a big deal. If you could get an audience in those four cities, you might be able to make it. I should include Boston in there too. Being so close to Boston, that was more of a weekend trip for us. Having to make the trip to Michigan or Ohio was more of a trip. I remember opening for Sepultura at the Agora in 2000 when the audience started chanting “Hatebreed.” Of course, the Slayer shows and Soulfly and Slipknot. You know when you go to Cleveland, you’ll have a great show. Tattoo the Earth at Nautica was incredible. All the Ozzfests at Blossom were amazing. I had to go to a signing and there were literally 600 people in line. Everyone who supported us at the small shows in Cleveland had driven out to Blossom to see us.
I can sit here and tell everyone how great Cleveland is. You have the venues there. When you have music like ours where people tend to get rowdy. When you think about the Grog Shops and Euclid Taverns and the Peabody’s and the Agoras and the Odeon, you realize what a blessing it is. I played in all those places. My first show with Ringworm. I was fresh out of high school and it was at the Babylon A-Go-Go in Ohio City in 1991. It goes all the way back to that. There are lots of great memories.
Hatebreed, Devildriver, Devil You Know, 8 p.m. Friday, May 13, The Odeon, 1295 Old River Rd., 216-771-6655. Tickets: $20, ticketweb.com.
Since 1994, Hatebreed — singer Jamey Jasta, bassist Chris Beattie, guitarist Wayne Lozinak, guitarist Frank Novinec and drummer Matthew Byrne have straddled the hardcore and hard rock worlds. As a result, the band has a diverse audience of fans who like both metal and punk rock.