Hellbastard | Interview
It’s been more than 20 years since Geordie crust-core legends Hellbastard graced Irland with their presence, and expectation is high for the reformed four-piece’s imminent return.
The Bastards Over Europe Tour, featuring devastating support from Boston metal-punks PanzerBastard and UK ex-Stampin’ Ground mob Suicide Watch, hits these shores this month, with the ‘Bastard promising “pure filthy ripper crust destruction”.
Andrew Johnston caught up with mainman, guitarist and vocalist Scruff (aka MS Lewty, for those who stuck around for the ill-fated ‘Natural Order’ era) and drummer Michael Brush to talk gruelling Euro tours, potentially fatal spider bites and why Hellbastard have no time for ‘Britcore’ nostalgia.
Metal Ireland: This is Hellbastard’s first UK and Irish tour since the early 1990s, and follows 2009’s rave-reviewed ‘The Need To Kill’ album. You say the band is “heavier, wiser and angrier” now. What can we expect from these shows?
Scruff (Guitar/Vocals): Usually, bands mellow with age. We have just gotten worse. By ‘worse’ I mean angrier and more determined to destroy venues with sheer, undiluted energy. Hellbastard now is like a fucking tank. We just plough on through. Everyone seems to think we are this ‘old’ band, but we are firing better than ever before. Just wait until we play over there, you will see what I mean.
Michael Brush (Drums): Expect a tight set from a band that loves what we are doing. We are a live band, it’s what we do, and if we’re not knackered by the end of the night then we haven’t done our job properly.
Metal Ireland: It’s a great bill. Whose idea was it to recruit PanzerBastard and Suicide Watch, and are you looking forward to hitting the road with them?
Scruff: The whole tour is my making. The best thing about organising your own tour is that you get to invite other bands along. I immediately wanted PanzerBastard because we are friends and we love them anyway, and Suicide Watch because they are easily one of the best thrash metal bands in the UK right now. I asked PanzerBastard if they would like to tour when we met them in Boston when we were over there touring last year. PanzerBastard are our brothers. We love each other very much.
Metal Ireland: What are your memories of playing Dublin and Belfast in 1989?
Scruff: The one time we came to Ireland in the 1980s we had such an awesome time. The Warzone Collective did an excellent job in advertising the shows and we were treated like royalty. It truly was an awesome time. We played the Art College in Belfast and McGonagle’s Bar in Dublin. There was a massive crowd at both shows and we loved it. In Dublin there were a few idiots trying to start some shit, which was quite sad to see. I think they were eventually thrown out by security, though…
Metal Ireland: After such a long lay-off, what prompted you to reform the band, and was it difficult to get things going again? What had you been doing in the interim?
Scruff: Hellbastard split ‘officially’ in 1991/1992. If we hadn’t, the band might not be here right now. It was a useless task trying to keep the band going – no money, bullshit troubles from various members, and on top of it all we had fallen out with our record label.
I moved south, formed a band with friends in Plymouth called Nero Circus, recorded a lot of material and made quite a few releases. We toured everywhere and it was fun. When that ended I formed another band called Sidewinder.
We did the same thing, then another band called Heavy Water. By this time, I had my own record label and we were releasing quite a lot of bands’ music. Then when that stopped I formed a band called The Dischargers with friends in Antwerp, Belgium. Then after that another band called Moodhoover. All these bands released records and kept busy. Trying times indeed.
It was very difficult getting the right members and keeping the band going. Right now, I guess we are on our final line-up. Things work out. A lot of the shit we do is enjoyed by every band member, and we are currently writing the next album.
To top it off, we have an ‘unknown’ fifth member called Dean. He organises our merch and travel itineraries and a whole shitload of other things. He is my friend – our friend. Dean even has his own official band shirt like we have. He just does everything. The only thing he doesn’t do is appear onstage with us when we play, or record in a studio.
We are really fortunate to have a guy like Dean on our side, because since he has entered the Hellbastard realms the band has striven to deal with things better. We feel more encouraged to participate in band activities, and try to better ourselves at every given opportunity. Dean is like the band’s dad. He is awesome.
Metal Ireland: The ‘Britcore’ scene spawned a lot of incredible bands. Do you regard that period as a definable movement, and if so, what do you believe is ‘Britcore’s’ legacy to the music world?
Scruff: ‘Any-core’ is bollocks. I can’t be fucked with championing any of it. The years 1980 to 1989 were some of the worst fucking years of my life. Kids got guitars and made some noise – end of, really.
It is all music – some great, some bad and some of it absolutely fucking dreadful. There never was a ‘movement’. Look at it now – fuck all has changed. The state has never been ‘smashed’ and we are still in this dystopian hell.
All we can do is educate and hope that some positive message gets through. A defining moment of awakening consciousness must have to be aligned with bands like Crass. I really do try and not align the band or myself with any genre.
Metal Ireland: Hellbastard were one of the many UK hardcore bands championed by John Peel. What are your memories of the man?
Scruff: I met John Peel on two or three occasions. He was always enthusiastic and very polite. A true gentleman.
Metal Ireland: Did you keep an eye on your peers’ careers through the late ’90s and ’00s – Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror et al?
Scruff: No, not after 1990 anyway…
Metal Ireland: Do you ever feel that Hellbastard should have stuck at it, or was it the right decision to split up when you did?
Scruff: What happens happens. When there is absolutely no reason to waste energy on something, why even try?
Metal Ireland: In hindsight, was the move towards a more metal sound with ‘Natural Order’ an unwise decision?
Scruff: We were heading that way anyway. It is what we did, no undoing it now. No matter how boring that album actually is.
Metal Ireland: ‘The Need To Kill’ is an excellent return to form, and you are currently working on the next full-length. How do you feel about the new material?
Scruff: That album was rushed. The drums are way too loud and that ‘sampled’ sound is too prominent. I like maybe one or two tracks off it. The album got very good reviews in most places. The UK press ignored us, but we are used to that. We are yet to make the album we should have made. I think our next release will be that album.
Metal Ireland: Since reforming in 2007, the band has completed a full headlining European tour, as well as two extensive tours of the USA. How did these go?
Scruff: Looking back on that massive European tour, it makes me feel quite sad. That was a nightmare. A lot of things that happened on that tour should not have done. We had the wrong line-up for one. We were travelling sometimes with people we did not want to travel with, and it put a lot of pressure on certain members of the band.
We should have been allowed a bit more say on that tour – we were paying the wages! There is a lesson to learn here. Never ever tour with a team that make a lot of choices on your – the band’s – behalf. Always make sure you have the option to have a decent ‘say’ when on tour, and make sure you are crystal-clear about everything – otherwise, just sit back and enjoy the ride…
The USA tours were fucking awesome in comparison. We’ll tour the USA anytime. Our drivers and transport and organisation on both tours were brilliant. We met a lot of great people and had an amazing time.
The people who turned out to our shows were for the most part greatly appreciative of what we do. We stayed with so many cool people and we were treated like absolute royalty. We owe many people, for sure. We have a massive extended family right across the United States of America anyway, and it is even bigger now.
Michael: The USA tour in 2010 was my first tour. I think it helped that I didn’t really know what to expect. I think in the end we played something like 43 shows in 50 days, covering over 29,000 miles. We played anywhere and everywhere – big venues, clubs, basements and even a café.
The best shows for me were in Richmond, Virginia, with Black Tusk and the awesome Parasytic, and in Chicago with Trypticon and 1349. At some point everyone got ill – it goes without saying really. Scruff got three black widow spider bites. He still played a week of shows every night until the point where he couldn’t move, so we thought it was about time we got him to the hospital. Poor bugger. We made a lot of friends in the States and are looking forward to going back.
Metal Ireland: Hellbastard prides itself on making “heavy music with decent lyrics”. Did it amaze you to see some punk and metal bands appear in the ’90s and ’00s espousing Christian, Satanic and even Nazi beliefs?
Scruff: Not at all. Anything goes now. Everyone has a right to voice their opinions. I just cannot stand dumb lyrics.
Michael: There’s no rules in music, to a degree. Bands can write about whatever they want. Personally, I might not agree with what they may write about, and they might not agree with what we do. Each to his own.
Metal Ireland: Generally speaking, do you find it disappointing that more heavy bands don’t inject some social or political content into their lyrics?
Scruff: Well, yes and no. What pisses me off is when a band has nothing at all to say, just some regurgitated radio-friendly bullshit that is harmless.
Metal Ireland: What are the main changes you have noticed in the scene today compared to 20-25 years ago?
Scruff: It seems to me that bands these days record a few demo tracks, upload them to a social networking site and think the world owes them a fucking living. I could write a book on this one question alone. Seeing as it is 2011 and not 1984, I just can’t justify taking up all of your space in your publication, be that cyber or hard copy.
Metal Ireland: Tell us about the new line-up of Hellbastard, and do you keep in contact with any of the old members?
Scruff: We have Tom McCombe on guitar, Paul O’Shea on bass, Michael on drums, and myself on vocals and guitar. Everyone is dedicated to the cause, we all enjoy each other’s company – which is very important – and I think we all trust each other with our lives.
We are all positive about the band, and thoroughly enjoy the creative aspects of songwriting and playing. What more could anybody wish for from a band?
I only really speak to Scotty, the old bass player, and Bry, the old drummer, from time to time. Me and Scotty and Bry always saw eye to eye, and we were very good mates for a long time when I lived up north. It was that classic ‘They Brought Death’ line-up, the one that came to Ireland way back…
Metal Ireland: You have a healthy presence on MySpace and Facebook, and your Wakefield show is being streamed live on the web. Have you fully embraced the internet age, or does part of you miss the old tape-trading, letter-writing days?
Scruff: Ahh, the laborious tape-trading days! Yes, personally I miss it. Unfortunately, the other current members of Hellbastard were too young to experience this era. Modern technology is faster, but takes the personal touch right out of it.
That’s what I miss, the personal touch. Our bass player, Paul, made the Hellbastard.co.uk site and updates the MySpace site as well. We have a ReverbNation site, too, and a Facebook site. Guess we are technology whores, huh? Listen, thank you for the time and attention given our way – looks like Michael has the last word here…
Michael: This is mainly down to Paul – he’s a computer genius. As Scruff said, most of the band are too young to remember the tape-trading days, so we have grown up with the ‘internet generation’, and it kind of comes naturally that this is the way to get the band heard on an even bigger scale. It seems to be working – two USA tours, European tour, festivals all over Europe, etc. Can’t be bad for a bunch of scruffy bastards.
Hellbastard play Fibber Magee’s, Dublin, on April 9, and Auntie Annie’s, Belfast, on April 10. Tour support comes from PanzerBastard and Suicide Watch, with Putrefaction, Twisted Mass and Absolutist also playing in Dublin, and War Iron in Belfast.
- Words by Andrew Johnston ::: 01/04/11