Colorado-native thrash-metal band Havok are back with a brand new album titled, V which was released on May 1st via Century Media Records. V is full of high energy and shows that the band has emerged prosperously since their crazy yet successful cycle of 2017’s Conformicide album. Mark Lewis, who’s also worked with Cannibal Corpse and The Black Dahlia Murder, engineered, mixed, and mastered the record alongside band members; David Sanchez (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Reece Scruggs (lead guitar), Brandon Bruce (bass), and Pete Webber (drums). This was also the first time the band has worked in the studio with their new bassist Brandon. We also wouldn’t be able to talk about the new album without mentioning its stunning showcase of artwork from Eliran Kantor. The record is a must-hear experimental 11 track journey.
A lot of experimentation went into the writing and recording of V. The album offers the same intensity that we’re known for, but with a few twists that may surprise people. The music is dense with lots of different intertwining parts and we’re beyond excited to release our best-sounding record to date.David Sanchez in Havok Press Release
The band took the time to answer our questions about Havok‘s songwriting process, the history of the band, and more. Make sure to keep up with the band on their website here.
Q&A WITH HAVOK
EB: You guys have been around since 2004, how would you describe your sound now versus then?
David Sanchez: Havok’s sound today is more musically dense than it was in the past. Today, we utilize the full breadth of our instrumentation more symphonically. I think the music is more complex, eclectic, and unique today.
Reece Scruggs: Different people, different goals, different ways to write, play, and perform. Just a way different situation.
EB: The band has introduced Brandon Bruce, as a new member before the newest album V dropped in May, but he was playing shows in a disguise before that. What was that like?
David Sanchez: That was Brandon?
Reece Scruggs: Fun for sure, but after a while it got to be old. I just wanted people to see him and experience his personality. He’s a special dude whether you’re familiar with him or not. I just wanted people to really experience him.
Brandon Bruce: For me, it was a lot of fun! I really like doing unique things live and being anonymous in the band for almost an entire year was really special to me. Plus, I got to have fun with fans. One thing I would do after shows is wait in lines with fans to take pictures with my band mates. The fans were never the wiser!
EB: When working on V you guys decided to work with Mark Lewis (Cannibal Corpse and Black Dahlia Murder) for mixing and mastering, what was the process like, and how did it shape the sound?
David Sanchez: For the most part, the tracking process was smooth once the red light was on. Mark and I are both pretty particular about tone and investing the time up-front to make sure the end result is amazing. The two of us spent a lot of time in the control room, experimenting and refining the guitar tones on “V”. We shot out 5 different guitars, 13 heads, 9 speakers, 3 microphones, and several pedals to hunt down the guitar sounds.
Reece Scruggs: The process was really laid back. His operation is very low key, however, his standards are high. All of those things shaped the sound. Best sounding record to date for us.
Brandon Bruce: I feel like the sound of this record speaks for itself. V sounds incredible! Also, the record was made in Nashville which is where I live so it was nice going home after a day at the studio. Additionally, I feel like all the other members appreciated having a place to go outside of the studio.
EB: Havok’s album artwork always tends to look very striking and eye catchingly Metal, V is no different, Do you guys have a preconceived idea of what each cover is going to look like before the music or after?
David Sanchez: On this occasion, the artwork was in-the-works before any single song had been completed. I sent the artist, Eliran Kantor, a detailed concept and he came back with the killer art you see on the cover of “V”. I had an idea of what some of the lyrical themes would be and wanted the cover to relate, in a broad sense. The last note I gave him was that I’d like it to look like Salvador Dali-meets-Caravaggio. He absolutely nailed it.
Reece Scruggs: David had an idea that we all thought was killer. It was a bit different than what it turned out to be, but we were blown away by the final product.
EB: What was the writing process like for V? How did you guys decide what to cut and what to push more of, were all the songs written before entering the studio?
David Sanchez: We keep a pretty substantial “riff pile” at all times. Songs start taking shape when we pair riffs together and add drums and bass. We made a point to write shorter songs and add special intros to give the album its own character. Before writing began, I knew that I wanted this record to be more dynamic and diverse than any of our previous work. Interweaving string lines was a focal point of the compositions. Half of the band is very spread out, so writing would have been much more difficult without the magic of the internet. We were able to share Pro Tools sessions remotely via the Avid Cloud. I’d say about about 95% of the music was written between early 2019 and July, prior to entering the studio. Most of the lyrics were written during the weeks that we were in studio. The lyrics are almost always written after the music. Most of the songs on “V” are not chord progressions, but rather technical riffs, so it’s much easier to fit the syllables to the music than to try to do the opposite.
Reece Scruggs: We were sitting on a huge riff pile AND also building onto the riff pile. We sent stuff back and forth over the net and built stuff from there. I’m (Reece) in Virginia, David and Pete are in Colorado, and Brandon is in Tennessee, so sharing files online was key.
EB: People tend to love to compare you guys to early Metallica or Megadeth in an enthusiastic way. Is that a comparison you guys are okay with?
David Sanchez: Any time people want to put us in the same boat as two of the most iconic metal bands of all-time, that’s okay with me.
Reece Scruggs: Of course! They’re the masters and originators. We’re in zero way a carbon copy of any thrash band, and if you actually took the time to listen to us you’d realize that, but I’ll take a comparison to them any day.
EB: Sonically, Havok songs are relentlessly on the attack, what tips would you give guitarists for keeping their speed and chops up?
David Sanchez: Practice until your playing gets tight, automatically. When your technique is clean and becomes part of your muscle memory, you can free up your mind to focus on other aspects of the music. All of the time spent refining my technique in the early years paid off in the long run.
Reece Scruggs: I’m in constant competition with myself, and also in competition in my head with other players with a similar style. I practice relentlessly. I’ve gotta learn new licks, play standing up, do my exercises, and even keep a physical fitness routine to stay ahead of the game. I always strive to be better than I was. That’s either from the last record or two days ago.
EB: David, you do front of house on the side, how has that influenced your approach to vocals and guitar live?
David Sanchez: Doing live sound has helped me a lot with mic control and guitar tone. When it comes to guitar tone, the thing to keep in mind is that the guitar is not a treble instrument or a bass instrument; the guitar is a midrange instrument. Boosting the mids live helps any guitar cut through a dense mix and add clarity. Another factor that adds to clarity is rolling off the distortion a little bit. Sure, you have to play harder to get things to fully crunch, but that’s part of the fun of playing metal.
EB: Do you remember when you/your band joined Ernie Ball on strings? What made you use EB?
David Sanchez: I’ve been using Ernie Ball strings since I first started playing guitar. I think I became an official part of the Ernie Ball roster around 2009 or 2010. I’ve tried some other brands over the years, but I always come back to “The Balls” because they just feel and sound right. Plus, the accessories are perfect for me. I’ve been using EB straps, polish, and tools for almost two decades!
Reece Scruggs: Ernie Ball has always been a part of the Havok family. My first hand experiences with the company are the ones that made me want to stick with them. Class act crew and the best products.
Brandon Bruce: I have always been a fan and patron of Ernie Ball but the support they gave us during the recording process gave me a whole new respect. They are a big part of my tone and a company that I am very grateful to be working with.
EB: What would you say has been the proudest moment of your band’s history so far?
David Sanchez: The release of “V” is a very proud moment for all of us. All four of us agree that it’s our favorite Havok record. I think it’s the strongest collection of music, lyrics, and production we’ve ever created. Definitely a highlight for all of our musical journeys.
Reece Scruggs: There’s many to pick from, and the release of V is the most recent.
EB: V stands out lyrically as if you are in a hurry to awaken the masses from some kind of virtual/ digital slumber. What inspired the themes and lyrics to this collection of songs?
David Sanchez: The world around us is fascinating in countless ways. I tend to look at the world around us and feel inspired to comment on aspects of it that need attention. Humanity is at a pivotal moment in history; right now is our chance to fly high or fall off the cliff. We have so many tools and so much potential to evolve as a society, but too often, we seem to devolve into irrational animals. We need wisdom and love, not fear and ignorance. Many of the lyrics on “V” are an attempt to snap people out of their lighted-screen stupor. I hope that the ideas expressed in our music inspire people to think outside of the box and look at the world with a different perspective.
EB: What would you say is the biggest misconception of your band?
David Sanchez: I think the biggest misconception about Havok is that we’re a political band. If anything, our lyrics are anti-political and promote independent thought. Havok lyrics intentionally don’t lean to either side of the political aisle. Our lyrics stand for individual liberty, that’s it. America’s problems will never be solved by claiming that one political party has all of the correct answers. It’s funny to see the occasional comments calling us far-left and far-right, in the same thread.
Reece Scruggs: Retro thrash, every member has a political agenda, everyone’s from/lives in Colorado, all of us smoke weed.
Brandon Bruce: That we are just a metal band! When I listen to Havok, I hear all of our musical inspiration. Country, Hip-hop, Funk, Pop, Grunge, everything. Obviously metal is the majority sound but if you listen closely and know what you are listening to, you will hear so much more.
EB: If you could tour with any band, dead or alive, who would it be?
David Sanchez: A Metallica / Havok tour would be a dream come true. Hey, doesn’t Metallica play Ernie Ball?
Reece Scruggs: Pantera
Brandon Bruce: Alive. That seems like it would be a more fun tour.
EB: Any pre-show rituals or band traditions?
David Sanchez: I have two pre-show rituals; stretching (especially my neck) and yelling a little bit to warm up my voice. Even 20 seconds of stretching and yelling makes a world of difference. Both of these things get the blood flowing and help prevent heavy metal injuries.
Reece Scruggs: Stretches, guitar exercises, half glass of red wine.
EB: Once bands are allowed to tour again, what is next for Havok?
David Sanchez: Maybe we’ll have a new record done by the time venues open back up. It’s impossible to say when things will normalize, but when they do, it’s highly likely that we’ll hit the road.
Reece Scruggs: Tour our asses off.
Brandon Bruce: We can’t wait to bring our new songs to the world. We all want to hit the stage again so once we can, we will be in a town near you!