Thursday, July 14, 2016

EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE: Inside Nick Menza's "Influx" Art Series

Bill Ward’s hi-hat on “War Pigs.” Lars Ulrich’s double bass on “One.” Steven Adler’s cowbell on “Welcome To The Jungle.” Dave Lombardo’s demonic tom pounding on “Raining Blood.” John Bonham’s playing on…well, pretty much everything Zeppelin ever did. These are all examples of those special moments when a drummer in a band becomes the star of the show. In 1990, the first 86 seconds of Megadeth’s “Holy Wars... The Punishment Due” (off the classic Rust In Peace album) established the band’s then-new drummer, Nick Menza, as a leading figure in Metal timekeeping. A truly inventive player, Menza mixed the sophistication of Jazz with the brutality of Thrash to create a sound that fueled Megadeth from their commercial peak during the first half of the ‘90s until his departure from the group in 1998. Since Menza’s tragic and unexpected passing in May, the music world has continued to mourn and remember a man who made a lasting impact on the genre. Now, the Los Angeles-based visual art team SceneFour will further Menza’s legacy with the release of Influx, the drummer’s long-awaited fine art series.

Out on July 23 (on what would have been Menza’s 52nd birthday), Influx was created by the drummer in conjunction with SceneFour partners Cory Danziger and Ravi Dosaj.

“When Ravi and I started to create these collections, we made lists of drummers that we really admired,” Danziger explains. “A lot of them were people that we grew up listening to. Nick is somebody we always admired through his work with Megadeth. He was always somebody that we had in the periphery of our minds as somebody we'd want to approach. Oddly enough, when things started blossoming with more and more collections, we got an email from his manager saying, ‘Nick is an artist. Would you be interested in possibly doing a series with him?' Of course, we thought, 'Yeah! He's a great drummer!' The choices we make for the people we work with are just people we really like and have a lot of respect for.”

Much like the SceneFour drum art projects with Bill Ward, Dave Lombardo and Steven Adler that were previously discussed on this website, Influx was created by having Menza play drums in the dark using an array of drumsticks and rhythmic accessories that produce light, much like a painter utilizing brushes and oils. The movements featured within the captured rhythms were then studied and developed into abstract artwork. Menza’s session took place at his home in early 2015. Danziger recalls him being an enthusiastic and hands-on participant in the process from the very beginning.

“Nick loved working with the different sticks that we used. He was doing tests without us; before we got [to his house], he had been working with lights. He wanted to have his art look different than everybody else. One of the things he did was create different surfaces for the drum heads that he played on, and different effects were created based upon the surfaces he was playing. For example, he put Mylar onto the heads, and it would reflect as the light was hitting it.”

Each hit that Menza made was not only captured, but reflected – leading Dosaj to describe the images as “explosions of power.” Once the images were captured, Menza continued to work directly with SceneFour in turning them into unforgettable art pieces.

“Nick was pretty adept with the software that we used to work with the captures,” Danziger says. “He was actually supplying us with ideas and working with the captures as well. One thing that he was really enthusiastic about was the mirroring or reflecting approach to rhythm – taking a rhythm and then reflecting it to make a complete image. He was doing that and liked the fact that it brought up these 'faces' within the different visuals.

“The first time I went to Nick's house, I was shocked; it was filled with his own original artwork,” he adds. “He was constantly doing art. He was doing paintings and etching cymbals to make them unique sculptures. He was making incredible candles and crosses and interesting workpieces. He was an artist through and through before SceneFour. He was committed to creating fine art, and he was doing it all the time. I hope one day, some of that stuff will be seen, too.”

A number of pieces were created during Menza’s time with SceneFour. Ultimately, three images were selected to be released as Influx. Originally scheduled for release this past June, Influx was announced via a special email sent out on May 18 to SceneFour’s mailing list. Also on May 18, the intimate Studio City, CA Jazz club The Baked Potato sent out an email advertising the May 21 performance by OHM, “the #1” Fusion Band in Los Angeles,” comprised of Menza, bassist Robert Pagliari and mid ’80s-era Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland. More than a quarter-century since his career-defining work on Rust In Peace, Nick Menza was as active and creative as ever. No one could have known that he would soon be silenced forever.

During the third song of OHM’s set at The Baked Potato, Menza suffered a heart attack and collapsed on stage. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. The team at SceneFour was devastated.

“It was out of the realm of possibly that this could happen,” says Danziger. “The first thing we did was let everyone on the interest list know to hold off; we said, 'This is what's happened, and we need to work with the family and figure out what to do.' We kind of postponed it, not knowing whether or not to release it. After the funeral, we started talking with Nick's mom and his manager about how to honor him. What better way to do that than with art?”

Scheduled for release on July 23 with the complete support and blessing of the Menza camp, Influx will be comprised of three pieces each in an edition of 100. 

“All three of them are outstanding; they're really special,” Danziger says. “We’ve priced everything so that it's as affordable as possible and that everybody who wants to own this unique project can do so comfortably.”

Although Menza passed before scheduling a time to personally sign each piece, Danziger says that SceneFour is currently working with the family to do “something outstanding” in place of a signature.

“These are some of the most sophisticated pieces we've ever published. They're really spectacular visually, and I think a lot of that is a testament to Nick’s use of materials on the drums themselves when we were doing the capturing.”

Here is the exclusive premiere of “Influx,” one of the three pieces in the series that shares its name:

The release of the Influx series will not only showcase a side to Nick Menza that many Megadeth fans never saw before, but will also serve as special way to honor and reflect on a gifted musician who left us far too soon.

“Nick was a really soft-spoken, quiet person,” Danziger shares. “When he was going to do something, he would give it 100 percent. I think it was really admirable that he wanted to give you the best of what he had. In every interaction that I had with him, he went above and beyond. Whether it was his art or his interaction with people, he was all in for life. That same energy that went into his drumming went into all the things he was doing. This collection means a lot more to me that I can put into words, because Nick was an outstanding person. He really was genuine, thoughtful, engaged and creative. He was so wildly talented that the artwork exemplifies all of those aspects. It's really a privilege that I got to work with him, and now it's going to be a privilege that I get to see these come out and hopefully make people remember Nick and his artistry.”

For more information on Nick Menza’s Influx art series, go to More information on SceneFour is available at  


(NOTE: Due to the high volume of emails received, a response is not guaranteed.) 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Getting GRIM: Carl Begai Takes on Heaven & Hell

For more than two decades, Carl Begai has been a leading voice in Metal journalism. Whether he’s reporting on acts all over the world for Words & Bloody Knuckles (BW&BK) or offering various musings on, he consistently provides an in-depth, unpretentious and often amusing take on the world of music. Now, he is preparing to steer his work in a GRIM new direction.

Boasting cover art by former BW&BK graphic artist Hugues Laflamme, GRIM - My Way To Hell is Begai's first work of fiction and his first book since 2008’s Fire and Fame (with Bonfire’s Joerg Deisinger). He has been “dabbling” with GRIM since 2011, when he was inspired to start putting words together after watching The Devil’s Advocate with Al Pacino. In one pivotal scene, Pacino – in the role of The Devil – delivers a powerful speech on how God is “an absentee landlord” when it came to caring for humanity.

“That is my favorite Pacino moment,” Begai says. “That’s where the idea of the book came from.”

Fans of Begai’s work received their first tease of GRIM when he posted the book’s prologue on his website in 2012.

“The premise behind the book is that the world is such an ugly place and Hell is so busy that they decided to outsource in order to collect all the souls that need collecting. One specific guy more or less got sucked into doing the job, which goes against his own morals. He has real issues with that, and he has real issues with the idea of Heaven and Hell – plus the fact that people are looking for an easy way out by being willing to sacrifice their souls. It’s a first-person take on this seemingly ludicrous idea of God and the Devil, but it turns out that it actually does exist.”

Sounds pretty deep and potentially scary, but Begai was quick to note that he has maintained his sense of humor throughout the manuscript process.

“If you know anything about me, you know that it’s certainly not 100-percent serious. There’s a tongue-in-cheek aspect to this.”

Considering Begai’s reputation in the music industry and past experience as a book co-author, it might be a surprise to some that he has decided to go the self-publishing route for GRIM. But as those of us who’ve been down this road ourselves know very well, flying solo certainly comes with its fair share of advantages and opportunities.

“When we went looking for publishers [for Fire and Fame], the general message from most of the ones we approached as far as what they would or would not for an upcoming author was, ‘Well, we’ll sell between 3,000 and 5,000 copies of you book, and then we’ll start paying you.’ And then, it would only be $1 a book. We all know they’re not going to sell between 3,000 and 5,000 copies, so you get nothing out of it other than a pat on the head, basically. I figured that crowdfunding could possibly raise money for advertising and stuff, and I could go that way. It is an industry now as opposed to just a bright idea.”

The first thing you’ll notice when visiting Begai’s Kickstarter page for GRIM is that the video trailer accompanying the campaign has actual (and pretty damn cool) production value. Begai’s decision to incorporate such impressive visuals stemmed from a difficult lesson learned during Fire and Fame.

“The last book tanked because it wasn’t promoted properly,” he admits. “When I stated talking to people in the publishing industry, they said one of the things to do was have a video presence out there – whether it’s a video interview or something else. That’s where people are looking. The guy who was in charge of the previous project never went for it, and I really believe that was detrimental to the whole thing.”

Conceptualized by video director Andreas Spitz, the 76-second clip boasts music by Sander Gommans (After Forever/Trillium/Anna Phoebe) and a voiceover by the incomparable Amanda Somerville (Trillium/Avantasia).

“The music really kicked it all off,” says Begai of the video’s creation. “I was in Holland visiting Sander. He knew about the book in its early stages, and he was going, ‘Yeah, man! We can make an album around it! We can take the concept and make a CD!’ I looked at him like, ‘Yeah, that’s a little bit ambitious. I don’t even have the book complete yet!’ Several months later, I began thinking about it and asked him if he would be interested in writing me a piece of music. He asked me what I wanted, and I explained what I was looking for in terms of mood. Like 10 days later, he got back to me and said, ‘What do you think?’ He divided the piece into three parts; it just kind of fit everything perfectly. It basically called for a voiceover, which I gave Amanda the text for and said, ‘Do what you do.’ What you hear in the voiceover is this wonderfully intense but slightly sarcastic delivery from her, which was done in between two rehearsals, a tour and being a mom. It was ridiculous; she was on tour with Avantasia or something, but she knocked that out in an hour or so. She was great.”

Begai’s out-of-the-box approach to Kickstarter extends to the premiums offered in his campaign. Folks who support GRIM can walk away with goodies ranging from the book stored on an official GRIM wooden cross-shaped USB stick to caricatures drawn by the man himself.

“I look at some of the rewards [on other Kickstarter pages], and I’m like, ‘Okay…’ You get the product and then they’ll give you a freakin’ sticker or something. So I thought, ‘Well, why not just make it as ridiculous or as fun as possible?’ That’s what it comes down to. If you’re going to reward somebody for spending their grocery money on your book, give them something to laugh at; give them something to enjoy along with the actual product that they buy. Of course, I will seriously try my best to do a caricature, but I certainly don’t promise that it’s going to be good. In fact, I can guarantee you that it won’t be any good, but I’ll do my very best!”

After building an international reputation in the Metal community, Begai looks forward to entertaining new and old readers alike with GRIM

“I don’t know if it’s bad if you enjoy your own writing, but I do like what I’ve written, and I do want to share it with people and just have fun with it. Am I going to be the next John Grisham or Stephen King? Not a bloody hope in Hell, but it’s fun to at least poke things in that direction, I suppose.”

Photo by Florian Stangl 

GRIM Kickstarter 

(NOTE: Due to the high volume of emails received, a response is not guaranteed.) 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Stranger No More: Hotei Hits America

When you're offered an interview with someone who's sold 40 million albums, you say yes.

Easily the most successful solo artist to ever grace this website, Japanese-Korean guitarist Hotei (pronounced '”HOE-tay”) has sold more than 40 million records in Japan alone. When The Rolling Stones played in front of 55,000 fans at the Tokyo Dome in March 2014, Hotei joined them on stage as a guest guitarist.

Take a minute to let that sink in.

Best known to US audiences for his original song “Battle Without Honor Or Humanity” (which was made famous by its inclusion in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill), Hotei is about to hit our shores in a major way with the American release of his latest album, Strangers. Out this Friday on Spinefarm Records/Universal, Strangers features a jaw-dropping array of guests including Rammstein's Richard Z. Kruspe, Bullet For My Valentine’s Matt Tuck, Noko from Apollo 440 and acclaimed Texan singer Shea Seger.

Oh yeah, and two songs have vocals by some guy named Iggy Pop.

I had a vision of Iggy when I was working on the demos,” Hotei explains. “It was my dream. I tried to approach him directly through his network, and somehow a dream came true.”

Another figure who helped shape Strangers was famed producer/Killing Joke bassist Youth, who added his unique touch to the opening track, “Medusa.”

[Hotei] is an amazing artist and guitarist,” Youth says. “He is a huge star all around the world, especially in Japan. He jams on stage with the Stones, and he's got Iggy on the album. He's up there. He's a really lovely, humble guy to work with, yet super focused. He makes this dynamic, exciting music that makes you feel like you're in a movie in some futuristic retro, William Gibson Tokyo dystopia. Can't ask for more than that!”

When I produce myself, I tend to neglect my identify as an Asian,” offers Hotei. “But Youth in particular was really good at reminding me who I am, and he managed to pull out what was forgotten deep down in me and put my identity into the sound… I love him; he’s such a nice guy!”

American listeners who enjoy Strangers have an opportunity to experience Hotei's magic in person when he plays The Troubadour in Los Angeles on July 13 and the Highline Ballroom in New York City on July 15.

The upcoming American dates are a showcase,” he explains. A lot of people might think, 'Oh, this is the legendary Japanese guitarist coming to perform in the US.' But I want people to look for and expect to see not just another guitarist, but something very enjoyable and unexpected. I’ll be going to America with two former members of Apollo 440. It’s a minimal formation, but I’m aiming to create some modern guitar dance music that I’m convinced everybody’s going to enjoy. This is going to be the very first step to entering the American market, so I don’t want to look at it lightheartedly. It’s a very, very important step forward.

Opening the door to the American market was a longtime dream in my career and life,” he adds. “I’m thrilled that this moment has finally come. Having said that, America is a huge country; it doesn’t happen overnight. I am committed to making as many trips as possible to approach many people in many regions. But at the same time, I understand that I need to learn American English first.”

Although Hotei is synonymous with Japan, he has lived in London since 2012.

I lived in Japan comfortably for so long, but London consists of so many different backgrounds of people,” he says. “I can feel the world much closer, which is something I’m enjoying.”

In June, some of the strongest moments in Hotei's 35-year career were released as 51 Emotions, a three-CD Japanese release that showcases his sonic evolution over the years.

Of course, if the song came from the very beginning, it sounds very premature. But it was a first step; without it, I would not be here. Those people who are introduced to me through Strangers may look at these 51 songs are bizarre and interesting, but those people will see my progress.”

Last year, Hotei made a guest appearance on Gang of Four's What Happens Next, adding guitar to the track “Lost Souls.” Initially hitting it off with Gang of Four leader Andy Gill when he was asked to interview him for a Japanese magazine, Hotei later had an unforgettable experience with the Post-Punk progenitor in the studio.

Because both of us sounded so identical, we both questioned, ‘Who’s doing which part now?’ That’s how close we were. That’s a representation of how much I have been influenced by Gang of Four and Andy Gill.”

While 2016 has been a momentous time in Hotei's career, it has also been a time of sadness. Like scores of other music fans around the world, he took the January death of David Bowie hard. Hotei became friends with the legend in the '90s, later joining him on stage at the Nippon Budokan in 1996. The sense of loss in his heart was still palpable seven months after Bowie's passing.

David was the most influential person, not just for his music style, but for his spirit. Through my dealings with him, I learned that he was always changing and always hungry for something to conquer. I had him as a hero, and then I was able to perform with David on stage. When I learned that David passed in January, I was literally devastated. If I could ask for one favor, I would really like to stand on the stage together with David.”

Bolstered by one of the best albums released in America this year, Hotei is ready to win over the US the same way he amazed his home country – by creating music with his heart, not his head.

As he says, “I never wanted to become one of those technically skilled guitarists; I wanted to use guitar as a tool to move people’s passion.”

Photo: Andy Earl

(NOTE: Due to the high volume of emails received, a response is not guaranteed.)