Interview BROKEN HOPE – Jeremy Wagner

Written by on 2018-03-18

Some interviews needs to be done, for the simple reason that you know they are going to bring you something that they are going to really deepen your musical vision. I never really appreciated death metal, beyond the classics, until BROKEN HOPE broke all the notions I had. As soon as I checked their latest album, I understood that I needed to ask a few questions to guys with so much passion. And when I got the answers from Jeremy Wagner, I was not disappointed.

Interview with a true passionate musician like we want to meet more.

Full interview.

Jeremy Wagner BROKEN HOPE
Jeremy Wagner BROKEN HOPE

“We finally have the greatest BROKEN HOPE lineup in our history and it made it easy to write the sickest album of our career.”

Gus : Hello and thank you for taking some time to answer our questions! For our listeners who may not know you yet, can you tell us more about yourself?

Jeremy Wagner : I’m Jeremy Wagner, guitarist and chief-lyricist for BROKEN HOPE. I’m also the only remaining founding member for the band. We have 7 studio albums, one live album, two concert DVD’s and EP released so far. I’ve been doing this for 30 years this year, 2018, and it’s been a helluva ride.

Gus : First of all congratulations on reaching thirty years of career! And also on that first official Paris show, it was about time! How excited are you to finally come and play here?

Jeremy : Thank you. I can’t believe that it’s been 30 years already. That’s just crazy to me! I’m very excited about playing Paris for the first time. We’ve performed all over France for years, but for some reason, we haven’t played Paris before. I have personally vacationed in Paris with my family before and I LOVE this city! The culture, the art, the food, the people… all so fantastic. So, to play Paris is something I’m really looking forward to, and it’ll be one for our history book.

Jeremy Wagner BROKEN HOPE

“Jeff was a huge hero and a huge inspiration. When I found out these guitars were going to be available, I wanted to have them and use them.”

Gus : “Mutilated And Assimilated” is the second album you’ve recorded since the band reformed in 2012. During that time, you’ve had some line-up changes, with the arrivals of Matt Szlachta on lead guitar and Diego Soria on bass. With them in the band, what did change in the writing and recording process, compared to “Omen Of Disease”?

Jeremy : We finally have the greatest BROKEN HOPE lineup in our history and it made it easy to write the sickest album of our career because everyone in this band wanted to make the heaviest album ever. Everyone in BH is a professional and we are brothers. It wasn’t like this before. There are two things that come into play when writing Broken Hope music and I’ll tell you about both. One is more of a subconscious mission and one is the organic part that you mentioned. The subconscious mission is in my mind I want to always write the heaviest riff I can because I’m a guitar player and I’m in a death metal band. One thing I love is a super sick guitar tone and super heavy, crushing, brutal riffs. I always try to attain the heaviest guitar tone that I can and I also try to attain the sickest riffs I can. So, in the songwriting process I am trying to write the heaviest shit I’ve ever written. I also try to keep it fresh. When you’ve written about a hundred death metal songs spanning several albums, you would think it would be a challenge coming up with new ideas but whatever my muse is, or such a thing that’s inside me, I am grateful that’s it’s allowed me to keep new ideas and new songs coming. I really want to retain the brutality and give people something new to hear as well. Now the organic part, I can honestly say I’ve never written a more organic way before than I have with Mutilated and Assimilated. To me when you write organically, you’re writing from your heart. It’s 100% honest, it’s pure integrity and it’s pure passion. Passion for death metal and passion for Broken Hope. Our whole band, all five members, work together with a love and passion for Broken Hope and death metal. We all work so well together, feed off each other; strive to make the best quality songs and the best quality production on an album together. Bro, we are the best of friends too. We are all on the same page. It’s a refreshing Broken Hope. I honestly can’t say there was a Broken Hope like this before. It was always maybe three guys on the same page and two guys not on the same page, not really sharing the passion that we have. That’s the big difference between “Omen Of Disease” and “Mutilated And Assimilated”: five guys share the same vision. Damian, Mike and I have been doing this Broken Hope thing since 2011 since we came back from hiatus. We have Diego Soria on bass and Matt Szlachta on lead guitar—these guys I wish I had in the band since day one. Between musicianship, professionalism and personality, they are the best. Personalities can kill a band or make a band great. We all have the same personalities. We are all cut from the same cloth. We all have the mission to be the best band we can and write the best material we can, and we did that. We did that together. That’s what I am talking about with writing organically. I have never written an album organically like this where there’s brotherhood, passion, comradery and there’s fucking love. A “love, for writing sick fucking music.” That’s just exactly how we did things. Which I think that’s what helps make our new album so exciting and great sounding.

Gus : I read in other interviews that you recorded this album in your personal studio. How did it affect the way you worked on the music?

Jeremy : It gave us a lot of freedom and gave us the leisure of taking our time recording and hammering out all of our ideas. Because of having a “stress free environment” and “complete creative control,” we had the ability to make the best album possible. Having my own studio has made things really better as far as making pure death metal art.

Gus : You also worked with some guitars from the late great Jeff Hannemann. How did that happen?

Jeremy : When I first acquired the guitars, it was Matt from ESP who brokered the introduction between Kathryn Hanneman, Jeff’s wife, and me. Kathryn was going to auction the guitars. When I heard about it, I got ahold of Matt. I’m like, “Matt, it was Jeff Hanneman and Slayer that sent me on my course as an extreme metal guitarist.” Really, between the Hell Awaits and Reign in Blood albums, that started everything for me — above and beyond my guitar-catalyst, Ride the Lightning. Jeff was a huge hero and a huge inspiration. When I found out these guitars were going to be available, I wanted to have them and use them. Another thing was that Jeff’s style of ESP guitars was similar to the styles I’ve always used, like the M body, neck-thru design, and ebony fretboard. I used one of them to write and record, Mutilated and Assimilated. Guitar World magazine ended up doing a feature on my acquiring these guitars. When the subject comes up, most people think I have four or five of Hanneman’s guitars. There’s actually way more. I have several of Jeff’s ESPs that were custom made. I have the Slayer album tribute guitars. Then there are also older ones from other manufacturers. I really took on a huge part of his estate, including Jeff’s amps, gear, and personal effects. In my home, I now have a complete Hanneman room that is a dedicated museum. I ended up using 2 of Jeff’s guitars to exclusively write and record the album with and I’ve dedicated our new album to the memory, spirit, and legacy to Jeff Hanneman.

Jeremy Wagner BROKEN HOPE

“We wanted to convey a no compromise attitude while delivering a sonically-superior album at the same time while keeping that integrity.”

Gus : The very first thought I had with this album was that it bleeds integrity and honesty at every single note as well as a no compromise attitude. Was it the feeling you wanted to convey on this record?

Jeremy : I feel this period is the best in BROKEN HOPE history. Lots of brotherhood, comradery, and love of death metal. To that end, that spirit and attitude really made our music better. Sure, it’s still angry and relentless, but all the band members share a real vision of how we want the songs to crush and how we want the quality of the album to be high. As you mentioned, we wanted to convey a no compromise attitude while delivering a sonically-superior album at the same time—while keeping that integrity. Somehow we pulled it off. I’d like to think we did it as a team of brothers…it make everything better when your band is full of guys who get along so well. Haha!

Gus : “Brutal Death” is a genre often associated with pure speed and flawless technicality. But listening to “Mutilated And Assimilated” I felt those aspects were taking a backseat and that it was more about great riffs and pure heaviness. Are those the qualities you look for in a song?

Jeremy : I’ve always been of the school of the “power of the riff.” I feel the riff trumps all the technical-speed-blur-of-look-what-I-can-do style of death metal writing. As you mentioned, great riffs and pure heaviness is paramount. I feel I’ve always had that mindset…

Gus : What really strikes me on that album is that it is not something you can really take track by track. It gives more of an ensemble feel where you feel like the whole thing is here to swallow the listener and chew him for 40 straights minutes. Were you looking for that type of coherence when you wrote it

Jeremy : Short answer would be, yes. I always write music with the idea that each song should “stand out” and have its own identity. I also don’t like “filler” material…I want every song I write to be really strong and hold its own, you know?

“We’re fans afterall, so we play what we like to hear.”

Gus : As someone who is usually not that fan of “Brutal Death Metal”, I found that this record was surprisingly catchy, and without realizing it, I came back to it much more than I thought I would. In your opinion, what makes BROKEN HOPE work with an audience not familiar with death metal?

Jeremy : First off, thank you for saying so. I’m very happy when we’re able to turn someone’s opinion and attitude toward death metal, or BROKEN HOPE, into a positive one. Like I said before, the riff is always important, but it must also be catchy! When you hear a super-heavy and catchy riff, it sticks in your head. Think of your favorite songs of any genre… They probably contain a catchy riff or melody. That’s how we write music… We come up with some catchy riff, make it heavy, and voila! We have a new song. We’re fans afterall, so we play what we like to hear. Haha!

Gus : I was also struck by some of the lyrics in the album. Can you tell us more about where “Russian Sleep Experiment” and “The Necropants” are coming from?

Jeremy : I actually got the ideas for both of those songs from our singer, Damian Leski. Both of those songs are based on TRUE things. The Russian Sleep Experiment was a real experiment where human subjects were put through hell. And the Necropants are actual pants made from human flesh and is tied in with Icelandic witchcraft. They even have a pair of Necropants on display in a museum in Iceland.

“The excitement of death metal as a new form of metal surprised me back in 1988 and the resurgence and excitement for a new wave of death metal is actually surprising me now in 2018!”

Gus : The artwork of this album is amazing; looking at it I got the feeling of The Thing from the John Carpenter movie, mixed with the Marvel character “Man-Thing”. How it was created and selected for the album?

Jeremy : I have a longtime relationship with our cover artist, Wes Benscoter, and he created this brilliant artwork for the album. It’s tied in to the title track. The title track specifically is a direct tribute to both the John Carpenter movie The Thing and the original short story “Who Goes There” by John W. Campbell Jr. Carpenter’s 1982 adaptation of Campbell’s 1938 story is actually very much the same. That all said the concept of The Thing in film and story hit a nerve in me like no other tale—written or on film. The movie is my favorite horror film of all time. It’s very unsettling every time I watch it. There’s not a more original idea in horror to this day and there’s no better practical FX on screen since, either. Therefore, I felt compelled to write a song/lyrics about it. And it’s pretty cool that it turned out to be the title track now. I’m proud to pay such tribute to this amazing film and to John W. Campbell Jr.

Gus : The band has been going on for 30 years now. Looking back, what are the things that surprised you in 1988 that still surprise you to this day?

Jeremy : The excitement of death metal as a new form of metal surprised me back in 1988 and the resurgence and excitement for a new wave of death metal is actually surprising me NOW in 2018! For me, the spirit remains the same; still out to crush the world with sick death metal and have fun doing it. We are doing it for the passion that we have for this music. Still hungry! There’s also a new ‘feel” and “new blood” in the band that makes things surprising: The “feel” being different this time around—it’s a feeling and vibe that harbors a new strength and positive delivery in the brutality. The new blood in the band makes the “feel” a ferocious and serious thing. Matt and Diego brought a true passion for their instruments and for death metal into Broken Hope—and they brought brotherhood and that positive delivery I mentioned. I’ve never experienced this before in Broken Hope before, and am I ever grateful for this lineup and genuine comradery. I think over time I’ve matured and really have a handle of my craft—writing music and writing lyrics. I have developed great radar for what sounds good to me in a riff and recording, and what will hammer home in the lyrics I write in a strong, succinct, and memorable way. I fucking love being a guitarist and I fucking love being a writer/author. I believe I do have a voice—a musical voice and a written-word voice—just as a veteran songwriter and veteran author has. I don’t want to sound arrogant with that; I still have a long way to go, even after all these years, but I’m getting there, and I think my “voices” are more distinct and original than ever before. Also, there’s many great bands in this genre who are new “millennial bands,” but for some reason, they’re not breaking major ground that the founding fathers haven’t already smashed. That said, it seems that death metal is more popular than ever—again THAT is surprising to me NOW. Once thing I find is that there’s thousands of kids who just discovered death metal and love the old bands, or there’s thousands of kids who also discovered death metal, but they think it’s a new form of “deathcore!” It’s funny and it also makes me want to teach a death metal history class to everyone! The current state of death metal is indeed stronger than ever. The classic bands still prop it up to this day. And it’s the boatload of veteran bands who made last year of 2017 the greatest year of death metal in a long time: IMMOLATION, ORIGIN, OBITUARY, DYING FETUS, SUFFOCATION, BEHEMOTH, SIX FEET UNDER, and many more. That all makes me really happy to say. There’s nothing heavier than death metal and grindcore. I fucking live and breathe death metal. That’ll never change. I’m a lifer because I’m in love with a genre of music that gives me pure sonic pleasure and a release like no other. There’s none more loyal to this genre than the death metal community. As I mentioned before, It’s the culture and brotherhood/sisterhood that makes it live and breathe. And you see the same faces at festivals and death metal shows around the world. This genre is important to people, it’s a major part of their lives, and I love that and never take that for granted. I’m a death metal fan first.

BROKEN HOPE Band Photo

Gus : On Real Rebel Radio, we have a little tradition: we always end our interviews with a few “less serious questions” and here they are: First, what is the best thing to ever happen to you right after a gig?

Jeremy : Best thing to happen to me was walking off stage in 2012 after playing a concert in San Francisco and Kirk Hammett of Metallica was waiting in my dressing room! He had come out to see BROKEN HOPE and he loved it. One of my biggest heroes was there and I couldn’t believe it.

Gus : What is the worst record you’ve ever bought?

Jeremy : I bought an album for an old coworker…it was the band, Aqua. They had that song, “Barbie Girl” or something. Terrible.

Gus : If you could play a show wherever you wanted, what place would you choose to play at?

Jeremy : I’d love to play Wembley Stadium—sold out of course. That’s the ultimate fantasy.

Gus : If you could go back in time, and choose the one song to be played during the big-bang, what would you pick?

Jeremy : It would definitely be Slayer, “Raining Blood.” Imagine that during the Big Bang!

Gus : Thank you once again for your answers, as that was my last question. Do you have one final word for our listeners?

Jeremy : Yes! I send out a huge “thank you” and “cheers!” to all of our fans out there. And I give you a huge “thank you” for this great interview! I hope you all come out to see BROKEN HOPE in concert. Please say hi to me!

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