Katon D.Pena (vocals) – Sunday 17 June 2017
“It’s what’s in your head not on your head. We believe in that shit! ” – Katon D.Pena
How the hell are you?
Good! 12 days in a row now! We started in Belgium, then we went to Germany, France, Italy, Holland and then we came from the other side of France all the way here, we drove about 10 hours. Not much sleep but it’s awesome because we are so wound up from the show last night. It’s perfect ending with Hellfest! The energy of the crowd was great. They were good in the beginning but it just kept getting better. We were supposed to be here last year but that fell through, so it’s good to be back.
Why do you do it on an underground level even after 30 years?
We still have a base coming out! I don’t like touring because it’s so hard. I’m not claustrophobic but I don’t like being closed in on a plane for like 11 hours. You get stir crazy and want to go somewhere. I’m not a fan of traveling and planes and closed in places but when I get to shows and get to talk to fans that keeps me going. We do alright. We do enough shows a year and put out enough records that we are able to survive. The main reason I still do it is because of the fans. Even this tour, so many stories have come up of how many times they have seen us. A lot of the fans who come to our shows now have seen us 4-5 times all over the world. We have a lot of South American fans who come to Europe to see us. We have really loyal fans and that’s why I’m still doing it.
We haven’t had a North American tour in a minute…
We are going to do a few dates but it’s been a long time. We need to do one, but South America is where we are really big. It’s our second home.
Why do you think you do so well there?
We have a connection with the fans. We like to walk around and drink beer with them. We have that personal connection and South America loves that. Right when we land kids will be at the airport with cases of beer. We drink with them and stuff. A lot of bands don’t do that, and I get why they don’t, it’s not easy. Yet our fans bury their friends in our records and bring them to shows. How can you not care when you have that connection?
What in the music makes them connect so hard?
We don’t get political but we speak our mind. Our lyrics are straightforward, whether it’s about partying, what’s going on in the world, whatever. We’re not a political band, we’re more of a peoples band. That’s the connection. Our lyric speaks to them. Over the years we have written some Spanish language stuff which helps!
You’ve got sort of an everyman thing…
Yeah! We grew up on heavy metal in all formats! Be it death metal, grindcore, punk whatever. We obviously have punk roots because of the crossover with DRI and bands from Italy like Raw Power. Even the New York bands we’ve gotten along with, like Nuclear Assault and SOD and all of those bands. We attract punks, metalheads, people into grindcore… we had some of the earliest blast beats. Napalm Death for example covered some of our songs and that helped our music grow. We don’t give a fuck if you’re a black metal kid, a death metal kid whatever, we bring everyone together. We also use the punk tendencies to bring those people in.
It touches pretty much everyone’s reference points…
Exactly! You look in the crowd and you see black metal dudes alongside punk chicks with leopard skin and mohawks. It’s what’s in your head not on your head. We believe in that shit! Besides bands like Minor Threats or Bad Brains we have that attitude!
One thing that struck me about you… I wrote a review of your last record and you poked me on Facebook, and you did the same to another journalist buddy of mine, that personal connection blew me away. To what extent is that personal connection responsible for Hirax’s success?
When we started out it was pen pals and tape trading. We’ve kind of continued that in a different way with the internet and we tried to maintain that connection. Like we always send flyers out when we send packages. I don’t know any other way to do it. It works for us, it doesn’t work for every band, some bands try to avoid fans but we can’t do that.
You’re an icon, but one you can drink a beer with… was that a goal from the outset?
Fuck yeah! I didn’t know if I was going to get known, but that was the bands I grew up with! Like AC/DC, Bon Scott would drink with fans. I also want to talk to fans about music. I’m a music nerd so we will talk about crazy bands people haven’t heard of from different countries. I’m not just about bands that sing in English, I’m about bands who sing in different languages like Loudness or Trust. To me language doesn’t matter as long as the music is good. I like cultures, that’s part of why we go to South America, we can learn from them and they can learn from us. That’s how you learn, by sharing. That’s our thing, we’ve always been that way.
In a world defined by echo chambers do you think Hirax is more important than ever?
I think that’s what’s going on for us! For this last tour, even the weeknight shows were great! We noticed a lot of kids coming out as well as fathers who were older metal dudes bringing their kids to our shows. People know they can talk to us. They are stoked they can talk to us and we don’t mind! That’s what it’s about for us.
When you look at the bands you came up with in the 80s like Slayer, Metallica whoever… as one of that family of bands, where do you feel you fit in?
We are different. I’m happy for the bigger bands, but I’d be happy even if we didn’t get bigger than we are now. We started in a garage and to go from that to playing Hellfest is monumental. I’m happy with what we do and that’s why we still do it. Some people get frustrated but I’m happy people still like our music. If people like it cool, but if not, that’s fine too. Our next record is still going to be rooted. I think it’s shitty to make records that don’t sound close to your roots. Our roots are the underground. We are very aware that. Our shows in Italy were insane because of that. There were kids losing their minds with their eyes rolling in their heads. When you have that vibe going you don’t need to change it. Just keep doing what you are doing. Other bands change or do like groove metal, that’s not our thing. We are an old school thrash metal band we know our market. Not that we believe in marketing shit. We don’t listen to labels, we do what we want and that means we are responsible for all of it. We still work with all the independent labels too. We don’t want to forget where we started because that’s what made us what we are. For them it’s fine. Slayer and Exodus are different from us, but Hirax is Hirax. We’ve never even done a cover. We have always written our own music.
What do you love so much about music?
What it makes people feel. You can take someone who is upset and play them a band they love and you see that they feel so good! That’s what we love about it. We’ve had kids come and cry about how much a song means to them. If it gets them emotionally that’s all that I need!
Interview: Matt Bacon.