The captivating and compelling doom metal/stoner rock outfit named Hex A.D. Is undoubtedly one of the most interesting bands on the Norwegian circuit these days. Spearheaded by the talented multi-instrumentalist Rick Hagan, the band has already unearthed and released two full-length curses as well as a brilliant single appropriately titled ‘The Cranium Seal‘ since its inception just a few years ago. On top of that, these guys are a killer live act and one can only hope that they will soon tour the European continent and lay waste to venues all over. RAMzine simply had to have a chat Mr. Hagan about all things Hex A.D. Read on, folks.
RAMzine: Greetings, Rick. First of all, I want to thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us. Could you tell us a bit about the early days of Hex A.D. and how it all came about? Was there a specific reason or motivation behind the launch of the band? A deep-seated love of everything that is doomy and gloomy?
Rick Hagan: Well, I was singing and playing bass in a band called 21st Century Rox when Chris Tsangarides got in touch with us and wanted to record us. The other guys felt that the band was about to end anyway, so I decided to go to the UK and record with Chris on my own. I was the songwriter in Rox anyway and only played bass because that was the instrument we needed to complete the line-up. I am basically a drummer and have always played a lot of guitar, so the prospect of doing everything myself was only liberating to be honest. I went to Chris’’ studio in June 2011 and recorded and mixed Even the Savage Will See Fair Play over 12 days. When I got home, I received an offer to play a festival and put a live band together. The musical direction was not thought about at all. I wrote some songs and brought some unfinished tracks I had written for what I though was going to be a 21st Century Rox EP down to Chris and we molded it together in the studio.
RAMzine: How did you get into metal music in the first place? Do you remember where and when that happened?
Rick Hagan: Christmas Eve 1986! I got ‘The Final Countdown’ on cassette. Never looked back…but there have been a few turning points along the way. I quickly discovered Return, Alice Cooper, TNT, Guns ‘N’ Roses, ZZ Top, Iron Maiden and Deep Purple…before I by coincidence sat down in a record store to check out some music in November 1995 and the guy behind the counter played me Black Sabbath’s Forbidden, which was new at the time, and Dehumanizer. It changed me!
RAMzine: I was listening to both Even the Savage Will See Fair Play and Last Nail in the Coffin Lid the other day. As much as I like your first album, you guys have matured a lot in terms of writing and arranging songs when you compare the two releases. All the songs have an epic quality to them, but I think …Coffin… boasts slightly more memorable and cleverly written songs. Would you agree?
Rick Hagan: Absolutely! The debut has a sort of naïve charm about it and there are a few tracks on there that I really like. On the second one, I was trying to go for a less “metal” vibe and incorporate a darker and more mysterious sound. Having Magnus there to play the Hammond organ also opened quite a few doors, sonically speaking. It is an easier record to listen to, but at the same time, it goes a bit deeper with the lyrics and layered sound.
RAMzine: How do you look back on that very first release of yours, Even the Savage…? To a lot of musicians, the debut album is always very important and special because it marks the beginning of a journey and an adventure. Do you feel like that as well?
Rick Hagan: It set the template in a way. It was a good place to start, and it was a great experience to properly play the guitar in the studio for the first time. That was a thing I was dreading a bit after having focused on my drumming for 20 years at that point.
It came out at the same time as Cathedral called it a day, and I was quite proud to continue their tradition of having Dave Patchett artwork on the cover, which was further continued on …Coffin Lid, I guess.
RAMzine: How and when did you hook up with Chris Tsangerides? That guy is a legend. He produced Renegade and Thunder and Lightning by Thin Lizzy, Eternal Idol by Black Sabbath, Painkiller by Judas Priest, and so many other brilliant albums. He always comes across as a genuinely nice guy in interviews and documentaries and so on. How involved is he in the day-to-day activities of Hex A.D.?
Rick Hagan: Chris is my “go-to” producer. His sound and my songs are the backbone of every Hex A.D. recording to date. He is such a great guy. His studio is like a home away from home for me. The relationship between us is rock solid. Despite our obvious age difference, we know a lot of the same people in the business and have worked with a lot of the same guys at different stages. We have the same musical references and that comes across in the work we do together. It is Jethro Tull, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath all the way.
RAMzine: How does Hex A.D. go about writing songs? Do all of its members meet up in the rehearsal space and kick different ideas around, or do you write stuff when you are by yourself at home and then present that to the others?
Rick Hagan: The live band is usually not included in the writing process, but some songs benefit from a bit of “jamming”, so having my brother play the drums now makes it very easy to play around with arrangements in rehearsals. He is credited with arrangements on two tracks on our third record that will come out in 2018.
RAMzine: Are there any bands in particular that inspire you when it comes to writing music of your own? The gloomy 70s vibe that Hex A.D. conjures up sounds so authentic that it borders on the surreal at times. Songs such as ‘The Bitter End‘ and ‘A Nocturnal Report‘ sound like they could have been written and recorded in the early 70s and bring to mind such larger-than-life bands as Black Sabbath, Pentagram, and even Uriah Heep, just to list a few examples.
Rick Hagan: I am a huge fan of all those bands and Tony Iommi’s riffs changed my way of writing as soon as I realised how to use that sort of tonality and riffing. For me, the spirit of early ‘80s Black Sabbath is a huge part of Hex A.D’s musical aspirations. There was a sort of majesty and size to those particular albums. Heaven and Hell, Mob Rules, Live Evil and Born Again represent a partly untapped well of inspiration to me. I think there is more music to be made with that sort of feel, and I am not saying Hex A.D. manages to do that, but I like the process of trying to catch “the feeling”. I learned a lot from playing and touring with Geoff Nicholls when we had The Southern Cross, and some of those lessons may have started to creep into my songwriting.
RAMzine: Could you elaborate a bit on the importance of the lyrics and the themes and motifs that run through your tunes? What do they mean and connote to you on a personal level? Do they reflect your personal thoughts and feelings?
Rick Hagan: I am not good at turning my personal feelings into songs. I personally like “storytellers” better than the songwriters that go on and on about their depressions and love life. Therefore, my own style may owe a bit more to that style of writing. I like philosophy, stories and myths, and I let them into my lyrics in a big way, I guess. Movies and paintings are big inspirations on my lyrics too.
RAMzine: The artwork to the upcoming digital single entitled ‘The Cranium Seal’ looks amazing! Who was in charge of putting that cover art together? It has a really dark and twisted yet warm and psychedelic vibe to it that underlines and emphasizes the atmosphere of the song perfectly. The song is superb and highly dynamic and varied.
Rick Hagan: That artwork was constructed by an amazing Italian artist called Montdoom. The song is inspired by WW I diaries and he incorporated a few elements from the lyrics into the artwork. We all loved it when it was done. We have used him for more stuff as well, but no one has seen those yet, ha-ha!
RAMzine: You recently performed in Kristiansand (Norway) and the ever-awesome Rowan Robertson (DIO) joined you on stage. He is one of the coolest and nicest guys one could ever hope to meet. How long have you guys known each other and how did the two of you meet?
Rick Hagan: I got in touch with Rowan in 2009 with the intention of booking him to a local guitar festival. He said yes straight away and during the months between the booking and the actual event, we talked on Skype a lot and decided to try to do something else as well. We put together Queenstreet and later The Southern Cross and toured Scandinavia 5 times the next 3 years. After Geoff died we have not talked too much about doing the Sabbath/Dio–thing again, but we are still very much the best of friends and play together as often as possible. With me being the singing guitarist in Hex A.D., it is very easy to just give him the guitar and just sing. We can do ANYTHING with him guesting…and we do, ha-ha!
RAMzine: Speaking of DIO, how do you feel about the Lock up the Wolves album? That is actually my favorite album by that band (and one of my all-time favorite records). That one means a lot to me on so many levels! It has a certain depth and melancholy to it that I find unique.
Rick Hagan: Rowan is my favorite DIO guitarist and LutW is my favorite DIO record. I love that the record is properly produced and mixed and I love the songs on there too. I do not know why it did not resonate with the fans like Sacred Heart did 5 years earlier, but I guess the times were changing by then.
RAMzine: The Southern Cross is an amazing tribute band to the vast legacy of Ronnie James Dio. I will never forget that show at Garage in Bergen back in 2012. Whose idea was it to put that band together? The loss of Geoff Nicholls earlier on this year was tragic. Is there any chance that we will ever see The Southern Cross out there on the road again someday?
Rick Hagan: That band was like a wet dream for me personally, and it was I who suggested it to Rowan. I pulled the whole thing together and loved every minute of it!
I will never say never, but Geoff was an important part of that band. Maybe we will get back together again some time. What I can say is that there are three songs we wrote but never recorded. We’ will see what happens.
RAMzine: Beside Hex A.D. and The Southern Cross, are you involved in any other bands and projects? If so, could you tell us a bit about them?
Rick Hagan: At the moment I have project called Panzer Loco with previous Hex A.D. drummer Stig Moe. We are writing stuff for an upcoming release. There are a few other good friends in that band from my past as well. Kenny Ahlgreen from 21st Century Rox is our rhythm guitarist and Leif Mad Attic from a tribute band I have sung in plays the bass.
RAMzine: How do you feel about performing live compared to working and playing in the studio or putting ideas together in rehearsals? I take it that the being on stage and sending that energy and intensity back and forth between the band and the audience is indescribable.
Rick Hagan: Playing with Hex A.D. live is a very gratifying experience for me. There are more and more people coming to the shows, and they genuinely seem to like the music, so that gives me a boost to keep getting better and exploring the band’s sound and musical identity.
RAMzine: What is Hex A.D. currently up to in terms of band activities? Are you also composing and writing new material these days? Perhaps there is a new album in the pipeline? Can you reveal any details?
Rick Hagan: The new record will be called Netherworld Triumphant and I am in the final stages of recording vocals now. There are a few overdubs left before we ship it off to be mixed. We have teamed up with a record company and a new live management, but those details will be revealed soon enough, ha-ha.
RAMzine: My wife and I were blown away by the Blaze Bayley gigs at Hulen in Bergen in 2013 and at Garage in 2014 where you handled the drums. Two of the best shows I have ever attended! What was that 2013 Norwegian tour like for you? Any fond memories and/or funny anecdotes that you would like to share with us?
Rick Hagan: Playing with Blaze was amazing and I hope we might do something together again in the future. As a huge Maiden fan, it has been mind-blowing to play with Blaze and Di’Anno for 9 years. We have become very close and have played some amazing places. The Voxbotn Festival on the Faroe Islands was fantastic, and our trip to India with Paul was another weird but great experience. The particular show you are referring to was VERY late at night, and having slept next to nothing the night before, I was totally out of it by the time we hit the stage! However, we always have a great time in Bergen and the promotor at Garage is one of the coolest guys I have met in the business!
RAMzine: Speaking of that 2013 tour, you also backed Paul Di’Anno and handled the drums on those early Iron Maiden classics live. What was it like to work with him?
Rick Hagan: Paul is just great! I love him to bits. Unfortunately, he is not well now and is waiting for a big knee operation. When that is sorted, I hope to play more with him as I love those first two Iron Maiden records. We have played many tours with him over the years and we have been very fortunate to play some great gigs and festivals with him! *FASTER* hahaha!
RAMzine: I love all eras of Iron Maiden, but the first two albums by the band as well as Somewhere in Time and The X Factor hold a very special place in my heart. When I was swept away by heavy metal back in 1995 at the age of 11, The X Factor came out and so that was my introduction to the band. What precious memories does Iron Maiden hold to you? Were they a huge source of inspiration to you, musically speaking?
Rick Hagan: I got No Prayer for the Dying for my 9th birthday and it absolutely floored me. Iron Maiden became my favorite band after 5 seconds of ‘Tailgunner’. Eddie, their live shows, the proggy hard rock, the melodies, the drumming, the stage sets, Steve’s bright bass, and their way of constructing set lists… everything has had an impact on me!
RAMzine: Just out of curiosity, how do you feel about digital releases and streaming and so on? Things have certainly changed these past 10-15 years.
Rick Hagan: I belong in the music industry of 1983, hahaha! I buy records!
Having said that, I enjoy having my 2017 Walkman (Spotify) with me when I go for long walks with my dog, haha! No seriously, I love to discover new music online, but I miss going to the record store and checking out LPs and CDs.
RAMzine: When you are at home and you just need to relax and mellow out, what kind of music do you listen to? By the way, what are some of your most treasured and cherished albums?
Rick Hagan: I listen to a lot of different music when I am at home. Steven Wilson’s first four solo records, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, Genesis, Bruce Dickinson, Iron Maiden, Rainbow… it is always playing here!
My most treasured records are the ones that changed my musical life in a big way.
Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell
Deep Purple – Come Taste the Band
TNT – Intuition
Genesis – A Trick of the Tail
Jethro Tull – Living in the Past (yes, I know it’s compilation)
Def Leppard – Hysteria
Iron Maiden – Killers and No Prayer for the Dying
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
Celtic Frost – Monotheist
…and Steven Wilson’s The Raven That Refused to Sing and other stories. That album made a huge impact on me, especially the title track.
RAMzine: Any final words to the faithful readers of RAMzine from the gloomy pit of Hex A.D.?
Rick Hagan: I hope 2018 will be a year where we get to show our music to many new people, and I hope you will come along for the ride when Netherworld Triumphant is released. If you listen to fools – The Riff Rules!