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This Wicked Band: An Interview With James Rivera Of HELSTAR: Part 2

By Cary Gordon, Metal Geek
Sunday, June 15, 2014 @ 8:20 AM

"I’m the James Bond of metal, there is not a mission he can’t complete, or at least to this point now."

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And here is part 2 of Cary Gordon's interview with James Rivera of HELSTAR! In case you missed it, you can read Part 1 right HERE.

KNAC.COM: So how hard is it when you’ve been pigeonholed to a certain genre to prove yourselves and push the boundaries of what you can do as a band.

RIVERA: It is hard, especially when we were classified as just ‘power metal’. I did an interview the other day and the guy said “Now you’re classified as ‘thrash metal’, how do you feel about that?” I said to him, “Well, that’s not necessarily true either, but I’d rather be in that box than the ‘power metal’ box, because that box is a little bigger.”

KNAC.COM: Do you think you guys created your own sub-genre, like power/thrash?

RIVERA: One guy said it perfectly, he said “Its called ‘HELSTAR metal’”. And that’s cool! So when people ask us ‘are you power metal or thrash metal’? We can say, “No, we’re HELSTAR metal.” Its power and thrash put together. We started it a long time ago and perfected it. I think we deserve that brand.

KNAC.COM: It has to feel great for you guys because only a handful of Houston metal bands have really made it huge like you guys have.

RIVERA: Yeah, we put Houston on the map. There’s KING'S X, but they’re not originally from here, and then you have the GALACTIC COWBOYS, but they’re not really metal. They’re cool guys, great musicians, but not real metal. But yeah, we put Houston on the map for heavy metal and we’re proud of that.

KNAC.COM: When you go to Europe and other countries around the world, do they ask you what’s it's like in Houston?

RIVERA: Yeah, they do. And some of my close European family and friends have come to stay with me in Houston. They’ll come to a HELSTAR show, and I take them {sightseeing} and it blows them away, there’s no covered wagons, (laughter).

KNAC.COM: You guys have played a lot of large shows and festivals, and then a lot of intimate shows. Which one do you prefer?

RIVERA: That’s a hard question. All the big festivals we’ve ever done have treated us very well. One of my favorites, and I love all the festivals, but Alcatraz in Belgium have treated us like gold, they have a very unique way of taking care of us. The promoter’s name is Philippe, he’s this Belgian/Dutch guy, he likes to know that everything’s good. He likes to hear that you’re happy and if you’re not, then he’ll fix it. They’re so busy, but they’ll still give you that undivided attention, that’s amazing. Keep it True is a great festival. I love Bang Your Head. Wacken is great, but I can live without it.

KNAC.COM: Is it overwhelming?

RIVERA: Too much going on, yeah. By the time you’ve watched every band at Wacken, you’ve lost 30 pounds from walking 20 miles. (laughter)

KNAC.COM: You’ve also played the 70,000 Tons Of Metal festival.

RIVERA: Another great festival, Andy, the guy in charge, takes care of us. He does it best to make sure everyone is happy. And that’s something that we don’t understand about American promoters, its like night and day.

KNAC.COM: I’ve heard with 70,000 Tons that there’s no backstage, you’re always surrounded by fans.

RIVERA: If you’re not a sociable person, don’t go on 70,000.

KNAC.COM: So how can metal become as popular in the States as it is in the European countries?

RIVERA: When the corporate world stops running our shit. Just let people listen to what they want instead of shoving whatever down our throats.

KNAC.COM: So what are the band’s plans for this coming year?

RIVERA: Our shows are dedicated to playing a lot of new songs and mixing in the 30th anniversary of Burning Star, so we’re doing an extended show every night. So we’ll do a full hour of playing The Wicked Nest and other songs, and then for the encore we’ll do a salute to Burning Star. So now you can bring back the old guys that were butthurt from Glory, ‘Oh, I guess they still love us’, you know we always loved you guys, just love us for who we are. You can’t expect us to write the same album we did 30 years ago. Accept it. If you’re a real HELSTAR fan then you’re going to think we sound better than ever. Instead of saying ‘Oh they don’t sound like they used to’, that’s just ignorant. I mean, do you look the same as you did 30 years ago? Can I go up to you and say ‘Yeah, I remember when I signed your album, you look ugly as hell now.” How would you feel about that? You would never say that to a fan that’s been following you around forever. There’s certain people in the industry that said that, it really hurt me, I won’t say who, but they know who they are. They do a review and they’ll say “Don’t buy their records, they’ve changed, they sound horrible now.” That sucks, especially when you’re way up there in the industry, for the old school metal fans, that sucks.

KNAC.COM: Do you feel that HELSTAR could really tour with anybody?

RIVERA: Yes, that’s the beauty of us now. Put us on tour with KREATOR, its like peas and carrots. IRON MAIDEN and HELSTAR, peas and carrots. DIMMU BORGIR and HELSTAR, peas and carrots. How many bands can do that? We should do the next Taco Bell commercial, because we think outside the bun (laughter).

KNAC.COM: So speaking of touring, let's talk about the situation with your bass player. You’re going to have a different guy here in America, compared to Europe?

RIVERA: Well, we decided that Jerry had to be retired for good because of health reasons. He was never fired, we just knew that he had to go. He refused it on his own, because he loves the band a lot, he wants to be there, but his health issues were so bad that he caused us more problems than we needed. Financially and everything else. And his wife is on and off her death bed, bless her heart, she’s on dialysis, she needs a kidney transplant. All these things, they matter to us as human beings. We love Jerry, we didn’t want to do it, and he’ll always be a part of HELSTAR. But the only way to make him understand that he had to go was to stop calling and keep moving forward. To this day, I’m not sure that he knows he was let go. He was always way out in left field, but he has a lot of issues going on. So instead of replacing him, because he’s not replaceable, we just decided to find bass players that are compatible to his playing abilities and they were going to be work for hire. And then me, Mikey, Rob, and Larry are HELSTAR now and that’s it. So we have Garrett, from Houston, here in America and maybe South America, and then Matei will do everything in Europe and Japan. And Matei has been my compadre from SABBATH JUDAS SABBATH in the Slovenia chapter. They’ll be paid equally and all that like they were an equal member. We just feel that we don’t know how long this is going to go on, but we are the nucleus now. Why induct another member full time?

KNAC.COM: So who played bass on the album?

RIVERA: Matei, and by listening to that, you know he’s a badass motherfucker. (laughter) Here’s a kid who came in when Jerry got sick and learned the whole set list in one day. And on the road with the band, they’re in the back, I could hear them {practicing}. And he gets to the gig and says “I think I’m ready, I hope” and we’re like “No man, don’t worry about it, it's better than having no bass player at all.” By the end of the show, he’s in front, ‘I know this, I got it!” and we’re like “Wow”. That’s incredible, because this is not the easiest shit in the world to play. Larry and Rob were like “Matei is God”. And then Garrett, the new kid, I had my first rehearsal with him last night. And he’s {practicing}, but its like he’s thinking about something else the whole time, and yet he’s ripping right through it! (laughter) What is with these kids?

KNAC.COM: Now you mentioned that you’ll be playing older songs in the first half of your set, along with the tribute {to Burning Star}. With so many albums in your career, how do you decide what songs you’re going to play?

RIVERA: That’s really hard, well we pick the main songs. I guess if it was the 80s, we know what songs would be the hits. So we have to imagine that. So when you think about Burning Star, you think, okay, Burning Star - "Run With The Pack", Remnants Of War - "Evil Reign" and maybe "Angel Of Death", A Distant Thunder - "King Is Dead". For sure. Nosferatu - "Baptized In Blood", for sure, and maybe "To Sleep", "Perchance To Scream". Multiples Of Black, the black sheep of the albums, "Good Day To Die", which always wins people over. King Of Hell, so you think "Tormentor" or "Plague Of Man". Glory And Chaos, definitely "Pandemonium" and then maybe "Mark Of Bloodshed". And then on the new album, we want to do five off that, so that’s how you separate it. And then we’ll do the encore, so we don’t need to do Burning Star, because we’re doing it in the encore. That’s how we pick the set list.

KNAC.COM: So besides HELSTAR, what else is going on with you this year?

RIVERA: Nothing. Just the SABBATH JUDAS SABBATH shows. Because I killed myself last year on tour. I went out on the VICIOUS RUMORS tour because their singer couldn’t make it and I have a connection with them anyways, and that was a long seven weeks tour. Then I went back to Europe and did more SABBATH JUDAS SABBATH shows. Then I came {back to the States} and did more SABBATH JUDAS SABBATH shows. And by the time I came home it was time to go into the studio with HELSTAR. And I think I really physically blew some fuses from touring so much and everything you do on the road that comes along with it. I have my procedures of how I do things. Unfortunately, I’m one of those guys that, before I go on stage, I like to have my one or two beers or a glass of wine and champagne, a shot of Jager(meister), it loosens me up. I go out, I do my thing. After the show friends and fans are buying you more drinks. And the next thing you know you wake up the next day and it feels like someone beat me up, but you have a show that night. And you continue and you continue and its the same routine. By the time I came home in January, I went the dentist for my check up, they didn’t want to do it because they took my blood pressure, because they have to do that, three times and my dentist, she’s a cool chick, she says “I don’t know if I want to work on you.” I say, “what’s wrong?” “Dude, your blood pressure is like 185/145. You said you don’t do any of that shit anymore.” I said, “No, I don’t do blow anymore.” She said, “Well, its really high, you should go see a doctor.” So I went, and sure enough the doctor said I have high blood pressure from drinking too much. So all that stuff adds in. So because of that now I’m just going to concentrate on HELSTAR and doing weekend-warrior SABBATH JUDAS SABBATH shows this year. And I’m doing better health-wise. I’m doing better, I’m exercising more. And yeah, I’m on medication too. And you know, its just part of getting older too. And to sing properly every night.

KNAC.COM: So you mentioned SABBATH JUDAS SABBATH a few times. Lets let people know, who might not know what that is, explain a little bit about that.

RIVERA: Well, that’s my ultimate tribute to BLACK SABBATH (DIO years) and JUDAS PRIEST. It started way back when I was doing several tribute bands, one of them was called CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE, tribute to BLACK SABBATH, and I had the METAL GODS, which was a tribute to JUDAS PRIEST. And then when I started getting hired for all these bands, it became too much, so I decided to combine the two {tribute bands} into one. And I came up with the clever name of SABBATH JUDAS SABBATH which is a very unique tribute because its JUDAS PRIEST and BLACK SABBATH in one. But its the {Ronnie James} Dio years, when they were metal (laughter), and it fits my voice style, lets put it that way. But that has grown into nine chapters now. Six in America, and three in Europe. And I tour with that constantly now, and it’s growing, and I’m becoming more popular through that sometimes. And one hand washes the other. Sometimes when I enter certain territories, they may not be familiar with HELSTAR, but they’ll say, “Hey, its the dude who did the JUDAS PRIEST and BLACK SABBATH stuff, I want to hear his original band now.” Or there are people that say, “I love HELSTAR, I can imagine what he’s going to sound like doing JUDAS PRIEST and BLACK SABBATH.” It works hand in hand. And I had a clever way of thinking about that business-wise, ‘hey, this is going to be the ultimate thing for me.’ So now, its called James Rivera’s SABBATH JUDAS SABBATH, it’s incorporated, it’s the big business thing for me now. Las Vegas loves it. Holland loves it. Greece loves it. And its growing and growing. But at the same time, I’m still focused more on promoting HELSTAR. If it takes me going to some weird little saloon in Utah, because they don’t know who HELSTAR is. But the minute the show is done, *country accent* “Well, god damn boy, where the hell you come from?” *normal voice* “Houston, Texas” *country accent* “They told me you had a regional band, is it called BELLSTAR?” *normal voice* “No, HELSTAR.” *country voice* “Well, I gotta listen to that shit.” *normal voice* “So next time HELSTAR comes to town, you’re going to be here, right?” *country voice* “Hell yeah, I’m going to be bring 20 more of my friends.” That’s how it works.

KNAC.COM: At one point in your career you actually did career retrospective shows which were fucking great. You pulled out songs from all the bands you’ve ever been in, is that something you have planned for the future?

RIVERA: Yes. Its called James Rivera’s METAL ASYLUM. I still do that too. We do DESTINY'S END, FLOTSAM & JETSAM, SEVEN WITCHES and it goes down the line. We do that show as a specialty thing as well because I have been in a lot of bands. I claim myself as the James Bond of metal. “Oh, our singer just quit, who {should} we get?” Get James Rivera, I’m the James Bond of metal, there is not a mission he can’t complete, or at least to this point now. There may be one day where I’m like “Uhh, I don’t know about that.” (laughter) But FLOTSAM & JETSAM was the first big one that said “Who are we going to get?” The label said, “You gotta get James. He just got off a tour from HELSTAR.”, “You mean that guy with the big curly hair, I don’t know man.” Sure enough Eric ‘A.K.’ himself came to rehearsal and he was like “Is this guy really the devil?” He said, “you don’t sound exactly like me, but you pretty much nailed a lot of shit.” That was one of my best tours.

KNAC.COM: I was privileged enough to be at one of those shows here in Houston. It was great!

RIVERA: Thank you. Everybody said, “You are just like what should be there.” And to this day, me and Flotsy guys love each other. Especially me and Craig. When we were on tour, they changed the whole set list on me, because when I got there I was supposed to learn a lot of the new stuff, but when I got there and I sang “Hammerhead” and some others, they were like “Uh oh, I think we need to go back and learn a lot more older stuff like from Place Of Disgrace and I said, “Well, wait a minute, when does the tour start?” “In a week, but dude, you got the voice!” It was Jason Ward, and he said, “This motherfucker can sing!” And Eric ‘A.K.’ came to rehearsals just to be there in case I needed anything, and he’s a sweet guy, I love the guy. He didn’t have an attitude like “Well, I’m not going on tour and fuck this guy.” Nobody could fill his shoes, he’s Eric ‘A.K.’ he’s the baddest motherfucker around too, you know what I mean? But at least he was proud enough to know {that he} wasn’t getting some piece of shit guy coming in here and fucking destroying {his} shit.

KNAC.COM: Eric definitely has a unique voice and there’s no point to try to replicate it. Just be who you are in that band.

RIVERA: And try to get close it, but don’t {imitate}, and it made him proud, he’s going “This guy is going in and he’s doing it with flying colors.”

KNAC.COM: When are we going to see a James Rivera solo album?

RIVERA: It’s in the works. It’s been in the works for a while. The whole thing that started that was when I did the MALICE record, we got signed to SPV and Ali is a big image in the metal world, he runs SPV. Some things went wrong with the whole MALICE thing and he suggested that I should do a solo project so that it doesn’t look like I’m in and out of bands, but I’m going to do something different, but that’s not to say that they are going to sign it. It’s just an idea. So since the idea came up, I decided that maybe that is the best thing for me to do. The only reason why I avoided that for so long was I didn’t want it to sound so egotistical like, “Oh, I’m doing my own thing.” And then you get, “Well, who does he think he is?”. But, at the same time, if you think about it, I could do something just called James Rivera, and now look at all the world I’ve come across. I’ve got Jeff Loomis playing a solo, doing an instrumental thing. I’ve got a guy who wants to do this, that, and the other thing. Names that I could bring into this thing and go “Hey guys, I’ve got a budget, you want to do a record just called James Rivera?” And I can pick and choose whoever’s going to be on tour, and that way I’ll never look like I’m missing members.

KNAC.COM: And you could branch out

RIVERA: Like SABBATH JUDAS SABBATH at the same time. And my idea of the doing the James Rivera record is to be a straight up metal record that sounds like Restless & Wild. Metal anthems. Nothing fancy, nothing technical, but quality, not cheesy. And that’s my vision of James Rivera is to just do a fucking metal record, like UDO does. And every song is just one to those you just can’t get out of your head when you go to bed.

KNAC.COM: Hammerfall

RIVERA: Exactly! That’s my idea. So if you can write a record like that, let’s do it. (laughter)

KNAC.COM: Cool. Thank you for taking the time to hang out with us here on the show. Any final comments you’d like to make to the fans?

RIVERA: Thank you guys for following me so much. It's been a hard road. I hope there was nothing I said that was offending. At the end of the day, I really appreciate your support. It's real, it's true. I couldn’t make it without you because without those positive comments on facebook or wherever they come from, I wouldn’t be doing this anymore. So I’m obviously doing something right and I thank you guys so much for that.

KNAC.COM: So everyone look out for the new HELSTAR album, This Wicked Nest. Check them out when they come to your town. Do whatever you got to do to see these guys live, they’re going to kick your ass.

RIVERA: Yeah, even if we’re in the middle of where Dorothy fell asleep and got knocked over. God, I would love to sleep with Dorothy. (laughter) Back then! Not now, she’s dead. (laughter) I’ll take the red slippers. I’ll wear those at the numbers right now. (laughter)

KNAC.COM: Exactly

RIVERA: Thank you guys so much, really man. I appreciate you, take care of yourselves. Keep the dreams flowing. Do what you got to do to make yourself a better person in this world, or be the same better person that you are now. And don’t worry about what’s falling down behind us. Fall of dominion, well, we can’t help that, all right? You can only look out for yourself man.

KNAC.COM: Cool, well thank you very much man and as we say to all of our guests, “Keep it metal.”

RIVERA: And keep it real, and smooth jazz, no, I’m just kidding (laughter).

Pick up a copy of This Wicked Nest in the KNAC.COM More Store right HERE.

Cary Gordon has been podcasting since 2005 when he started MSRcast, a heavy metal show where Cary and his cohost, JMMetalGeek play music, discuss and interviews bands. He is also a lifelong geek, and that is why Metal Geeks Podcast was born, where they geek out on heavy metal, comic books, movies, video games, tv and various other sorts of geekery! You can check out both of the podcasts, MSRcast and Metal Geeks podcast at www.metalgeeks.net

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