|Wednesday, 14 March 2012 14:48|
Alex Hernandez interview: by Noel Smart 3/14/2012
SDM: Can you tell us why you left Immolation?
Alex: In retrospect, it was a combination of things. There were some serious health issues that developed in 2003, half way through the European tour for Unholy Cult with Cradle and later Marduk. It was a long and brutal three months that left me with some potentially serious health related issues that needed to be addressed. The physical toll that is required to perform night after night didn’t help matters. I was not well and miserable by the end of the tour. Upon arriving back in the States, I immediately saw my physician and learned that surgery was required. I was a “sick drummer” literally. It also required some hard decision making. I quickly began to evaluate the priorities in my life, my family, my health, my future and felt all would be compromised if I continued to live that lifestyle. I had put so much of my life into my craft and loved every minute of it. A dream realized is not something easy to give up, for myself, but also for Bob and Ross who were not only my bandmates but like family to me. After all our trials and tribulations, I couldn’t believe that I was one of “those left behind”. The US leg of the tour continued on without me. Fortunately Steve Shalaty was able to step in and did, and continues to do, a phenomenal job. At this point I am able to look back on those days and feel so fortunate to have been able to have done what I loved most, meet amazing people, see the world and create music with two of our genres most talented contributors.
SDM: Why did you leave Fallen Christ?
Alex: It was just something I had to do. I was restless and ambitious, I had already invested 10 years of my life into playing and wanted to take it further. At the end of Fallen Christ, I was also in Disassociate and a couple of other projects. Being a founding member made it difficult to leave but it was just not right for me. Ronnie is a very talented guitarist but there were many elements that made it difficult to be creative as a unit on a consistant basis. I was looking for a return in my investment and I was lucky to find that in Immolation. However, if the opportunity arose, I would consider a reunion with Fallen Christ. There was some really good music that was never recorded. It feels like unfinished business.
SDM: What was it like entering the Immolation camp after Craig Smilowski left? Was it difficult to learn the Immolation material that was laid down by Craig?
Alex: It was during the winter of 1996. We had a massive blizzard in New York and I was scheduled to move the next day to Yonkers, NY (Immolation’s home base). I remember looking out my window and there they were, just like they said they’d be, Bob, Ross and Tom in a ridiculous amount of snow. I remember thinking that not even a blizzard deters these guys. I knew right there that I was entering into a professional and dedicated situation. It was very motivational for me. I knew I would have to work ten times harder than I ever have. Considering that I came from playing in four different bands and played consistently for a number of years I was confident. Until it came time to learn the songs. I listened to Here in After and knew to fill Craig’s shoes my skill level needed to improve quickly. He had a very fluid style, smooth, a gifted drummer. While I may have been more intense and energetic, I did lack the mechanics and techniques needed to play Immolation’s music. I found Dawn of Possession a bit easier to digest. We would practice for hundreds of hours preparing to tour with Six Feet Under one month after I joined. I was lucky they saw something in me and knew I would be just as dedicated and determined as they were. I like to think they were right.
SDM: Do you still talk with Fallen Christ? Any chance of getting back with them?
Alex: The only member of Fallen Christ that I do occasionally speak to is Sean Morelli (Bassist). He and I go way back to high school. For no particular reason, the other guys not so much. It’s been years. I never say never to anything. If the opportunity to create again happens, I would absolutely consider it, but I’m not so sure about the rest of guys. It would be interesting to see what we would come up with after all these years.
SDM: What was the experience like recording the Immolation album “Failures for Gods”?
Alex: Failures for Gods was a great challenge for me. Bob’s progressive style was new to me, very precise odd time signatures and complex structures, very ambitious on his approach. It was a long process for me to adapt. Every band I was in up to that point we all were pretty much equal in skill level but working with Bob was like working with a composer on his approach to writing music. I think the quality of the recording could have been better, as well as my performance, and the combination of both make this record hard for me to listen to. Maybe that’s just me, sometimes I think it sounds great.
SDM: What about “Close to a World Below”?
Alex: By the time we recorded Close to a World Below, I had a couple of years to adapt to Immolation’s style. My technique and skills had progressed and I felt more confident that my abilities were up to par with the rest of the band which at this point was Bob and Ross. Tom had chosen a different path and was no longer involved in any of the production process. I used a 6 ply maple Ludwig drum kit, 12, 13, 14, 16 inch toms which sounded thunderous and triggered the bass drums with one of Paul Orofino’s bass drum sound creations, totally unique and unable to duplicate. I used Zildjian cymbals, a 10” Splash K Custom, 14” Pig FX China, 6” Icebell, 16” A Custom Crash, 17” A Custom Crash, 2 - 18” A Custom Crashes, an 18” China and 14” Mastersound Hihats left and right and a 22” Ride, DW 5000 kick pedals and ProMark 5 BN Naturals. I’m very proud of this record from beginning to end. It was a very cool experience from creation to recording to touring. This was our second time working with Paul Orofino and the whole process moved along a bit smoother than the previous record.
SDM: “Unholy Cult”?
Alex: Unholy Cult is my favorite Immolation record. The whole process was so smooth, so creative. In most of the previous records the songs were preconceived. The first song written was Rival the Eminent and we knew, at least I did, that this record would be special. The energy was there and song after song it grew. You can almost hear it in the record from beginning to end. I used a Pearl Masters 6 ply maple, but the sizes were smaller than I used in the past, 10, 12, 13 and 16 inch toms. I felt they would cut through the low frequencies and also 16 x 22 bass drums. The cymbal combo was the same as Close to a World Below. This was our third record with Paul Orofino and we developed a solid relationship at this point.
SDM: What about the Bringing Down the World (DVD)?
Alex: The DVD was filmed while touring for the Unholy Cult record. It actually includes a few different tours. The first was for the Mercy Festival with Cannibal Corpse, Hate Eternal and Impale Nazarene which was great fun. All those guys are very talented and work very hard. The second tour was with Cradle of Filth for five weeks and then Marduk and Malevolent Creation for another five plus weeks, or what seemed like forever at that point, being that this is the tour that broke me. It started off great but nevertheless ended my tenure with the band. I’ll always have my memories and great experiences to look back on and always no regrets.
SDM: How did you get in the band “Requiem Aeternam”? Tell us about the “Philospher” recording you did with them? How come you are no longer with them?
Alex: Requiem came at a transitional period in my life. While I continued to work at the drum shop I was also attending night school so this was purely a professional situation. I wasn’t looking to join any band but was interested in doing session work if the right project came along. I did enjoy working on that record. Pepe is a very talented musician and him being from South America was a plus. The record was done within five weeks. All the songs were already arranged so I just had to record the tracks. I thought the record came out great, it was strong and intense and the songs were good. The record release was at CBGB’s. I’ve done some other session work and find it rewarding. I’ve been lucky to work with good musicians.
SDM: Tell us about playing with the band “Disassociate”.
Alex: It was great. I had a lot of fun and have great memories while in Disassociate. I loved the music, fast and brutal, no fancy schmancy. It was just straight up heavy and in your face and at time insane and noisy. We recorded Controlled Power in twelve hours, the fastest record I’ve ever done. It was all recorded live one song after the next. The guitars and vocals were dubbed and that it, we were done. It was engineered by NY’s legendary Knight Bob. They were more than a band, they were true artists. Check them out if you can, I think they are still at it.
SDM: Tell us about what it was like to record the legendary Fallen Christ “Abduction Ritual”.
Alex: Wow, that was like twenty years ago! A whole other lifetime it seems. I don’t remember details but there was a lot that seemed new to me at the time and it is because it was. I made lots of mistakes with that record. We didn’t use a metronome and here and there you can hear it. It drives me crazy. At the end of the day, I’m proud of it. I put my soul into that record and to know that after all this time there still seems to be interest in it is humbling and very gratifying.
SDM: What kind of drums, cymbals, pedals, sticks, hardware, heads did you use playing with Fallen Christ and Immolation?
For both bands I used the same kit I’ve had my whole life, a Pearl Export sizes 12, 13, 14, 16 with 16x22 bass drums. I use the Pearl freefloating brass 3½ x 14 piccolo snare the Steward Copland 5½ x 14 steel snare. I use the Pearl rack so I eliminated all the stands legs and it was great when I needed to set up and break down quickly. I use the DW5000AH single chain drive pedals, the DW5000AH HiHat stand, Pearl 800W Series hardware, snare stands and boom arms. My cymbals are I used Zildjian cymbals, a 10” Splash K Custom, 14” Pig FX China, 6” Icebell, 16” A Custom Crash, 17” A Custom Crash, 2 - 18” A Custom Crashes, an 18” China and 14” Mastersound Hihats left and right and a 22” Ride. I use Remo Pinstripe drumheads. They make any drum sound killer. I also use Alesis DMS Module, Fusion setting and D Drum triggers for the bass drums. I went through all kinds of sticks models until I settled with the Pro Mark 5 BN Naturals, they felt great and didn’t slip out of my hand like many of the other models. My throne is a Pearl DS 950.
SDM: Do you still work at a drum shop in NY?
Alex: I do not work there any longer. I was there for just over eleven years and I learned so much about drums. I met some amazing people there and have great memories but the income was not enough so it was time to move to a more realistic line of work. The beauty of it was that I was able to leave to tour and come back as needed. It was ideal for what I was doing at the time.
SDM: What is your take on the blast beat? What kind of blast beats to you use the most?
Alex: I love the blast beat, it is the greatest of all metal beats and the most challenging. It takes hundreds of hours of practice, patience and endurance to get it right. It can break your spirit and make you want to give up, but you have to fight through, dig deep and metal onward. Once it flows it is most rewarding. I know lots of funk, jazz, and rock drummers that cannot even attempt it. For the most part, it is unique to metal, mainly death and black metal, the most extreme. I tried to use it as much as I could at the time. There was a hyper triplet blast beat that Bob, Ross and I enjoyed a lot. It was a triplet bass drum and snare but at very high bpms. Lots of conditions have to be right to accomplish this, for me at least.
SDM: How do you feel about the extreme metal drumming of today?
Alex: Extreme metal drumming is an art form that is challenging in many ways and on so many levels. Only an extreme metal drummer knows. I admire and respect all of our genres drummers. You must have an extreme element within you to be crazy enough to dedicate your life to this craft. It is a lifelong commitment.
SDM: Who are some of your main influences as a drummer?
Alex: As a drummer, I drew influences from many things. I’ll try to stick to drummers, but Bruce Lee was very influential to me because one could apply his approach to his craft to anything. Whether it’s music, sports, life, etc the philosophy is the same “Be like water”. Buddy Rich, of course, Neil Peart, Bill Beauford, Carmine Appice, Dave Lombardo, McBrain, Ulrich, Weckl, Bozzio, Portnoy, Donati, Minnemann, Cozy Powel, Smilowski, Kaufman, Calavera, Sandoval, Pace, Benante, Schalk, Colaiuta, Rockenfeld, Away (from Voivod) and pretty much anyone who would inspire me. I would study different approaches and technique. It’s all about technique and that comes with practice. You need to devote time and energy. Your life revolves around your art.
SDM: What is your opinion of the new re-release of Fallen Christ’s “Abduction Ritual”?
Alex: I think it’s great that there is still interest in the band after all these years. I’m proud of what we were as a band. It wasn’t a perfect record but it was real and our souls went into every note.
SDM: How did you feel about Fallen Christ continuing on without you after you joined Immolation? Some say they changed drastically? Could you shed some light on the subject?
Alex: They did change drastically. I obviously had no say in it or could prevent them from doing it, needless to say it did not last long. Any musician can tell you how difficult it is to get the right chemistry. They gave up looking for it which was an ongoing issue and towards the end they lacked motivation and drive which is essential to a band.
SDM: Were these songs ever professionally recorded and will they ever get released “Awaken the tyrants”, “Book of shadows”, “Damned immortality”, “Christ Killer”, “Spiritual Lunatic” and “Masterful world”?
Alex: No, they were never put on tape. Those newer songs were pretty good, there was more structure and a little better technique. I think a second Fallen Christ record would’ve been killer. The music seemed more intense and aggressive.
SDM: Did you ever take drum lessons? What is key to your drumming style?
Alex: I’ve never taken drum lessons but I have watched many hours of instructional videos, which in my opinion are just as good if not better, being that you could rewind and review and watch a hundred times all for one price. Working at a drum shop I discovered many great videos by some elite drummers. Many came to the shop to do a clinic and I was able to absorb all kinds of techniques and styles all the time. This was profoundly influential in my playing. More than I realized at the time.
SDM: What do you think of Immolation’s new drummer Steve? Does he play your material right in your opinion and do it justice?
Alex: Steve is doing a great job with Immolation. Every record they put out he raises the bar. He was able to come in learn a bunch of songs in a couple of weeks for the second leg of the Unholy Cult tour. He is a very capable drummer. I have been to a show in NYC and he seemed to be handling the old stuff very efficiently. You have to be dedicated and uncompromising to play in Immolation and he seems to be just that.
I want to thank Noel Smart for giving me this opportunity to share some of my memories with Sick Drummer readers. Even though my recording and touring days are behind me I am still and always will be a drummer. I don’t practice as often as I used to but very often the itch comes back and I find myself at it for hours sweating and feeling the burn. It’s something that I’ve been doing for my whole life before the bands and will continue to do forever. I teach my children and music is a strong presence in our home. I’m proud of every single note I’ve ever played for better or worse. My heart and soul and finger blisters were always there and always will be. You can never quit being a drummer, it becomes a part of you like arms and legs and the beat of your heart.