It always fascinates me how a plain idea of a song can suddenly create a certain mood and atmosphere which wasn’t there before and can take you literally to a whole different place. Today’s guests, New Jersey’s HELL MARY, are yet another noteworthy extreme hardcore band, brought to you and recommended by our respected cooperator Eric Scobie of Dropping Bombs label and the amazing Detroit hardcore band GREAT REVERSALS. As mentioned, the passion and focus of HELL MARY lies on almost macabre sonic imagery. These guys started the brand 3 years ago, released a couple of EPs and now are teaming up with Dropping Bombs to put out a one-sided LP of some songs they recorded last year and put on a 10-track self-titled debut full length, which is an absolute ass-kicker that sound like the spawn of CONVERGE or 108. The band features Tom Schlatter, who has played in a bunch of good screamo’ish bands for the last 15 years, including YOU&I, THE ASSISTANT, IN FIRST PERSON, BLACK KITES, CAPACITIES, WHAT OF US, and more. We have teamed up with HELL MARY’s vocalist Paul to ask him about some details on their backgrounds, approach to writing, hardcore in general and some artists recommendations. Unleash the beast and read the full thing below.
Catch HELL MARY live on November 12th at their LP release show at BoonTunes in St, Boonton, New Jersey with GREAT REVERSALS, Greg Bennick, SILENCE EQUALS DEATH, COMB THE DESERT, WEATHER LORE, and WASTELANDS.
Hey Paul! What’s up? How are you? How’s New Jersey?
Hey, I can’t complain! You? I’m actually at a friend’s place in LA right now. My girlfriend and I drove from San Diego/The Salton Sea yesterday and we’re headed to Yosemite and Lake Tahoe next.
Great! First time down there? Is this a kind of road trip vacation?
Yeah, it was our first time in these spots and yeah a mini road trip of sorts. I’ve been to Tahoe before for a small stop on a tour but that’s it. I never actually stayed there.
Where are you from?
Thanks! I’m based in Warsaw, Poland. I’ve just wrapped up my recent trip to Croatia, already planning to head north and show my wife some of the most amazing places in Norway.
Those picture look beautiful. My father’s best friend is Croatian and goes there all the time. The pictures always look awesome.
Cool :) Ok, Paul, let’s get into your work with HELL MARY. You’re back with kind of a reissue of your debut LP released in mid 2015. Tell us about your urge to serve this beast a proper packaging and label(s) you’re teaming up with.
The album came out almost a year ago and at the time I was unsure of the future of the band with Tom moving to upstate New York and Rosey being on tour for work, so instead of waiting for a proper release I kind of panicked and ended up getting CD jackets screen printed and made 100 CDs for a string of shows we had. My thought was if we didn’t do that there was a chance it wouldn’t come out at all. It was an interesting time for the band, we actually played a bunch of shows as a three-piece. Dylan played drums, Tom played guitar and I played bass. We all shared vocal duties. For me, that wasn’t the ideal live situation as I felt I couldn’t put 100% into bass or vocals but I’m happy we made it work and the album came out in some form.
Fast forward to 2016. Scobie from Dropping Bombs hit us on Instagram of all places with interest in putting out a one-sided LP. I guess social media does indeed have its perks! Anyway, he’s a friend of Tom’s and I think that’s how he found out about us. I explained our situation to him and he was still interested so I forwarded that to all the guys who played on the record and everyone was on board. Tom made new “vinyl exclusive” artwork for it which is great as the CDs were just our logo and some “heretic’s fork” public domain thing I found on Google.
We’ve since welcomed Adam on bass and he played all our 2016 shows so far. The door is always open for Rosey if we happen to be playing while he is on break from tour. We get by. We’re hoping to do a string of shows to celebrate the release. I am grateful that Dropping Bombs came in and got this moving.
Are there plans to exceed this collaboration for another record?
As of now there are no plans. We are just happy to get this out. Tom sent me a couple demos earlier this year. I wrote vocals for one of them, but I would love to get into a room and hack ’em out.
Looking back at your very first efforts in hardcore and your first recordings with HELL MARY, what are the connecting threads between both moments in time? What’s never changed and never will, and what’s new in your approach to writing, making music and running a band?
When HELL MARY started it all kind of happened fast. I was in a melodic hardcore band called, CAPTIVES, who decided to reunite for a special occasion in 2013. I hadn’t done vocals in a band for almost two years and I felt it was a crucial outlet that I was missing. CAPTIVES had a live lineup at the time that did not consist of all original members. With that lineup, we wrote a song or two which would be the foundation for HELL MARY. Most of that lineup played on the first HELL MARY 7″ which is a bit different than our sound now. As for something that will never change, I like to try to handle most of if not all things in house. Our first guitar player, Sara, recorded mixed and mastered the 7″ with help from our friend James. I guess that’s something that I’ve always stuck to with hardcore and punk- do as much as you can independently and on your own terms and do it for yourself and the people you play with.
We did one more EP…again with the help of our friend James. This time we tracked most of it in the garage I was living above behind my parents house. My long time musical comrade, Kevin came on board to mix it. The HELL MARY LP is an exception to the “in house” thing. Sara had left the band before our 2nd EP on good terms and we wanted to try something new with the next batch of songs as the sound had shifted a bit. Dylan, who left for the 2nd EP but rejoined, suggested Backroom. It should also be noted that Tom joined between EP #2 and the LP and had a huge hand in writing all the songs on the LP, jolting more life into the band.
So, we started tracking the bass and drums for ten songs at Backroom Studios with Kevin Antreassian. We initially were going to handle the guitars and vocals outside the studio to save money but we had a good feel going in the studio and decided to roll with it and finish the whole thing there. I typically like to record the music for the hardcore punk bands I’ve been in over a few consecutive sessions to capture the urgency and flow. However, due to scheduling conflicts, these songs were recorded over the course of 3 sessions in two months. The end justified the means, though, and the record turned out to be something I’m really proud of as I hope the other guys are too.
The writing for the LP mostly stemmed from Tom, Dylan, Jeff and myself fleshing out the songs in a room together with Matt joining us between tours. I think everyone wrote at least one riff for the record which is kinda cool. Tom had a lot of songs and riffs suitable for the direction we were headed that we worked on. I finished most of the vocals between practices by demoing them out on Audacity. I typically write vocals after basic song structures are set. The music can sometimes elicit a feeling or image that I like to build on. That’s one thing that changed about my approach to writing words. I used to use a lot of words to convey my message and my words lacked focus. Now, I try to say more with less words and try not to jump from metaphor to metaphor and stick to one or try to paint one picture rather than dabble in a bunch of ’em….with that said…this is getting long…
As for running a band…well, I used to really come down hard and try to push my bands to do as much as possible which hasn’t proven to be the most effective. In the beginning, HELL MARY established ourselves as weekend warriors but looking back, I think that’s what caused some people to leave. I’ve taken a huge step back since. I know we can’t play as much as we used to with Tom in upstate NY. I treat every show as a privilege and just try to put it all out there. I want to feel it the next day. A buzz from a good set can definitely get me through the week sometimes, ha. It’s not hard when you are surrounded by people who are right there with you putting in the same amount of passion and energy or more. We have a live lineup now that I would love to get into a room and write with (I think I said that already). I do not want the lineup to change again. I appreciate everyone who has been in the band and learned from my experiences with them (even you Colin!) and I’m super grateful for those who continue to let me play with them.
Photos by Jess Rechsteiner.
How do you expect your listeners to respond to your lyrics and concepts you try to communicate through HELL MARY’s work? Would you expect us to look them up? How important is that sphere?
For me, lyrics are really important. One of my favorite things to do is put on a record, take out the lyric sheet, and read along, especially if it’s a local band or someone I know. It’s like a small window into their world and may show things they don’t necessarily talk about or keep out in the open…you kinda learn more about the person. It really bothers me when bands don’t include the lyrics or, at the very least, post them on the bandcamp. If your band is posting a new track and I’m listening, I’m more than likely reading along if that option is available.
As for my lyrics…It would be nice if people read along but I don’t expect it at all. I try to record in a way where you can still understand what I’m saying but it’s still dirty and abrasive. But yeah, like I said…I do it for me and the people I play with…anyone else that connects or even takes the time to dig deeper is an added bonus. I guess that’s the typical approach of a lot of people playing music after a certain time in their lives. I wrote most of these words during a big transition period in my life, so I guess that’s an underlying theme. They are mostly personal accounts, even the one that gets semi-political. They all had a specific idea in mind. I typically write a lot of prose and zoom in on one idea and I don’t think the ideas in these are too hard to figure out…there’s nothing groundbreaking but I took some risks on this that I haven’t in the past. For a couple of the songs I tried to pick topics or ideas I haven’t written about in the past…I had the idea of ‘meth mouth’ in my mind for “Tongue in Cheek” and I used the brazen bull as a metaphor for the first track. I’m sure I’m not the first to do those things though.
How about others’ work? What something good you’ve seen or listened to recently?
I’ve been really into this band, MANDANCING, lately. They are local to New Jersey and are super dynamic and definitely have that soft/loud thing going on. Their songs “ocean” and “humor” really resonate with me. The lyrics are relatable across the board and it’s just refreshing to hear a band like that…great vocal melodies too.
As far as heavy music, there’s a band from the Warwick, NY area called VENEER. They’ve got that SHELLAC / JESUS LIZARD vibe. The drummer of my other band (CONTROL) has been filling in for SILENCE EQUALS DEATH and I got to hear some unmixed stuff from their upcoming full length and it’s really good. I’ve known Scott for a while and this will definitely be his best effort. There’s another band that Tom is in called, SCAVENGERS, from the Albany, NY area that’s about to drop some brutal music. I’m a big fan of Tom’s recent endeavors – NY in 64 / CAPACITIES / WHAT OF US.
We all play in other projects. Dylan’s got STINGER, HEADACHE, and CONVULSANT. Adam’s got ENTIA, DISSERIPH, PERMANENT TENSION and a plethora of other projects including, SCARY STORIES – which I play in too. Matt recently got a gig as touring guitar player for SENSES FAIL (I think I dropped something) and Colin is about to release ENTROPY‘s second full length. I probably left some out.
Anyway, There’s another band from south Jersey called, SUSPECT, that was cool to hear because they’ve got the melodic anthemic vocal thing going on. There’s a lot going on in NJ. Other than that, I’m excited to see MODERN LIFE IS WAR in September.
Ok Paul, so what’s next for HELL MARY? What’ve you got lined up in the near future?
We hope to play some shows surrounding the release of the record….maybe do a weekend here and there. Tom and I recently talked about writing some more songs and I really hope that happens. We will still play shows when we can. Other than that, we don’t have a game plan. The band isn’t dead yet.
Ok buddy, let’s wrap it up with some general thoughts on hardcore. What is it about hardcore that has drawn you in?
Overall, I like my hardcore honest, energetic and intense.
On personal level, it has served as a positive outlet for (sometimes) negative energy and keeps me motivated and grounded. Musically, the hardcore that I like, strays from a cookie cutter or formulaic approach and takes risks.
Lyrically, I like when bands can creatively write about unconventional topics or write about an old idea in a new refreshing way.
Photo by Pat Duncan
Are there any musicians, writers, either punk dads or newer artists, that have been particularly important for you and have never failed you?
My long time music partner, Kevin Carafa, has had his stamp on most of the projects I’ve been involved in. Even with him now living across the country (Portland, Oregon), I still filter ideas through him and he contributes to a lot of the projects I am in now whether it be mixing, writing or just giving opinions on parts. I can always rely on him to deliver and to take the music I’m involved in to the next level. He mixed the 2nd HELL MARY EP, “Drifter” and helped write the closing track, “Choir of One.” I really miss being in the same room with him working on songs. I’d say he fits the “particularly important,” and “never failed me” criteria.
As for a band that never failed me…I’ll go with a band that has a particularity short catalog and little room for error…hah… FOLLY. I’ve followed FOLLY since their ’99 demo and still get excited every time I get a chance to see them play as Folly or as any of the shoot-offs they’ve done since. They are the band that opened me up to “those bands with screaming.” I’ve always looked up to them as people and musicians and I just like how they carry themselves humbly and without pretension and how they constantly reinvent themselves through their music and lyrics. Word is, they have an EP in the works and from what I’ve heard live, it picks up and surpasses where they left off.
I also can’t wait to hear the new MANALIVE stuff with Kwame on vocals. I really enjoyed their first two EPs and the new song they just put out. I like a hardcore band who isn’t afraid to groove. NIGHT BIRDS Is another band whose catalog keeps me coming back. I almost have every record they released (I’m only missing two 7 inches, I think.) That’s not something I can say for any other band. It’s cool to get into a band when they start and follow them through their career and be able to buy their releases as they come out instead of having to fill in gaps in discographies that can date back many years and be very costly from bands you get into late or bands that are broken up.
Other than local stuff- I just pre-ordered the new DANGERS LP and 7″, I got to see MODERN LIFE IS WAR in NJ last weekend, I’ll more than likely see BAD RELIGION next time they come around and often times when I get into a newer hardcore/heavy band and peep the liner notes I am not surprised to see that Kurt Ballou had a hand in it.
Photo by Michelle Malave.
Alright Paul, thanks so much for your time. Aprreciate it. Feel free to drop your last words and take care buddy! Say hello to the rest of the guys from me. Cheers from Warsaw!
Thank you for taking the time to ask these questions. They were fun to respond to and got me thinking. It’s really awesome that our music somehow reached you across the pond. I truly appreciate anyone who shows the slightest interest in this band and it really means a lot when they take the time, like you did, to reach out and get a conversation going.