By Avinash Mittur
For the past two years, San Francisco’s Hell Fire have been wowing audiences all over the Bay Area with their brand of classic heavy metal infused with just a bit of thrash. Bay Area legends like Gary Holt, Tom Hunting and Will Carroll can consistently be found in their crowds, and even Death Angel’s Mark Osegueda was spotted wearing a Hell Fire shirt in Sacramento last Friday night. I got to talk with guitarist Tony Campos, bassist Herman Bandala, singer Alex Orozco and drummer Arturo Rios last Monday at Elbo Room in San Francisco and we discussed the band’s upcoming album, their future touring plans and what their new guitarist Jon Mendle has contributed to the band. Unlike a lot of young bands, Hell Fire are focused on doing their album and tours right instead of rushing those elements. With a mature and patient attitude to complement their already mind-blowing live performances, I expect to see great things from them in the coming years. Read our discussion below, check out a live video of the band performing “Fatal Desires” live in the studio, their live performance of “Strike of the Beast” with Gary Holt, and visit Hell Fire’s official website for updates on future shows.
Hell Fire have a more vintage sound compared to the thrash and death metal bands in the Bay Area right now. Your sound works well with a lot of different bills and the band has certainly played many kinds of shows over the last couple of years. Is there one show in particular that’s really stood out as a highlight?
Herman: I think there’s been several highlights, I really can’t pinpoint one.
Tony: I think our two most rad shows were probably our last show at Slim’s and the Bonded By Baloff event in Oakland with Exodus.
Speaking of Exodus, there’s a video of Hell Fire playing “Strike of the Beast” with Gary Holt. How did that end up happening?
Tony: We have our alter-ego band, Mexican Steel. We play house parties under that name and do cover songs in Spanish and all kinds of fun stuff. Gary saw a video of us doing “Strike of the Beast” and asked if he could play with us at our next show. We were like “yeah, of course!”
Alex: Si senor, but we had to change our name a little bit!
Herman: We actually did “Strike of the Beast” in Spanish.
Art: We can’t memorize all the words in English.
Hell Fire have an EP up on Facebook- are there any plans for a follow up to those songs?
Tony: We’re working on our debut album, it’s just taking a long time because we want to make sure we do it right. Hopefully the work will be finished up after Christmas. We want to get everything finalized by spring, so we’re really pushing for that timeframe.
So as of September 2012, what stage is the album at?
Herman: A quarter of the way, probably.
Tony: The very, very beginning! It’s like a rough draft right now. Once we get into the rhythm of it, things should really start to fire along.
Jon Mendle joined the band recently as a second guitarist- what has he contributed to the songwriting so far?
Tony: It’s changed a lot! I met Jon through Craigslist when I was 17 or so. I was pretty young and I’d always see him around at shows. Since Jon’s joined, the guitars are much more even in the songs now. We’ve cut all the leads in half so we can both play. Before, I was playing all the leads in the songs. Now it’s really like a twin guitar attack.
About the upcoming album- are we going to be seeing songs from the EP reappear or will the record be made up of all new material?
Tony: There will probably be two or three songs from the EP on the album. We’ll just see how everything goes.
What kind of formats do you want to see the album be released on?
Tony: Physical and digital releases for sure, in Spanish too! We definitely want to see it on vinyl as well.
What plans does Hell Fire have in place in order to release the album? Are you guys thinking of using a label, or perhaps doing independent distribution?
Tony: Kind of. We’ve had a couple people approach us, but since this is our first album we want to do it on our own. We want the freedom to do what we want- it seems like it’s worth it. If we do decide to go shopping for a label somewhere down the line we can show them what we’ve accomplished on our own.
Tony, you’re a bit older than a lot of the musicians playing while still in high school. What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered due to simultaneously managing adult responsibilities and playing in Hell Fire?
Tony: It’s not bad! All of us in this band are pretty much the same age. We try to get a lot of kids in high school bands on shows with us. We try to have them come out as much as we can, but it sucks because so many venues here are 21+. Which is unfortunately why you won’t be able to see us tonight! Most of the time we’re playing with bands that are twice our age or so.
You guys have a lot of young fans, but I know that you also have a sizable older audience as well. When you play a 21+ show like the one tonight, what kind of crowd do you usually end up getting?
Tony: It’s kind of changed up lately. When we started the band, we were only able to play 21+ shows. We were able to build up a pretty rad following of 40-45 year olds for the first year. Then we started playing a couple South Bay shows and then we started seeing cool young metalheads show up. Now our shows are really mixed- I grew up around a lot of age-restricted venues so I can empathize with all our younger fans. I try to get everyone in if I can, even if I have to sneak some kids in.
Alex: We even have illegal immigrants coming to the shows! The band glares at Herman.
There a ton of bands here in the Bay Area that take influence from the classic thrash groups like Slayer, Exodus, Metallica etc, but Hell Fire have a more traditional metal sound- what are some of the groups that made you want to play this style of heavy metal?
Herman: Oh man, there’s a lot of bands I could mention. We would have to sit here for hours on end! When Tony and I first started playing together, we were really into obscure and classic older metal bands. I don’t know, it’s the rawness and intensity of the really old-school metal that really drives the band.
Tony: The seventies to early eighties is the era we love. We took influences from stuff like Angel Witch and Diamond Head and mixed that with the Bay Area stuff that we love like early Metallica, Exodus and Testament.
Herman: We also love bands like Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, Rush and all those seventies bands that pioneered metal. We try to mesh everything together.
Herman, your playing is really busy and fluid compared to a lot of metal bassists, even the older ones from the seventies. Are there any players in particular that inspired you to play this way?
Herman: Yeah, first of all Mr. Cliff Burton! Steve Harris, Geddy Lee, Geezer Butler, John Paul Jones-
Tony: For sure the bassist from Warrant!
Herman: Yeah man, and you can’t forget Winger! I guess it’s the same thing with the bands we mentioned earlier- we have all kinds of tastes, it’s all over the place.
Alex, I know you had a previous history with traditional Mexican music. How did you end up finding heavy metal and joining a band like Hell Fire?
Alex: The other styles of music I did more for fun, like mariachi at family parties where I’d do duets with my dad- he’s a professional singer. Then I played with a Spanish rock band for a little bit. When I tried out for Hell Fire, I thought I was supposed to sing in Spanish! My cousin here, Arturo, was in the last band I was in as well. I walked into the room and they started playing Iron Maiden and they asked “can you sing like Bruce Dickinson?” and I said “yeah, I think I can do that!” I applied the same principles from the mariachi and the Spanish rock bands and I ended up getting an Iron Maiden and Judas Priest-type sound. It felt really natural for me, and that’s why it was easy for me to hit those notes and extend them for so long. I already knew how to use vibrato and falsetto as well.
That’s a really unique history for any American metal vocalist.
Alex: All I knew about heavy metal before was Metallica, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden-
Herman: Limp Bizkit!
Alex: I did listen to them when I was like, twelve! But no- I was into singers, people who had actual talent in singing.
Herman: Fred Durst can rip dude.
Alex: Yes. On the toilet.
What are some of the activities you all like to do outside of Hell Fire?
Herman: Drinking and puking!
Alex: I work to support my twelve kids and my three baby mamas!
Tony, I think you were involved in BMX at one point?
Tony: Yeah, I still do that. I grew up racing motocross and riding BMX. That’s kind of how I ended up getting into metal. When I was like six or seven, I’d be riding in the skate parks and all the BMX’ers there would be hammered and blasting Slayer. I was just some weird little kid riding around, but that ended up being how it all bled into me.
Metal Assault is based in LA but you guys haven’t played there yet. Are there any plans for Hell Fire to stop by LA any time soon?
Tony: Yeah, but right now we’re just focusing on getting the album done. Either after that or if we get hooked up with something cool before then, we definitely want to do a west coast tour and aim for other countries too.
Given the weird state of metal nowadays where the new Testament album debuts at #12 on the Billboard charts but local bands can’t break out of their scene- realistically speaking, where do you want Hell Fire to be at in say, six months?
Tony: In six months the focus will be on the album. We’re also going to try focusing on Europe and South America. We’ll remain dedicated to our home for sure, but we want to put a lot of effort to get out there. Everyone we know that’s toured over in those places tell us that those are the most fun places to go and the fans really appreciate the music there. We’d still want to stick around up here in the Bay Area and do coast to coast runs and stop by LA or up north. We’ve got some buddies on the East Coast and we definitely want to play somewhere in New York as well.
Thanks for talking to me guys, and best of luck at the show tonight!
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