Hemotoxin’s Michael Chavez Discusses Beginnings, ‘Slaughter By The Water’ & Future Goals

By Avinash Mittur

About a week ago at the Slaughter By The Water festival I had the opportunity of talking to Michael Chavez of Hemotoxin, a young East Bay death-thrash band. I was impressed by his drive and his attitude towards spreading the band’s music, and I also enjoyed their performance on the Rock the Bike stage at SBTW. During this interview, Michael gives us a primer on Hemotoxin’s origins, their progression from his garage to a festival environment and his future goals for the group. Despite his young age, Michael has a very realistic and pragmatic take on the music industry today, and I’m excited to see where he and Hemotoxin will be in the future. Read our conversation below, and be sure to check out the band’s facebook page to listen to plenty of their songs and receive information on their future shows.

Tell us about the band, your beginnings and where you guys are at right now.

Michael: The band started out in 2010 as pretty much just me and my drum machine. Then musicians from other local bands like Apothesary and Necrosin became involved in the band at points, and now the lineup is made up of myself on guitar and vocals, Josh Sumpter on bass, Brandon Wilcox on drums and Hunter Farrand on guitar. We’ve had that lineup since November 2011.

From the demo you sent me, I can hear a lot of influence from the classic death metal bands of the ’90s like Morbid Angel and Obituary. Are there any bands that one wouldn’t expect Hemotoxin to hold as influences or incorporate into their sound?

Michael: For me, Rush is a band that I’m really into that I wouldn’t expect people to associate with Hemotoxin. I love their older stuff like “Hemispheres” and “2112.” Personally, I’m also influenced by Marvin Gaye, Zapp and Roger Troutman- I love a lot of old-school R&B and funk music.

Hemotoxin are from Pittsburg CA, a town that’s pretty far out into the East Bay area. Has the distance made it difficult for the band to book shows or hit the road?

Michael: I wouldn’t say that where we come from makes it difficult for us, but rather I would say that our lack of experience in the scene is what we have to deal with. Plenty of bands from our area have been able to play lots of shows like Toy Called God from Brentwood and Demon Seed from Antioch.

You guys have a lot of different songs uploaded on your Facebook page, probably enough for a full album and then some. Do you still plan on offering a ton of songs for free as the band’s career progresses?

Michael: Oh yeah, of course. The band’s latest demo is free as well actually. I recorded it myself at my house with an AudioBox interface and a really basic setup for everything else, it ended up taking about two months to do. I didn’t want to charge anyone at all for it. I didn’t have to pay to record it, so why should anyone have to pay to listen to it?

Slaughter By The Water is probably the biggest heavy metal festival in the Bay Area, with the possible exception of Tidal Wave. For a young band, there are definitely good and bad sides to playing a show in a festival environment. What are some of the challenges and some of the good things Hemotoxin have experienced from the show today?

Michael: This environment has just been crazy with so much happening all at once. This show is especially hectic because the U.S.S. Hornet is a museum, not a music venue. They don’t have a soundboard, a stage, a P.A. system, nothing- all that stuff had to be rented out. I credit Nick Gomez and Brian Montague so much for making the show happen, they’ve been working non-stop. For us, we’ve only run into the usual issues. I’m the only one out of high school in Hemotoxin, so if we get offered a big show on a weeknight it’s tough to make it happen. I also don’t have a car, so getting rides is an issue. The festival environment has been really cool though, it’s been awesome just taking in the atmosphere. Watching everyone’s soundcheck with Jack and Gary from Exodus and Charles from Abysmal Dawn being right there was surreal. It’s crazy to think that we were in my garage practicing only one day a week and now we’re here on a naval ship surrounded by people that have inspired us tremendously.

So far, Hemotoxin have followed a D.I.Y. attitude when it comes to recording and touring but would you consider enlisting the help of a label sometime in the future?

Michael: Of course. Labels can help tremendously with touring, distribution and even recording. Illegal downloading is really killing the money that can be spent on all that though. Even Steffen from Obscura once told me that they would tour much more often if their record sales were higher. Just the visas to get into the country are expensive. Yes I would like to sign to a label, but I know a lot of what we do would still be D.I.Y.

For a small band like Hemotoxin, it’s really difficult to break out of the local scene and make yourself known outside of your home area. What kind of strategies or plans do you guys have to get out of that “local band” status?

Michael: It’s tough right now just staying on top of school and the band for all of us, but we’re just trying to play as many shows as possible with just about anyone. We’re happy to play on any slot, but if you want us to headline just don’t expect a lot of ticket sales! This summer we made a trip to LA and played in Rosemead, Boyle Heights and Fullerton. Going from city to city and giving out as much free stuff as we can like demos and stickers is our main strategy. If we do it enough we’ll hopefully get our name out there more and more promoters will know of us. Even a show like Slaughter By the Water is huge for us just from the exposure the music will get.

There are a million and one death metal bands starting out every year in California. What makes Hemotoxin different and special?

Michael: Our music isn’t black and white; we explore all kinds of shades of grey. We can be super fast, really heavy and in your face, but then we can really slow it down and just be beautiful at times. We try to incorporate so many different elements of metal music so that we don’t remain confined to just “death metal” or “thrash.”

So to wrap things up, where do you want to see Hemotoxin at in a few months or even a year?

Michael: Hopefully we’ll be on a decent enough label that can get us touring nationally. For now though, I feel like I have a lot more work ahead of me. Playing Slaughter By the Water is a whole new plateau and now there’s so much to go from here. Now we just want to play as many shows as we can and just keep expanding our music’s reach.

Does Hemotoxin have any shows planned for the coming months?

Michael: In November we’ll also be playing at the Red House in Walnut Creek with Exmortus and we should have something cool planned for October that I can’t really talk about right now.