Wreck-Defy – Cannons of CatharsisThursday, 27th January 2022
Wasting no time getting down to business, the fourth Wreck-Defy album The World Enslaved is another solid hour-long record full of tasty thrash, filled with melodies, hooks, and slightly progressive/technical passages. If names like Cyclone Temple, Overkill, Testament, and Heathen mean something to you, you’ll find plenty to devour and process here. We reached out to guitarist/main songwriter Matt Hanchuck fresh off shoveling through a winter storm in his home area of Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada – and the man had plenty to say about Wreck-Defy, Gutter Creek (his other side band), the Canadian metal scene, physical versus digital mediums and the ever-changing music industry, plus special guests and lots of other pandemic/political thoughts.
Dead Rhetoric: The World Enslaved is the latest Wreck-Defy record – including two new members with drummer Dave O’Neal and vocalist Greg Wagner. Tell us about the recording and writing sessions for this outing – and how do you feel the new members and their performances shaped this Wreck-Defy effort differently than last year’s Powers That Be?
Matt Hanchuck: Just to clarify something – Dave O’Neal is not new. Dave has been my drummer since Remnants of Pain in 2019. He just finished tracking the drums for what will be the fifth Wreck-Defy album as well. Dave has been onboard for 80% of my material. The whole thing with Alex Marquez being our drummer. Alex agreed to do live shows with us – we’ve never recorded anything with Alex. Just about the time he agreed to do all this is when the pandemic situation came to fruition, shutting everything down. Logistically, it has to be cost effective with a plethora of shows, not just a one-off to work for a band at this level. We are all in different parts of the world – and we haven’t done any shows with Dave either. That’s one of those things that if it could have happened, it would have happened. I don’t omit the concept of playing with Alex ever. Dave has been the only official drummer for this band. Shawn Drover did the drum tracks for the first album as a guest session thing.
As far as Wags (Greg), shortly after the release of The Powers That Be, when we completed that record in June 2020, the album had been mixed and I was writing follow-up tracks for what would be The World Enslaved. Aaron was on board to do stuff, and then Jeff Waters reached out to him. They had a discussion, and it’s not my place to comment on it. He was presented with opportunities that probably would have come to fruition last year as well for him. I don’t begrudge him; Aaron wants to do this full-time and would love to become a rock star again. I have no aspirations of that. Never have. For me it’s a cathartic outlet. I’m still pounding the ground with law enforcement until I retire. At the end of the day, I don’t rely on music for anything outside of the catharsis I get out of it.
When Aaron stepped away for financial opportunities, I hope nothing for the best for the guy. He’s actually working on some solo material, I heard some of it. I am a huge fan of his vocals. Wags was the first guy I reached out to as I’m a fan of the first album he did with (guitarist) Curran (Murphy), Shatter Messiah – Never to Play the Serpent. I thought that was the best metal record of that year, 2006. Curran is a great musician in his own right, but a lot of the appeal also had to do with Wags vocals for me. I immersed myself into his catalog and glean some of his past stuff. I love his work in Archetype – the Dawning record. That is the apex of progressive metal. It’s like if Dream Theater never got annoying vocally (laughs). This is incredible stuff. Aaron wants to seize the opportunity while he can.
Wags gives this band more of a streamlined metal sound. The next batch of songs, you will hear more parallels to The Powers That Be writing. Where I factored in some of the Alice in Chains style and approach, as I love that band. That was intentional and by design. The next record we will try something a little different. The production value for this record is the best that we’ve ever had. I think the guitar tones are really good on this. For once, as a guitar player. I’m not happy with the tones on the first couple of records. As far as the songs, it’s too soon to have a proper opinion than what the feedback has been. It’s doing well review-wise, albeit at an underground level. More thumbs up than thumbs down.
The Powers That Be, at the time that was the apex of my writing. I don’t think I’ve gotten better with the writing, but I was able to get to the next rung on the creative ladder with the upcoming fifth record. Vocally is a vast difference. Aaron is a much more diverse singer; he has more creativity with layers and melodies. Wags is an old school metal singer. I think the vocals sound really strong on this record.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you tell us about the guest guitar solo slots you choose to reach out to this time – as they include Doug Piercy of Heathen, Nikolay Atanasov now with Agent Steel, and former Megadeth/King Diamond guitarist Glen Drover? What do you enjoy about each player and their specific skill sets/ techniques?
Hanchuck: Doug Piercy is one of my favorite guitar players. To me, Doug sounds like if you took Santana and Eddie Van Halen and threw them in a blender, and sprinkle a little bit of Michael Schenker in there, you could get Doug Piercy. And a little Randy Rhoads. He has flavorful, tasteful, an almost exotic type of approach that separates him, and his lead style, from the Bay Area guys. Everyone of those guys is amazing and legendary. I’ve worked with Doug in this other band Gutter Creek, more of a Southern rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd on steroids kind of style. Maybe a modern Sabbath-sound. We have Soren ex-Artillery on vocals for that one. Doug played 60% of the solos on that record. I reached out to him to do the same thing for Wreck-Defy. He’s a better guitar player than I am, a seasoned musician. When I would come up with something it’s cool, but I want these songs to be the best they can possibly be. I am an average guitar player compared to them. I am so happy with the stuff he brings to the table.
Nikolay has been a big fan of Wreck-Defy for a while. He asked me if he could play a guest spot. He’s a nice kid and has a great opportunity with what he’s doing with Agent Steel. He gets to tour with them. His band Prophecy is a really cool band, actually Wags is doing some guest vocal stuff for him. He is part of the family now. He brings a style, far better than I am. It’s unique and fitting – he has two guest spots on “Tow the Line” and the intro solo to “Crushing the Coward”.
I’ve known Glen forever. Glen and I are friends. I’ve known him for over twenty years, before he was in Megadeth. I hadn’t kept in touch with Glen as much as I should have after the Fragments record. I asked him if he would be interested in doing a guest spot. He was busy doing the Walls of Blood record – which was amazing. He did clear his schedule – he and Henning Basse are really good friends. We did some cover material with Wreck-Defy and Henning sang on our Steppenwolf cover “Born to Be Wild”. Henning had apprised Glen we were working on that. Glen contributed a solo at the eleventh hour.
One guy you left out who played the solo on “Moment of Clarity” is Gunnar DüGrey Richardson, of Vicious Rumors. Gunnar is one of the best of the new shred guys. He’s up there with Tony MacAlpine and Marty Friedman’s of my era. All of those guys are gun slingers. He’s got some Dimebag-isms, it’s not a surprise he plays for Vicious Rumors, right? It’s a tight knit circle, especially the thrash metal world. You play with a few guys, a few gigs, a few festivals, you have been able to network through the scene with that. Everyone knows everyone else within the scene, so reaching out to people and trying to get guys to partake in songs, cover songs, it’s quite easy. Especially a time like now where people aren’t touring, all they have is their craft.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned in our last interview the fact that thrash is a perfect platform to point out social/political opinions on multiple sides, especially the deficiencies that exist. What are some areas that you felt necessary to bring the forefront on the lyrical front this time around?
Hanchuck: (laughs). That’s funny you asked me that. I’m not sure if you are trying to start controversy for me. I think it’s pretty obvious which direction we kind of favor, if you will. I want to be specific about something. Having an ideology that leans in the pantheon of politics to the left or the right doesn’t necessarily describe your political position. I don’t vote at all. I refuse to vote because I don’t believe in politics. I take a page out of George Carlin’s book. I do it tongue in cheek. The old concept of if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain. Think of the logic in that. If you voted in some lying asshole, who ruins everything for everyone else, I blame you for that. You put that person in office. Me, who didn’t even leave my office on the day of elections, I can complain all I want (laughs).
The other thing with the political lyrics is, it’s based on reality, realism. I can’t find anything else to write about. You need to be engrossed in the topics. I can’t find myself writing about dungeons and dragons. Satanism, all this black metal stuff, it’s not the platform that Wreck-Defy was designed for. I’ve been involved in front line military and law enforcement for over two decades. I deal with PTSD because of it. I think the system is rigged, especially against the blue-collar guy. That’s where the vitriol and anger come from. It’s not motivated by political agenda left or right. I’m responsible for the bulk of the lyrical spews if you will for the band. If people are offended by this, too bad- I would suggest they listen to Cardi B if our lyrics offend them.
Dead Rhetoric: Earlier this summer you released a four-song EP We Got You Covered, featuring choices from Steppenwolf, Loverboy, Bryan Adams, and The Tragically Hip. How did it feel to reinterpret and revisit some of the classic songs of your younger years/youth, and did you hear any response from the original artists on your versions?
Hanchuck: I got a thumbs up from The Tragically Hip (laughs). That’s about it, though. I don’t think those songs got a fair shake in terms of being exposed. They should have been released on vinyl if nothing else. There is a plan soon to follow. There are a few more songs as well. We had done “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, we did seven others. There were thirteen all total. The idea was to use a different vocalist on each track, it was rather ambitious to put together. We wanted to do a covers album, but we had to start pushing the other records. We went with an EP, and maybe down the line we will release two more EPs digitally.
Dead Rhetoric: Growing up on albums, and now looking at the current digitally driven/ streaming landscape that’s been developing over the last decade or so, what is your stance on the importance of the album format when it comes to the heavy metal genre? How have you adjusted to the changing landscape of distribution, promotion, and garnering attention to your work?
Hanchuck: Yeah, I don’t have anything to compare it to. Wreck-Defy are a fairly new band, a decade old really. Sales have always been dismal for us! (laughs). I know that the day of the purist will never go away. There is always going to be a platform for five hundred vinyl records if you will. Limited pressings. The streaming and digital stuff does absolutely nothing for the bands. Not at this level, even a million streams. Take a band like Heathen. My buddy Kragen Lum is a brilliant musician. He’s got this game figured out, he understands this business, he understands the artistry, how to carry himself, how to get longevity out of his craft. Staying away from substance abuse and so forth, Kragen is a mastermind. He should be much better off financially than he is. It’s an unfair business. He’s had over two million streams of the last Heathen record, and a thirty-dollar royalty check. As the sole writer for that album. Do you think that is fair? That would be a rhetorical question.
It’s an underground group of people that have to have a physical, tangible copy of a record. I bought the whole Priest catalog with the repressings. There are guys like me that are into the collecting of the music. I don’t think we will see a resurgence in sales – I am surprised how vinyl has been doing well. The cost… with the world economy, a few labels are in hot water financially. I think the bottom is going to fall out shortly, especially if the lockdowns continue to exist. This could be the death of the music industry that we know.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the impact and importance of the Canadian hard rock/ metal scene on the global landscape? What are some of your favorite acts over the years, and can you give us an underrated band or two that you think more people need to pay attention and delve into their catalog?
Hanchuck: April Wine! One of the greatest Canadian bands. Razor and Sacrifice being two of the best thrash bands. Voivod. Zimmers Hole. Devin Townsend is a brilliant musician and artist. I guess in the US you have The Boss (Bruce Springsteen) – we have Devin. I think he is a little more prolific and off the wall, on a smaller scale. Annihilator – Jeff is in the UK now. Alice in Hell is still to this day one of the most fundamentally, technically proficient thrash metal records of all time. That record parallels the complexity of Rust in Peace in a lot of ways. And that’s their debut record. Lots of artists to draw inspiration from.
The Canadian metal scene, it’s a fleeting scene. There are little strongholds if you will, but it’s certainly not a national thing. Where I live, there is no metal scene. We would play to the same fifty people all the time. Montreal has a killer metal scene; Winnipeg has a decent metal scene. Edmonton and Vancouver are great. That’s about it. Quebec in general too. Maybe that’s the lineage.
Dead Rhetoric: How have you handled things within your day job going through this almost two year long COVID-19 pandemic? Do you think we as a society need to worry more about how individuals come out of this as far as their mental health?
Hanchuck: Absolutely. It’s time to start talking about other things outside of the deaths with COVID-19 and lockdowns. I think mental health, immune deficiencies, education, all kinds of topics. I’m tired of it all. I’m a truth-seeker all the time. I know the government manipulates the numbers. I don’t know anyone that has gotten sick where I live. I work on the frontlines of law enforcement. I work in direct contact with paramedics, fire fighters, emergency doctors. No one has gotten sick here with COVID- and that’s a fact. If there are other demographics in other parts of the world that have adverse effects and outcomes, that’s horrible. I would suggest to you that locking down the world… let’s throw this out as an example. Let’s assume in Rio de Janeiro, people are dropping like flies for COVID. If you want stringent lockdowns for there, by all means if that’s going to help. Why would you do that here – where there is no one sick with COVID?
The globalized approach to this is too little, too late for certain areas. I’m done with it; I don’t mean to sound insensitive in any way. People need to live their lives accordingly to what’s best for them and their beliefs. The whole concept of living in fear, of the unknown and destroying the economy. Canada is really bad off, our oil industry is done. The only benefit to it, housing has never been so cheap. The disgusting direction of our economy, people are going to lose their homes.
Let’s consider people the human version of a herd. Take deer for example that have CWD – chronic waste disease. You don’t eradicate the herd; you quarantine the region for which the deer test CWD positive with. And then you medicate them or eradicate that section of animals. You can do that with wildlife, separate the sick from the healthy, why can’t you do that with people? There is no reason why people shouldn’t be working and going to school in my region.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you assess your skills and growth as a guitarist and songwriter from the start of Wreck-Defy until today? What areas (if any) do you spend more time getting sharper?
Hanchuck: (laughs). I think I’m an average guitar player. I think my approach to songwriting has really improved. From a timing standpoint, my timing has gotten more proficient with the picking. The more songwriting you do, the more you learn about how to write a good song. I have a vast plethora of influence to draw from. I listen to everything from The Rolling Stones, especially the 70’s stuff. Lynyrd Skynyrd, April Wine, Journey. I never got into glam metal at all. I draw some inspiration from a few musicians in that style – Warren DeMartini, oh my God. That guy is incredible. I just found the lyrical content and image never spoke to me. In my teen years when that style was coming into prominence if you will, it didn’t have an allure for me then. Looking at that today, I look at the melodic aspects of guitar.
I never wanted the sound of Wreck-Defy to emulate a band like Slayer. First of all, you can’t match the intensity of that. I always wanted to have a melodic passage within the music. Some sort of hook, melody, solos with feel. Always thought put into the writing. My guitar playing has tightened. I don’t cringe as much listening to the new material. I can hear on the first two records parts where I would do it differently now and make the songs better. I can always use upgrades on the lead parts.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Wreck-Defy as well as your side outfit Gutter Creek over the next twelve months or so?
Hanchuck: Within the next twelve months we will have another record delivered to Doc Gator Records for Wreck-Defy. We are one of the only underground bands at this level that have a multi-album deal. I’m being sarcastic here. We submitted this record, and we had to omit one of the tracks. I thought it was a lyrical thing – maybe someone was offended by something on “Fashionably Offended”. They wanted to axe a song, I was going to tell them “Kill the Pain” or “Crushing the Coward”. They got back and told me to omit two tracks. I said what’s the problem – they told me the pressing plant would have to compress the files so bad, that the audio transfer would sound like shit on vinyl. You can only have 25 minutes run time per side on an album, I think – optimal is 22. Case in point, it’s just under a 61-minute album. It’s 2021, I don’t want to release an eight-song album. Why don’t we release another 7” with the record – it wasn’t cost effective. They thought it was more probable to do a double LP. Okay, even better. So we did it on 200-gram heavy weight vinyl, but it cost the label $17 per each pressing, a lot of money.
The guy goes forward, but he tells us we owe him another record. I don’t like owing anybody anything, so I was knee deep in writing the follow-up. I have 80 gigs of riffs on my hard drive. It will be super heavy, intense, hooky. It will be a lot shorter; one song is like three and a half minutes long. We write these longer songs.
Gutter Creek was originally supposed to come out January 31st, but things got delayed at the pressing plant. It will come out at some point in February. I have seen the roughs for it, the label has the test pressing. They said it sounds killer. I want to see the response from that record. It’s not thrash at all. It’s got its own thing going on, it doesn’t sound like any other band. Wreck-Defy people have said we sound like Testament, or 90’s-era Overkill. That’s awesome, I wear it as a badge of honor and feel blessed to be even considered in the same paragraph with those bands. That’s where the inspiration for the sound comes from. Thrash is still a prominent, relevant genre. Whereas 70’s rock is still 70’s rock. It’s a generational thing. The Gutter Creek stuff, I can pick up the guitar and within an hour, have written a complete song. The melodies are there, such a simpler style of music to play, and fun to play. It doesn’t require the same type of chops to play.