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Heathen has been around almost 25 years now and even though they broke up for awhile they are back and the bands newest CD "The Evolution of Chaos" is awesome and I recently got Lee Altus on the phone for an interview and this is what was said:
MC: Heathen have been around a long time and how do you still get inspired to write music after all these years?
LA: I guess what inspires you is taking long breaks. (laughs) I mean 1992 till 2004. You can't say it is still the same as way back when you first started cause you were younger and a different person back then. It is still exciting to me to write and record a new record, I mean if your not then what is point of even doing it ya know. I mean you can't think like a teenager when your 40. As long as you love this kind of music and love what you in that perspective it is the same. Everytime I finish a song I am excited and everytime I record an album you wait for it to come out and everybody's thoughts on it.
MC: How did the recording and songwriting for the new record come out. Did everything come together pretty smoothly or was there some bumps and bruises so to speak along the way?
LA: I mean it wouldn't be Heathen without some bumps and bruises. (we both laugh) It was a bit different cause back in the 80's we lived with our parents and some guys maybe have part time jobs and we were serious and dedicated ourselves 24/7 to Heathen. Where it is now we have families and some guys have kids, we have mortgages to pay and you have to find time for Heathen and it is a little bit hard nowadays. It was a lot harder to get everybody together and get this thing going than back in the day. When we recorded the comeback demo or whatever you want to call it back in 2005 and then it takes another 5 years to record an album well that is because we don't do this 24/7 and I also play in Exodus and other guys have jobs and it is not easy to find the time. If this was our job and the band was able to support us then it would be different, but it is not. In the studio it was the same thing as we only booked studio time when someone had some free time to show up. The actual recording took about a year, but not everyday. Sometimes it would be weeks before somebody would lay down a track.
MC: When the band reformed a few years back, obviously the world of music and
metal had changed a ton. There was not emails, computers and stuff, how have
you as a band embraced this new technology. I mean to me My Space is like interent
tape trading. Also have you seen any old Heathen videos on say sites like You
Tube and stuff?
LA: Yeah I have seen old videos. (laughs) We have embraced it and like you said My Space is like the internet tape trading, I wish we had that back in the 80's. I remember tape trading and it would take 2 weeks from like Europe and now it is like one click and you got it. It is a double edged sword and I am sure you have talked to some musicians as they say the internet and downloading is killing bands. I am not against the down loading, it only promotes the band and if anything it hurts more record companies, they are the ones that kinda miss the boat on that one. When it started happening they didn't think it was any kind of threat and now they realize what kind of threat it really is and it is too late now. For a band it is a great way to promote yourself and tat you don't really need a record company. If you have a website anybody can go on and listen to your songs and then it can just spread from there like wildfire.
MC: I know you said you are in Exodus. Now if Exodus really took off and became a total full time job, would Heathen then end up breaking up again?
LA: Well Exodus going the way it has in the past 4 or 5 years, it is kinda full time in many ways. I am the only one in Heathen that doesn't have to have a job. I mean it is not like I am a millionaire in Exodus, but it does pay the bills. We do a lot of touring and it is hard to find time for both bands and now Exodus is releasing a new album in May and the new Heathen album was just released. One option is to have the 2 bands play together and me going into the hospital after every show. (we both laugh)
MC: What are some of your thoughts on your first couple records. Can you still
listen to them now? Would you go back and change anything or is it more of you
thinking well that is the way it came out I am not gonna change a thing? I think
they are great by the way.
LA: I couldn't stand listening to "Breaking the Silence" when it came out. The production on it is just killed me, I just can't listen to that album. Victims I am very proud of that album. The things that went down in the studio with "Breaking the Silence" it was our 1st album, we didn't know anything and the producer just took over and makes us sound like he thinks we should sound and so that is why on Victims, we kinda took over and I said I know the way my songs should sound and this is how we are gonna do it. I am still very proud of Victims. Breaking I don't hate that album, I hate the production on that album. Obviously I would not write those songs now, but for a first album I thought it was OK.
MC: Is there any unreleased Heathen stuff that you might put out on CD one day or you might post on your My Space page?
LA: No not really. If we didn't finish writing a song we just scrapped it and when onto another song. When you write a song it should be a song that is gonna make it on your album. There is nothing really out there except maybe in 1984 there might be songs from back then, but I can't remember.
MC: When you released "Breaking the Silence" way back when did you even in your wildest dreams ever thing in 2010 that the band would still be around and that you would still be playing this kind of music?
LA: Oh of course. I never thought I would be playing thrash metal in my 40's. That is a young man's music it would be a joke. And here we are and we are still into it. I think taking a break and doing other stuff and doing some of that industrial stuff and taking a break from this kind of music was really helpful and when the band got back together and play those songs I remember right before the band broke up and when we were playing those songs we would be like "oh not this again". Like going to practice was like going to the dentist. Taking the break and playing those songs was great and I actually had fun playing those songs again.
MC: After you play live does it take you a few hours to call down from the
adrenaline rush from playing live?
LA: Absolutely. It is not the same as when we first started out and starting playing shows. The band grows and you start playing in front of more and more people. Nowadays the most people I have played for is 120,000 and that you can't compare to a club show, but you never know. It depends on the energy and the club. Sometimes you play in front of 300 or 400 people and the energy is more intense than playing in front of 10,000 people. Every show is different. Some shows you get off the stage and you say to yourself why am I doing this.
MC: Now I am gonna go back to the early days. Out in the mid 80's was places like Ruthie's Inn and stores like The Record Vault, etc. Was the scene that crazy back in the day?
LA: They were even wilder than you would see on film. It was crazy and great times to be growing up here. The East Coast had it too and the Bay Area had it's own special thing going and it helped having Metallica and Exodus, etc. People ask me now and tell me that it is coming back and I tell them it is nothing like it was and it was a special magical time and it will never be recreated. There will be other scenes and they are gonna have their own thing going and to me it was a one time only thing.
MC: Do you ever get to meet any fans that were fans of the band from way back
LA: Yeah there is some of the old farts that still come out. (laughs) They want to talk about the old days. Now you get all these young kids they want to talk about the old days. It ls like everybody wants to talk about the old days. What about now?
MC: You are on Mascot Records. How did you end up working with them?
LA: Well we released that demo in 2005 and we shopped it around and when we released that demo back in 86 we just released it for ourselves not to shop it around and through the underground it spread like crazy and we had all these labels wanting to sign us. We weren't even shopping the demo around. Fast forward to 2005 and we got a lot of good reviews and the people seemed to like, but the industry had changed and it was not so easy to get signed. We had A & R people that were fans from way back in the day and this is great stuff and I love it, but I can't sign you because I don't think it will do well. It was a lot harder to find a deal than one would think. We went with the best deal and that was with Mascot.
MC: Any chance of playing any shows with Heathen live in the near future?
LA: Yeah we will go to Europe. Europe is always the bread and butter of this music, especially in Germany. This album actually charted in Germany. In out heyday we never had an album chart in Germany. All of the sudden it comes out and hits the charts and I am amazed. We are gonna do a couple weeks in Europe and the states it is a lot harder and we are looking at playing some festivals here and there and basically hit some major markets. The guys in the bands have jobs and they can't be doing any kind of touring for 4-5 months.
MC: How do you prepare to go get ready for a show? Do you have a set routine or do you just sit around and get ready and when the time comes you just go up and plug in and play?
LA: Yeah I am pretty layed back. I might have a beer before we go on. Just sit and wait. That is part of touring and you just wait until you go on and hit the stage and have some fun.
MC: What would you say is the craziest thing you ever saw onstage either onstage with Exodus or Heathen?
LA: A crazy one was going back in the day in the Bay Area as the shows were so crazy and wild. I remember being at one of the Exodus show's at Ruthie's Inn that there was so much blood on the stage that you could see it from light where it was reflecting it was like they were playing on top of bloodstains. It was just unbelievable. It was like everybody running around bloody, but still having fun. It was the craziest thing I have ever seen.
MC: Lee I am out of questions and good luck with the new Heathen record and the Exodus record when it comes out. The new Heathen record if awesome as well. One last question, what are your plans for the rest of 2010?
LA: I am taking off with Exodus in about a week as we are doing the Exodus/Megedeth/Testament tour for about a month and then coming back we are supposed to go to Australia and then go to Europe with Heathen and then go to Europe with Exodus. I will be keeping busy. (laughs). Then there is talk of some shows in US with Heathen and Exodus.