I’m really pleased to reveal my recent interview with Orange County, California hardcore band HAMMERFIST. After a few demos, self released full length, “All That’s Left” full length on Westcoast Worldwide Records (2007), and the latest “Dead Dreams” EP (2011), HAMMERFIST are ready to reveal their new EP entitled “Isolation”, as well as plans for a new full length! I’ve spent pleasant hours chatting with the band’s original member and drummer Jon Haines, who was kind enough to reveal some sweet news about the band, their signing with Rucktion Records, upcoming video, touring, tattoos, favourite punk packs out there, American, Asian and European hardcore scenes and lots of other things hardcore. Dive into this, you won’t regret it.
HAMMERFIST will be posting their entire new EP in full on Facebook this Friday at 6:00 AM PST / 14:00 CET.
Hey! What’s up guys? Thanks for taking some time with me.
You played a string of Western US shows last month. Was it fun?
Any supporting local bands that caught your eye during the trek?
There are always a ton of awesome bands that we play with its hard to think of all of them, but one in particular that stood out to me was a band from Spokane, WA called LAID UP. They were awesome. Super heavy and the crowd was into it.
Alright, so what other shows do you have coming up in the coming months? There’s a Slam Fest in April at Chain Reaction… what else?
Yes we have a few local shows in So Cal in March. Then we play at Chain Reaction on April 5 with FIGURE FOUR. The following day we play So Cal Slam Fest. After that we are scheduled to shoot a music video for a new song. Then in late April we leave for a full U.S. tour. The tour is also scheduled to go into Canada for a few days as well.
Are we talkin’ a video for “Skin Change” here? Tell me more about the song, the video and your upcoming EP. [smiles]
Yes the video will be for “Skin Change.” We just recently released the song to sample online. We will be filming it on April 14, so the video will be released shortly after that. The song is about growing up and maturing. Not necessarily changing who you are, just shedding some old habits so you may look a little different. I think it represents not only Jake (who wrote the lyrics) but the band as whole. We have been a band for a while now and we have come a long way. I can’t say too much about what the video will be like because u don’t want to ruin it, but I can say it will be very raw. No acting or gimmicks, just straight forward.
And what about the new EP? How long have you been writing it?
We had been writing the Isolation EP for over a year. We wanted to take our time writing the record because it’s important to grow and change but not to the point to where all the original fans don’t recognize you anymore. We really challenged ourselves to write something that was challenging to us. There is a different element to it now too. Jake (singer), Joe (guitar), and myself are all brothers. Jake and I usually write everything but on this record we let out younger brother Joe write 2 of the songs. He writes awesome songs so it add a different flavor than what everyone else is used too.
Who did you record it with? How do you recall the time spent in the studio?
We recorded at a studio in Orange County called For the Record. Our engineer only goes by the name E. He is absolutely awesome and knows what he is doing. He is great to work with. He has also recorded other bands like DEATH BY STEREO, AUSTRIAN DEATH MACHINE, PHOBIA, and ADAMANTIUM just to name a few. We didn’t spend too much time in the studio because we always practice a ton before we go in there. We don’t like to waste any time. That way if there is time left over we can always add things or take away. We know exactly what we are doing before we even go in.
How does it enhance your previous discography? It’s obviously a step forward from “Dead Dreams”, but could you detail the new outing’s strengths for us?
The songs on this upcoming record are generally shorter in comparison to older HF songs. We decided to go for a short and sweet approach on this record. We wanted it to be hard and in your face right away. We also have a song on the record titled “Illusio” that has no fast parts in it at all. It’s just heavy. We generally like to keep it pretty fast and slammin’, but on this song it’s just heavy. We also added a new guitar player Mike (DEATH BY STEREO, AS HOPE DIES) who is now our lead guitar player. He can shred really hard, so we have a couple cool lead parts on some of the songs too. It just adds another element to the songs and in my opinion was for the better.
You’ve been through a lot of line-up changes. When did you have the last one? Was it ever difficult trying to get new members to settle in?
Yes we have gone through a lot of line up changes. And we still are having some. It will always be my two brothers and myself and Tom (bass). We all have jobs and believe in hard work. We don’t rely on our label or our merch sales or anything like that. We believe in making things happen ourselves and funding our own band. We didn’t get in this to make money, but we do need to keep going and it costs money to keep going. Sometimes not all of us can tour because we have bills to pay and family to take care. That doesn’t mean that a member gets kicked out or the band stops. We just keep going. The line up that we have currently will always make up HAMMERFIST.
What would have to happen to the band to make you decide to call it quits?
Probably until age catches up to me [laughs]. I will always be young at heart. Also until the band runs its course. I don’t want to be one of those bands when I get older who just cling onto their band because that’s all they know. I would never get out on stage and just fake it just because I have nothing better to do. I will never quit hardcore and will always be a part of the scene in some shape or form. But faking it is not my style. I started this band for myself first, because that’s what I feel. If I don’t feel HAMMERFIST anymore, then it is time to move on. I don’t see that happening anytime soon at all. I’ve got the fire burning strong for HAMMERFIST and I will play my heart out. We have a motto in HAMMERFIST and that’s it doesn’t matter if there are 2 or 2000 people out, we will play as hard as we can. I would just hate myself if someone was watching me and could tell I wasn’t feeling it and thinking “wow, what a burn out.” That is never how I want HAMMERFIST portrayed.
Shows are definitely the best way to spread this attitude, right?
How does your region differ concert-wise from other areas of the United States?
Shows are always the best way. I for hardcore that’s what separates us from any other form of aggressive music. A hardcore show is the only type of show that I know where the energy from both the band and the crowd is visible in the air. There are no rockstars and no division between the audience and the band. It’s just a chaotic mess and somehow this wonderful feeling springs from all of it from yourself at the end. There is nothing like it. I never get tired of it. So yes that is the best way to spread it.
California has a great scene for hardcore. The bands are great and the people are great too. But it has its ups and downs. This is a hot spot for tours to constantly come through. And while that is a good thing for some, the average hardcore kid just does not have enough money to go to every show. There are so many shows that come through, one has to be picky about which one he or she is going to. Everyone does not have enough money to go to every single show and it costs money to make a show go. So instead of there being a few big show every now and then, there are usually a bunch of small shows.
What about other regions of the US? Have you been touring a lot with HAMMERFIST?
Yes we have been all over the western half of the US. This next tour we have coming up will be focused on the Midwest and the east coast. Some of the dates will be in Canada also. I have toured for other bands and played for other bands, but in the past few years I have been touring a lot with HF. We played Mexico, toured Japan, we did a tour that focused only on touring in Texas just to name some. This next tour I believe we will be doing some dates with Kubla Kahn. It should be fun.
So I guess it wouldn’t be wise to count on your European tour sometime soon, right? [smiles]
[laughs] no way don’t count that out. We just signed to Rucktion Records (U.K.) We will be releasing a full length through them. It should be out in Europe in about 2 months or so. It is going to be a special release only for Europe. If anyone would like to get our music, it will be through them. But we are talking to them about setting up some days. I would love to do some dates with BORN FROM PAIN too. Rob is my friend. HF and BFP did some dates together in California. We had an awesome time. So that Euro tour is for sure in the works as we speak.
Whooa, sounds perfect [smiles] How well do you know our hardcore scene? What’s your first association with European Hardcore Punk?
My first association with the European hardcore scene is awesome. A lot of the bands that I listen to are from Europe. STAMPIN’ GROUND, BORN FROM PAIN, EMBRACED BY HATRED, AWAKEN DEMONS, SPECIAL MOVE, KNUCKLEDUST, PURIFICATION, PROVIDENCE, RISE AND FALL, TRC. Those bands are in my usual CD rotation. There are so many bands from the US that come to Europe. I wish some of these bands would just come to the States. More specifically California.
Have you ever been to Europe? [smiles]
I have not and neither has HAMMERFIST. We are ready to get out there and tear it up though. I have heard nothing but good things about the European hardcore scene.
Good to “hear” that, bro. I hope you’ll make it very soon.
Did you make some announcements for the full length?
Not yet. Rucktion will be announcing that soon. They just posted that we will be on the website soon. The full length is going to be called “Zero Stone”. It will be 12 songs. It will be available through the Rucktion Distro. They should be making the announcement soon though. They are awesome guys and we are stoked to be working with them.
We decided to go with Rucktion because we have known about them for so long. All of us in the band have always been huge KNUCKLEDUST fans since “time won’t heal this.” I have only heard good things about those guys and how they are stand up dudes. It just felt like home.
Has any local label tried to absorb you?
When we did our Japan tour, our tour manager Tohru runs a label over there called Caboose Recordings. We got to know him and loved him so we signed with too for our Asia distro. Caboose is awesome they work hard for their bands and they bring a ton of bands over there. Ghost Town records has always taken care of us. So we just stuck with them.
You have toured Japan and haven’t been to Europe yet?! Come on! [smiles]
How did you like their scene?
[laughs] I know right! We are fuckin’ up. The scene in Japan is so awesome. They got good people. All nights we played there I don’t think we played with one bad band. The caliber of musicianship over there is at an all time high. Everyone is just so good at their instrument. We played some awesome bands like LEOPARD EYES, SLUDGE, MITSU KAGE, CLOSER, PREDATOR, SLICK SCRATCH, ENGAGEMENT just to name a few. I can’t wait to go back.
Is there something that’s completely different in their approach to punk / hardcore?
Yes. There may be subdivisions of hardcore styles like beatdown, old school, metalcore, deathcore, crucial, traditional, straight edge, youth crew, power violence, etc. Over there there are no boundaries as to what kind of bands play with what. They don’t care what kind of hardcore you are. Any band plays with any band and everyone digs. In the states I think a lot of bands have the mentality that they only want to cater to people and other bands that are similar to themselves.
Do you have any real plans to go back there? Any timetable for that?
I think we are planning to go back there in either October or December 2013. It will be through Caboose Recordings again.
Alright, before we finish off, is there something that concerns you about the current state of hardcore punk? I mean both in your area and in general.
Yes is there is one thing that concerns me. Tattoos. I do not understand the fascination with getting neck and hand tattoos. The younger generation seems to think getting hand and neck and face tattoos is what makes you hardcore or cool. When I was first going to shows is was bizarre to see a guy with one full sleeve. Now kids just go right for their face. I don’t have a problem with tattoos themselves. I have tattoos. But what happens is these young kids go right for their face and then They cannot get a job. No job, no money. Then these kids come to hardcore shows looking to get in for free or just sit in the parking lot. They may want to work but now they can’t because they have like a fuckin skull on their face. It costs money to make a band go and without kids buying merch or paying to get in, the band can’t go. I didn’t get into hardcore to make money, I just want to keep going. Hardcore is supposed to be about DIY and hard work. Not about how many tattoos you have or where you have them. If you got tattoos everywhere and can go to work, then more power to you. But if you got “fuck you” on your knuckles and then say I have no money and complain, then get that shit lasered off and go get a fuckin job. Be a man and don’t just ask mommy to give you your allowance to go to the show. Having Job is what’s cool, not not your cities name on your face.
Straight up. This is what makes me curious, too.
What is your most extreme tattoo then?
I guess the most extreme tattoo I have is a huge 924 down the front of my shin. It’s not for a crew or gang or anything like that. 924 is the address to where my 2 brothers and I found each other musically. It is also the house that my dad left to us to be dedicated to the music scene. It’s a practice space for bands with a real studio, it’s a place where touring bands come to sleep eat and shower for free, or friends who are down on their luck come to stay for awhile until they get back up. It’s put sanctuary away from the outside where music flourishes. The only reason I say that it is extreme is because when I wear shorts it looks skittle funny. Most people ask if that my area code. When they find out its my address they ask “what happens if I move” [laughs]. I can understand that but it doesn’t matter if I move. 924 is a state of mind. And that can’t be moved. I usually wear pants though haha. My girlfriends parents don’t even know I have tattoos [laughs].
Are you still up got more? What would you have tattooed if you had to decide right now?
I guess I would get a SNAPCASE tattoo. That has always been one of my favorite bands since I was like 14. I’d probably get something that honors the “designs for automation” record. That record really means a lot to me.
Did you manage to catch them live after their recent reunion?
Sadly no. I wish I could have. We were on tour at the time so I couldn’t go to the show.
They will be touring Europe next month. I’ll catch them somewhere near.
Ok, Jon. Anything else we should discuss? Feel free to add anything you like.
Thanks for the interview Karol. We can’t wait to get out to Europe. Check out Rucktion Records for our full length. It should be out in late April. Thanks!
Thank YOU! All the best with the new record and see you in Europe, I hope!
The main band photo by Eddy Venom.