Harlott – In the Thrash ZoneThursday, 12th November 2020
There’s more to the land down under than koala bears, kangaroos, and Men at Work. Those in the know are well aware of a strong Australian metal scene – and versatile too covering a multitude of styles. Harlott firmly entrenchs themselves in the thrash genre – completing a trilogy of albums with a similar theme to arrive at their fourth record with Detritus of the Final Age fresh and ready to annihilate in a sonic manner through new behind the scenes people in different chairs.
Talking after ingesting his perfect dose of coffee, vocalist/guitarist Andrew Hudson willingly handles all these questions with depth, humor, and intelligence. Prepare to learn more about his musical development during childhood, his love of thrash, the vivid cover art, thoughts on the band from a live perspective – and a bit behind his science degree and career outlook.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about your earliest memories surrounding music growing up – and how you made the progression towards metal and eventually picking up an instrument to want to play in bands yourself?
Andrew Hudson: Alright, that’s a few questions to answer there, so I may need some rejogging at some point. Growing up I was living around a musically challenged family – not expressing any levels of talent, there were no musicians in my family. We were always chucking a CD on for the road trips – living in Australia a lot of our holidays were ten hour drives away, so a collection of Meatloaf, Jethro Tull, Enya, or John Farnham albums made the rides go by. When I was about five or six years old, I was given one of those plastic toy guitars, and apparently I didn’t take the fucking thing off when I got it. There was a part of me that always wanted to do it, but I didn’t start playing guitar until my mid-teens.
However, the introduction to heavy metal. When I was seven years old, Metallica’s Reload came out. And my older brother got given that as a birthday present. That was my first introduction to the heaviest thing I had ever heard, when Hetfield barks ‘give me fuel, give me fire’. Once you discover Metallica you go through their back catalog, Load, to the black album, to And Justice, Master of Puppets and so forth. There was no going back. I spent my time discovering Megadeth, Slayer, and then Overkill, Testament, Exodus, and discover the European thrash scene with Destruction, Sodom, and Kreator. It was an organic discovery for me and my brother – I wasn’t just handed a Mayhem record and here is what is music supposed to sound like, poser! (laughs).
The good thing about that is if you start reasonably soft and get into heavier and heavier music, you find that sweet spot where you enjoy the brutality at maximum efficiency. I would listen to thrash metal, death metal, black metal and grindcore, and I found the other styles too much for me. I definitely enjoy what they are doing, but I can’t listen to 45 minutes of blast beats, it’s not something that sits with me. Thrash metal is where I found the most enjoyment, and it had the greatest pull on me.
Dead Rhetoric: Detritus of the Final Age is the fourth Harlott album. What did you want to accomplish the time around as far as the songwriting, recording, and performances that maybe was a little different than previous records?
Hudson: You said the album title correctly! You’ll find I do that a lot. I’m a bit of a wanker for lack of a better term with the English language. I’m obsessed with how creative you can be. If I can teach people a new word when I release an album, that’s great. The beautiful thing is, we had just finished off a trilogy of records, and I was left with a blank slate. There wasn’t a theme or feeling I needed to continue or progress. Album four was whatever I wanted it to be. I was willing to experiment with, you’ll hear some slower things, some darker riffs, and melodic singing. At least not the shouting vocals all the time. There were things I wanted to try on this album I’ve never tried before, and there was no room for it on the original trilogy.
I wrote a bunch of songs I wanted to do. Things I wanted to try that I thought would sound cool. It’s easily the proudest record I’ve ever been involved with. To compliment the record we were trying out a new studio, a new producer, and a new engineer. He was able to inject all these new ideas I never would even consider. All these thoughts and ideas he learned over the years. The way we recorded and tracked it, the production will sound different than all the three other albums. It’s the most standout of our releases.
Dead Rhetoric: Where did you want to come across lyrically with these songs – as I’d imagine there’s no shortage of current events, political / social strife, or other topics that cross your mind to draw from and match the intensity of the music present?
Hudson: You sound like a broken record at the moment. The way the world is, there’s nothing I can say that’s going to be more shocking than what’s actually happening. I’ve always just written about things that I’ve observed or things that I’ve seen. I’m not much of a message kind of person, but I’ve at least accepted that a large amount of the bad things that happen in this world are due to humanity’s flaws, and that’s the topics I often touch on. I quote the human condition in a lot of my lyrics, the personal insanity and personal struggles, the ideologies or the way that politically and socially we run countries and there’s always plenty of things to get angry about the world. It’s not hard to pick a few to concentrate on and write songs about. Not so much a message I’m trying to get across, but topics that will suit the music that I write. When you write angry music you have to put angry words to it. For the first time ever on this album, I wrote about some personal experiences. One song in particular, my life was reasonably upheaved a couple of years, and I was unprepared for how things were going to affect me. I touched on that in that song, and that’s different for me. Especially when you write more about external things versus penning a personal experience.
Dead Rhetoric: And is it a challenging to keep up vocally with what you are doing, as there are a lot of rapid-fire vocals within the band?
Hudson: Vocals are the most challenging part for me, purely because of the standard I try to hold myself to, a bar that I’ve set on the previous albums. Lyrically diverse and putting a lot of words into those verses. That’s just a musical trick, if you put more syllables into something it’ll sound faster. If you’ve got eight seconds of music to fill, and if you pick twenty words compared to ten, the twenty words will sound faster. It helps with the frantic nature and the feel, but it does make the job a lot more tricky. I don’t want to write things that are simple, I want to write things that are elegant and a little bit engaging in a language sense.
The biggest challenge is to write lyrics and look at them within five years time and not be embarrassed that I’ve done (them).
Dead Rhetoric: The cover art portrays figures submerged in purple liquid, a black cloud looming in the background, and figures trying to break out of that liquid amidst a broken globe. Tell us how the concept developed and the importance of cover art to making a proper impression for what people can expect with the contents of a Harlott record?
Hudson: It’s the Kool Aid I think! (laughs). The beautiful thing about the cover art, logos, and that kind of thing is that because of how well defined the genres are nowadays you can pick up an album from a band you’ve never heard of, look at them and have a pretty good idea of what it’s going to be for the music. It’s very important in the case of a thrash metal album – when you release the music to the world you want the right ears to hear it and the right kind of people to enjoy it as possible. Making this part accessible is a big part of what I try and do. Making album art purple, green, and blue, with a yellow logo, it’s eye-catching to say the least.
With regards to the artwork specifically, that globe and building… it’s the headquarters of the EU, there is a brass globe in front of a pool, and a statue in from the building. That’s what I wanted on the front cover, that in ruins. The people in the purple Kool Aid, that was the artist’s addition, Andrei Bouzikov who has worked with us the last couple of albums. He does all the Municipal Waste and Toxik Holocaust stuff. He’s really good with this kind of playful, brushstroke work. He added those figures, they actually appeared on our second record, but they were all shackled. The second album was all about being tied… the failing of democracy and capitalism, and the slaves that we all are to the machine. The fourth album being about what comes after extinction, he’s got those same figures but without the chains, showing that they are still slaves, it wasn’t the system holding them down but the caliber of people that they were.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Harlott when it comes to your live performances and philosophy for shows? What do you wish to get across to the audience, and what have been some of your most memorable shows, tours, or festival appearances to date with the group?
Hudson: I am not very good at taking myself seriously, playing music that was popular in the 80’s and born after that era, it was just a silly dream for me. We have done a lot better than we should have. That comes across on stage, not as someone that is disheartened or disinterested, but as someone who is up there to enjoy themselves. It’s really important to me that you when you watch the band, you see that the audience wants to have fun. We put on a decent live show, and the current lineup is the tightest that we’ve ever been. It’s a sonically enjoyable show, but you will see a bunch of guys having a bit of fun playing thrash metal. If you are watching people having fun, you’ll have more fun.
The thing about not taking yourself seriously and telling a couple of jokes in between songs is if there is a significant language barrier, it can fall a bit flat. Doing a 32-show run of Europe, in 19 different languages, you need to write a one size fits all collection of banter and jokes. A couple of things won’t fly – but it does mean when we are playing shows in Ireland, you can have a lot more fun with the crowd because Irish people do actually speak English despite what they sound like. You can have a lot more back and forth with them. We tend to have even better shows with people that can understand a bit of tongue in cheek humor. Which is something I’m obsessed with doing.
I cannot speak highly enough of playing shows in Poland. Polish crowds pack out the room. To fly from Australia to Europe and drive around in a bus, doing all these things that were a dream as a child and you are touring to a new city every night, it’s crazy. Getting to Poland and people are screaming and singing along, people had driven down from Sweden to see us play. It was a surreal experience when you realize that this music that you’ve been playing for your friends and your family and your mates all through your teenage years, you’ve managed to release through a label that is taking a chance on a bunch of Aussies. It was weird that you realize it has an impact around the world, and shows like Poland are where it hits home, people are listening to the music and really enjoying it and liking what you’ve done. The crowds are mental.
Dead Rhetoric: What does thrash mean to you personally as a genre, and do you see major differences between the original wave of the movement during the 1980’s/early 90’s and the acts that are creating new music in the genre worldwide today?
Hudson: That’s a big (question) to unpack, but let’s go for it. Thrash metal to me is the genre that I enjoy playing, and enjoy listening to. It’s a lot of fun, it’s angry and bands like Slayer sing about horrific things not in a personal way, but remark on the atrocities of the world. A lot of bands will take on the political stuff, but it’s high energy music, an enjoyable genre to watch and play. It’s my release, and I’m a pretty happy guy most of the time. I can vent a lot of pent up aggression up on that stage, it’s really therapeutic. It’s hard to say, something just clicks with you. It could be a lead break from Alex Skolnick, parts that resonate with me. The thing that gets me most excited about the music are some of the sounds and some of the tones that come out of that genre.
Comparing the old to the new, it is difficult. Bands of the 80’s, they didn’t have the pool of resources that we do now as far as inspiration is concerned. That made what they did more groundbreaking, but at the same time they had more freedom to do whatever they wanted to. It’s hard to play in a thrash metal band now and not be compared to the ninety other bands that are doing exactly what you are doing, and the fifty bands that have a similar sound. You need to try a lot harder to make yourselves stand out, because you are doing something you are passionate about and from a place of love. If you are doing anything in this genre to make money and get famous, you have the whole situation wrong and people are going to hear that in the music. There is a higher standard now, because there is no money to be made anymore everyone can get access to a studio, albums are getting released at a phenomenal rate and everyone is vying for the same dollars. It’s quite competitive, but it forces you to try harder and find what you are producing something that’s important to you and will resonate with other people.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve invested money, time, and effort to build Harlott in the thrash (and metal) community since 2006. Where do you see the status of the band today, and what do you think it will take to reach that next level of acceptance and comfort for you – do you believe it’s possible to make a career solely off of Harlott at some point in time?
Hudson: I think it would be possible. In 2015 we did a tour with Annihilator, and it was successful enough for me to realize if I want to make that band my living, I could probably do it. It would require me to relocate to somewhere that wasn’t Australia, and take things up full-time. It would require all those things you have to do to have a band hit that next level- it wasn’t so much whether we could, it’s more about if it’s something we actually wanted. Where the band is at the moment, we all work jobs, no one is making a fortune out of this. We spend our vacations and weekends annually on tour. This is something we do because we really enjoy doing it, and we are lucky enough now that it doesn’t cost us a fortune to go overseas. We can generally go over for four weeks, run around the countries, come back and we are looking at net zero dollars. That’s a phenomenal effort to not actually lose money playing music. If that’s all I ever get out of this, then I will be very pleased.
I feel incredibly lucky to do all the things I’ve done through this band. No matter what happens for the rest of my life, no one can take away those experiences. If this is as far as I ever get with music, then it’s an incredible time and I feel lucky to be able to do it. If things get better and we start getting offered obscene amounts of money and touring, then yes, I’ll probably have to think very hard about whether I would consider it. It does come down to whether you want to make music your life or music can be a part of your life.
Dead Rhetoric: You graduated college with a biology degree – how did you become interested in pursuing that course of study, and are you able to use that degree within your day job work or through exploration of specific topics in Harlott?
Hudson: So what have I got? I have a bachelor’s degree in science with a major in biology and biochemistry. I spent six years of my life working in laboratories as an analytical chemist, I’m currently a service engineer for scientific instrumentation. And yes, my degree has been extremely helpful in all of my career decisions, progressing myself outside of music to make sure I’m happy and fulfilled. One of the other things I’ve used my degree for is I’ve injected a lot of things and ideas into the lyrics. Songs like “Denature”, as a term it’s a term when you expose protein to heat or acid, and it unfolds from its normal structure. I thought I could use that in a heavy metal song, that will work perfectly. I grew up in a family of nerds, my parents were science teachers and I knew I was always going to end up doing something scientific.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as some of the common mistakes that younger musicians or bands make that you wish they would think about or avoid – and how did you handle the natural growing pains that took place in Harlott and survive those mistakes or missteps?
Hudson: This is always a hard topic for me, as I’m not really sure I had that much of a plan. A lot of what we did as a band was the product of luck and fortune. We did the right thing at the right time. We released an album, got a minor label interested. Because we had a label, we got a minor tour with Annihilator. Because we got the tour with Annihilator, Metal Blade were interested. We had all these kinds of things that I’m really proud of, but I didn’t really know what we were doing at the time.
I see lots of young bands doing lots of crazy things. It might work for them. The social media thing weirds me out, I’m not big on social media. I see bands churning it out, and doing different content, which I’m told is really important but it feels gross with me. The main issue I have here in Australia is the rate in which bands generate music. There are a lot of bands down here that will release an album every five years. If that’s the maximum amount of your output in creativity, then maybe there’s a possibility that you are not cut out for creating music. Probably a harsh thing to say, but that’s how I feel.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you feel about the passing of Eddie Van Halen?
Hudson: He was way too young, you know? Three years ago I lost my mother and she was only 60. It’s a topic I have wrestled with in the past. It’s always rough to see someone die in their sixties from something like that. The way we live is we work hard until you hit that age, and then you retire and relax. That concept doesn’t apply to Eddie Van Halen, as the 65 years he had was absolutely blessed. It’s sad that he’s gone, but you should feel happy that he existed and he had the life he had. He would have gone to his grave with no regrets. He couldn’t have been like he wished he had done this differently. He influenced a lot of people in incredible ways. We were lucky to have him in our timeline.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Harlott over the next twelve to eighteen months as far as promotion for this album? Has work begun behind the scenes on the next effort, especially considering the standstill live performances due to the global pandemic?
Hudson: It’s really hard to make plans. Six months ago we were looking at flights to play some European festivals through May-June this year. Obviously they all got cancelled, so we are on the agenda for those same festivals in 2021. The later it gets in the year, the more I start to worry whether those are going to happen. If they do happen, in what capacity will they happen? I’m not investing too much time in booking anything at the moment because it seems a large amount to invest that may fall apart in front of you anyway.
There’s a lot of sitting around waiting to see what the world is going to do. Australian airlines aren’t running really at the moment. I probably should be writing, but I’ve spent the last couple of months promoting this album. I’m going to make myself present in a lot of different places. I wish we could organically play shows and move units, but we have to think outside the box. Writing can only happen when I am excited to write, and I’m not there at this moment.