James Rivera – Helstar

ToddStar: First off I’d really like to thank you for taking time out for us. We really appreciate you making time in your day.

James: No problem man, not at all.

ToddStar: I’d like to jump right in to the release; the new release, 30 Years of Hel. Ever since I got my hands on this thing it’s constantly on in my car, it’s on in my office.

James: Well that’s good news, huh?

ToddStar: Yeah, yeah. We’ll delve into it a little bit deeper but on the surface, what can you tell us about this release that most people might not know?

James: Well it basically speaks for itself. It’s a little item of a celebration of how long we’ve been around and everything we’ve done. It’s really kind of a symbol of what we thought was a great idea too, because live albums used to make bands back in the day when I was growing up. Now they’re kind of nostalgic but I’ve been in this band for 30 years now. I always felt like I want my live album too, my official live album for once. And so what if it doesn’t make us? But still just to have in the collection, you know, that we did do one. The other thing was basically it was like I said, mainly to say, “Hey, we’ve been around for 30 years, it’s time for us to do this thing and do a special show, and tie in all our history together so that now that we’re completely re-established and still going 150 miles per hour, we’re actually more established than we were then.” It’s a good way to present with the past, with the future and the present and see how all this stuff now sounds right together. Because a lot of the old songs, we brought them up tempo and we’ve done everything to keep them up to par with the times and stuff. So it’s kind of a good way to show new fans especially that might actually accidentally go get the first album and go, “This doesn’t sound so great” because that album had like the Beatles White album production back then.

ToddStar: Right, right.

James: But this way they can go, “Man, everything on this album is killer! It’s heavy and it sounds like this song was written today.” And I think that was a lot of the reason why we really enjoyed within ourselves to put this thing out there. You know, songs throughout our whole career.

ToddStar: Alright. And I think you kind of hit on it because it really is a time capsule of the band with a new sonic sound. Is that something you said you wanted to do?

James: Exactly. Right, that’s exactly it.

ToddStar: But you guys again, you’ve taken those older tracks and just bringing them into today’s world. And it’s funny, I was writing my review actually this morning and I like to absorb an album for a few days before I actually write a review. I termed you guys the “bastard unrecognised child of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Metallica”.

James: [laughs] There you go!

ToddStar: You even make reference to it on the album when you’re kind of explaining how the band came together back in ’82 where you guys said… you mentioned these other guys were doing this whole Iron Maiden, Judas Priest thing. Is that kind of where your love is as well? Your voice is all over different albums and even your influence is on different bands today, so what’s kind of your root?

James: My roots in singing derived from The Beatles in the ‘60s and that kind of stuff, and anything from the ‘60s. Then I got real into Motown; I was probably about 8 years old. It’s because I had an older brother that was going to college and he was listening to all this stuff, you know. But when it came to metal, Alice Cooper was my first idol but he was never really my first vocal influence. So I wanted to be Alice Cooper for his looks… and it’s not that I’d never liked his singing but I just think there was something about his singing that didn’t really nudge me to go, “Oh now I want to pick up a microphone.” So if you want to narrow down to the pinpoint of when did you want to pick up the microphone? It wasn’t until I started to hear early Scorpions and then of course Rainbow with Dio in it. Then believe it or not, Phil Mogg was a big influence on me, from UFO. So it was those kinds of bands that actually made me want to pick up the microphone. Of course, then Judas Priest came out and it was all over [laughs]. Yeah, then it was time to go pick up a microphone at the store you know. Those are the singers that really made me actually look in the mirror one day and go, “Okay, I want to be one of these guys” whereas before I was just singing because I loved singing, I guess, since I was a kid. But it was that era that pushed me to that edge.

ToddStar: I can remember being a kid in high school and buying Burning Star / Remnants of War, so for me who was a fan of the band when you guys first really started taking off, to see you guys really come full circle twenty something years later from those releases… what do you see in yourself both as a musician and a writer… what are the biggest changes in yourself in the last thirty years?

James: It’s not too much really. I guess now because of technology things are different now. We wrote differently back then. I remember at least definitely for the first two albums, I don’t remember us ever really going in with some of it written and some of it not. Burning Star for example, Jesus, all those songs were played constantly either in a jam room or at shows or somewhere for almost a year before we even did the demo. They were all written in the jam rooms as we were rehearsing and stuff like that; that was the old way. I might’ve written the words at home separately but everything was always put together like that. Now things are different. We’ll exchange stuff through the Internet, through the computers or up on a server and download Larry’s latest riffs and all that. Sometimes you’ll even send a whole song, completely finished just music with drum machine, the whole nine yards. I’ll get it and then I’ll sit back and I’ll listen to it, which is odd for me. Now, when I write my melodies I poke a little keyboard with some stuff or now I’ve gotten to the point where I just whistle! [laughs]

ToddStar: Really?

James: I just whistle… right. I come up with my melodies by whistling. It’s like old school, it’s kind of like, hey I know it sounds corny but man whoever created… well I can look it up but dude, the TV show Lassie, that whistle was just phenomenal [laughs]. You know, the little theme song for the Lassie show. So whoever created that, that’s a piece of music! It’s a whistle but… or better yet, Ennio Morricone that wrote all of the spaghetti western stuff. Those soundtracks I’m totally into and I actually have Ennio Morricone’s Greatest Hits where you have all the spaghetti western soundtracks and all that stuff. So whistling, to me, is a very good way to come up with melodies and it’s conventional because you don’t need anything else. One thing that the bad freaks out on is that I have a habit of taking a boom box that I have, it’s not a real big one it’s just an old little boom box thing with the built-in recorder and that’s what I use to record all my melodies, with a whistle.

ToddStar: No kidding?

James: [laughs] Yeah.

ToddStar: Yeah they probably do freak out [laughs].

James: Yeah its like, “Dude you really are old school, aren’t you?” [laughs]

ToddStar: Oh really? And getting back to the two CD collection with the DVD, this really is a good time capsule of the band. Where you’ve been, where you’re at and where you’re headed. And obviously you guys called from your whole repertoire to put this collection together, because you did well represent every era of the band. But are there just three or four songs that you think no matter what, no matter where you’re playing, no matter how old you are, will always be a part of the Helstar show?

James: Oh yeah, yeah. Well definitely Run with the Pack is number one for sure. Winds of War is always a very, very loved song no matter where we play that one at. Now that we’ve got some newer stuff I think that from here on out, people always expect to hear at least Pandemonium. So it’s kind of going from there to there, those are some of the songs I think that people will always want to hear. And you know, you can even take it further. The King is Dead is definitely one that people always want to hear for sure. And then of course, you can’t forget about Baptized in Blood.

ToddStar: Right. And one that I love and I don’t know how often it has been in your guys’ repertoire as far as live shows, but I’ve always loved Wicked Disposition.

James: Oh yeah!

ToddStar: From the first time I heard it, so I was so excited to see it on this collection.

James: Oh yeah. It was there religiously and I think what happened is now that we’ve got so many damn songs that for this last tour, we didn’t have it in the set list and there were a lot of people upset. But that’s because we got hammered so much when we did the tour. Last year because we were just touring on Glory of Chaos then, “Why didn’t you play Trinity of Heresy?” So we put Trinity of Herecy in the set list now and that really just takes it over the top too, as well. It’s weird because Trinity of Heresy and Wicked Disposition are almost the same, kind of, in a way that they are about the same subject sort of, in a way. And they seem to be the two songs from each one of those albums that were just like peas and carrots for some reason. So it’s like, “Alright, if we’re going to do Trinity then we can’t do Wicked. If we’re going to do Wicked, no Trinity.” That’s where we’re at now [laughs]. We can only knock the Catholic religion so much in a set list [laughs].

ToddStar: [laughs] Right! Again with this disc coming out and hopefully bringing you guys the deal that you deserve, what’s next? Are you guys writing for a new release, studio stuff? Are you putting something together?

James: Yeah, Larry and Rob are coming up with the riffs now. We’ve been doing it since on tour, and it’s a matter of time. They already got together once at Larry’s little room and started recording some stuff, so things are moving. We closed the year out here inHoustonwith a good welcome home show kind of thing, you know. After that we’re on the 70000 Tons, we’re going to be doing some shows around theFloridaareas with that as well. And other than that, yeah just focussing on the new record and aiming to get it out October 2013.

ToddStar: Okay.

James: Either that or November but we want to tour in October this time around, and not too early in the year… after summer because we started to notice that we’ve done this twice already and it’s kind of hard to do that and have sell outs or nice big crowds every night because people are still knocking off the dust from the festival season. So you’ve got to kind of wait until at least the end of September or around October and start getting out there again.

ToddStar: Okay, that makes sense. I’ve drawn my own conclusion in my mind what you guys sound like, and again some of that comes from what I grew up on and in a time when I grew up, but if you had to describe the sound of Helstar to someone who hadn’t heard of you guys, not necessarily a comparison to other bands but if you just had to describe the sound, how would you describe the sound of Helstar?

James: Well the sound is… I would say that it’s eerie. Eerie and dark. When we write stuff it reminds me of anything to do with… I don’t want to say really gothic but in a way it does remind me of Hammer Film movies. I wish some of our stuff could’ve been soundtracks for those movies [laughs] but we weren’t around then.

ToddStar: Right.

James: I would just say that the sound of Helstar is very melodic and heavy and dark. That’s the best way to put it. And eerie at times.

ToddStar: I would agree. I couldn’t have drawn that line better.

James: Even almost creepy at times too, because the riffs… this guy just did an interview asked me something similar to this and said, “Have you ever dabbled with the occult because it seems like a lot of your subjects are” he said, “I don’t know about all of them, but some of them. It seems like all of your subjects are pretty dark.” I said, “Well it’s kind of like a horror film. You can’t expect some happy scene to be in the middle of a horror film, it just doesn’t make sense.” I think that the music is what gives me the mood to write a lot of my subjects. It’s the minute I get riffs from Larry and Rob that that eeriness of the scales they’re using just automatically make me think of some vampire character… something. It’s just always something of that nature that brings it out, so it all goes together.

ToddStar: Other than getting very good riffs from your guitarists, what other arts do you find affect your lyric writing and/or your performing when you’re live on stage?

James: Well I could tell you what gives me a lot of ideas about lyric writing these days. Just watch CNN, that’s one hell of a show! [laughs] Who fucked up in our world now? Who’s doing something stupid this time? What madness is going on? Know what I’m saying? Yeah, that gives me a lot of inspiration to write songs.

ToddStar: [laughs] Well they do say life imitates art and vice versa. Are there any bands out there, newer bands releasing stuff that you did?

James: To be honest I hate to say this but I don’t listen to a lot of stuff much anymore, but I think because I’m very, very busy with a lot of stuff. If it’s not Helstar it’s Sabbath Judas Sabbath and I’m just constantly playing. But once in a blue moon I do have those moments to get into a car and I have XM radio, you know, or Sirius Radio I should say, and I’ll listen to the metal station and I’ll be like, “Wow, these guys are really cool!” and I’m like, “Wow, this is cool!” and then I’ll start looking it up on the Internet, “Who was that?” you know. But I can say like what are the latest bands… and now it’s funny because time goes by so fast but I would say these guys have been around now for five years plus, at least. But I think the one band that really took me by the boo boo when I first heard them was the 3 Inches of Blood. To me that was kind of really cool when I first heard them, and now I’ve heard their latest stuff and you can tell how they’ve matured even more since the first album, and I really dig the new song that’s on the radio a lot.

ToddStar: I love those guys as well. Hey James, if there’s one piece of music in the history of time that you wish you could say was yours, you had written it, you had recorded it, what would it be?

James: Oh geez. Something that I always wished was my song?

ToddStar: Yeah. Conversely, what’s that one song or that one sound that you heard that said, “I got to do this”? What was that one song that was just a turning point for you some time in your life?

James: I’ll tell you what song I really wish was mine and I thought was so… but it’s so good that I wouldn’t want us to ever re-do it. Matter of fact I’ve heard some bands re-do it but it’s not even worth it. It’s Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult.

ToddStar: Great choice, great choice.

James: Dude it’s timeless. The way that it… but it’s timeless the way they did it and to this day it’s almost one of those songs that nobody should touch. I think people have done it for… not because they think that they’re going to make it big by re-doing that song, I think it’s just because maybe their same passion for me but you know, let me put my spin on it. It’s just the way it was written and everything about it. It’s strange but it’s a song that to me it’s timeless, no matter what you do with it [laughs]. No matter how many times you hear it, it just always gives me the same feeling.

ToddStar: Awesome. Well listen, I know your time is precious so I got one more for you: what’s the meaning of life?

James: The meaning of life is just what you make of it. What you put in is what you get out, you know what I mean? To me that’s the meaning of life. It’s a thing that we were all given when we first popped out of our moms’ wombs and the principle part of it is, “Okay, I’m giving you this little thing, its called life.” You’re born. Put into it, you’ll get out of it. You get out what you put into it and that’s it. You have to be… always try to… the meaning of life is to attempt to always do right and then how can you do wrong? That’s never going to happen; we can’t live perfect worlds. I think that’s just the whole thing of it. You get out of it what you put into it.

ToddStar: Awesome. Well again, we really appreciate you taking time out for us today and I really appreciate such an insightful interview.

James: Alright, no problems. I enjoyed it myself man. You guys take care. We’ve gotten a lot of people, “When you coming up to theDetroitway?” and its like, “We’re working on it.” I know I-Rock is still there so…

ToddStar: Yeah, I-Rock is still there, Blondie’s is still around.

James: Oh there you go, see.

ToddStar: Yeah get your ass to Detroit man, you’ll find me in the front row.

James: Yeah. Is the scene kind of picking up again, because I know that the economy… that Detroit got the hardest of the economy thing and went down and I know a lot of shows were getting very minimal in that area. I just wondered if things have changed a little bit.

ToddStar: You might not be seeing the packed venues like you were but you’re still seeing the die-hards and they’re still coming out man. They’re still bringing the vans in through town; they’re not all hitting the sheds and the arenas. You still find them in the cool clubs, like you said the old I-Rock and the Harpos. They’re still around and they’re still putting asses in the door so…

James: Hey that’s all that matters.

ToddStar: There’s definitely still a home in Detroit for Helstar.

James: Yeah, gotcha. Cool man! Well listen, thanks for the interview. You know what dude, keep your eyes open and I’m sure once we do some dates in that area we’ll definitely be getting a hold of you or at least Dustin will let you know that we are coming through there.

ToddStar: We will hook this up.

James: Okay brother, you take care man.

ToddStar: Thanks James, talk to you man.

James Rivera - Helstar

Filed Under: Interviews

About the Author: ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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