The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world





HIRAX's KATON W. DE PENA is one of the great survivors of the 80's Thrash Metal scene and his band Hirax is producing the music of their lives at the moment. One of the great privileges of The Rockpit is getting to talk to the people who make the music we love, but you sometimes get the feeling that you are talking to someone who really lives the music, and their passion is infectious. Talking to Katon you feel you've known him for years and our 15 minutes ran to almost an hour. I hope these guys make it downunder soon so that we can all see the band I think stacks up best against the 'Big Four'...

Mark: Hi Katon, it’s The Rockpit from Australia. Just to give us a little background and bring us up to date with Hirax can we start by talking a little bit about the latest line up of the band?

Katon: Yeah, I have two brothers, the lead guitarist, Lance Harrison, and his brother, Steve, plays bass, and then we have Jorge Lacobellis on drums, and they’ve been with me for quite a while, so leading up to this record, we’ve been touring a lot. The record before this was “El Rostro de la Muerte”, and so after that record for the last five years, we’ve been basically touring. We’ve spent quite a bit of time in South America, as we have a really big fan base down there; so we’ve been there quite a lot. Over the past five years we’ve been back and forth from there and doing other dates and stuff in other countries, but a lot of time down in South America. We started to realise that we needed to do a new record, because people kept asking about a new album, we’ve always tried to make sure that the records we’ve done had integrity and were not rushed, just to put a record out. Sometimes bands just put out new records, but I think it’s more important to put out a great record, so leading up to “Immortal Legacy”, the touring paid off because we got to know each other better as a band. What we wanted to do on this new record, was make a record that we could reproduce live, so it’s a live sounding record even though it’s a studio album, it has that live feel to it. It’s really big; the production’s really nice, because we brought in a very good producer, a guy that’s been around for a long time, in Bill Metoyer (Slayer, Armored Saint, W.A.S.P. and many others). But we’ll talk more about that later!! We are pretty damn solid, and I think going out on tour so much brought us more together; it’s funny because the bands name’s been around for over 30 years, but we are like a hungry, young band now!  We’re happy with what we’re doing, and the fans that we have are fanatical, and they really support what we do, so it’s hard not to be fired up when you have such great fans!

Mark: Yeah, according to the bio on your website you formed in 1984, so I guess that makes it your official 30th anniversary year, this year. You have a huge European tour coming up in April and May, are you doing anything special to celebrate the thirty years??

Katon: Yeah, it’s funny, when we play live anyway, we go through a history of the band, we go back to the first album, and we do songs off each record we’ve ever done, we do three or four off each record. This new record makes it really special, as it has come out on our 30th anniversary, and it’s a true testament that we still play fired up music, and it’s from the heart, and we’ll play live three or four songs of this record too. It’s got to be special in the sense that the band is firing on all cylinders now, we’re more together as a band, and the music’s tighter than it’s ever been. But, we’ll still go back to some of the earlier material because for our anniversary we have to represent the early albums as well.

Mark: I guess in the early days when you were playing with the likes of Slayer, Exodus, Metallica, it must have been very intense. What was the scene like back in those days?

Katon: It was really fantastic, in the sense that everybody was trying to one up each other, we were all trying to kick each other’s ass!! I thought that was great, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of competition, especially when it’s producing bands like that! I don’t think there’ll ever be a time like that again. There are still a lot of great new bands, I’m just saying, back in the eighties, between us, Exodus, Slayer, Megadeth, and Metallica, and even bands coming a little bit after us, like Death Angel and Possessed, and all bands like that, we were just trying to top each other! Even in Los Angeles, before Thrash, there were bands like Armoured Saint, Savage Grace, a lot of early metal bands, so we were all just trying to come up with better and better stuff. It was a great time to be a part of it; there were so many places we could play, and then we started to go up to San Francisco, and that’s when we started playing with bands like Testament, when we first played with them they weren’t called Testament, they were called Legacy. It really was the birth of Thrash Metal, and we were fortunate and very proud to be a part of it.

Mark: It would have been a great time, and we are fortunate that most of those bands are still going today; it’s one of the most enduring forms of metal.

Katon: It’s really cool to see that Thrash Metal has lived past 30 years, because  when we all started out, we never thought it would be around that long! There are a lot of great shows, I mean, the first time we ever played in San Francisco, it was Legacy (Testament), Hirax, Megadeth and Exodus, and that was the first time we played up there, and by all accounts that’s a stellar line up to go and see in one club!!

Mark: That would be a great one to see today, and especially in a club!! I don’t normally ask this question, but the name of the band intrigues me, where does that come from?

Katon: When we were young kids and we first started rehearsing, we were trying to think of names, and we were yelling out names in the house, and it was going on for a while, so I went off to the bathroom, and whilst I was there I was reading wallpaper, it was this old, like vintage wallpaper, and I saw this thing and it said Hirax. There are 2 things called Hirax, one is an animal, which is spelt with a ‘y’, from Africa, and the other Hirax, is actually a bug repellent for killing mosquitos!! And that’s really where I got the name from! Over the years our name has become more popular, and everyone knows the name Hirax, as being the band, and basically I got it off a bathroom wall!!

Mark: It is a great sounding name, and I don’t know what I expected it would be!!

Katon: It’s amazing you say that, because I just wanted a name, and I wanted something I could remember real easy!! And now at our shows, a lot of the kids chant our name and it sounds amazing, I feel like a genius, because it’s the perfect name for kids to yell out at the shows!! I’m really happy with the name, and it’s pretty easy to remember!!

Mark: It is! It’s completely different to anything else! Tell us about the big European tour in April and May; is that your biggest one yet, over there?

Katon: Yeah, it’s funny because we didn’t realise we’d have to do so much work! It’s cool, we don’t mind that after you put out a pretty damn good record, that’s what people want to see, and we should take that as a good thing. Right now we are rehearsing in Los Angeles, doing pre-production, putting a new set together, with the new album we’re adding some new songs to the show. We leave for Europe in April, we start out in Spain and go across all of Europe, and the tour ends in Belgium. But, we’ll probably have to come back and do another leg, because Europe is so damn big! You can’t hit it all in one tour! It’s great to be going over there, because that’s where the main base of the record label is, it’s based in Germany. We want to come back and do more, we’ll definitely do another leg in Europe, and try and get our asses down to Australia, and back to Japan. Last time we were in Japan, it was amazing how many people came over to see us from Australia!

Mark: Yes, we do that!!

Katon: It’s great, but we do need to come to Australia, the offer’s always been there, but the time is right now.

Mark: There is actually a healthy thrash scene down here now at the moment, we get a lot of bands through, so you’d think the promoters would be banging at your door to get you guys over here!!
Katon: I think it’s just a matter of time now, the timing’s right, the new records out, it’ll pick up steam now, the funny thing is, it hasn’t been released yet, but we’re getting all these reviews, the record label is definitely doing its job! The reviews have all been really good, so as the record is released and as it picks up steam, we’ll hopefully get more offers from Australia.

Mark: Let’s talk about the record now. “Immortal Legacy”, it’s an awesome sounding album, like you said earlier, there is that live feeling to it as well, was it a long recording process, it’s been five years since the last album, were some of the songs written across that period?

Katon: Actually the songs were written later, in 2012, we really started focusing on it and in 2013, mid-way through we started the process of recording. We didn’t really have an easy time with recording because we would stop and go out and do shows, or we’d get offered festivals. We did 2 festivals, one in Columbia and one in Ecuador, and we had 25-30,000 people a show! So, those were really serious festivals we were at, headlining at, so we had to take time out of recording, but we couldn’t pass these up! In total, we probably recorded, and the fans will probably say, “Holy Shit”, the longest we probably recorded before this was like 6 days, and on this record we probably did 10 days! Our first and second albums were recorded in 3 days!

Mark: That’s still pretty fast by today’s standards! I saw that the new single is “Hellion Rising” which is certainly one of our favourites on the album, it’s an awesome song, and can you tell us a little bit about it?
Katon: Yeah, well the origins of the song, we wrote about 95% of the material in my house in Los Angeles, me and my guitar player, Lance Harrison, would get together 5-7 days a week, and we would just write, and I think that’s why we saved so much time in the recording studio, because we do a lot of pre-production at my house. We also rehearse our asses off before we walk in to the recording studio, some bands go in there unprepared, and we go in totally prepared! The origins of “Hellion Rising” are based on a character that I came up with, which is basically a demi god, that’s been sitting on the sidelines of the world watching humans’ just kill each other! Finally this Demi God which is a Hellion, gets sick of this, he’s saddened by society tearing each other apart, so he comes to Earth and destroys the entire Earth, and wants to start all over again, with better people.

Mark: Another one we really enjoyed when we reviewed the album was “Tied to the Gallows Pole”, there’s a fantastic groove to that song!

Katon: Thank you. What’s funny about that song is, everybody in the band was really excited about that song, and we started to get ready to record it, and me being a perfectionist freak, wasn’t sure about the song! But everyone else said it has to be on the record, so it nearly didn’t make it on there, even though I love the song, we had like fourteen songs for the record and there are actually now 2 bonus tracks if people buy the vinyl version, there’s a bonus track, and one for the digital download. Now when I listen back, I think everyone was right, when I read the reviews that song gets high praise!

Mark: Is that one of the songs that will make it in to the live set?

Katon: I think so, obviously there’s going to be a few to pick from. When we were in South America, we were doing “Black Smoke” and “Hellion Rising”, that one is definitely in the set, and there’s another song called “La Boca de la Bestia”, and that goes with the three that are in the set. I can see “Tied to the Gallows Pole”, especially because of the response it’s had, being in the set too.

Mark: The closing track, which was quite different, was “The World Will Burn”, it seems more melodic than a lot of material on the album, was that intentional? Were you trying to do something a bit different?

Katon: We wanted to really show the depth of the band, people have this perception of us just being a Thrash Metal band, don’t get me wrong, we are totally proud of that, but as a band we’ve been growing over the years, and we wanted to challenge ourselves with the styles on this record. What’s great about doing these interviews is people will tell you what songs they like, and it makes you realise that we did the right thing! We did take some chances, and that’s probably why I felt a little bit uncomfortable about some of the material on the record. We could’ve played it safe, but we didn’t and that’s why songs like “The World Will Burn” and even “Tied to the Gallows Pole”, these were taking chances, but I think we were smart for doing it. I think it’s great that you brought up “The World Will Burn” for me that was a great song to write, and it was based on when Rome burned, I’m really in to history, so any ancient stories, stuff like that, I really love. I’m well happy with the song, and like I said we just took some chances and I think you have to do that. You can’t put out the same record, every record.

Mark: That’s right, and that’s one thing that appeals to me about the band, you have some real interesting lyrical ideas going on there. What are your plans for the remainder of the year, after the tour?

Katon: Well, more touring, there’s still stuff being worked out, we’ve just had two more offers from the US. Whenever a new record comes out, that’s when things pick up, so we’re sure there’ll be more offers to go to other countries. We really love travelling, and recording albums is a totally different beast altogether, but we really love touring, I’m sure we’ll get to Australia, and I’m sure we’ll get back to Japan, which is convenient, as they’re so close to each other. Obviously, we’ll be doing, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and South America, and America, as we live here. We’ll be all over the world, we’ll keep building the legions of fans that we already have, and adding to that, that’s our goal, is to keep building the band, and never to compromise, to keep playing Heavy Metal!

Mark: That’s great, and it’s great that you’ve been carrying the flag for the band for so many years, what is it that keeps you going? Is it the belief in the music, or something more?

Katon: It’s got a lot to do with the music and the fans, and just bands that I grew up with. That’s the cool thing about music for me, is that I never forgot my hero’s, bands like AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, even Rainbow, they had some weird stuff going on there!! I believe in grass roots building your band from the ground up, AC/Dc are one of the hardest working bands of all time, so I just want Hirax to be like that. I don’t believe in being a flash in the pan, an overnight success, I think you build up a band like we’re doing, and have a fan base that’s going to be with you for the rest of your existence on this planet.

Mark: Taking it right back to the beginning, what are your earliest memories of music, what made you decide you had to be in a band?

Katon: I went to a concert when I was fifteen, and I saw Black Sabbath with Van Halen, actually there were four bands, Boston were there, and Sammy Hagar was the opener!! I was already in to that stuff, but after seeing that show, it pretty much changed everything for me! I really lived metal, I would go to the record store, and I probably went there more than I went to school! I was such a record freak, I think I’m still the same kid, but older, I would go and look at the import bands, look at every new record I could get my hands on. I didn’t care where the bands came from, I listen to bands from all over the world, there’s a band from France called Trust who I like a lot, I like Rose Tattoo a lot, I listen to a lot of Punk and Heavy Metal. When I got “Machine Head” by Deep Purple that was a big record for me that was amazing. I really liked UFO a lot, so I think that’s kind of a reflection of what I do now with our band, even though Hirax is fast and we have the thrash metal thing, we also have the heavy metal thing. We really do live that lifestyle, we are definitely not fake, and we are what you see! You come to our house there’s records’ laying around, we really embrace the lifestyle, and our fans mean the world to us, people who see us are amazed at how much time we spend talking to our fans before or after the show. We’re really down to earth, and really proud of that!

Mark: That’s fantastic. You must have been given a lot of advice over the years, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, as a musician?

Katon: That’s a great question! I think you are the first one to ask me it that way! We go to a music festival called “Bang Your Head”, and every time, I bump into this guy called Dee Snider, from Twisted Sister! When I was really young we were driving through Hollywood, down this famous street called the “Sunset Strip”, and Twisted Sister were playing, their first time in LA. I saw this long haired blonde guy sitting outside this café, and I screamed, “pull over the car!” so we did, and it was Dee Snider sitting with the rest of the band! He said just keep doing it, if you love it! He actually took the time to talk, which was great, I was really young at the time, about 18 or19. But, I remember him saying if you really love it, just keep doing it, and it will happen for you. So, that’s what I tell kids now myself, and make sure you mean it, because you can’t fool people, you can’t fool the fans, don’t think people who listen to music are dumb, they are really smart! So that was the best piece of advice I got from Dee Snider!

Mark: He is a lovely guy and a really intelligent guy too.

Katon: Yeah, I have a lot of respect for him.

Mark: I really appreciate you taking so much time with us; I just have a couple of quick questions to close with. If you could have been a fly on the wall for the creation of any great album, just to see how it all came together, what would it be for you and why?

Katon: First of all, I have to say this is one of the better interviews I’ve done! You are really intelligent, and your questions are awesome! This is really a refreshing interview, and I’m not just saying that!

Mark: Thank you!

Katon: I would have to say “Machine Head” by Deep Purple; it’s been a very influential record for me. But, fortunately they documented that record pretty well, and you can see a whole programme on it on You Tube! But, I would have loved to be a fly on the wall, in I think, it was a house or a palace they recorded it in, and I would have loved to have been there through those sessions. It’s amazing how that record came about, and what was going on. The song “Smoke on the Water”, why that was written, why the lyrics were written, even some of the solos, I’m a big Ritchie Blackmore fan, some of the stuff he had worked out, and some of the stuff was done flying by the seat of his pants!!

Mark: It is a fantastic album, and one of the rock classics. Our final question is what is the meaning of life??

Katon: Being happy, no matter what it is that makes you happy. If freedom and being happy can be intertwined into one thing, how about that? And try not to hurt anyone in the process, and respect too! How about three things? Freedom, happiness and respect!

Mark: That’s a great thought to end with! Congratulations on “Immortal Legacy”, we loved it, it’s a great album, and hopefully it’s the album that will bring you to Australia!

Katon: Yeah, that would be great! I appreciate the support from you guys, and on a personal note, hopefully we’ll get to meet you in Australia. But again I really do thank you for the Heavy Metal support, because it’s guys like you that are spreading the word about our music, and we really appreciate it.

Mark: Thank you, I appreciate it, and thanks to you guys for making the music that you do, it’s what keeps us all going! Take care, mate, and hope to see you soon.


Katon spoke to Mark Diggins February 2014





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