May 20, 2024

Interview: HeKz - Everything new?

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HeKz are back with the double album “Terra Nova”. This is the fourth album by the band, whose roots go back to 2003.  However, there is one musician in particular behind the band, singer and bassist Matt Young. Renald Mienert had a chat with him.

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Compared to the last album “Invicta”, you have changed the entire line-up. Why did you do that?

There are a few reasons, I’ll try to be diplomatic. We had a constant line-up for quite a long time, from about 2011 to 2021. The core consisted of four musicians, but there were always a few keyboarders who came and went. After the release of “Invicta”, I started thinking about “Terra Nova”, at least the title. Titles are important to me, I like Latin or Greek names for the albums.  I thought “Terra Nova” was cool, started writing songs and then sharing the ideas with the others, but nothing happened. Then we had 2022, the pandemic and the lockdown and I started a little solo project “Maidens Of Mercury”. At first I played all the instruments myself, but then I invited some of my friends, drummer Moyano El Buffalo and guitarist Mark Bogert.  Nothing was happening with HeKz and I was tired and bored of waiting for the others to respond. I then started working with Mark on the HeKz songs and it went extremely well.

Mark Bogert is known from the Knight Area. Rather unusually for a rock band, the core of HeKz also includes a violinist, Irina Markevich, in addition to the musicians already mentioned.

A dream has come true, so to speak.  On the album “Caerus” we work with cellist Audrey Riley. She also took care of all the classical instruments, including the violin and flute. These instruments give the music a completely different dimension, they provide a balance with all the electric and electronic instruments.  I wanted to continue along this path on “Terra Nova”.  However, the musicians from back then were no longer available and someone recommended Irina. So I sent her the title track and what came back was incredible. She had to leave her home country because of the war and is now living in a safe place in Europe.

So you were probably forced to work remotely?

Everyone had the equipment and the skills to work remotely. I think many bands work like that today. Of course, there’s something to be said for working the way Iron Maiden still do. You have these six guys in the studio and you record the song from start to finish, creating that sound of a band.  But working remotely also has its advantages. You also have your deadlines, but in a different way. You have the chance to try things out. I tried out the vocal parts until I was completely satisfied and our drummer also played his part over and over again until he was happy with it. You can’t do that in the studio, at least not if your financial resources are limited.

You also work with a few guest musicians, including Adam Holzmann, who is best known for his work with Steven Wilson.

Here we have to thank the lockdown, so to speak. Adam and I have mutual friends and a member of my family has worked with him in the past. The first thing he contributed was the Moog solo for the last track on the album.

What characterises HeKz is the mixture of progressive and mainstream elements. But that also leads to criticism.

Some people want a shop for apples to sell apples and one for oranges to sell oranges.  I am aware of that.  Our style has evolved over the years. I love to hear musicians who push their musical boundaries when they play. I love Dream Theater, Symphony X, Rush or an album like “Passion Play” by Jethro Tull.  But I also need a story for a song, I have to have something to headbang to, a melody, a riff or a chorus, something I can stick to.  That’s why we have this combination of progressive and a more straightforward approach.

“Terra Nova” has become a concept album. If I understand the idea behind it, it’s about the fact that there’s a good but also a dark side to all of us.

Yes, it’s about this idea of duality, like Jekyill and Hyde. I’ve always wanted to write a concept album and I’m also working through my own experiences. At first there’s hope and optimism, you’re trying to make something happen but there’s something in the way that’s holding you back. You try to run away from these negative things, but they always catch up with you. You have to overcome this inner demon. And at the end of the album it comes to this confrontation. But you can’t just run away from this dark side, you can’t just defeat it, so what do you do to achieve the goals in your life? But I don’t want to give everything away here. Your own interpretation is important. Sometimes you read a book and you have an exact idea in your mind’s eye of what the characters look like, and then the book is made into a film and the actor looks completely different. Music should be alive and feel different for every listener.

When I listen to a song like “The Tower”, it’s a bit like a rock opera.

I was sixteen when I saw “Jesus Christ Superstar” and it changed my consciousness. I had no idea that rock music could be like that. I was quite reluctant to watch the film – Jesus Christ? Oh come on! “The Tower” is a kind of mini-rock opera, with the different voices.

You actually wanted to call the band “Hex”, but because there was already a band with that name, it became “HeKz”.  Does the capitalised “K” have a deeper meaning?

I can’t give you a deeper meaning, but it definitely looks better. You can’t change it in Spotify, but it really hurts me when I see the band name there with the small “k”. You’ve worked with John Mitchell in the past.

How did that come about?

We had booked a studio for the first album “Tabula Rasa” and actually wanted to work with the same person who had supported us on the previous EPs.  But he couldn’t make it and introduced us to It Bites.  I then listened to the album “The Tall Ships” and it sounded perfect. I then looked up who was responsible for the sound and that’s how we found John. We then spent three weeks there in Reading. Now I couldn’t afford it, so I did the job myself, but it was very tiring and took a lot of time.

When you recently presented the album live, Mirko Fadda played guitar, Lucia LaRezza violin and Jerry Sadowski on drums, with Lucia and Jerry both also appearing as guests on “Terra Nova”.

Of course, it’s always an option to record instruments from tape. We had to do this at a show in September due to a broken keyboard and it was ok. We were still able to perform the songs appropriately. But whenever possible, I naturally prefer that every instrument is played by a human. A constant line up would be great. At the moment I kind of have the Terra Nova studio band and the live band.  My dream for the next album and perhaps also for some shows would be to have as many of these musicians back as possible. 

Sometimes dreams do come true!

author avatar
Bernard - Side-Line Staff Chief editor
Bernard Van Isacker is the Chief Editor of Side-Line Magazine. With a career spanning more than two decades, Van Isacker has established himself as a respected figure in the darkwave scene.

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