Formed way back in 1982, the cult British act named HELL only saw the release of one EP “Save Us from Those Who Would Save Us” in 1983 only to meet a tragic, untimely disbandment after the original singer Dave G. Halliday committed suicide. But even though they never released a full-length album in the 80’s, their legacy was strong. Hell was one of the first bands to use what would later become known as corpse paint and put extra effort in stage show. But more importantly, Hell’s sound helped shape the taste of one of the most acclaimed metal producers today, Andy Sneap who helmed the production for the likes of Amon Amarth, Accept and the legendary Judas Priest. Therefore, it came as no surprise to anyone when Sneap was on board for the resurrection of the iconic band in 2008. We sat down with Andy Sneap and guitarist and founding member Kev Bower to talk about the upcoming album, the band’s internal affairs, the new Judas Priest album and more.
First of all, we heard you’ve had some trouble with your equipment at the Manchester airport. Can you tell us what happened?
Andy Sneap: We flew easyJet (laughs). It wasn’t so easy.
Kev Bower: All of our equipment got lost. And all of our equipment is still in Manchester. We didn’t find out about this until we arrived in Venice last night at 11 o’ clock. There have been many, many, many, many phone calls and we’ve pulled in lots and lots of favors from people. And the whole show today was done using borrowed guitars. It was technically very challenging.
Andy: But it’s all right, we actually had a good time up there. It was just the guitars.
It was awesome. I was honestly a bit disappointed when I didn’t see the stools and everything you guys usually have at your shows. But I have to say you managed to compensate with your playing.
Andy: Yeah, well to be honest, when we do these fly-in shows we’re not going to bring anything like that because you just can’t. Other times we can use those as well when we do the drive-ins and sometimes we’re doing it when we were playing Alcatraz in Belgium and the gear’s getting shipped there so we can do things like that. But when it’s a quick fly-in, fly-out festival it’s just the basics. And we only have 45 minutes up there, so it has to be bang bang bang. It’s just the way it is.
Absolutely. You’ve already played this festival in 2012, back when it was still called MetalCamp. What are your memories of that show?
Andy: It was very dark and we got a lot of orange sand all over us from the tennis court. Was it on the same site as this or a different site?
I think it was the same site. This is my first time here so don’t hold my word for it, but I believe they did not change the location.
Andy: It looks familiar. I seem to remember we had a late slot.
Kev: We were on the second stage.
Andy: Yeah, but it was good. It seemed really dark then, so I don’t remember much. But I’ve had a better time today.
Kev: It’s always good when you come on stage because it’s very early in the day and there are not too many people. But after the first song it was filling up really well and it was good to see that everybody that came stayed. Which means that they didn’t hate us, which is good (laughs).
Yes, it’s been like this since the first day. The five o’clock band usually manages to draw the crowd in. When the sound starts people start pouring in from the camp and the beach.
Kev: But from the fans’ point of view, today is obviously the last day of the festival. And if I’d been at MetalDays for five days I wouldn’t want to go see us (laughs). I mean, five days in the sunshine, with the light and stuff, I was really surprised and happy to see that many people watching us, which is great. And everybody here is just so super cool: the production guys, the stage crew. It’s just fantastic, it helped us so much today.
A lot of those people obviously haven’t seen your shows or known about the band before, you could see the surprise on their faces the excitement and the surprise. It was great. Moving on, your new album is four years in the making. Do you have any news about it?
Andy: Well, it’s not because we haven’t started making it (laughs).
Well, in the process of making (laughs).
Kev: Let me explain a little bit about this. We’ve never hidden the fact that Hell is not our number one job. Having a double Grammy-award-winning producer like Andy in the band who is absolutely top of his game and is in massive demand, it’s obviously fantastic for us because he’s done lots and lots and everything we record sounds fantastic. And he’s rather busy with Judas Priest. I think he’s working fourteen hours a day and hasn’t had a single day off since March. He works very hard and he’s a professional record producer, that’s his job. Hell is a hobby. It’s fun that we have when he has a bit of downtime. And for somebody like Andy who has spent 20 years building his career to this level. I mean, when Glenn Tipton calls and says ‘Andy will you please do our album’ I think he’s not going to say ‘Sorry, I’m too busy in Hell’. So one of the main reasons for the fact that the album is not appearing as quickly as some of the fans would like is the fact that this is not what we do for a living. Secondly, and probably just as important, everything we have ever done since day one has been about quality and not the time scale. And so we would rather the next album take two more years and have it be absolutely fantastic.
Andy: The thing that everybody is getting used to is that bands are doing an album every year and a half and doing the touring cycle. And we can’t really do that, we all have our personal lives. And there’s never a touring cycle with Hell really. It’s not going to be a quick process. We’ll see. The album is done when we’ve done it. We’re not going to rush it. It’s not that we don’t care about the fans, it’s just that the album has to be good enough for us to release it. We’re probably halfway through with writing material-wise. There’s progress being made, but it’s a slow progress. We’ll keep chipping away at it and when it’s ready we’ll get it out. It’s as simple as that.
I absolutely agree with you. With the record sales down and everything shifting to streaming, there’s no need for hyperproduction and for the bands to chug out album after album, year after year.
Andy: I think that when the bands do it every year and a half, there’s really no point to do that. It’s a very old-school mentality.
Kev: Just to add to what Andy said, the first album was made entirely out of old songs. The second album was half old songs, half new songs. The third album will be all new material. But if you just take something like the packaging, with the Ouija board. Just a lot of time and ideas went into that. That is going to set the bar and want the next album to be even better than that. And we’re just not prepared to do it until that level of quality has been reached. We’ve always tried to a little bit innovative and a bit more creative than other bands. Like Andy said, you have these bands that keep making the same album every time, just with a different title. And there’s no variation, there’s no progression, there’s not much difference really. And they have to do that because it’s their profession.
Andy: Yeah, bands that are trying to survive now, they’re all about getting out on the road and the part of the touring cycle is putting the new album out. And we’re not really in that position as a band. We’re not doing this as a means to survive. We’re doing this because it’s a lot of fun! We enjoy it, and we’re good friends and we have a lot of laughs when we do this. That’s pretty much where the band’s at.
I see. Andy, how is it for you being both a musician, a guitar player and a producer. Does it put an additional strain on you?
Andy: No, not really. I actually find it very easy because when I go into production it’s a natural thing for me. When I was a musician I was always very interested in the production side of things. So I pursued that when Sabbat split up. I never thought I’d make a living out of music industry as a guitarist. And by the time I got into production, I think it was ’96, I was surprised. People seemed to be coming to me (laughs). I’ve got something going on here. So I actually find it really easy. I’m very critical of what I do as a guitarist. And because I started out as a guitarist I have a very good way of dealing with musicians. I can communicate with another guitarist in the studio, I can actually pick up the guitar and play the riff for them. I guarantee, once I’ve done that they play that riff a lot better (laughs).
Do you have a problem with sound engineers when doing a live show?
Andy: No, because I don’t hear it (laughs). To be honest, I did a lot of live sound when I started out. And it’s not an easy job in a situation like this when you’re dropped into it and have a 20-minute line check. I did the sound for Exodus in ’97 at the Dynamo festival. Fucking hell, that wasn’t easy. And with big festivals, it’s an even bigger nightmare, so I never envy a live engineer in situations like this.
And how much does it help having a professional actor fronting the band?
Kev: It was the best thing that could happen to us, to be honest. When we’d almost finished recording the first album, we still haven’t found a singer. And there was this song, “Plague and Fyre” where we needed a voice-over, a kind of a big Richard Burton voice-over. And my brother had spent some time in the theater doing the acting work, and I thought I’ll get my brother Dave just to do this voice over. And that’s really how it all started. He did the voice-over and nailed it perfectly in one take or two takes. And then we were just sitting in the control room listening to the voice-over, and he literally started singing along because he knew all the songs from the first time around. And Andy and I looked at each other and thought holy shit, we’ve found our guy. And obviously, because he comes from the theatrical background, what he does with his hands and the headset mic, the stilt walking and all this stuff, it’s just the perfect fit. And he’s my brother, so I get along pretty OK with him (laughs).
Is there any sibling rivalry in the band?
Andy: Yes (laughs).
Kev: Dave is… There’s no such thing as a perfect human being.
Andy: (laughs) To be honest, we all have our flaws but we’re old enough to put up with it now.
Kev: It’s like being in a relationship with a girl. She’s beautiful and 99% of the time she’s just the best. But 1% of the time she just drives you mad. It’s the same with Dave really, except that 1% of the time he’s great (laughs). I’m just kidding. He’s the perfect guy for the job. He’s a great singer, a great frontman and he’s really the focus for the audience. He’s a little bit lazy. If something needs doing Andy and I would be straight on it immediately. Dave would spend six weeks thinking about the problem (laughs). It’s just his personality, it’s just the way he is.
One thing that impressed me the most, even though he’s an actor and it’s to be expected, is that he never left the role during the entire show, not for a minute. I mean, I don’t know if that’s who he is off stage as well (laughs).
Kev: Yeah, that’s him (laughs). It’s everybody. I’m naturally a very shy person, but when you get up there and put the guitar on you are a different person.
Andy: Yeah, it’s the same for everybody, even the bands that look more casually than we do. You go up there and project an image. The last thing you want to do is to look dull on stage. If you want to be entertained, that’s not something that’ll entertain you.
One thing that I have to ask because I’d hate myself if I didn’t, is what can we expect from the new Judas Priest album?
Andy: I think it’s got a lot of energy about it. When I first got involved with them we had 26 ideas that we were working on, which we boiled down to 14 or 15 now. And there’ll probably be 12 or 11 songs on that album. We haven’t decided which ones yet. I think it has a really good energy and a lot of classic moments. Rob’s singing is great, Richie is on fire on it. We really pushed the bounds and had them play together in the studio. We took the templates from the band playing together rather than demos. Glenn originally wanted to do it like on the last few albums and use the demos as templates. I made them actually play as a band. I think we got quite a fresh feel on it and took quite an old-school approach. We got Rob to work on the harmonies for the verses. The first meeting I had with them, I didn’t even know Rob was going to be there. And I went to Glenn’s house, and he and Richie were there. And then the doorbell rang and it was Rob, and I thought ‘Oh, fucking hell’ (laughs). And within the first thirty minutes, I was telling Rob how to sing and I thought to myself ‘shut up, I’m telling Rob Halford how to fucking sing’ (laughs).
But it went cool, I told him I wanted that “British Steel” mid-range and he told me ‘yeah, I don’t want to sing like a pop singer. You’ve got to push me a bit, I can be a bit lazy.’ Rob did great. Tell you what, they have so much experience and there’s no ego there at all. We do six or seven passes, and I’d ask him to try something a bit different on this part and he’d be like ‘no problem, give me another four takes.’ And Tom Allom and I would sit there, and we pretty much agree on everything. Another thing Rob’s really good at is harmonizing with himself. Tom’s really good at producing it. I didn’t realize how much the harmony ideas on classic Priest albums were Tom Allom’s influence. So Tom was there and because he’s a keyboard player he’d be singing harmonies to Rob, and Rob was nailing them like that. And straight away, I was playing it to Kevin yesterday, total old-school, isn’t it?
Kev: Before we flew out to Venice Andy and I sat and he played me two of the new songs. And there’s one in particular which may be a B-side, which one of the members of the band doesn’t particularly like. And I was sitting there, listening to this new song and it could have been a bonus track on “British Steel”. It was just the perfect Priest. The greatest thing you can say about one of the tracks that Andy played me is that since I’ve always been a Priest fan, and it’s always weird when you listen to a new song from your favorite band, you have high expectations. And within 30 seconds I had this big smile.
Andy: Another thing with that, working with Glenn, he’d come up with things and you’d be like ‘no, no, don’t do that.’ And then he’d do it and you think it’s Judas Priest. It’s weird, they have a way of doing things that’s quite unorthodox and unusual for a guitar player. But then Glenn would come in and I always see something different. He’d sing a guitar melody or the vocal melodies. I didn’t realize how much Glenn was responsible for the melodic side of Priest. But when you see the credits on all the old albums, I think he’s credited on every song. But there’s definitely a method to Glenn Tipton’s madness. And it’s really Glenn. And then Rob would come in, and it’s icing on the cake. It’s a great dynamic and it’s been really fun working with them. Super nice guys.
Kev: And what Andy says about Rob’s singing, he’s really singing fantastically. Really, really good.
Andy: In fact, I got the multi-tracks from “Screaming for Vengeance” from Tom Allom and I think Rob is singing as well as back then, listening to it. You document something that has to be 1982 when “Screaming” was done. And that’s impressive for a guy that’s thirty-five years on down his career. I mean they’re playing in E flat now, so they are semi-tuned down, but most bands are these days. He’s nailing it. I took a vocal line from “Screaming for Vengeance”, I think it was a high F sharp and threw it into one of the songs for a laugh. And Rob said, ‘oh that’s a good idea’ and he nailed it. He can still hit the high notes off of “Screaming for Vengeance”!
Thanks so much for the interview again, sadly this is all the time we had. Do you have any messages for your fans and our readers?
Andy: Just thanks for the support and keep it heavy!
Kev: What Andy said. Sorry that the album is late, but we guarantee that when it’s out it’s going to be well written.