Hirax – Interview with Katon W. de Pena

How often do you get the chance to interview one of the best kept secrets of the metal underground?

Let’s rephrase that – how often do you get to interview one of the best kept secrets of the metal underground, who have been there since the early days of the Californian Bay Area thrash scene and are still alive and kicking??

Katon W. de Pena is a passionate man, who together with his buddies in Hirax has kept true to his values and beliefs over the years. Time has blessed them with the rise of a massive fan following in Europe and South America, and long may this continue. If you watch the documentary “Get Thrashed”, you can see how else his dedication and honesty comes into play.

When Hirax were in London town, I didn’t want to miss out on talking to him. So sit back, relax, and let Katon tell you what he knows about life, culture and the importance of coming together for metal.

How are you?

I’m doing really good; it’s great to be in England, especially London! We’ve done five shows before this, and the fans have been awesome, so we’re happy!

We got such a good reception from people over here; this is the last show of our tour in the UK, but all the shows have been fabulous.  Everyone in the band’s fired up, so this should be a good show tonight!
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I noticed that you guys have such a massive following in Europe.

It’s growing! We didn’t tour here for quite some time, but we’ve been coming back for the last couple of years, and it’s growing. We need to tour the UK a little more, the time time around – we didn’t do Ireland this time.

We’re trying to do what we did in South America, where we have a really big fanbase. We want to extend this to Europe, but with the UK it’s been amazing: fans are showing us so much love, they’re coming out to shows and telling us stories about when they first heard our records, so I can’t complain! Europe is going really well for us!

I’ve heard that because the US is a much bigger country, that its metal scenes are more spaced out. Yet at the same time, American metalheads seem warmer and more easy going than their British peers!

That may be the case, but for us, we’ve found it to be similar to what we’ve experienced! We’re sad that we have to leave, after playing London. Its been a great experience, where all the promoters have been good to us and the fans are dedicated – and kind of crazy!

You’ve mentioned your South American following. If I understood correctly, you’ve got some Latino blood, yourself?

Well, I’m actually Portuguese. But in South America, as with Brazil, Chile, Columbia and so on; those countries speak Spanish, and we have a solid fanbase there, so we’ve written some of our songs in that language.

South America is really important to us, so it’s our way of letting them know that we’re thinking about them. We’ve also been able to teach those who don’t (speak Spanish) a little bit of the language, through our songs! It’s a really good thing to spread culturally, in helping people to learn other languages.

For us, the best thing about traveling is to learn about different cultures. Even coming here to the UK, people were telling us to try certain English dishes that we’ve never eaten before.

That’s interesting, because often with other bands, the lyrics will be written in English either to reach wider audiences or because it’s what the middle classes speak in their home country (case in point, Demonic Resurrection from India).

Yeah, it’s really important to us. It’s awesome seeing people singing along in Spanish! They might not even understand these lyrics, but they’ve connected to them through the power of our music.

There’s the observation that some bands are more invested in the commercial aspect of music, to the extent that there isn’t any spirit behind what they make.

Well for us, it’s all about soul and not selling out, because we don’t need to. We’ve done pretty well this way, and it’s only getting better, so why would we need to make billions? I’m just happy to make a living from the music that we really believe in, rather than trying to satisfy record labels.

We just want to keep making hard and heavy music, from the soul, which moves people. That’s all that matters! We see this a lot from our travels… kids cry (at our shows), because it touches them. In Brazil, a female fan came back to meet the band. When I gave her my backstage pass, she starting crying, which made me realise how much that meant to her.

We don’t mind doing those things because we care about our fans – if it weren’t for them, we would be nothing! I think that this is where the commercial bands screw up, since they think that they’re above the fans, but they’re not.

We’re all human, you know: I have four sisters, a brother and a family, so for us, the fans are like our family. It’s the way we were raised; I’m sure that other bands have different backgrounds, but I come from a working class family where my dad was in the navy for thirty years. I believe that you should judge others by what’s in their brain, and if they can communicate without their hands. We should all be able to talk and use our heads, which is what we in Hirax try to judge everything by rather than the cover of the book.

People probably judge me every day, but if they talk to me then they’d see that there’s a lot more inside than what they see on the outside.
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Nice point about communication! This is an issue I’ve asked other bands so far, so I’m going to ask you about it now: since the horrific Charlie Hebdo murders, the issue of free speech has come into the forefront in Europe. I understand that the US is facing something similar, where free speech was used as an excuse to kill three people in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Sometimes I wonder what people are going to come up with, next! I like artistic freedom,so it’s kind of a fine line. But we’ve got to be aware of other’s feelings, although some are overkill, as they get really mad…

I like to joke, though I know that some people are sensitive to that. At the same time, you shouldn’t actually kill anyone because of that! What happened in France wasn’t right at all; they killed a lot of innocent people. Let’s say me or you were in a grocery store, and we’re buying food when some fanatical guy comes in. I’d be horrified!

In my opinion, the best way to fix this would be if people were open-minded to learning about cultures. At least learn about Muslims and other people, instead of finding out about them through one certain thing and then not wanting to know about them!

If you learn about them, then you might understand them better, and I think that this is the problem with society – no one understands one another, They meet people, and make judgements right away; you can’t always do that.

Through music though, that’s where we’re walking! We get to make all these connections with people who don’t even have the same beliefs as us! Music is a perfect thing in bringing everyone together.

I’ve personally seen some nasty responses from people outside of metal, towards those whom we wouldn’t typically consider to be a metalhead. For example, if you’re Buddhist or even a Muslim in a  headscarf…

For me and Hirax, we don’t give a shit what anyone’s wearing, as long as they’re having fun and treating everyone with mutual respect. That’s one issue, but even with men and women, we should all do this; a woman shouldn’t feel uncomfortable, because of some jackass guy acting weird.

I’d say that you have to be smart, use your head and think about how you would feel. I always want to treat people the way I want to be treated, and this is how I was raised. If you want to be truly good, try to treat people good!

It’s also so sad that humans would kill each other over religious beliefs and such; it’s unbelievable! If you’re really religious, why would you do that? I don’t understand why anyone can justify murdering someone for not having the same beliefs. I always try to listen and exchange ideas, but I doubt that there are enough people doing that already.

Speaking about killing over religion, it seems that usually people will disagree with your point there as a joke, or… this may be a stretch, but looking back at the church burnings during the ’90’s, one could take that as the black metal scene showing complete intolerance towards religion.

True, but you have to realise that certain countries were taken over by other religions, like Catholicism. They were pagan nations way before all of that, and some people don’t even know their history. They wonder why these guys are burning churches – I don’t agree with all of it, but I do understand their point of view, too.

I try to look at both sides, and even with Hirax, our lyrics aren’t necessarily one thing, as we like stories. I love a good story, a good book or a good movie, as long as it’s thought out. In regards to the church burnings, a lot of people don’t understand why these guys did it.

For me, it actually hurts because when you look at those churches, they’re beautiful art, whether you believe in that religion or not. Some of them are a hundred or one thousand years old, made out of wood and hand-carved. My side of my family is Portuguese, and my wife is Norwegian. Her side is into wood-carvings and carpentry, so they were horrified by these events because it’s their history. At the same time, some of the lands where this took place were pagan, and see it as a war.

All these questions you’ve asked were fine line questions, but I just believe that we should treat each other cool! I would be fighting for everybody’s equality.

There’s the opinion that if you play heavy metal, then your message should be rebellion.

Well, that’s their view, but I don’t see us as a rebellion but as a release. People can come to our shows, and forget about all the crap that’s happened in their lives and let out all the angst and aggression. Everyone has a different outlook on what their music represents, and I’d say that ours represents a chance to come together and have a great time. A lot of people come to our shows and make new friends, which I think is great if a band can do that as well.

We’ve always been about the people, which is why we’re here in England, because so many fans have been writing to us for years, asking that we come over here. It’s a little cold for us, being Californians, so we’re kind of freaked out! We’re not used to such weather, but we’ve still been playing shows every night.
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I have to ask: what do you think about the state of thrash metal today, with so many younger bands coming out?

I think there are enough people who are commenting on this, and I understand that some of these bands aren’t doing anything new. But there are a few who are daring enough to take it to another level. Almost all the new, young bands have opened for us, and there’s like a handful who are pretty damn good. Then there are those who are always stale.

I’m more for the ones who are trying to take it somewhere else, since when we started out we wanted to put our own spin on (thrash metal). If we could preach to the kids, then we’d tell them, “Do your own thing, at least put a spin on it!” But I’m actually glad, because they’re turning young kids on to our stuff as well, so it doesn’t hurt us. It means that these kids therefore have to do their history and study.

So all you new thrash bands reading this: take it to the next level and kick some ass. Make great metal and make it from the heart!

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