James Rivera is one of metal's hardest working singers. I caught up with him a few weeks after Helstar's DVD shoot, at his birthday show. We discussed Helstar, Malice and his tribute bands.
I'm here with James Rivera. We're here for his birthday bash, a few weeks removed from Helstar's big 30th anniversary show and DVD shoot. First of all, the show. I thought it was the best Helstar show I've seen, what do you think?
Oh, by far. Don't ask me how it happened, because of all the pressure of knowing we were recording a live album and a DVD. We actually rehearsed a lot harder than we usually do, because sometimes we don't play that often. We'll get together once or twice, but for this show we got together a total of six times. It made a difference ya know. But the pressure of all the songs, how long the show was gonna be, and there was some responsibility involved, because a lot of times I will party a little more that I need to before a show. That day I only had one beer before I went on and sipped Jäger throughout the night instead of doing shots, ya know, and everybody was great. It proved... it was like being in a football game that night. It was like the Super Bowl or we don't go.
Being the 30th anniversary, you played music from every Helstar album. How difficult was that picking the songs?
It was very difficult, but in the end, it started to make sense with the ones we picked. Like some you just have to do, no matter what, even if we've been doing them for 30 years. Some we haven't done in a while since this line-up's been back, and one that's never been done since, I don't know, 1995.
I'm sure you've had a chance to see some of the footage by now. How does it look?
Yeah, I have your other DVD from Bang-Your-Head Festival.
It's just as good as that, the quality, but the sounds gonna be better because we're not using the audio from the video. We're using the audio from the recording that's gonna be matched up to the video.
So when's it coming out?
This fall. They're shooting for September, when we go on tour to support it in Europe.
What's the title of it?
To be honest, I think right now, don't hold me to this, but it looks like it will be called just 30 Years Of Hel, very simple.
You said you're gonna tour Europe?
Yes, all the dates are getting put together now. But they're not getting the 20 song, two hour show... (laughs) They may think they are, but that was a one time occasion. (laughs)
Tonight you're doing your birthday show. You're actually playing with two bands, Sabbath Judas Sabbath and Metal Asylum. Is there any reason you have two cover bands?
The original plan was to have Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys, Broken Teeth, Evil United) come down, which would've been really cool. Then there would've been four bands. Then they tossed out a couple of names and I came up with a name that would've been good, but they weren't available, Holister Fracas, I like to kinda mix up the styles. After a while, so many names were tossed my way, I thought "what are they gonna bring?" At this point, let me just go ahead and do a double whammy on this one... and I was right. It's working out fine. Of course, Metal Asylum is having their premier show in Houston. Because of the fact I didn't want to take away from Metal Asylum, Metal Asylum is going on first and doing the longer set and SJS is only gonna do seven songs or something like that. We were going to have the SJS guys come up as special guests anyway, so now it's just turning into them doing more than a couple songs.
Metal Asylum being you new band, is there any plans to franchise that like Sabbath Judas Sabbath?
Hey, You never know... You know what, now that you mentioned it; there's already some Europeans going "dude, we're down and we'd love to see that show" you know how that goes. You know, I'm already kinda doing it over there with the SJS from Slovenia. What we did is call it James Rivera with Metal Steel. They are their own band, so it's the same concept. It's just we're not doing all the cool stuff Metal Asylum is doing, just yet. We're sticking to Seven Witches, Distant Thunder, Helstar and some of their originals, and then throw in the Priest and the Sabbath. We haven't gone to that point of Metal Church and the rest of it, so. It's already there. They just have to learn the other thing to become Metal Asylum. It was years before I took it overseas with SJS anyway. I'd rather Metal Asylum kinda build itself first. What caused it was SJS got so popular that it took time and one started here and one started in Utah and so on, because then it's in demand. It's too soon to go "I'm gonna try this one over there..." it's like hey slow down you've got Malice to worry about, right? We'll wait for that over here.
You'll be doing a special song tonight with SJS, Winds Of Death. Why is that a special song?
Yeah, it was written for Leticia Alt whose birthday we're celebrating tonight along with mine. We'd do that all the time and she passed away. When she passed away, we all took it pretty hard. I was given this music from Killing Machine, that was supposed to start again, and he just happens to send me three new songs, like here's some new material to work on. One of them was the Winds Of Death song, so when I opened this file I listened to the other two, which were great Killing Machine songs and then that one was in there. The minute I started listening to it, the melody came to my head, and my hands just started typing, and the song was fuckin' written in ten minutes, pretty much. Through the whole process, the whole time, I'm crying my eyes out because this whole melody is coming to me and I'm freaking. It's almost like I'm feeling it, then it didn't happen (the Killing Machine project). So when the whole Malice thing got back together, I wrote the guy from Killing Machine. I said "I wrote a killer melody to that, killer words that have a special meaning, I'm sorry to tell you, but I'm taking that and going to rearrange it, but I'm not letting go of that song." He said "Dude, go ahead. Have it. I'm proud that I could help you with it." And that's what happened. So now it's on the new Malice record, and it's better than the other version. But, it's written for everybody in general who face losing loved ones. She inspired it. Let's put it that way, but it's also dedicated to a guy named Guy Hoffman who passed away a month before she did, who pushed me to join Malice. He lived in Southern California. He would just not let up. One night after this party, after a show, a Helstar show Dude, you better join Malice" and Jay Reynolds was there with me in the kitchen, partying. He goes "You need to get this mutherfucker in the band, man. I'm telling you, you guys will go a long way. What's wrong with you?" Then he would call me every couple of months "Dude, did you join Malice yet?" "I don't even know, if I like these guys yet..." But that's how it started. So it has a lot of special meaning to it.
So the new Malice (New Breed Of Godz) is half new songs, half re-recordings?
More of its re-recordings. There are only four new songs, eight old classics and four new ones.
When does that come out?
May 22nd, it hits America.
Are you going to find time to tour with that?
Yeah, we're already booking dates in July for a run from L.A. to Texas.
Cool! I just heard of a project, actually they're about to release their third album, called Empires Of Eden. I don't know, if you've heard about it. It's by Stu Marshall from Australia. On all the songs he uses guest singers. He's got Udo, Bob Rock, Sean Peck from Cage, Steve Grimmett from Grim Reaper, Mike DiMeo from Riot, Carlos Zema...
I was wondering, if you've been approached by any projects...
Oh yeah. I get approached by them all the time. But now that I think Malice is going to be a really productive band, they're gonna be around for a good while and between the tribute bands and Helstar going at full force, I'm proud to say I've got the two killer things going and that's enough for me. I got approached by a band in Germany that wants me to sing on the album. They're getting signed and blah blah blah… I said "guys I'd love too, but I don't have time." Its best for me to just keep it that way for now.
Thanks for your time. Have a good show. I look forward to the new releases; Malice - New Breed Of Godz and Helstar 30 Years Of Hel.
Thank you. Good seeing you again.
Malice - New Breed Of Godz
1. New Breed Of Godz (new song)
2. Hell Rider
3. Against The Empire
4. Branded (new song)
5. Sinister Double
6. Circle Of Fire
7. Stellar Masters
8. Winds Of Death (Angel Of Light) (new song)
9. Air Attack
10. Chain Gang Woman
11. Slipping Through The Cracks (new song)
12. Godz Of Thunder
Helstar 30 Years of Hel setlist:
1. Angels Fall To Hell
2. Toward The Unknown
3. Suicidal Nightmare
4. The King Is Dead
5. Burning Star
6. To Sleep Per Chance To Scream
7. The Plague Called Man
8. Evil Reign
9. Monarch Of Bloodshed
10. Winds Of War
11. Good Day To Die
12. Wicked Disposition
14. Bitter End
15. Harker's Tale
16. Angel Of Death
17. Baptized In Blood
18. Alma Negra
19. The King Of Hell
20. Run With The Pack