Interview with José Rodriguez of Hell Strike

Hell Strike is a wicked death metal band and here is an interview I did with guitar player José Rodriguez:

So How are things in your lovely Seattle?

JR: Hello Chris, things in Seattle are alright I mean considering all the things that have happened all around the world. We started to have shows and it’s great to see bands live again.

What sort of kid were You growing up with? Did You have friends?

JR: As a kid, I was always playing in the dirt like any other kid, the friends I had were neighbours and school friends, mostly because playing soccer or kid’s games, the old weird games that resulted in several scars, I mean there were no cell phones so most of the stuff We played as kids some of us ended up with scratches but it was all fun.

Now when did you start to listen to music, not Metal music yet?

JR: I was raised with music. My dad played the violin so the turntable was next to his bed and ever since I was a little kid there was always music around me primarily classical music and Mexican folk, one of my older sisters listened to the Baroque style music records She had and some 70’s pop, I could’ve learnt to play the violin since my dad always offered, but at that young age I wasn’t interested in music, but once I started to get into it that flame hasn’t ceased, on the contrary, if I don’t play it feels weird, like a body reaction to not playing an instrument.

Now how did you come to discover metal and then underground metal?

JR: To discover metal it was natural, I mean since my ear for music was already developed, I happened to have another sister whose also older than me and she was into Led Zeppelin, early Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and my brother was into The Rolling Stones so that played a great role in me getting into heavy metal cause through them playing their records I would be listening to something that was making my ear to grow listening to music. I’d ask my sister and she would say that’s Black Sabbath, then a little older but probably not 10 years old yet there was the time when you are at a place and older people play AC/DC and that’s when you start your own trek to find something in that vein, luckily my friend’s older brothers already had Judas Priest and Iron Maiden so from then on I was just trying to find more and more and that’s the time when NWOBHM was starting so there were some albums available growing up, but that was the age where you didn’t have an income, so cassettes were my best friends when I couldn’t buy an album. You start making friends at school and borrow their records make a cassette copy and vice versa, then a little later I happened to get a Venom tape and my first reaction I thought it was crap so I took it out. Two weeks later I played it again and I guess that’s the moment when I changed a lot compared to my friend who of them stayed in the classic heavy metal stuff, but I sold my early vinyl collection to get import vinyl of bands that I found through Venom and you know what kind of bands are those: Exodus, Slayer, Infernal Majesty, Bulldozer, Bathory, Destruction, Blessed Death, Blood Feast, Post Mortem. For every album that was coming out during the second half of the 80’s you had to find a way to own your vinyl collection, then before the ’80s ended around 88/89 some friends in high school and friends of friends were already moving into the underground as if there was another underworld and yes there was already the demo tape trading. I think from there everything developed into what we know nowadays. (your so right, back then I had to have everything as well-Chris). Soon after that, high school metalheads connected and we had a little circle of friends with Mortician, Incantation, Immolation, Death Yell, Atomic Aggressor, and Sacred Crucifix demos (recently I was about to do a vinyl version of their demo Realm Of Darkness, but due to the vinyl pressing plants another label is putting it out) and what not getting those demos dubbed on cassette. If you didn’t own them, by the late early 90s I was already playing in bands and thanks to my friend Alex who opened a record store and I was in charge of it. I started helping the Mexican scene to get their demos or records distributed as well as the labels. We already know that had the big acts, Century Media, Nuclear Blast, Mangled Beyond Records, Cyber Music and other stuff that you could get through the distributors.

The underground side of Metal was that something you took right away or did it take a few listens to get into?

JR: The underground side of Metal was something that I got into without hesitation. I think a few years before when Hellhammer and Sepultura were underground, nobody was even thinking that we’re gonna become something else and just a few years later when the ’90s hadn’t even started there was a newer style of music developed by metalheads whose couple of years before were listening to thrash metal and even some early death metal underground was still considered thrash metal and slowly was developing into a more evil form. I welcomed most of the new stuff, sure some of the Norwegian underground was on its way to change things drastically, but we listened to everything we got. Lucky as being teenager, because there were many people in the Mexican scene (where I grew up) that were connected all the way with the big net and I happened to get sometimes copies or just dub some tapes, but the underground was just crazy as there were so many bands coming out from all over the world so it was the more you listened to underground bands the more you wanted to get into it. You listened to your tapes and wanted to scream like your favourite singers. I also think that fanzines back in the formation of the old underground played a big role in it, (hello metal core-Chris) even nowadays, but I remember Peardrop (great zine-Chris) which I even sent an advance copy of Bloodsoaked’s full-length back then, Mortician Mag, Ripping Headaches, there were fanzines all over the world connecting all the metalheads, I even knew about yours as well. (thank you sir lol-Chris)

Now I know you were in previous bands, but I’m not gonna get into that, but what led you to play the guitar and who are some of your favourite guitar players?

JR: I started playing in bands as a bass player, later on after years of playing bass I decided to buy a guitar. I did it cause I moved to Seattle and I thought it was better if I started to write songs on my own cause the underground in 94/95 was changing faster than before and to cope with it you had to own a guitar and it took a bit to learn it, but it gave me a better insight of music. There are several guitar players that lead my way when I was a kid like Adrian Smith, of course, Tony Iommi, and Mike from Destruction, I don’t usually look up to guitar players I like it when I write music cause it gives you a better insight into your guitar playing. Vicotnik is one of my favourite guitar players, Blasphemer from Aura Noir I dig his style too and of course Trey Azagthoth and Jeff Hanneman. There are so many guitar players I enjoy listening to and it’s a long list but I’m sure you can hear a bit of Wolf from Accept on Chains Of Frost song, soundwise I mean and I do like his classical music incorporation on his solos.

Now how did the coming of Hell Strike come together as the other members have been in a bunch of other bands and the lineup that recorded your debut EP was that the same lineup early?

JR: Hell Strike came to formation the same as many Metal bands and it was at a show, a friend of mine had suggested Charlie as a Drummer to keep an eye on and his band Ascended Dead played Seattle I went to see them and was blown away, later I met him at a show in California and We talked I told him I saw him play and He knew who I was too and He went and grabbed Jonathan and We talked and thought about starting a project and I mentioned I had old songs that hadn’t been recorded yet so We started practising a month later, the only addition of the first line up is Jon Reider, He later moved to Portland from San Diego and eventually He joined the band.

Now early in was it decided You were gonna play the Guitar and sing for the band?

JR: The very first formation was Charlie on Drums, Jonathan on Guitar and me on Guitar, since I have been a singer most of my Metal life We were gonna just need a Bass Player but since We had been just busy with learning the songs We weren’t seeking yet but one day Jon was suggested and was brought in at first He joined as Guitar Player and Jonathan moved to Bass later on They switched again and then after the recording Jon took the Guitar again, I guess one day We’re gonna do a weird line up show and I’ll be playing Bass. Jon Reider also sings in some parts of the songs.

How soon after you all got together did you start to write original songs and was it rather easy seeing as You all had been in many other bands?

JR: The songs “Re Abortion” and “Cadaveric Requiem” are really old songs that I have been nurturing for like 15 years, that’s why They sound from an early era, so that was how We started and I was already working on other songs so it just took a few times for us to get together since I live in Seattle and They all live in Portland, depending of how busy We all are since We all have different projects.

Was it already known that you guys were gonna be a death metal band, nothing more, nothing less?

JR: The sound on the MCD came out more as a Death/Black sounding I think and that was just as revisiting the early Death Metal years since I hadn’t played Death Metal for a long time and it felt like the right thing to do at time since We had just met and I noticed for a moment doing a quick Death/Black Metal songs would help us start, but that was just as an idea for the MCD, We’re working on new songs already and the new songs don’t sound much as the songs on the MCD.

So You have only one release out, an EP on Chaos Records, which is self-titled. How did you hook up with them or did you do a demo and sent it to them?

JR: I had already worked with Chaos Records and Victor (the owner) asked me if I had any projects in mind and mentioned We were working on this project so he got interested and asked me to send any advance I had so We didn’t have to demo the songs, He was already waiting for it and he liked the music a lot when I delivered it to him so it was already settled beforehand.

Any particular reason why it took 4 years to release an EP and not a full length or was it because the other guys were in other bands at the time?

JR: The reason is caused when we were working on the songs We thought about resurrecting Bloodsoaked an old band the Guitar Player also lives in Seattle so We took like a year practising old songs and new songs, We played a festival in Portland, one headline show in Portland and one in Seattle, the one in Portland was with Pestilence originally but they cancelled the tour back then, We were also gonna tour with Mortuary from Mexico but we cancelled that tour cause Charlie got busy with Skeletal Remains and Incantation, in the end of 2019. He was not touring so we talked about recording the Hell Strike songs, We were gonna do one more song but it felt short when we were recording cause sometimes We just have little time to learn the songs and record them the same day due to being busy so 3 months later there’s a pandemic and it took a while for me to be able to come down and record vocals and leads cause everything was in lockdown, also finalizing the album cover was one of the problems why it was delayed my friend who was working on it just took a long time to deliver it and in the end, no one liked it so we had to get someone else to work on it.

How has the feedback been for this EP so far?, How has it been working with Chaos Records so far?

JR: The response for the album has been great, many friends and a lot of people didn’t get disappointed, the reception has been amazing working with Chaos has been great too, He has been very professional and since we already know each other it’s easy to communicate, He has his net but I do have means to get some distributors to help spread the record.

Why an instrumental to close the release out?

JR: Closing the album with an instrumental song it’s an idea I got while watching a National Geographic episode about Romania and the old ways they believed a dead person could mutate into a Vampire and I know it’s kind of weird to have chosen it that way, but the mysticism in the whole procession was quite unique so I had that outro and we thought of leaving it at the end as an outro.

Just how serious is a band like Hell Strike?

JR: Right at this point we’re taking our first steps and it’s not easy since we all have other projects going on and most important is to also find an identity in a sea of so many bands.

For those who have not heard the band, what would You say the band sound like?

JR: It’s hard to pinpoint your own music sometimes but I read the reviews and the name Necrophobic and Grotesque came up a few times so I can go with it and a mixture with early death metal, meaning the death metal that was just coming out of bands that 3 years before their demo most of the band members were listening to bands like early Sodom, Possessed, one song has a bit of Forgotten Tomb (Springtime Depression album) influence although We’re not a DSBM band, I just honestly liked the guitar work and it doesn’t necessarily sound like them just as a reference, you can hear a bit of Austrian Death Metal influence like Disharmonic Orchestra and Pungent Stench on another song, the songs are very different from each other cause 2 are very old songs and the newer ones We thought of keeping them in an old school vein of Death Metal.

Now how do you guys when You were writing a song not let the influences from your other previous bands find their way into the mix so to speak?

JR: That’s a bit hard cause we are all working on different projects. Charlie and Jon play in 2 other bands together, Jonathan and Charlie play in one other band, I’m doing 2 other projects, but I think the way it doesn’t get the bands sounding the same it’s because of the different personalities for now I’m writing most of the music, but I can get an insight from the ones involved on each project so I try to find a common ground where to find a connection. Jon started contributing and while They practice recording with Void Ceremony and Ascended Dead I take care of the new Hell Strike songs, I send them the ideas and when We get a chance We get together, one of the projects that I’m working on is with a friend from Chile that moved to Seattle his name is Sebastian and we write the music together so that helps a lot to do that project and the other project is with Drawn And Quartered guys for a split with Ravenous Death (Mexico), so it is not easy to do it but it’s getting done and most important we’re gonna try to find an identity as a band and also for future projects.

Who came up with the name for the band and the logo and the cover of the EP?

JR: I suggested 2 names and we almost have the other one but then I went down to practice one time and We agreed that Hell Strike sounded much better. the name came to me when listening to Living Death’s “Vengeance From Hell” when the song Hell Pike was playing I thought it sounded like a great idea for a band name. The logo I was drawing some ideas and showed them to the band members then I got in touch with my friend Hellbastard who had worked on a logo for my old band before, so I sent him some ideas that would help him work on the logo for the cover we had another one done but no one in the band liked it and neither Victor from Chaos so He suggested Misanthropic Art and I basically at that point just gave him ideas from the lyrics.

Who came up with the name for the band and the logo and the cover of the EP?

JR: I suggested 2 names and we almost have the other one but then I went down to practice one time and We agreed that Hell Strike sounded much better. the name came to me when listening to Living Death’s “Vengeance From Hell” when the song Hell Pike was playing I thought it sounded like a great idea for a band name. The logo I was drawing some ideas and showed them to the band members then I got in touch with my friend Hellbastard who had worked on a logo for my old band before, so I sent him some ideas that would help him work on the logo for the cover we had another one done but no one in the band liked it and neither Victor from Chaos so He suggested Misanthropic Art and I basically at that point just gave him ideas from the lyrics.

Now, this interview is going to be going to an overseas (for both of us) based webzine. How does one find your releases overseas that You know of?

JR: There are several distributors in Europe that have the record available FDA, War Anthem, Code 7, Plastic Head Distribution have copies, Memento Mori and Iron Bonehead also have copies available and of course, we’re looking for more distributors over there so if you re reading this and you like the band’s music You can get in touch.

Has the band played live at all and even if not are there plans to do at all in 2022?

JR: We haven’t played yet but We are working on it, We are planning to do shows and as soon as Charlie gets back from touring with Incantation that’s when we’re gonna start practising, I already talked to a promoter of a venue and he’s ready when we are ready and of course, there are some bands that want to do shows altogether.

How much would you say the underground scene has changed since you discovered it and here in 2022?

JR: The underground Metal scene is way different now than 30 years ago obviously,I remember the first Bloodsoaked recorded a split 7″, and the engineer was like what’s that, even though there was a road already paved by tape traders, fanzines and bands via snail mail the infrastructure wasn’t ready for underground Metal just yet, yet, some shows would be packed but sometimes some would be totally empty once we tried to get on the popular or bigger clubs and that’s because nobody knew what underground metal was back then so you had to find ways to get into underground metal so your songs would be distributed or sought after and after, all that struggle is not needed as much since everything is on the internet. I see some people would just rather watch the filmed videos rather than go to shows or listen to albums the same way but at least there’s a great amount of true underground maniacs who still push the underground the old way. One of them is Headsplit Records and he even has a magazine and promotes shows, I tried promoting shows in Seattle helping Destroyer 666 first tour done just by metalheads and I was also the promoter of the Sadistic Intent’s first Seattle show, I ended up losing money but didn’t really care both shows were amazing so is it different than 30 years ago? No, it is the same just under a different infrastructure where even there are even movies about it nowadays but all think the experience is how you do it and how you make it work raising the underground flag.

What are your plans as far as Hell Strike and any other bands you are into going into 2022?

JR: At the moment we’re working on a new full-length and hope We’ll have it ready sometime this year as well as playing shows, as for the project with Drawn And Quartered hope it gets out sometime in 2022, also work on the other project with my friend so it’s a busy year already.

Jose, please plug any merchandise You have (where is my shirt at haha) and any social media sites You have my friend.

JR: As for merch We sold out the first run of shirts and lots of friends are hating me probably including you cause that first run of t-shirts was printed in Mexico by Antimo (Hacavitz) but we’re gonna print some more soon so we have shirts for future shows and I’ll get you one. CDs and tapes you can order through the band or through Moribund Records, Morbid Kult Records, and Inferno Distro in the USA. In Europe as I mentioned before.

We have a Facebook page where you can check what’s new with the band and we have a Bandcamp page:

Horns up for doing this chat and any last words, the floor is yours.

JR: Thanks for the interview and for the support, great to know you are still doing it after all these years. A hellish salute to the old underground metalheads and to the new ones as well. Keep the flame alive!

Video song to enjoy of the band:

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