I N T E R V I E W S
"We Classify Ourselves as Heavy Metal as an Umbrella Term"
Interview with drummer Drew Rizzo as he talks about the band’s full-length debut, their lineup challenges, signing with Witches Brew and lack of proper toiletries.
By: Eric Compton | Published: Tuesday, November 7, 2017
ALL FULL REVIEWS FOR: MIDNITE HELLION
Copyright: Midnight Hellion
Midnite Hellion are an energetic young trio from Trenton, New Jersey. The traditional metal act began in 2011 and just released their debut full-length album, 'Condemned to Hell', courtesy of German label Witches Brew. The band celebrated the record's release by sharing a stage with the legendary Exodus and Obituary. Drummer Drew Rizzo took a moment to talk with Maximum Metal about writing and recording the new record, genre boundaries and upcoming touring plans:
MM: Drew, congratulations on the new record! 'Condemned to Hell' was released on September 15th courtesy of Witches Brew. Man, how does it feel having that first full-length behind you now? Sort of like a rookie baseball player finally grabbing that first hit, right?
DR: Thank you very much! You hit the nail on the head for sure on that one – it's such a great feeling to finally have this album out and even more so with a great amount of positive response to boot!
MM: For some of the readers out there that aren't familiar with the band, Midnite Hellion is a Trenton, NJ act formed in 2011. The overall sound…well that's sort of a hard one to drill down. Drew, what would you say is the best term for describing the band's sound?
DR: We classify ourselves as Heavy Metal and we use it as an umbrella term. When forming, we never wanted to be pigeonholed into one specific sub-genre, and it worked out quite well considering the amount of material that has flowed seamlessly into crossing through different sub-genres. We didn't want to dismiss a death metal riff that ruled and went with a song just because it wasn't traditional. On that side of things, having been in bands that were strictly one sub-genre were enjoyable but became limiting over time. It's been a tremendously fun time crafting each composition where there are no rules and truly where evil has no boundaries.
MM: 'Condemned to Hell' is a culmination of six years of hard work and dedication. Along the way the band has lost a great deal of members, ultimately now just being you behind the kit and bassist/vocalist Rich Kubik. The liner notes indicate Jeremy Moles played guitar but is he still in the band and, if not, why?
DR: Jeremy is a true professional – he gave us five-months' notice that he would be unable to continue. As he is currently in his senior year in college and had recently decided to take on a double-major, he was unable to commit time to both the band and his studies. School comes first, of course, so while we were sad to see him go, we are happy that he is focusing on his future. What's extremely gratifying was how we were able to give him a proper sendoff at his last concert, which was supporting Yngwie J. Malmsteen at Starland Ballroom. He gave a heartfelt speech during our set, and it was honestly quite difficult seeing him leave that night, knowing that it very well could be the last time we ever played together.
We had an incredible time with Jeremy, from crafting the album and performing concerts, to just hanging out with him. He's hands-down the best guitarist I've ever had the pleasure to work with, and he will always be a part of the Midnite Hellion family. The door is always open for his return.
MM: Why do you feel this band has so many obstacles when it comes to securing a stable lineup? Do you have "live" members that can step up if need be?
"The crowd was packed and were rockin' to our set; thrashing, bashing, moshing, and even singing along!" --Drew Rizzo
DR: The biggest obstacle we've had to encounter is life. Majority of the former members have parted on good terms. Some left due to employment relocation, others due to realizing that being in an actively gigging band wasn't for them. All we can do is wish them well and keep moving forward. Having said that, there aren't a lot of musicians in our area that are both into this style of music and also willing to be in a touring band. Many are more comfortable being in the cover band circuit, others want to tour but aren't able to due to their personal situations. This makes the pool of musicians even smaller to draw from, then add in the distance factor because we'll find someone that's into it but lives three states away, and it becomes a needle in the haystack situation. Worse yet, we'll find a great player, but refuses to travel more than 20 minutes for rehearsals and lives nowhere near any of the very few remaining rehearsal studios in the state. Mind you, they have no rehearsal space either, so that would work out very swimmingly, right?
The conversation prior to meeting prospective candidates can make for great stories in hindsight. We got an email from someone with "I'm the guitarist you need!" in the subject line. Well, after a brief exchange, I sent material over to learn. Touched base a week later and never heard back. Yup, THAT'S the guitarist we need, alright! Yet, according to some, "it's so easy" to find band members.
We have our friend, Mario DiBartolo, helping out with the live guitars right now, who has helped out in the past numerous times as well, but are currently searching for a permanent member.
MM: Leading up to this debut, the band prefaced it with a demo in 2011, a well-received EP in 2012 and a single in 2013. As we look at the last six years, how do you feel Midnite Hellion has changed in style, sound, maturity, and stage presence?
DR: We've gotten heavier, both in weight and in sound. Starting out, the idea was to be a band in the vein of Rainbow, with keyboards and soaring vocals. That obviously didn't happen, as bands tend to take on a life of their own. I'd say we've consistently maintained our style well over the years with keeping our blend in mind, as it's a subconscious effort by just blending what comes out naturally, and are starting to redevelop a stage presence unlike ever before. With Rich on board, he works the crowd like a charm and is just a ball of energy.
MM: Tracks like "The Fever" and "Cross the Line" date as far back as 2011 in demo form. How have the songs changed from then to now? Would you and fans agree that "The Fever" is probably the band's signature live song?
DR: Both songs became more focused over time. Not much has changed within the structure of the songs themselves, but we found ways to make them tighter and employed the changes we made to them live on this recording. Absolutely, "The Fever" is our signature song. There was only one concert that we played that it was left out at and everyone was taken aback that we did not perform it that night. Never making that mistake again!
MM: I really love the album in its entirety and I like the fact that you can just hit play and let the album organically flow from start to finish. It is very difficult to find albums like that in today's modern world of "skipping convenience". Early Dio, Priest, and Saxon albums had that same sort of flow. Would you agree with that? Was that an early goal going into the writing and arrangements?
DR: Thank you very much! I totally agree, majority of the new albums out there nowadays have a lot of filler songs that are pretty much "throw-away" cuts that not only never get played live, but rarely get acknowledged to boot. We're very glad that you feel that way about 'Condemned to Hell'. It wasn't a conscious effort per say, but it was an effort to make sure that we all dug the material and didn't include anything that wasn't fully-developed. There were a few songs that just weren't quite there yet that will be making an appearance on a future album for sure. We did, however, spend a good amount of time with ensuring that the running order had a good flow and nothing was too jumpy. If we started the album with "Rip It Up" instead as an example, we don't feel it would have had the same initial impact. We aim to please ourselves first and foremost, and are thankful that others are enjoying it as well.
MM: "Enter the Nightmare" is an album favorite for me. Lyrically, I sense sort of a 'Salem's Lot' vibe to it. What can you tell us about that song and its central storyline?
DR: The song was pretty much a joint effort between Rich and me. I came in with the riffs and a good part of the arrangement, Jeremy added his stamp to it, and Rich composed the lyrics. The lyrics were inspired by a dream he had years ago. Put into the song form, it became focused around a vampire and a town that was plagued by vampire attacks and it concluded with the vampire getting staked. However, it's uncertain as to whether or not the villagers warded him off completely. Rich did a tremendous job on it, as he put an entire visual aspect to not just the lyrics, but what he saw when hearing different portions of the song.
MM: You guys decided to include "The Morrigan" for the album. This track was originally a B-side to the "Hour of the Wolf" 2013 single. Why wasn't both songs included for the release?
DR: Originally, "The Morrigan" was intended to be the A-side, and "Hour of the Wolf" as the B-side. It really came down to the artwork, as we had pieces drawn for both songs. We loved how both came out, but the wolf design just had more of an impact. The cool thing is that the artwork for "The Morrigan" comes as a huge A-1 sized poster with the 7" single.
We felt that "Hour of the Wolf" received its proper attention and over time, it had also been phased out of the live set; however, "The Morrigan" remained as a staple. In addition, we revamped "The Morrigan" quite a bit since its original release and wanted to have a recording to properly reflect the new version.
MM: How did the band end up signing with German label Witches Brew? Have you been satisfied with their support thus far?
DR: I had worked with Witches Brew in the past, as one of my previous bands had been signed to them. The label had gone on a brief hiatus and when they opened up shop again, Cheryl from Witches Brew got in touch and asked if we would be interested in working together again. It was an instant yes from us! We are very pleased with our relationship with Witches Brew, as they put great attention to detail with everything that they release. It's not a stuffy sort of situation, but very open communication and it's a friendship as well, which makes things even better.
MM: Midnite Hellion had an opportunity to celebrate the album release in grand style – sharing the stage with two legends in Obituary and Exodus. How cool was that? Was it a good crowd response?
"Hygiene should not be lost on Heavy Metal"
DR: It was a blast! The crowd was packed and were rockin' to our set; thrashing, bashing, moshing, and even singing along! Couldn't have asked for a better record release event! We've shared the stage with Obituary in the past as well, which was in Trenton and was also the third Midnite Hellion concert ever. We also released our demo that night, so it was great to come full-circle. I've been waiting 15 years for an opportunity to share the stage with Exodus again. The first time was in April 2002 in a previous band, and sadly, Paul Baloff passed away two months before the event. It was great to finally realize that accomplishment!
MM: Looking ahead to the remainder of this year and into 2018, will there be more live performances to support the album? Any chance of picking up a package slot on a long trek?
DR: As it's been almost a year since we've played a hometown concert, we'd really like to do one before the end of this year in support of the new record. For 2018, we'd absolutely love to be included in a tour package on a longer trek! Any interested parties can get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are also in the process of setting up some dates on our own, revisiting places we haven't been to in a while as well as conquering new grounds!
MM: Okay, so the last track is a wild one called "Teenage Bloodsuckin' Bimbos". You have to provide a visual man…what does she look like? What hair color, what's she wearing (if anything), can she fly or drive a car? "She's promised a night of bliss, can't resist this little miss". She's gotta have something to lure dicks in the middle of the night, right?
DR: We'll do one better – instead of just a visual, here's a link to the movie of the same title, which is currently in post-production! Teenage Bloodsuckin' Bimbos
The song came about as my friend who is the director asked me for assistance in the film's score. The movie has an 80's Metal theme to it and he wanted to have a proper soundtrack to do it justice. In addition to locating bands for it, I offered to write a theme song, and he loved the idea! The lyrics are all based on the script, and in short, it's about teenage female vampires. There's even more to come with regards to our involvement with the film, so stay tuned!
Speaking of films, my friend Bill Zebub has been kind enough to include me in his upcoming film, "Exploitation." We filmed this past weekend and it was a riot of a good time! Check out his work here: billzebubproductions.com.
MM: Okay, last fun one Drew. I own a restaurant and I'm sort of hanging out by the restrooms doing my thing. You walk into my bathroom, take a leak and then realize I have no soap on the wall and not a paper towel anywhere. When you come out, we make eye contact. What's that exchange sound like?
DR: Oh man, so I guess you read my bio on our website, huh? Well, first of all, this would have taken place before eating, as ya gotta wash your hands before eating. Hygiene should not be lost on Heavy Metal, after all. I'd ask how your workers are able to properly wash their hands before handing the food, since there's no supplies for the patrons. Depending on your response, I'll either just cancel the order and leave to never return or I'll demand a full refund for my tap water.
MM: Midnite Hellion's 'Condemned to Hell' is out now. Stream it, buy it, talk about it. This is a hardworking American heavy metal band. Drew, thanks for the opportunity and keep us up to date on band happenings. Good luck!
DR: Cheers Eric, thank you very much for taking the time to interview me and for the kind words! We truly appreciate the support! Definitely will keep you posted on all things Hellion. Keep the flame of Metal burning strong!
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