80’s crossover thrash legends Mace have returned to reek untold havoc on the eardrums of the metal world. I got a chance to sit down with guitarist Dave Hillis in his first interview since the comeback began. Dave talked extensively about the state of modern metal along with his array of experiences in the Seattle music scene.
Let me start with the obvious question. The band has been apart 23 years, what made you decide to get back together?
I was 17 or 18 when we were doing those records and nobody was doing that kind of music at the time especially in our area of the world (a town outside of Seattle called Everett). When we were recording it the guy who was recording us was like “What is this?!?!” He had never heard anything like that.
We were naïve and didn’t know much about producing or producers. As time went on, I became a recording engineer and producer. I recently built a studio here in Seattle and I always wanted to revisit that stuff and do a real mix on some of them. I always felt like it never had a fair shake, sound quality wise. I found the old tapes in my mother’s garage. They were like 25 years old so I had to have them baked (a process where you literally bake old tapes in a conventional oven so that they are playable). We then moved them out to Pro Tools and I started remixing them. It was really fun to hear the old tapes again and give them better sound quality.
That was so much fun I decided to try a new song, just for the heck of it. The singer Kirk and I started talking and I told him what I was doing and we pulled some guys together and did one just for fun. From there it just snowballed. I hadn’t been playing much, I had been behind the scenes engineering and producing so I had to dust off the cobwebs to try to play that fast.
I never thought we were going to put it back together. Then, we started playing for people and we got excited and said “What the hell!” There wasn’t a real definite plan, but it has turned into one now.
Things are very different since you recorded the Mace stuff. I’m sure there are a million things you can think of, but in what major ways has music changed since then?
So many different ways, from how it’s distributed to how it is recorded. In the time we were doing it, there was no internet. We were pretty ambitious. Everything was done through tape trading and writing letters. We would pick up punk and metal fanzines, see addresses and write to people. We started writing to Death Angel, Possessed and all the bands in the Bay Area and becoming pen pals with them. A lot of our first shows were done that way. We played in Frisco a lot because the Bay Area was starting to happen for crossover and thrash. We’d say to them that if they wanted to play some shows in Seattle or Portland we’d put a bill together. Then we’d come down there and open for them. That’s how we started touring.
We used to play Berkeley, Ruthie’s Inn, where Exodus and Metallica were hanging out. We became friends with Pushead, from a band called Septic Death, and he was a big supporter of us doing the thrash crossover thing. He ended up doing the artwork for Damage Incorporated for Metallica. We really got into that circle.
In Seattle, we got shows through the punk thing. We opened shows for The Circle Jerks, D.O.A., D.R.I. and C.O.C. In the suburbs, we put on all ages shows and that would be more of a metal crowd. We really had to travel to San Francisco to get noticed.
We mailed our stuff to everywhere overseas. We were getting fan mail from Eastern Europe and they were selling our tee shirts in South America. It was really DIY. It seems like you could do that more with the internet, but people don’t seem as ambitious.
You’ve been pretty busy in the time in between. It’s not like you’ve been sitting around collecting pictures of Al Roker or anything. Talk about some of the things you’ve worked on between when you stopped working on Mace and now.
I wanted to get into different types of music. Everything from industrial to shoegazer type music and I started experimenting a lot. I also started getting into the production aspect of music. I got a job at London Bridge Studios working as an assistant for Rick Parashar, the producer. I was really thrown into the fire right away. My first record was a band called Love and Ice, one of the first signings to Interscope. Right off the bat, I was working on major label records. Right after that were demos for Mookie Blaylock, who eventually became Pearl Jam, along with some of the Alice in Chains stuff.
When the grunge thing happened, I was at one of the top studios in Seattle working as Rick’s engineer. We were doing those records not knowing they were going to be that big. I knew those guys from around town. We shared rehearsal rooms, played the same parties, and chased the same girls. When we were recording them, nobody knew any of this was going to sell. It was like recording friends. Nobody was famous yet.
Do you think if Pearl Jam stuck with the name Mookie Blaylock, he’d be in the Basketball Hall of Fame right now?
(laughing) You have to wonder, huh! I know they weren’t into using his name. When we were demoing that stuff they were putting it together on the fly. They didn’t even have Eddie Vedder yet. Once it solidified and they became a band they had to start thinking about what to really call themselves.
I always liked the name Mookie Blaylock better than Pearl Jam, to be honest. I loved him when he was at Oklahoma.
Jeff (Ament) is a huge basketball fan. As a matter of fact, he was a great basketball player. I think he was a college player. He’s crazy good.
It had to be a surreal experience looking around at all these guys you grew up with and all of a sudden they are ridiculously famous.
It took a long time to even grasp it. When it was going on I wasn’t that into it. I didn’t even own any of the records. After they blew up, you really didn’t see them much anymore. They were gone and on the road.Years later, I produced a band that Stone (Gossard) signed to his label called Loosegroove. I got to know him better than. Otherwise, you just didn’t see them as much. It’s not like the local kegger parties were still going on or anything. I did get to know Jerry (Cantrell) a lot when I moved out to LA. He ended up taking over my apartment in LA and I moved next door. We got to jam together and hang out a lot. I saw him more in LA than I ever did in Seattle. It’s so different than people imagined it was. Nobody expected any of it and when it did happen it’s a whole different scenario.
I want to get into Mace, because I have been obsessed with “Process of Elimination” all week. I’ve been playing it non-stop and annoying my wife and kids to death. They don’t really grasp the type of music I like.
When we made it, nobody grasped it either!
(laughing) Nice! For someone who hasn’t heard it, how would you describe Mace’s sound?
We were heavy metal kids who met in high school. Got into the British wave of heavy metal. Then, we got into hardcore and punk rock and became friends with the band The Accused. They were punk rock from the day they were born and all of a sudden they started to get into metal. They got into Exodus and Metallica. We both started having the concept of crossing them over and creating a new sound. We were putting punk aspects and political ideas into metal. The guitar work was more metal in a way but also sloppy and blurry like punk. There was such a divide at the time. You were either punk or metal. We’d play a punk show and they’d be yelling at us because we were too metal and we’d do a metal show and we were too punk.
I love some of the Mace lyrics. Particularly “Drilling For Brains”. I’ve been running around screaming the lyrics at strangers. It’s a lot of fun. For 17 and 18 year old kids, you were writing some pretty bright stuff. Particularly, Room 101 which is a great homage to Orwell’s 1984. When you wrote it you didn’t know how things were going to be in 2012, but do you think today we are closer to a 1984 type society?
The timing couldn’t be more right, particularly the political angle. It’s funny how much of it has become real. The Patriot Act put that into reality. When we were happening the Reagan era anti-heavy metal stuff and the Satan stuff was big. I can’t believe how I’m seeing it again during these Republican caucuses. It’s the Falwell era all over again.
You cover that pretty well in the song The Evil in Good. The lyric “change under the guiding light of the new Religious Right.” That was pretty accurate.
I know. It’s pretty shocking to see it happening again. I have to pinch myself to see what decade we are in. I thought we were over that. I was very surprised that birth control issues have been big again.
Right! I saw that. Let me ask you about the whole Metal Massacre V CD thing. This confused me a bit. You had a song on that compilation that was actually called “Marching Sacrifice”, but the CD listed it as “Marching Saproyites”. Help me understand this.
Right, that one has been going around. That was the one of the first things we came up with. It was written in Crafts class in High School. It was the easiest class so no one was ever doing anything. It’s a sci-fi thing. Saprophytes are maggot type things. There was a story we made up about giant saprophytes marching through a town. Somehow it got misspelled on one of them. We were on the Northwest Metal Fest that same year which was a compilation out of here that we were on with other bands like Metal Church. Everybody was spelling it the wrong way. Then, another pressing came out and corrected it. The correct title was “Marching Saprophytes”.
I like Marching Saprophytes better. The image of giant maggots running through the streets is hilarious. It’s much better than Marching Sacrifice.
That’s the one that people got wrong. I think they thought Marching Sacrifice sounded more metal.
Marching Sacrifice makes less sense. I don’t know why a sacrifice would be marching. Especially if it’s already been sacrificed.
You have a new song called HAARP Strings. I was excited about this because I love conspiracy theories. HAARP is the gov’t project that has been linked to changes in weather patterns, mind control and earthquakes. Tell me a bit about your ideas on this. Do you think the theory is legitimate?
That was what Kirk (the singer) and I were wondering about. We had both seen the Jessie Ventura conspiracy theory show and we were talking about it. We were really getting into it. I think it’s highly possible. The whole Tesla thing. I think it’s something to question and wonder about. We both have really gotten off on that conspiracy things as well. How much do we really know?
When you were first out, there was no other Mace. Now there is P Diddy’s sidekick. Are you worried you are going to get people at your shows that want to hear ‘Mo Money, Mo Problems’?
When I first heard of him when he came out I laughed about it. I kind of forgot about it, then someone wrote a comment on the Blabbermouth article about us talking about the rap song. I thought “Oh no, are people really going to think that?” I don’t know. What can you do?
Mase wasn’t bad. He could rap without moving his mouth, which I thought was fascinating.
I think the story is he got religion and just walked away from his career.
If you do Mo Money, Mo Problems as a thrash song that would be incredible.
It’s a total possibility. I might have to take that as a challenge.
Tell me what’s up next for you guys. A tour? An album?
It took off on us. We are talking about playing in Oakland at the Opera House in the summer. We were looking to play the Northwest Metal Fest down in the Tacoma area. We are starting to get some offers. At least this year if not next year we want to start hitting some of the festivals in Europe. We are talking to a couple labels. Two in Germany, Metal Blade and Century Media about doing something in the states.
I’m still producing bands so I have some records that I am still scheduled to do and I will fit in a new record for us. We are going to release the five songs we remixed plus the new song first to let people know were back and to let other people know what we are like. Our first show back is going to be May 10th at the Showbox here in Seattle. Tommy, the guitar player for The Accused, is going to come on and play a song with us. We are going to start it off and see where things go.