Hell Goes to America: Hellbenders Interviewed

I discovered Brazil’s Hellbenders the old fashioned way: their U.S. publicist pointed me in their direction. However, instead of doing what I normally do and ignoring the histrionic pitch (which, after having the band described as Brazil’s answer to Kyuss/High on Fire/stoner/desert rock, would have been the logical thing to do), I bit. And man, I’m glad I did! This quartet from Goiania is indeed another in the long line of bands drawing influence from the aforementioned, but there’s a huge kernel of energy and groove driving them. Plus, the songs comprising their debut album, Brand New Fear, rock hard and are a shit ton of fun. Let’s also not forget their recently released video for “Hurricane” featuring, amongst other things, their conception of American culture and our man J. Bennett’s long-lost Brazilian brother. The band is making the trek to the good ol’ U.S. of A. next month to showcase their asses around SXSW and are pretty fucking excited about it. We caught up with guitarist/vocalist Braz Torres via email to discuss rocking southern style in places further south than the south (follow that?) and the man I’m now referring to as “K. Bennett.”
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What can you tell us about the band’s history?
I can say we’re four elementary school friends that have played together since we were 12 years old and decided that music is really what we’re going to do in our lives. We started Hellbenders with no big ambitions and the quick response we had with the local audience made us believe we could be something more. From then on, we played some tours here in Brazil, supported big names as Kyuss Lives!, Exodus and Truckfighters and also had the chance to produce our first album with Carlos Eduardo Miranda.

You’ve been doing this as Hellbenders for a long while. Have any of you played in any other bands that you can compare this experience with?
The funny thing is that the only one that had a band that you could sort of compare the Hellbenders experience with is Augusto Scartezini (bass). He played in this band called MUGO. The rest of us had began with Hellbenders, and that’s why we’ve played together for so long, which ends up being really nice for our experience together.

Was the original intent to always play southern-styled rock/metal? Did the band flirt with any other musical styles in your formative years? Why play the style you do instead of anything else?
The original intent was just to play and sound like the bands we were listening to together, and that’s why we came along with this style. We like doing this southern-groove metal because, although we really like the anger of metal, we also have some of the strong harmonic references and catchy choruses that the southern rock can provide. We actually do flirt a lot with other styles and we’ll be doing this a lot on our next work, which we’re already writing some songs for.

The style you play is distinctly American (with a basis in Britain, if we’re being all technical about it). How is your music reacted to in Brazil? Have you found it difficult to gain any footing in your homeland?
It isn’t easy to play this kind of music here in Brazil. It’s the kind of music that can’t get to all the range of people we would like to catch because it isn’t “mainstream” (and we’re not even talking about the language we sing). It is the exact kind of music that foreigners have to say “hey that’s cool, lets support it” so that people in Brazil starts giving attention, like what happened with Sepultura. That’s why going to the U.S seemed like a good idea for us.

Here’s an idea of how people react to Hellbenders on their native soil:

Tell us about the writing and recording of Brand New Fear. How long was the album in the works? How old are the songs and how long did you spend in the studio recording them? Was the decision always to put it out yourselves and have PR companies help to spread the word?
Well, Brand New Fear was a great learning process for us. Every second in the studio was important. It was while recoding the album that we had our epiphany and realized we would want to do this for a long time as Hellbenders. We actually did the recording sessions some weeks apart of each other to fit Miranda’s schedule. So we end up working for almost a year-and-a-half on this album. The album is a compilation of the best songs we have so far; some are really old (like 5 years old) and some are recent. About the PR, it was our Brazilian booking agent [Fabrício Nobre] that told us that with this kind of service, we could get to U.S with a bigger buzz around us, and it was a great choice for a band going there for the first time.

The video for “Hurricane” is a surprisingly slick, professionally looking, shot and edited piece of work, more so because I’ve been told you basically did it yourselves. Tell us about the process of doing a video, what challenges you faced and how you feel it turned out compared to what you had in mind going into the whole thing?
The video was actually Cléver Cardoso’s (the producer) idea. He came to us and told us he had a great idea for a video and he would get one of the best music video directors here in Brazil to work with us. Rafael Kent (the director) loved the song and was up to it. The whole process was really exhausting, mostly because of the weather – we had a crazy rain period that wasn’t predicted – but also because we were really involved on the production together with Cléver. This surprisingly professional work was just the result of a bunch of amazing and professional people working with us to make it happen. The final result was even better than what we had in mind.

You’re coming to the US to play SXSW. How long did it take to logistically and financially make the necessary preparations to make this happen? What have you heard about SXSW and what are you hoping to achieve by performing there?
We’ve been preparing ourselves since we got our official invitation to play at SXSW. It was like three months ago. Since then, we’ve been working our asses off, touring and trying to sell as much merch as we can to make it happen, and we can happily say that everything went fine and we’re going in March. We’ve heard a lot about SXSW and we understand it’s a great place for you to show your music to potentially thousands of people, from a guy that’s just having some fun drinking beers at a bar to a booking agent or a label looking for new bands to work with.

In watching “Hurricane,” it seems you have a specific idea of certain aspects of American culture. What’s your impression of America are you hoping for and/or expecting from your first visit to the country?
Yeah, they really brought that raw desert rock feeling to the video. We can tell a lot of the American culture most because we (as the rest of the world) import it a lot. TV, movies, music… Besides that we hope to get along with the American people and show them a little of our Brazilian way of life. We’re expecting to be able to show our music to people that have more to relate to it, and also to be able to learn the work ethic of people that we admire.

Here’s the “Hurricane” video:

How much live show/touring experience does Hellbenders have? What is touring Brazil like?
Well, I think our first gig out of Goiânia was like three or four years ago. Since then we’ve continued to tour as much as we possibly can. We had to conciliate it with our college’s schedule. Actually we still have to, but we’re getting close to graduating now. Touring in Brazil, I think is like touring most of other countries. We actually can’t set up too many dates as we can in the U.S because most of the little cities here still don’t have a mature music scene that can support hundreds of bands touring every year. But besides that, it is really great. We are really thankful for been always treated well and have always a good feedback from the audience in every city we’ve been here in Brazil.

With everything that’s happening for the band recently, are you finding it difficult to adjust to life as not just a band who jams, writes songs and plays live, but also has to worry about all the business crap and dealing with money coming in and going out and all that fun stuff?
Yeah, it has been a difficult change for us to deal with “real life music business,” but we’re starting to get good at it. Hard work, commitment and discipline are ruling our lives the past few months. But the coolest thing is that when we get on the stage we always remember what we’re there for.

Who do the Brazilian people care more deeply about: Sepultura or Soulfly? And what the hell ever happened to Overdose?
Hmm… I think I would say that people here care more deeply about Sepultura. Maybe because of the heritage that the name brings and because they actually live here and play here in Brazil more than Soulfly. About Overdose, not even sure we can tell you what happened. All we know about them is the legend that people tell about “the band that almost made it.” We were just newborns when they released they’re last album, Progress of Decadence.

Who is that bald, bearded dude who gets it in the video? He looks a hell of a lot like Decibel writer/Ides of Gemini guitarist, J. Bennett. If he’s coming to SXSW, a “separated at birth photo shoot” is in order. Can you make it happen?
The bearded guy is Kuka, a good friend of us. He’s the owner of the most bad ass rock bar here in Goiânia, the “Vai Tomá No Kuka” bar. Unfortunately he won’t be coming to SXSW, but we sure would love to take a photo of J. Bennett to show him! [laughs]

Bennett w/Ides of Gemini (he’s the one on the right):
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Last words?
Trying to make sure this doesn’t sound cliché, but I think I can’t: we’re really excited about getting our asses up there to the U.S and playing the most we can to you guys. It’s going to be a great opportunity for us and we guarantee you that we won’t let anyone down!

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