Broken Hope is a death metal band which defies obstacles like record label b.s., lack of mainstream exposure and even the tragic death of their original lead singer Joe Ptacek. They are Chicago tough and their recent story of rebirth is inspiring and proof that good things can come to good people. The band has revealed the title of their 6th studio release, Omen of Disease, their first with new singer Damien Leski. The album title–created by chief-lyricist/guitarist Jeremy Wagner–is also an actual album track, which marks the first official BROKEN HOPE “title track” since their 1991 debut album, Swamped in Gore. We recently had the pleasure to talk with Jeremy Wagner about everything his band’s up to and more, read on…..
LRI: Hi Jeremy, thanks for talking to us. We had to make sure that our first death metal interview was with a band from the disgusting and rancid corpse that is our stomping grounds of Illinois. I’m from the Rockford area and I know that Chicago’s usually drawn attention for its shoegazer, alternative bands. The metal bands have to work a lot harder and the scene has generally been underground. How do you think being from Illinois has affected your music or outlook in general?
Jeremy Wagner: Illinois definitely affected my direction as far as wanting to form a band and make the type of music I love—death metal. For example, when I was 17 and 18, all the bands from my area—the northern suburbs of Chicago—were in shitty cover bands or in total poser/hair metal bands with weak, cock rock originals. Moreover, most of the kids in my school weren’t into extreme music like me. All those dudes in local cover/poser/shit bands looked down at me and told me that the thrash and death metal I adored was crap. So, I instantly hated the “popular” music scene around me. When I formed Broken Hope in 1988 (yes, it’s our 25th Anniversary this year) while I was in high school, I was on a mission to blow away all these wannabe assholes away with my music. I wanted to show all the posers, parents, and teachers who frowned at my musical wishes and guitar abilities that I would do great things when I wrote my own music and formed a band. Outside of school, I was hammering away on my guitar full-time…I didn’t have cable TV, video games, or any other distractions…my guitar, amp, and metal were both my escape and form of expression. Hell, I was already going to death metal concerts during school nights and corresponding with underground bands and fanzines worldwide that no one in my school could even fathom…all this was a wonderful enlightenment to a teenager who took comfort upon discovering there were many like him (me) around the globe…and provided evidence that there was life outside Lake County, Illinois. Thinking back, I actually turned those “jerks” into a positive thing. Though they didn’t believe in me, I didn’t care, because I certainly believed in myself. Therefore, those naysayers fueled my ambition to succeed—and I did! So, relevant to the subject of being from Illinois, I say my musical evolution is somewhat credited to ILLINOIS—the state I lived in and my neighborhood had a profound affect on shaping me from a teenage guitarist to bonafide band leader and songwriter.
One note regarding being a Chicago metal band: I agree with your observation—that Chicago-based metal bands have to work a lot harder and our scene has generally been more underground than others. For example, Broken Hope formed just after Deicide did, the same year as Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, and other well known death metal bands. One might think our status in death metal history might garner at least a blurb in metal tomes or documentaries, but that’s never the case—and we’re fine with that. We’ve remained uncompromising and more underground—hell, even as “underdogs” to a certain extent—than some of our more popular peers. I theorize that perhaps Chicago death metal wasn’t generating hot fanfare like Florida or other locales at the time of our origin and first album. We’ve always fought for everything we’ve achieved…no one has ever given us anything. That’s fine, we’re Chicago strong and unstoppable.
LRI: You formed this band with your good friend and former singer Joe Ptacek, you rose up the ranks from the local Red Light label to Metal Blade and now posthumously Joe’s band is going to be releasing a record on Century Media. Joe stunned the metal world with his suicide and was so young, do you think he would be overjoyed to know how far this rebirth of the band has come?
JW: I believe Joe may have seen our successful rebirth coming, and yes, I feel in my heart that Joe would be overjoyed at how rapidly we’ve now achieved so much since returning. When I last saw Joe, we were already taking steps at reforming the band. He’d been out of the loop for a long time…he didn’t pay attention to the death metal scene or the climate of the metal world, period. When I caught up with him after several years, I showed him how much bigger and more popular BROKEN HOPE had become—even after all that time of going away. Moreover, I showed Joe fan mail from fanatics who worshipped him and photos of bootleg shirts from other countries with his face on the shirts! He never knew any of this. So, he was amazed, then he was excited at the prospect of making BH a full-time machine again. Sadly, he left us before he could step foot on stage again and feel that BH love…to feel that “Joe love” the fans have for him. As I’ve said many times, I keep Joe in my thoughts every time I write riffs and lyrics, and every single time I perform on stage with BROKEN HOPE. I celebrate our victories for Joe.
LRI: You guys have long had a very tight bond with your fans, generally giving them full access to the band and communicating and treating them in a way that a lot of bands just don’t. It sounds cheesy and obvious to say but do your fans inspire you?
JW: Hell yes. Our fans absolutely inspire me…they inspire me to be the best I can so I can deliver 100% when we play live, and to also deliver 100% when we deliver a new album. Our fans make my world go round. We love our fans to death…and I’m not bullshitting when I say that…I am so thankful and appreciative for every single person who buys our albums and buys tickets to our shows. Y’see, I’m also a fan of bands, so, I know what it means when I get to meet an artist I love and find out they are really cool—or an dickhead rockstar. Either way, the experience means the world to the fan, and it can mean the difference between being a fan for life, or hating a band because they were assholes. Well, I’m no asshole…I’m the self-proclaimed “nicest guy in death metal,” (laughs)! Seriously, I enjoy connecting with our fans and hearing what they have to say, because I honestly care. I’m grounded enough to realize my place in the universe, that I’m a breathing, imperfect human being, just like everyone else…so, my perspective is that I’ll never treat anyone as “beneath me” just because I make albums. I don’t care if you’re Beyonce or BROKEN HOPE…treat your fans like gold and be good to people. We all come in this world the same way—and go out the same way—and it won’t kill you to connect with those who appreciate you.
LRI: A lot of your past albums are held in high regard amongst metalheads but you are going to have a much better capacity to create and record in on Century Media in 2013 than you did in the early 90s. Has there ever been any consideration of re-recording any of your old material like “Swamped in Gore” or possibly re-mastering any of it?
JW: The union between Century Media and BROKEN HOPE was meant to be. Coincidentally, both CM and BH are celebrating our 25th anniversaries this year, in 2013. Your observation is accurate, Century Media has the power, muscle, network, distribution, and reputation to catapult the new Broken Hope album up into a huge level of visibility in a big way, into an international arena with one pull of the trigger. Our former label didn’t make much of an effort to push us into the public eye or into territories around the globe…the albums were always out there, but no one fought have us tour worldwide or develop us for greater things. All that’s changed now with Century Media and this new album.
LRI: There is the strong possibility that the band will garner more attention, more fans and a stronger legacy with this new era. The Carnival Of Death touring run proved that in many respects. How did you know that Damien Leski (ex-Gorgasm) was the right guy to fit into your ranks and how easy has the transition been?
JW: The Carnival of Death tour helped reestablish BROKEN HOPE as a ferocious live act and introduced the 2013 lineup properly. And you’re right on the money—we have garnered more attention than ever before, and we proved that the improved BH is here to stay with an even stronger legacy. It’s a whole new chapter for us. We looked at a few vocalists, but we got real lucky with Damian. Damian has built himself up as a very guttural frontman who is passionate about death metal and gore. So, his talent and the mutual death metal love he possesses made for a perfect match for us. He is extremely brutal and guttural in his delivery of all our old and new songs…plus he’s just a menacing figure on stage. Take all that and the fact that he’s an intelligent and cool guy, you can see why we’re crazy AND grateful to have him in BH. Oh, and he doesn’t live far from the rest of us, so again, we are very lucky to have him.
LRI: You did Awakening Fest in San Fran, and will do Extremefest in Germany and the Maryland Death Fest also. Do you think the old days of Milwaukee Metalfest and things like that could make a comeback in the Midwest?
JW: The US is severely lacking in epic fests. Europe and other countries have the most amazing fests on Earth…the best. Maryland Death Fest is the only one in the States that offers a huge bang for your buck—it’s so big and sick every year. Sure, there’s the traveling Mayhem Fest, but that is full of mainstream rock and not so much metal or extreme metal for that matter. That said, there’s no reason why promoters in the Midwest couldn’t resurrect a huge fest akin to the Milwaukee Metalfest at it’s peak, or, do a huge open-air type fest with a hundred stellar metal acts like the greatest fest in Europe. I do believe the old days we had here could come back in a bigger, better way of organized and promoted properly…it just takes someone with the vision and power to do it.
LRI: You are a writer who released a novel of your own The Armageddon Chord and you are a huge horror fan. How much of an influence do you think non-music stuff like that has influenced your music?
JW: Non-music stuff does sometimes influence the music I write. For example, a particularly disturbing story can put me in a “vibe,” and that vibe can carry over into a riff or full song I write on guitar and inject a certain darkness into the notes. Horror fiction has always influenced my lyric writing. I was a writer before I was a musician, so crafting scary tales comes naturally. Fiction I enjoy can spurn my imagination to write lyrics. I like to say that all of my lyrics are all stories…they are the definition of “flash horror fiction.”
LRI: I saw some of your photos online and I know you also got to go to the Flashback Weekend Horror Fest in Chicago and meet legends like Linda Blair and John Carpenter. I am a huge horror fan so I have decided we have to go cover this thing this year. Did you feel like a kid dropped into the middle of the Wonka factory?
JW: Hell yeah, I felt like a kid with a Golden Ticket! Most folks know that John Carpenter’s, “The Thing” is my favorite horror movie, so imagine me not only meeting Carpenter, but also being in the audience as he also INTRODUCED the 30th anniversary screening of The Thing at a local theater! I’m still giddy over that, man. I also got to hang with Linda Blair for awhile, and that was amazing (The Exorcist is in my Top 5 horror flicks). I’ve had some cool experiences at many horror cons. I had drinks and snacks with David Cronenberg in Toronto on my 40th birthday…stuff like this blows me a way. I’m a fanboy. Hahaha!
LRI: Broken Hope has had a history of insane album covers and song titles, “She Came Out in Chunks” “Hobo Stew” and “Dilation and Extraction” come to mind. How involved are you in the album art process and do the songs usually begin with titles and lyrics or a musical idea?
JW: I’m intimately involved with the album artwork process. Since we formed, I’ve been the sole member who conveys a “vision and description” to the artists who create our artwork…well, I didn’t have much to do with Grotesque Blessings art, but every other album cover has been in my control. I’ve been the sole member to also name every single BROKEN HOPE album. When I write lyrics, I first get an idea in my head that I can’t shake, so I create a tentative song title that sums up the “idea.” From there, I flesh out the first draft of the lyrics, edit an revise, firm up the song title, and then submit it to the vocalist for their approval. My lyrics are usually always written separately from the music…I just write and leave it to the vocalist to apply them to the music he thinks is best. The one thing I will do is break up the lyrics in “verse/chorus/middle/etc” sections so there’s a blueprint (and catchy phrasing) to work from.
One trivia note regarding the song, “She Came Out In Chunks”—when I was like 15 and in junior high, a hormone-fueled schoolmate was bragging about how he fingered some girl, and he went on to explain how “she came out in chunks.” That particular line stuck with me for years, so later in Broken Hope history, I wrote lyrics using that line as the song title. In typical fashion, I took that idea and made it even more heinous and extreme.
LRI: Obviously you guys are going to be delivering a heavy album to Century Media but in terms of songs, ideas or delivery do you think there might be any growth or changes that are going to surprise some people that have heard your music in the past or attract new people who haven’t become fans yet?
JW: One thing we are offering this time around is more guitar solos. There’s a solo on almost every track this time. Another thing, we are done with the “über-technical” approach—we did that way too much on Grotesque Blessings…I’ve always been about the “hook and riff” and it’s the way I write music…my brand of death metal is what I like to hear: catchy, heavy as fuck, and sick. The new songs are actually more extreme in composition musically…we like to describe the new album as “Reign In Bowels,” as if you took our Bowels of Repugnance album and blended it with Slayer’s Reign In Blood…you’re going to get blasted with songs that are short, relentless, massively brutal/heavy, and memorable. I don’t want to sound arrogant here, it’s just the best way I can describe our new music formula.
LRI: Thanks again for talking to us man. Before I let you go, I have a question that you have probably heard a few times, phrased in a few ways. What is the biggest misconception about you or your band that comes from people who know you personally but don’t know or like death metal???
JW: The biggest misconception about me and the band from people who know me but don’t like or understand death metal is usually: a). they think since I’m local, I only play shows at local bars (b). they hear “death metal” and think my level of “heavy” must be of the same brand as Metallica circa “Black album. (c). they always wonder why I work a “day job” as I certainly must be rich since I’m putting out albums! Hahahaha! THANK YOU so much for this interview, it was fun to do! See you all when BROKEN HOPE tours in support of our new album!