Interview Al Beveridge and Matt Young (HeKz)

"All of the songs on Caerus look at things which are happening in the world today"

(February 2015, text by Henri Strik, pictures by Arthur Haggenburg, edited by Peter Willemsen)

For me one of the musical surprises of 2014 was without doubt the British band HeKz. In November, I saw them perform live when they supported for Knight Area (see review) at De Cacaofabriek in Helmond. Furthermore I listened to their excellent albums Tabula Rasa (2012, see review) and Caerus (2014, see review). These facts made me curious to find out more about this band, so an interview for Background Magazine seemed to be in place. I asked guitarist Al Beveridge (AB) and lead singer-bassist Matt Young (MY) to inform our readers about the history of the band and the two aforementioned albums.

Matt Young

Please, could you tell us a bit more about the time you started with the band?
MY: “We started when the original members were at middle school, so about thirteen or fourteen years old. I ended up with the two roles that nobody else wanted, namely bass and lead vocal! None of us could really play when we started out, but we set about writing our own material and eventually did some local gigs. Even in those dark, primordial times there was a bit of a progressive streak running through the band. As I recall we had a seven-minute long number called Money For The Ferryman, which had lots of contrasting moods and sections. I bet if you'd asked the band at the time, we probably wouldn't even know what prog was! We got some success in our local town, getting to the final of a battle of the band's contest and going on to play some rather successful shows. We began to build up a healthy following too, and it was around then that we started recording our first EPs.”

Who came up with the name HeKz?
MY: “Well..., we all need to have some secrets, don't we?”

HeKz recorded three EPs: Exodus (2006), Another Time (2007) and Orfeo (2009). Where did you record these EPs and why did you use the song Don't Turn Back later on for your debut Tabula Rasa?
MY: “These releases were all recorded at Latent Lemon Studios in Luton. These sessions were our first real taste of being in a studio, and the experience was invaluable, not to mention a great deal of fun.”
AB: “Both our drummer Kirk Brandham and I joined the band just before the recording of Orfeo - in fact we recorded that EP before we'd even played a gig with the band. Don't Turn Back was the first song that we all wrote together as a
Al Beveridge
band and in my opinion it's the first indication of the more progressive style that our music has taken. It's a favourite of ours to play, which is maybe why we chose to re-record it on Tabula Rasa, and to give it the production value it deserves.”

Was there any reason in particular to name your first full album Tabula Rasa?
AB: “We wanted a name that reflected the new band. By the time we recorded Tabula Rasa, Tom Smith had joined us on guitar and so Matt was the only original member left. The music is very different from the traditional glam metal that we had previously played. Tabula Rasa, which means 'blank slate' meant for us 'a new start'.”

By which bands were you influenced back then?
AB: “At the time Opeth, Black Sabbath and Black Country Communion were all getting heavy rotation in the band van on our way to gigs.”

The album contains a track called Hashashiyyin? What does it mean and what is it about?
MY:One of my favourite video game franchises is 'Assassin's Creed', particularly the titular first game in the series which rekindled my interest in the history of the First Crusade. Hashashiyyin is the original term from which the English word 'assassin' has been derived, or so it is believed as there are some conflicting thoughts on this. The music is very dramatic, and I wanted it to conjure up the image of a cloaked figure running across rooftops and down alley ways in pursuit of his target. The lyrics are written from the point of view of the assassin and explain his motives, as well as drawing some comparisons between the First Crusade and some more recent invasions into that part of the world. Well, perhaps history is repeating itself..?”

John Mitchell mixed and mastered the album. How did this happen?
MY:When we'd decided that we were going to record our first full-length album, we wanted to make sure that it sounded as good as the albums we listen to. There were a few options, but I remember vividly the 'eureka!' moment when listening to The Tall Ships (2008) by It Bites in my car and thinking that this was the kind of production we were after. The other guys agreed, so I got in touch with John and we went on from there. John and his team did a fantastic job; Tabula Rasa still sounds great to me so what more could you want?”

On this album Matt and Al played the keyboards if I'm well informed. Didn't you have a keyboard player in the band at the time? What made you decide to recruit one before recording the next album?
James Messenger

AB: “The introduction of keyboards to HeKz's sound began as a production choice; even on Orfeo we experimented with synths to enhance the texture of the music in places, although they are more subtly mixed. It grew out of this writing process and by the time we had recorded Tabula Rasa, we realized that we would need someone to play these parts live and so we found James Messenger. He jokes that on our first album, when we had no keyboard player, we wrote parts for one and now that we have one, on Caerus we've written parts for two keyboard players. I wonder how many keyboard players we'll need by the time we record our next album!”

MY: “At least three, otherwise we'll never catch up with Moon Safari!”

On Caerus you worked again with John Mitchell. Why?
MY:  “I'll start by saying that we did things quite differently with the second album. With Tabula Rasa we spent three weeks at John's studio doing everything, but for Caerus we took on the responsibility of doing a lot of the actually tracking ourselves. The drums were recorded at Liscombe Park Studios with a fantastic engineer by the name of Steve Rispin, who is heavily involved with Lifesigns and also works closely with Asia, Uriah Heep and a number of others. We spent four days with him cutting the drum tracks, and then relocated to, essentially, our bedrooms! Al and I both have a modest home studio set up so we shared the tracking of bass, guitars, keyboards and vocals. This took about four months to complete, though I hasten to add that we weren't working solidly for that whole time. John did such a great job with the first album that getting him involved again to mix Caerus was a no-brainer really. He has his prog credentials, but is also well into rock and metal. I remember he once told me that when he was learning guitar, he more or less started out by learning every Iron Maiden song, so we have that in common! I feel that he really 'gets' what HeKz are about, and he has surpassed himself with the mix for Caerus. I think you would really struggle to tell that it has been recorded mostly in a couple of bedrooms.”

What does Caerus mean?
MY: “Caerus proved to be a fitting title for a number of reasons. It's related to the Greek word 'kairos', the original meaning of which is roughly 'a moment in time which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved.' That just seemed to sum up the creation of the album perfectly! The idea of the 'opportune moment' and taking action also ties in with some of the songs on the album, particularly Journey's End, which may not seem like an obvious link at first to anyone who's heard it.”

Is there any concept or theme on the album? 
MY: “There are a couple of themes on Caerus. Good and evil, light and dark, positive and negative. All of the songs on Caerus look at things which are happening in the world today, and there is a theme of duality which is prevalent throughout the album. That particular idea seems to be quite in vogue at the moment, as I see a lot of bands are using it in a similar way; a sign of the times, perhaps?”

From L to R: Matt Young, Al Beveridge, James Messenger, Tom Smith and Kirk Brandham

Caerus has moved more in the direction of progressive rock than the debut which was in my opinion more focussed on the metal side of the band. Am I right?
AB: “I think your right. What I like about the 'progressive' label is the freedom to experiment with less self-consciousness than is sometimes allowed in metal. Obviously we still love metal and our music will always reflect that, but it's gratifying to incorporate things from all genres and styles of music.”
MY: “Nail on the head! We're always looking for that new approach, new scale, new sound that we can use. Progressive metal is probably the most accurate way of defining what we do, but we aren't simply trying to ape a famous American band.”

On your debut I heard some elements from Rush, which are on Caerus even stronger. This can be heard especially in the way Matt plays the bass and his singing on stage. Has Rush been a big influence?
MY: “I suppose inevitably, but I'd been a singer-bassist before I was introduced to Rush, who have since become one of my favourites. Geddy Lee is one of the greats, and I suppose my main influence from him is how he balances his two instruments - in both instances, he knows when to show off but, more importantly, he knows when to hold back as well.”

James Messenger shows on this album what an excellent keyboard player he is. To what extend did he contribute to the music knowing that both you and Al Beveridge wrote most of the compositions?
MY: “It varies from song to song. Some of the parts that Al and I had written during the songwriting and demoing phase were unchanged whereas others were adapted during the actually recording process. It simply depended on what the song demanded. My favourite contributions that James made to the album outright are his solos on Liberation and Homo Ex Machina, he put a lot of work into those and the results speak for themselves.”

Caerus contains great tracks some having wonderful titles. Would you please explain titles like From Obscurity To Eternity, The Black Hand, The Left Hand Of God, Homo Ex Machina and Journey's End?
MY: “From Obscurity To Eternity is a song about achievement, and how someone can do a great deed and be catapulted from obscurity to eternity into the history books. My starting point for the song was the Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner and his amazing jump. I wish I could explain where the titles came from, as with most of them it just popped up when I was writing the lyrics.
The Black Hand is something I picked up somewhere, and in the case of our song, it refers to all the negative aspects in the world and humanity. The lyrics ask if there is such a thing as necessary evil, and do we need these negative elements to maintain balance and harmony.
I heard the phrase The Left Hand Of God on a TV show, but since the album came out I have seen it in a lot of places! The lyrics talks about the place of religion in the modern world and, whilst it does indeed still have a valid place for so many people, there are teachings and practises in certain faiths which aren't compatible with how we live now. The people who perpetuate these things are living in the past, sitting at the left hand of God and committing hateful acts in the name of their faith.
Homo Ex Machina is a play on 'Deus Ex Machina', so 'God from the machine' becomes 'man from the machine'. Musically the song is a bit of an experiment; usually you have verses with different lyrics but similar music, but here the lyrics for the verses are all quite similar and the supporting music is very different each time the verse appears. I won't talk too much about the lyrics as I don't want to demystify the song too much, but as the title implies the song deals with humanity and technology.
Journey's End is a title that has been used a lot by other bands, and I do try to go for titles which haven't been used before, but this worked so well that I had to break that little rule. It's the final part of a suite of songs which appear on the album, the first parts appearing in the forms of Progress & Failure and The Black Hand. The lyrics talk about the progress of our global civilisation and ask where we will end up: our journey's end, or a brand new start? Song titles are so important. They almost need to sum up the entire song, but in a few words. That may sound painfully obvious, but it isn't often easy to do. Hopefully we've achieved it with some of these.”

The album has great art work as well. Who was responsible for it and was he or she inspired by the lyrics and the song titles?
MY: “Finding artwork is always tricky, very much so for this album, but a fantastic photographer and artist called Michael Inns charged in to rescue us at the eleventh hour! He's done artwork for Uriah Heep, John Wetton and worked with Roger Dean for some of the Yes and Asia albums, so it was great to have someone of his expertise and calibre on board. We supplied him with a brief explaining the title and what the songs were about, common themes and the like, and he got straight to work. He taught me something very valuable, that a lot of people will see the album before they hear it, so the artwork has to be not only of a high standard, but also representative of the album as, in fact, it's as much a part of the album as the drums or the guitar solos or the lyrics. This is something that we will carry forward and I personally hope that we will get to work with Michael again.”

The fine twin guitar parts on both albums are a strong asset in the band's musical style. Did bands such as Wishbone Ash and Threshold inspire you to work with a twin guitar approach?
AB: “I really love the guitar playing in both Wishbone Ash and Threshold, but I've only recently started listening to both. For me, the twin guitar parts come more from bands like Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy.”
MY: I think Al's right; our twin guitar approach is perhaps more influenced by bands like Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Coincidentally, we both got to go and see Martin Turner's band recently and that was quite an education! Wishbone Ash really did originate that twin guitar sound. The aforementioned bands, and us owe them a huge debt!”

HeKz in concert (7-Nov-2014)

Many times the singing of Matt has been compared to that of Damian Wilson and maybe also to the way Ian Gillan sang with Deep Purple in the seventies. How do you think about these comparisons?
MY: “Those comparisons are very welcome indeed! I'm a huge Deep Purple fan, as indeed we all are as some people may know or have guessed. I get the Damian Wilson comparison a lot, and I think some people get the impression I'm a little too influenced by him, shall we say. I can assure anyone thinking so that it's certainly not the case. In fact I always wanted to sound like Iron Maiden's singer Bruce Dickinson! I've had the privilege of seeing Damian perform live and he's truly a world class singer. He has literally moved me to tears with his rendition of Revelations with Maiden United, and to be counted anywhere even vaguely close to him is, well, marvellous.”

Many of the song titles refer to religion. Does religion play an important role for the band members?
MY: “Well, religion is something which affects everybody, regardless of their individual stance on it, so I suppose that it inevitably comes through in some of our lyrics. Also, I've always liked that big, biblical aesthetic like the enormous paintings of the parting of the Red Sea or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and those old Hollywood swords and sandals movies, and I wanted to capture some of that with Journey's End.”
AB: “We're actually all devout Buddhists. Journey's End − or a brand new start − is symbolic of reincarnation. I hope to come back as a Yangtze River Dolphin, even though they're now thought to be extinct. I think I would thrive in the murky solitude as long as I could avoid all the fishing boats.”

I guess 2014 was a great year for HeKz. What does 2015 has in store for you?
AB: “It would be great to play on the Continent again this year; we had a great time playing there in 2014!”
MY: “Yes we do indeed hope to be back on the Continent later this year, as well as playing some shows in the UK. We already have some great things confirmed over here, and we are hoping that a few more things will come together. And if we have any time after all that, I hope we can start writing HeKz III. I've got a lot of new ideas on demo, and I know that the others have some exciting ideas, so I can't wait for us to get stuck into that.”

Thanks for answering my questions!
MY: “Thank you, Henri! This interview has been great and we really appreciate you featuring us on Background Magazine.”

More info about HeKz on the Internet:
       review album 'Tabula Rasa & Caerus'
       review concert 7-Nov-2014

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