Wreck-Defy – Substance & IntegrityTuesday, 29th December 2020
On the surface, Wreck-Defy seems like a project assembling some great talent from the thrash scene. Members past and present have had ties to Megadeth, Testament, and Annihilator among others. But Wreck-Defy is a full-on band – releasing their third album for Powers That Be that can easily rival a lot of what we’ve heard from the Bay Area scene as well as containing a bit more of a melodic aspect while keeping up with the modern times. Crunchy riffs, solid grooves, versatile vocals, dynamic tempos – it’s all in there and more. We reached out to guitarist Matt Hanchuck on Skype to get the full lowdown on his activities, his musical upbringing, views on the thrash scene, and the trials and tribulations of handling the music industry as a band trying to climb their way out of the underground.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories surrounding music growing up – and how did you get turned onto metal and eventually picking up an instrument to want to perform in this style?
Matt Hanchuck: My dad is an avid British invasion fan. When I grew up as a kid, my musical palate was essentially the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and the Woodstock plethora of bands. To this day I still revere the Rolling Stones as very influential in their own way – especially the chord progressions that they used. There was always music on at my home. It wasn’t necessarily what I would pursue from a writing standpoint, but I certainly appreciated the ability to craft hooks, melodies, and so forth in that other music. All the bands have a common denominator, which is the musicianship if you will. A lot of those 70’s bands, Keith Richards is my number one guitar player. His usage of chords was unique, obviously I love Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Cream.
For heavy metal, I’m a little older. Kiss was a big influence. AC/DC was my favorite band for the longest time. I’m talking about up until 1987/88, and that’s when I got my first dose of Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer – all those bands were blowing up. From there the floodgates opened, and I started writing and researching more bands. All the fanzines – we had M.E.A.T. magazine out of Toronto, Tim Henderson went on to Brave Words, hats off to them for hanging the torch for the Canadian scene. The Bay Area had its own little scene – and I couldn’t think of a bad band that came out of that area. They were all equally great for their own reasons. I still revere that stuff and listen to it daily. I have been so blessed to have a lot of these bands still making music that is great today. No one hit wonders in my record collection if you will.
It was after the metal stuff I picked up the guitar. I was born in 1976, and I was 13 when I started playing guitar. The “Peace Sells” video by Megadeth was my introduction to thrash metal, on Much Music which was the Canadian version of MTV back in the day. I was floored by it, I never heard anything that was like that- the technical prowess alone. It still holds up. You can argue it’s the most simplistic song to play off that record, and at that time it was still light years beyond what most of the other bands were doing. I play a right-handed guitar left-handed – it’s strung upside down. The reason I play like that is it simply was a convenience thing as a kid. When I acquired my first guitar, there were only three independent stores where I grew up. We didn’t have a big Guitar Center or notable music chains – you were limited to what these little stores carried. You were at the mercy of what they had for merchandise. They didn’t have any left-handed guitars. I bought a cheap Yamaha SE 112. It worked and after that I bought a Jackson Charvel Avenger – I still have this and acquired it in 1991. Once I got a little more advanced I could play the guitar better. I was playing by ear at that point. I cut my teeth on the Metallica riffs, Anthrax, Megadeth – I never got overly immersed in Slayer. I was more into the stuff that kept the melodies at the forefront.
Dead Rhetoric: Wreck-Defy began in 2016. Can you tell us about the original development and how things evolved in getting specific notable names like Glen Drover and Shawn Drover for the debut album Fragments of Anger?
Hanchuck: Those had been written… it’s kind of known now on an underground level, the first record, a lot of those songs were written twenty years prior to them being recorded for that record. A lot of old school stuff on there. I cringe when I hear some of that stuff today, but a lot of people like that record. A lot of people prefer that record from the one we just released. That came about, I was living in Winnipeg, Manitoba at the time and I was jamming with some guys. I had no intentions of touring with this band. I had been playing this music for so long, I wanted to record it, properly. I spoke to Glen several times on social media. He started advertising, and this was post his Megadeth time, looking at mixing bands. I reached out to him, sent him some tracks, and he got back right away to do it. It was him that came up with the idea of having his brother Shawn play the drum tracks on that record. I had a guy in mind in Winnipeg, but at that point I had moved already to where I am now in Thunder Bay, Ontario. It’s an eight hour drive each way to go back to Winnipeg. I’m a career guy, work first, work pays the bills – Wreck-Defy is part of the bills (laughs).
Logistically it would be a nightmare. You want it to be as perfect as you envisioned it to be. I wanted to be involved in the writing including the creation of the drum parts. I mentioned it to Glen and he suggested I get Shawn to do the drums. The only thing is – your opinion doesn’t mean shit, what he does is what you’ll be stuck with. How can you argue with that? He played in Megadeth, so that was that.
Dead Rhetoric: Remnants of Pain came out last year – featuring vocalist Aaron Randall (ex-Annihilator) and bassist Greg Christian (ex-Testament) among others. Where do you see the major difference in development from the first album to this one – and how does it feel to have such seasoned musicians within Wreck-Defy to execute your ideas and songwriting into something stronger than you possibly imagined?
Hanchuck: The main difference is the first record was more of a solo effort. I had written and arranged every melody and riff. And the songwriting obviously. With Remnants of Pain, those songs with the exception of two, there are nine songs on that record – seven of those songs were written post recording the Fragments record. It was more modern, current, there’s a lot more drop D stuff on there – the last record was more of a standard tuning. That Fragments record is more like the pre-1990’s, I think there’s more of a jump on the Remnants record. The songwriting took a quantum leap. The second thing is, Greg joined the band. He believed in my writing and wanted to be a part of the band. He wasn’t just a hired gun, nor was Aaron. Aaron wanted to be partners, and we work great together.
Every record since then, I have a band. Those guys want to be here and be a part of Wreck-Defy.
Dead Rhetoric: The latest album is Powers That Be. Discuss the songwriting and recording process for this effort – were there any specific surprises, obstacles, or challenges that took place through the initial demo and songwriting development through the final outcome?
Hanchuck: You know a lot of inspiration struck for this record, and that’s why the songwriting is so diverse. One of the unique things I’ve learned, Kragen has helped out due to his connections with Heathen, Exodus – he’s a great humble, guy. He’s an ambassador for the thrash scene, so talented. He’s helped us get to another level, signing us to his Sub-Level Records for that digital platform. The songwriting on Powers That Be, it’s much more advanced. A lot of it has to do with the more songs you write, for me, the more you learn about how to write a song. How to make certain melodies fit better with key changes and signature changes, time changes. You’ll notice one thing about the Wreck-Defy sound, my opinion is we have never omitted melodies and hooks for the sake of heaviness. It sounds like a train coming at you, and at a certain point we throw a curveball at you so to offset the brutality, and then bring it back again.
Dead Rhetoric: I do sense a lot of influences from the second wave of thrash – Heathen, Vio-lence, Forbidden, and even artists like Cyclone Temple in what you are trying to do with melody and aggression…
Hanchuck: Yes, Cyclone Temple! I actually covered the song “Why” for a long time. Funny you should say that, Greg Fulton, his other band Rebels Without Applause, I adore that band. It’s more of a groovy thrash approach, he’s a great singer too.
Dead Rhetoric: You reach out to Juan Urteaga for the mixing and mastering of these latest two records. What are some of the aspects and qualities that he brings to the table to give the records that extra special professional touch?
Hanchuck: Honesty. Juan, I’ve had this discussion with so many guys, and people ask me why do I keep using Juan? Have you heard the most recent Vicious Rumors album? That’s a testament to Juan’s ability. No slagging against Geoff and his team – Geoff is an amazing guitarist and songwriter. You know how hard it is to write that many albums over the years and not write a bad song? There are few bands I can parallel with Vicious Rumors having that ability. Juan has never tried to rearrange, restructure, or rewrite any parts of the songs. He allows us to produce this ourselves. Juan is a producer, but he mixes and masters and reamps us. He’s my friend, he’s been to my home in Canada. He has no ego, and he’s an honest guy. That’s the quality I gravitate to. Honesty and integrity are aspects that are lacking especially in the music industry, which I’m learning. His ears are always fresh. If you listen to… Andy Sneap is a brilliant metal producer. Juan is in the number as well. When I hear an Andy Sneap production, I know it’s Andy’s record. Juan doesn’t make Wreck-Defy sound like Vicious Rumors. Vicious Rumors doesn’t sound like Sadus. Sadus doesn’t sound like Dragonlord. Juan has a different sort of approach when he works with different artists. That’s another thing I like about Juan.
The other producer that I find is brilliant that has done amazing things as of late is Jason Suecof – he did the last three Death Angel records, minus the new one. If for some reason, Juan and I couldn’t get our timing or scheduling right in the future, Jason would be my go to guy second. Juan is current recording Greg for the fourth Wreck-Defy album, as we speak. I’m putting the cart before the horse, for late 2021 – if there is still a globe.
Dead Rhetoric: What does the thrash metal genre mean to you personally? How do you view the original developers of the scene during the 1980’s/early 90’s versus the current generation of bands that are doing their best to keep the movement alive and put their own stamp on things?
Hanchuck: The intelligent thrash bands were the original thrash bands. Now I’m not saying all bands, let me be clear about that. When I listen to things like Master of Puppets, And Justice for All, Rust in Peace – as equally impressive as the musicianship was, the lyrics were substantial too. James Hetfield is a great songwriter, and he had something to say. A lot of the new bands, it’s cliché to have something like “Thrash Monster”, or the beer bonger… all these stupid boring, childish things. I don’t get into that. For me there should be an outlet to say something within your band. The crossover thing is different, but thrash was always more of a pro-political vehicle for a lot of these bands. The beauty of music is you can stay completely neutral, and you can step back and point out in your opinion the deficiencies on both sides. I think politics suck on either side – if we had no politics or organized religion, the world would be amazing. Necessary evils I guess as we’ve created them.
A lot of the older stuff I gravitate to. Flotsam & Jetsam, Eric AK is a brilliant songwriter. His lyrics still speak to me. The substance is still there. Testament, Onslaught, Heathen. They are all releasing great records today. Testament released the best record they’ve had this year since… The Gathering, in my opinion. That’s impressive and continuing to do what they can to better themselves. I’m really looking forward to hearing the new Vio-lence record.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider three to five of the most important albums that shaped your outlook on heavy metal, and what has been the best concert that you’ve attended personally as a metal fan -plus what made that show so memorable?
Hanchuck: Albums that shaped me. I would have to start with a Canadian band, Sacrifice – Soldiers of Misfortune. That record to me, even to this day, that’s the apex Canadian metal record. It can never be topped by a Canadian metal band. I love Rush, they are more of a prog thing. Annihilator, when they were more of a Canadian band, and Razor, I still adore that band. Zimmer’s Hole, Devin Townsend, but the number one Canadian album is Soldiers of Misfortune. After that, I would pick Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying from Megadeth. The third one would be a toss up for me between Horrorscope from Overkill and Oppressing the Masses from Vio-lence.
Best concert, I don’t know. Probably Prong in a club. They were the most impressive band that I’ve seen live.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the biggest challenges Wreck-Defy currently faces in trying to establish yourselves more on the international scene and possibly move up the ladder for attaining a stronger following?
Hanchuck: First of all, record labels for whatever reason, they won’t touch us with a ten-foot pole. We aren’t a guarantee, and everything comes down to dollars and cents for a label. I’ve had discussions with a lot of these guys. We were on the cusp twice with bigger labels, and for whatever reason in the eleventh hour they backed out. And they courted us for weeks. That’s all good. At the end of the day, I don’t subscribe to the ideology that we are worthy of a big label anyway. It’s a cathartic outlet for me. When I write these thrash songs, they are from the heart, they are not contrived. That’s what comes out. It’s real, authentic music. It’s a testament to the fans that we draw in. I spend half my days responding to them. There’s a strong foothold for this music overseas, and that objectively would be the big goal. To blossom as big as it could potentially in the European market. It’s a dream goal to do the festival run. The prospects of touring… speaking selfishly, I make $50 an hour with my salary. Is it feasible for me to take a leave of absence, as you are never going to get thirty days off from work as a police officer in Canada. To rent a U-Haul, run around in Canada and play to clubs of 50 people. I’ve seen some amazing bands tour Canada and only draw 100 people in 400-500 capacity venues. What do you do? There’s no metal scene here per se. One-off shows, festival shows, a European run – it could be achievable.
A lot of these bigger bands, they expect a buy on. That’s asinine to me. You are going to ask a band that has no money to spend ten grand so you can open for 25 minutes? We are not going to draw that in a six- week tour. The industry is not designed for bands … there will be no more Metallica’s, Slayer’s, Anthrax’s. Let’s be honest. Because the labels won’t allow that to happen, and there’s no media to carry things to that level. Much Music won’t touch that with a ten-foot pole, they would rather play the same bubble gum stuff all day. The industry is broken and battered, laying bleeding if you will right now. A lot of these bands that rely on touring for a living, they are the ones suffering on this lockdown. It’s not affecting us, it gives us more time to write and record. We have a fourth record basically done now, we just need to polish it off.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have a favorite situation in your musical career where a failure (or apparent failure) set up for a later, better or more successful outcome down the line? And how do you personally handle setbacks or failure in your life?
Hanchuck: Failure and setbacks are a part of everyday life. Not just in music. I’ve taken a proverbial bat to the teeth with the music, members in the band, guys letting you down because they have demons that they can’t shake. No judgement here – but at the end of the day, you have studio time booked, and guys can’t commit, it’s frustrating. It is what it is. No one’s perfect. That’s the biggest downfall, not being able to coordinate things with other people. You can lead the horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. That applies to every facet of life. Wreck-Defy has been pretty good to me. I work with good guys, professional musicians. The procedure gets easier with every record. We know each other so well. We are friends, moving forward it’s much easier to exchange ideas and not offend someone.
Dead Rhetoric: What hobbies, passions, or interests do you like to pursue in your free time away from music when you have the time and energy to do so?
Hanchuck: I’m a massive outdoor enthusiast. I like to hunt, I’m Canadian. I like to kill and grill my own food. I also enjoy fishing, sitting in my boat. I also love my dogs. I have all kinds of critters in my yard, I live on an eighty-acre spread. My nearest neighbors all have horns- deer. I love the whole concept of taking advantage of what nature has. Snowshoeing, cross country skiing. We get six and a half months of winter, so you dig deep to find something to enjoy in the winter. I’m an ex-military guy, so I have a respect for firearms. I like to teach kids how to properly handle firearms, if I can. I volunteer for stuff like that.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next year shaping up for Wreck-Defy when it comes to activities, promotion, live shows, etc.? Has work already begun on the next record in the interim?
Hanchuck: For the next record, the heavier stuff is heavier, and the mellow stuff got mellower. It pushes it this way and that way as far as I could. Funny you should say that, it has to do with the future. The fourth Wreck-Defy album for all intents and purposes is done. Juan is finishing with Greg this week. It’ll be mixed, mastered and finished before Christmas. It will get shelved until Powers basically runs its course. That’s a done deal. I have another band called Gutter Creek. It’s a complete departure from Wreck-Defy. It’s very… I love Skynyrd as much as Vio-lence. There’s no chug alternate picking in it. It’s like stoner thrash, I was using that description earlier. More back to “Swatting at Flies” by Flotsam, and a plodding thing. That’s just about finished too. For album five Wreck-Defy I have reconfigured 13 different songs by 13 different Canadian artists, and we are going to do a covers record. It’s going to be called We’ve Got You Covered. It’s got all the old arena rock stuff, Trooper, Bryan Adams, Loverboy, April Wine- turned into thrash songs, but did not omit the vocal prowess, melodies, harmonies. I want it to have that defined flavor. We have some cool guests playing with us.