The HEXX Quest for Sanity Story
After the release of Under the Spell in 1986, with no tour support from Shrapnel Records, the band began to stagnate. Our drummer Dave Schmidt decides to quit and we started working John Shafer in on the drums. I think we did a total of 10 shows with Dan Bryant–some before the album came out and a few after. Dan Bryant was getting offers for other projects and before long lost interest in being in HEXX. I think he even went down to LA and got an audition for Black Sabbath at that time. I can’t really blame him, he was a very talented guy and I think he saw HEXX as a stepping stone for his career.
Once again we found ourselves abandoned by our lead singer–this time with no more album options left on our Shrapnel deal, we were really down. This was probably the darkest and lowest point in the whole history of the band. It seemed like all the other bands in the bay area were doing well and prospering and we were just floundering and failing miserably. We fell into somewhat of a deep depression that seemed to last for months. It was during this time the songs for what would eventually become The Quest for Sanity EP were written. Of course, as with everything bad and dark that always seemed to happen to the band, comedy and whimsical levity would also seem to spring up out of nowhere and sometimes in the most unlikely places.
I was still living with my then girlfriend Paula Horychuck. We had moved out from my mother and stepfathers house in Richmond to an old
rundown rental house in San Pablo. The house my mother and stepfather lived in was in a nice part of Richmond on the border of El Sobrante, just walking distance to De Anza High school where I had graduated in 1980, as did my mother before me back in the 1950’s. The San Pablo house we rented was on top of a small hill and from one of the windows in the living room you had a pretty good view of the whole Bay Area, including San Francisco on a clear day. Our land lord was a shady San Pablo Biker kind of guy and the San Pablo chapter of Hells Angels house was directly behind our house. The place was dirty and depressing but it was all ours! We could drink and smoke pot and listen to our music as loud as we wanted whenever we wanted.
John Marshall’s parents booted him out of his house around this time and he asked if he could sleep on our couch and share in the rent until Metallica went back on the road again. John had become their main roadie and Kirks guitar tech and was going to go with them to tour in Europe in a month. A few weeks into that tour Paula and I were awakened in the middle of the night by the ringing of the telephone. It was John and he had terrible news. He told me they had just been in a bad accident and that there bus had flipped over and crashed. I was stunned, still half asleep and not even sure if I was dreaming or not I asked John what had happened
and not even sure if I was dreaming or not I asked John what had happened and if he and all the guys were alright. He said that they thought their bus driver had fallen asleep at the wheel and lost control of the bus. He then said He, Kirk, James, Lars and their road manger were pretty banged up but they were alright–but Cliff was killed in the crash. I could not believe it. I thought I must be dreaming. He said it was truly awful. They were touring in a converted school bus, the kind where the windows pop out easily for passengers to escape if necessary. Cliff was asleep in his bunk when the bus flipped over on its side, his window that was covered with cardboard or something popped open and Cliff fell out and was crushed by the bus.
After the band returned to the states it was very sad and only added to the dark times we seemed to be having. Months later when they started to addition for a new bass player Bill got a chance to try out. He could play the material with ease but as we all know the job went to Jason Newstead.
I lost the day job I had at the time, Paula and I fell on hard times and could no longer pay the rent for that shitty, dirty, run down old house. There was an even shiftier and dirtier, and even more depressing, trailer camper that was sitting in the front yard though! Our land lord took pity on us and said we could move in the trailer if we wanted for $200 a month. That seemed like a lot for that old dumpy trailer, but we could afford it on what Paula made as a waitress in Albany. So there we were. The most depressing point of the bands history and now I was living in this shitty old trailer with a hole in the shower that the weeds would grow up into.
Bill and I had been invited to three bachelor parties right in a row all in the same month. The best was saved for last though–Bill and I were invited to Kirk Hammitts Bachelor party!
Back in those days Kirk would invite Bill and me to certain gigs and parties and we loved being included in some of the fun. We first met Kirk back in the 7th grade. We would collect, sell and trade comic books together. Onetime Kirk invited Bill, John Marshall and myself over to see the house he had bought in the Oakland/Berkeley hills. It was a huge beautiful mansion, we were so impressed. He showed us around and we ended the tour upstairs in what he called his toy room–which was right next to his music room–which was right next to his indoor movie theatre etc. In his toy room we saw carelessly laying on the floor an original copy of the Superman #1 comic book. And not far from that just haphazardly lying around was a pristine copy of Batman #1 followed by
Spiderman #1. Comic books we used to dream and lust over only a few years ago were just lying around on the floor in Kirks toy room. We felt that was his way of rubbing our nose in his fantastic success. There also happened to be in plain view the latest copy of billboard magazine opened to the page showing Metallica’s #1 spot in the album charts for the …and Justus for all album. Yup, Kirk had made it to the top of the heap and Bill and I just felt like hopeless worthless losers.
Bachelor party #1:
We only knew him as Lance. He lived in a bad part of Richmond and was poor and broke like the rest of us so his bachelor party was held in the back yard of his folks house. It was just a simple kegger beer party with bowls of potato chips and dip. Bill and I arrived around 9 pm and the party was in full swing! No strippers or anything like that, just a bunch of horny dudes getting drunk looking at girly magazines and listening to loud heavy metal music. (The simple joys of life in Richmond California!) When we got there we were told that Lance was already wasted and he was out in the back yard rolling around on the grass all fucked up barfing, pissing and shitting on himself and laughing uncontrollably. Apparently he and his groomsmen had acquired a large bag of cocaine and been doing lines of coke all afternoon. They also had a bag of mushrooms they had been nibbling on as well as drinking beer and whisky .
Sure enough, Bill and I step out into the backyard to see a large crowd of drunken dudes all laughing and shouting in a circle around Lance. Lance was rolling around on the grass with his pants and underwear down around his ankles. He was naked from the waist down and he had shit and pissed his pants and I guess he was trying to get them off but he could not get them over the boots he still had on. He had shit, piss and barf smeared all over himself. All over his
face, and legs, all in his hair–just everywhere. He was a total mess and he was just rolling around in his own filth and laughing hysterically. And on top of all that, his dick had shrunken up so much it looked like it was trying to go back into his body like a tiny little turtle head.
I had never seen anything like it. It was quite a funny sight. I think they call it coke dick. Anyway, Bill and I were just having our first beer and starting to get into the festive mood of the party when all of a sudden Lances bride to be shows up with her bridesmaids to check up on Lance to make sure he was not enjoying the company of a stripper. When she saw the state Lance was in she was in total shock. Her and all her bridesmaids were all warring there matching bridesmaids dresses and were just totally disgusted by the whole scene. I guess she must have been humiliated for her friends to see the no dick mess of a man rolling around on the grass she was about to marry.
She screamed I will never marry you Lance!!! The wedding is off!! And she and her flock of bridesmaids stormed off into the night. From that moment on Lance was known to all of us as ‘no-chance-for-romance-shit-pants-Lance’!
Well, as funny as that night was, it only momentarily lifted the darkness and depression that was hovering over the band like a Banshee. But hey, there were still two more bachelor parties for us to attend and we knew Kirks would be a hoot for sure!
Bachelor Party #2:
Bill and I had another friend from high school getting married soon and his Bachelor party was next. We will leave his name out of it for reasons of privacy. We had some errands to run and other band related things to do that night so we decided not to go to the bachelor party after all. My girlfriend Paula was nice enough to drive Bill and I around town to all the places we needed to go. When we had completed our errands for the night it was still pretty early and Paula said, “We are close by to where your friends bachelor party is, you guys want to just pop in for a minute and say hello?”
“Ah, nah let’s just go home we are kind of tired”, I replied.
“That’s fucked up”, she said, “he is one of your friends and his house is just a few blocks away. The least you could do is just drop in and make an appearance, wish him well and then we can go home.”
“Oh alright”, I said, “ if you think it’s that important.”
We pulled up in front of the house and Paula said I’ll just wait here while you guys go in and say hello real quick. I don’t think Paula really knew what a bachelor party really was and this was only the second one Bill and I had ever been to as well.
We went into the house and left Paula sitting outside in the car with the motor running. This bachelor party was of a higher quality than the one we had attended the previous weekend for no-chance-for-romance-shit-pants-Lance.
This party was in full swing–there were several TV’s set up with VCR tape players going showing hard core porno videos, there were lots of good food set out, lots of quality imported beer on ice, a full bar, and colorful balloons and streamers all around and heavy metal blasting out of the stereo.
As soon as we Bill and I walked in we were greeted like special celebrity rock star guests! We were very down and depressed about the state of the band and the last thing we felt like was
rock stars, more like hopeless miserable failures. It sure felt good! Immediately ice cold beers were shoved in our hands and lit joints passed to us as someone started to chop up big lines of cocaine for us.
After just a few minutes of being there Bill and I were feeling really good and found ourselves in total party mode. We both totally forgot that my nice girlfriend was patently waiting for us right outside with the car motor running.
We were just starting in on our second beers and round of joints and lines of coke when all of a sudden a super hot stripper appeared in the living room! All the guys started hooting and hollering and her stripper music came on the stereo and she went into her stripper routine. Bill and I were the only guys there with long hair wearing jeans and black leather jackets. All the other guys there were dressed like they were going to church or something. The first thing this stripper did was to strut right over to Bill and me, whip off her top, grab me by the back of the head and pulled me into her chest and began beating me about the face with her big luscious tits! After she did that I started screaming at the top of my lungs, HELL YEAH!!! Everybody started screaming and whistling and yelling really loud. Paula who?
She did the same thing to Bill and began to make the rounds around the room.
The groom was stripped down to his underwear and positioned in a chair in the middle of the living room. When she got to him the first thing she did was to pull off his underwear so now he was completely naked. He struggled to keep his underwear on but she got them off of him in the end. His face turned beet red and you could tell he was very embarrassed. There it was again, he had coke dick just like no-chance-for-romance-shit-pants-Lance! Just a tiny little turtle head trying to go all the way back into itself! I was amazed!
Apparently the groom had been doing lines of coke all day long. Everybody was pointing and laughing up a storm. It was too bad because his friends had paid the stripper to have sex with him but he could not get it up to save his life! I
guess it was just as well because he married a very nice lady and they are still happily married to this day.
After the stripper had finished her routine she disappeared to the back bed room with some of the guys from the party and we never saw her again. I was talking with some of the guys when Bill came up to me with his eyes all bloodshot and stoned looking and his hair kind of messed up from the stripper. He said, “Hey Watson, what about Paula? We left her outside waiting in the car with the motor running over an hour ago. We were supposed to only stay a few minutes and come right back out.”
“HOLY SHIT!! We better go right now!” We ran outside only to find that Paula had left us stranded at this bachelor party. I knew I was in BIG trouble! We did not have cell phones in those days so I tried to call her on the house phone. She would not answerer. She did not speak to me for days she was so mad at me. We lived together so that made it very uncomfortable. Paula was a pretty cool girlfriend, more tolerant than most I had ever had. After several days went by she finally cooled off enough to start talking to me again. She said she had waited for us for a long time but became furious and drove away after she could hear me screaming and yelling all the way outside the house—even from inside the car. She said it sounded like I was coming in my jeans! My only reply was to sheepishly apologize–again, and state the whole thing was her idea. We reluctantly went only because you insisted. We did not even want to go in the first place! We can all laugh about it now years later and now I was glad I went–things were starting to look up a little bit! Kirk Hammitt’s bachelor party was next. Oh Boy!!
Bachelor Party #3:
Kirks party was held in a kind of run down shabby house in Oakland somewhere. I remember being a little disappointed expecting it to be in someone’s mansion on the hill or a luxurious hotel or something. By this time those guys were very successful. I don’t think there were even any snacks or anything, just a keg of beer. It was kirks first marriage and it was to his long time girlfriend Rebecca. Including Bill and I there was probably only 15 or 20 guys.
This was after Cliff had been killed in the Bus crash but I don’t remember Jason being there just James and Lars and there road manager.
We were all just hanging around talking and I remember at one point Kirk telling Bill and me how we had settled for far less than we deserved with our two shrapnel record deals. I remember thinking he was probably right but what could we do about it now? Bill and I were already feeling pretty low about our music careers, and in stark contrast to Kirks wild success I was starting to feel very depressed.
This was about the time in my life when I started to notice my hair, that had finally after many years grown nice and long, starting to fall out. It was very
depressing. On top of everything else my fucking hair was falling out too! FUCK!
Kirk took notice of it at the party and asked me if I did a lot of speed. I told him that I had been doing a lot and he said I should stop because it was probably what was causing my hair to fall out. (I took his advice and stopped doing all hard drugs from that night on. When I stopped speed it kind of drove a wedge between my girlfriend, Paula, and me. She was not ready to give up hard drugs and it ultimately split us up and she moved out. We had been together for 5 or 6 years. After she left I really hit rock bottom but I still managed to stay away from the meth and coke. I really wanted my hair to come back. It did not. It got worse, my hair loss turned out to be hereditary. Thanks Grand-Dad!
At the party, we were all starting to get a good beer buzz going when these two skanky, toothless ,homeless looking chicks showed up. They were young but they looked like they lived on the street. They were all dirty and looked as if they had been sleeping in the weeds or something. As it turns out James and Lars had found the nastiest Oakland crack whores they could find to be the strippers for Kirks Bachelor party as a joke.
These two chicks grabbed Kirk and dragged him to the middle of the room and tackled him to the ground. The stereo got turned up real loud blasting Heavy Metal music. I thought, “Eww these ugly crack whores are going to strip now, this is going to be gross. I was expecting a beautiful sexy stripper!”
All of us guys formed a circle around Kirk and the two toothless crack whores in the middle of the floor. Everyone was yelling and laughing really loud. The girls quickly took off all their clothes and started taking off Kirks cloths too. He struggled at first but soon just gave up and let them strip him naked.
These two girls were just grinning ear to ear and I could see that James and Lars
were really enjoying it as well. Rather than go into the X rated details here, let’s just say that things were humming right along. Earlier that night I had wondered if Kirk would be doing Cocaine all afternoon like the other two bachelors I had witnessed had done. I was wondering if Kirk would have a shriveled up tiny little turtle head coke dick too. Well, if he had been doing coke all afternoon it sure did not seem to matter. His sails were at full mast, his kickstand was out and he was up and ready for action! You could say, he pretty much had the exact opposite of coke dick!
After a few minutes of X rated fun on the floor for our entertainment, Kirk got up and one under each arm took both of those two dirty, ugly toothless crack whores upstairs to finish what had begun on the living room floor. He seemed to just take it all in stride as
part of being a rock star and being the lead guitar player of Metallica. Everyone cheered him on as he triumphantly ascended the stairs with his two trophies! I was amazed! This party was nothing like I expected but we all sure had a great time!
Bill, Clint, John and I became very close friends at this point in time. We felt like we were down and out and we bonded like brothers. We decided we did not want to get another lead singer type front man guy. We had been down that road twice now and we just figured fuck that!
Bill, Clint and I thought that we would all take a stab at taking over on the vocals. We thought if one of us could handle the job of taking over in the vocals department this would be great because the four of us got along so well we would have no more lead singer problems to deal with. Well, Clint just blew us all away when he stepped up to the microphone to take his turn! We just kind of looked at each other and said, “Well shit. There it is then!”
Clint had his own style much more in the death metal sound and away from the high range melodic singers we had for the past two albums. He sounded really pissed off and angry when he sang and it really reflected our mood and feelings at
His vocal approach worked great with our faster, heavier and more aggressive songwriting direction. I had already written the music and had the title and chorus for Twice as Bright Half as Long. Together Clint and I finished up the verses and I think the first time we ever played that song live was at our last show with Dan Bryant at the Omni in Oakland California sometime in February 1986. It was so new Dan Bryant had to read the lyrics from the lyric sheet onstage. This song was about doing speed, or meth amphetamine which was readily available in the Bay Area. The idea was the candle that burned twice as bright would burn only half as long. This song would set the tone for our new aggressive speed thrash death metal sound.
Towards the end of the 1980’s the metal scene in the San Francisco area changed drastically. Our two power metal albums had gone largely unnoticed and unappreciated, or so we thought. If we wanted to keep gigging in the Bay Area we felt we had to play faster with
more thrash style. Nobody wanted to hear our slow old out of date power metal anymore.
The next song I came up with was Sardonicus. Growing up as a kid my sister and I would love to watch the Saturday night ‘Creature Features’ show on TV. They would play old black and white monster movies from the 1950’s and 1960’s. One of my favorite movies was a film by William Castle called Mr. Sardonicus. A charming story about a ghoul who robs graves and feeds on corpses! No, really it’s about a guy whose father is buried with a winning lottery ticket in his pocket and what happens to him when he goes to dig up the grave and retrieve the ticket so he can cash it in. This song was much longer with a much more complex arrangement than Twice As Bright Half As Long. That was fine by us, we had two new songs down and we felt like we were really on our way developing our new sound. All we needed now was another 8 or 9 songs like these and we could start shopping around for a new record deal!
By this time Paula and I had moved into this little studio apartment on Hurst street in Berkeley California. Hurst st. runs parallel and is one block over from the main drag University Ave. Our apartment complex was conveniently located right behind a liquor store and an all night Hamburger stand. One night I must have had too much booze and cheeseburgers or something because I had the most startling dream. I woke up screaming and crying and shaking all over. I scared the shit out of my girlfriend even though she was used to my night terrors I would have several times a week. It was not unusual for me to scream and yell in my sleep but this was very different. I dreamt I was in a WWII era Nazi concentration camp. It was so real–I still can remember the overwhelming feeling of dread and total fear. It really had an impact on me. In the dream I was surrounded by other prisoners and we were all singing a song–in German!
After my girlfriend calmed me down and I told her about the dream I could
still here the song we were all singing from my dream in my head. All I could remember of the words was the phrase ,“ Die Gedanken Sind Frei”, and the melody that went with it. I always kept a guitar and a tape recorder handy to play and record riffs and arrangements for songs and song ideas, I still do to this day. I picked up my guitar and began plucking out the melody of the song we were singing in my dream. It was very simple but clever, I could not remember the rest of the words we were singing, I did not speak German anyway. I recorded myself playing what I could remember on my guitar and went back to bed and tried to get back to sleep. I was so glad I took the time to record the melody of that song because the next day I could not remember it to save my life, but there it was on my trusty little tape recorder!
Several days passed and the images and feelings were still strong in my mind from the dream. I started thinking I must have got the dream and the song from an old war movie I had seen on television on the late-late show or something. But Paula and I always watched TV together and neither of us could remember watching any WWII movies. It just was not something we would watch at that time. In school there was not a lot of time spent on WWII in our history classes, or if there was I must not have been paying attention. The only images and information I thought I knew about the war was what I picked up from watching the hit TV 1960’s comedy series Hogan’s Heroes as a kid. I loved that show but I hardly think it was trying to be historically accurate. Also my Grandfather was in WWII and was wounded in battle in Germany. Maybe that’s how I heard it?
My Grandfather did not talk to me much about the war and he had passed away before I had an interest in it and had a chance to really talk to him about it.
I had the melody of the song firmly in my brain and was determined to find out if was a real song and where I could have heard it. The melody seemed cheerful to me but with a kind of sad creepy undercurrent that is hard to describe. This was still 1986 or 1987 before everybody had computers and constant access to the internet. I started calling around to public libraries and asking around if anybody had heard of a song possibly from the world war two era with the phrase “Diegedanken sind frie” in it, and if anybody knew if this was German and what it meant. Finally the third or fourth library I called some old man knew enough German to tell me that this was indeed German and that he thought it meant translated something about “our thoughts are free”. I was starting to get a little creeped out and also a little bit excited and intrigued. He put me on hold so he could go and look to see if the library had anything with this title. Sure enough he came back on and told me he had found the song in a book of old German Folk songs. He even managed to find an old record with a version of the song on it–I was amazed! I rushed down to that library and was able to make a photo copy of the lyrics and music as well as check out the record and bring it home and listen to it. When I got home and put the record on and played the song my eyes immediately starting welling up with tears. I was totally overwhelmed with emotion. I am getting a little misty as I remember and write this almost 30 years later!
It turns out after doing some more research that this song might have been sung in some of the prison camps as kind of a protest song to the Germans. This would explain why it would be sung in German by people who might not necessarily speak the language. From this experience I became very interested in knowing all things about World War II, especially from the perspective of Germany. Clint also took an interest as well when I spoke to the guys about my dream and the new song I was writing called ‘Racial Slaughter’. I used my own guitar rendition of the old folksong melody as the acoustic intro to Racial Slaughter you here on the Quest for Sanity EP.
By this time we were developing a kind of unhealthy obsession with all things related to World War II Nazi Germany. Clint and I were reading every book we could get on the subject.
Remember, there is still no internet yet! We weren’t trying to be like Nazi’s or anything, we were just fascinated by this particular part of world history. This is why Clint went off and wrote Fields of Death and Mirror of the Past. So three of the five songs on the Help Your Self Demo and later, the Quest For Sanity EP were songs about WW II. Soon after we had written our WWII songs we heard Slayers, ( Angel of Death). I remember thinking, “Shit, those guys beat us to the punch with that great song about Joseph Mengala and the Auschwitz concentration camp.” Oh well, that’s show biz! To this day I still don’t know why I had that dream or where I picked that song up, but we sure got some good HEXX songs out of it!
Time was marching on. It seemed like the other bands around us were getting record deals playing this more aggressive speed/thrash/death metal style.
Blizzard–later to become Possessed, Forbidden Evil–later to become just Forbidden, Death Angel, Sadus , Blind Illusion, and Autopsy just to name a few were all getting record deals and seemed to be doing well. We had 5 songs at that point that we thought were pretty good. We figured we should demo them up and start sending out our demo tape to secure a new record deal before it was too late. We knew from experience how long it can take to make a demo promotion package, produce a few hundred copies, send them around to all the record labels and wait for a response. In the time it would take to do all that, we would have the rest of the album written and we would be right on track.
After looking and asking around we heard about this little recording studio out in Lockford California. We heard the guy who owned it was real cool and the studio rates were cheap. It was about 80
miles outside of the Bay Area in the middle of all this flat dry farmland. We drove out there one night after work to meet the guy and check out the studio. John Marshall went with us because he was going to engineer the recording for us. John had just graduated from Recording school and was eager to get to work on our new project. The place was an old ranch and seemed kind of funky and run down. The studio seemed okay, it had a 16 track board and plenty of gear. John checked it out and said it should be fine for what we need and the price was right. I think we only had $500.00 to spend on the whole demo, including recording tape.
When we returned on the weekend with all our gear the place looked even more run down in the daylight. There were all these strange people walking about outside in there bathrobes and pajamas and stuff. They all looked like they just got out of bed and were all just kind of wandering around aimlessly. We all got a real weird vibe from it. None of these people were here when we came to look over the place a few nights ago and make the deal to record there. It turned out that this guy ran a home for schizophrenics! Okay we thought, this is a little weird but maybe this is why the studio is so cheap?
We got right to work getting set up and ready to record our new demo. We were full of hope and knew that if we could get these 5 songs recorded well enough we should have a good chance of landing a new record deal and take our rightful place among our peers. We only had the weekend to complete the recording so we were going as fast as we could. We recorded all day Saturday and well into the night until we were just exhausted. We had hoped to get all the recording done Saturday and then have all day Sunday to mix and maybe do an extra over dub or two if necessary. Well, unfortunately the studio was a little funky too. The board was old and had not been serviced in a long time. The patch cords were old and were cutting in and out. The sound would just cut out on playback sometimes and John would actually have to pound on the recording console to get it to come back on. We would tease him, hey John, did you learn that at the fancy recording school you just graduated from? The problems with the equipment in the studio put us way behind schedule. The guy let us crash in the studio so we did not have to get a hotel room we could not afford. None of us got a good nights sleep. Turns out this guy was really weird. All night we would here all this loud moaning and bumping
and thumping about. Loud laughter and screaming from the room next to the studio where we were staying in. We kind of got the idea this guy was having wild sex orgies with all his mental patients or something. We really did not want to know. We just wanted to finish our demo and get the hell out of this crazy place.
We spent all day Sunday recording and then trying to mix the demo before our time ran out and we had to get back to the Bay Area in time to go to work on Monday morning. Well, we did the best we could with what we had to work with but after we got back home and everyone had a few days to listen to it we all agreed it just did not sound good enough. John Marshall found us another studio in San Francisco that was cheap and we went there for a few nights and re mixed the whole thing. It sounded way better! We had our new demo that captured our new aggressive speed/thrash/ death sound at last. We were very proud of it and no one had heard it yet. As far as the world, our friends and peers thought HEXX was dead, or at best struggling along with their brand of hopelessly out dated passé power metal. We were about to show everybody the new faster, deadlier and very pissed off version and evolution of HEXX. We had totally reinvented ourselves out of pure fury and frustration and we were ready to show everybody!
At the time it seemed like no one would help us so we decided we would help ourselves and call the demo the Help Yourself Demo. We wanted to show that we could still do this even if no one helped us at all. However, we did have help actually. Back before Paradox got signed to Shrapnel we had met a lady named Debbie Abono. She lived in Pinole and was helping local bands by letting them practice at her house and buying them music equipment.
She took a liking to us and actually took us down to guitar center and bought us all new equipment. This was a real big deal to us because we were all poor and had real shitty amps and equipment. She bought me a new Marshall stack and Bill a new GK bass rig. She also managed us for a while and was there when we got our deal with Shrapnel records. She was managing Possessed and Forbidden Evil too. When we had our tape dupes all made up we gave her a few to pass around to some of the record labels she was working with. Combat was one of them but they passed on our demo. We sent it out to every label we could think of including Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records. He did not want anything to do with the new thrash/death metal sound that was coming out of the Bay Area.
The weeks rolled on and slowly we started to get back responses from some of the labels we sent our tape to. All the labels were passing on us. We had been rejected by all the ones we sent our promo package to. Depression started to set in on us once again. We figured we must have missed the boat yet again. All the other bands around us had been picked up by record labels and we thought, “Well, who needs another thrash band from the Bay Area? Had we made a huge mistake? Should we have stuck it out and found another lead singer front man guy with a high range voice and just dealt with it?” We were out of steam. This was our last ditch effort to keep HEXX alive and going. We were all feeling the depressing sting and reality of failure.
A few more weeks dragged slowly by without any word from anyone. We had not been rehearsing or even playing our instruments. All our gear was still packed up from when we finished recording the Help Your Self demo. For the first time sense I first picked up the guitar at age 9 I did not feel like playing. It was awful. I just did not have the heart to play anymore. It felt like the best part of me was slipping away and slowly dying. We had no gigs lined up, our new demo showcasing our new style and direction had been rejected by all the record labels. The girlfriend who had been by side through thick and thin for over 5 years was gone, I was totally without the comforts of a woman and on top of all of that, my hair was falling out and I was going bald. I had slipped into a deep depression the likes of which I had never known before.
By this time Bill Peterson, John Shafer, John Marshall and myself were all living together in a house we rented from my aunt and uncle in Point Richmond, California. We all had our day jobs that we all hated except for John Marshall. John Marshall had quit being Kirk’s guitar tech to join Metal Church so he was very happy and excited. Things were really on the up for John and we were all very happy for him. He was getting the chance to get out from under Kirks shadow and step into the spotlight where he belonged.
Every night, after a long day’s work, instead of going to band rehearsals Bill, John Shafer and I would just stay home and drink heavily and smoke pot. It got so bad we would be so hung over from drinking the night before we would take ice cold shots of whisky,
(we liked to keep whisky bottles in the freezer for such occasions), first thing in the morning before heading out for another pointless day of meaningless labor in the hot sun. We would also smoke a joint before we left the house for work. Looking back now, I don’t know how we all managed to keep our jobs showing up reeking of whisky and marijuana first thing in the morning like that. We had truly hit rock bottom and we just did not care anymore.
One night after work there was a message on our answering machine from Debbie Abono. At first I didn’t think anything of it and did not feel like talking to anyone. She just said to give her a call back when we had time. A few more days had passed and there was another message from Debbie saying the same thing, to give her a call back when we have a minute. It was Friday night, the long work week was over and we were really going to get drunk out of our minds tonight! John Marshall said, hey one of you guys should call Debbie Abono back. I had forgotten all about it because her messages got erased. “Alright, I better call her back now before I forget again.”
After talking to Debbie Abono for a few minutes I could hardly talk. I was overcome with emotion and my eyes were welling up with tears. We had given Debbie several copies of the Help Yourself demo package. She sent them to her contacts at Combat Records and Metal Blade. Both labels had passed on the demo so we thought no more about it. Unknown to us, she had also sent our demo package to a label from England we had never heard of called Music For Nations. They were knocked out by our demo and wanted to know if we would like to re record it and release it as a 5 song EP in Europe just to test the waters to see if metal fans would accept this radical change of music style from HEXX. They were offering us a recording budget of $8000 USD, plus full budget for
artwork print adds, etc. When I got off the phone and told the guys we all started jumping up and down for joy, yelling and screaming like little kids!
We called Clint to give him the good news and he was overwhelmed as well. I think maybe he thought it was his fault we had failed because of his vocals. All it took was one record label to believe in us and get behind us and we were back in action. There would be at least one more release from HEXX and it was going to showcase our new style and direction! You’ve heard that old expression, it’s always darkest before the dawn? Man, let me tell you, we really know what that means–but why do we always have to cut these things so close?!
We now had good reason to pick up our instruments and start playing again. We got the contracts in the mail, signed them, and sent them right back. We did not have a lawyer look them over for two reasons. One, we could not afford it and two, it really did not matter. This was the only ship sailing for HEXX so we were getting aboard no matter what. Things started to move quickly, we were notified of the contracts being finalized and that the eight thousand dollars had been transferred to our account. $8000 was a lot of money just for 5 songs. Our budget for both our Shrapnel records was $10,000 for 10 songs. I went to the bank to withdraw the money so we could put down the deposit to book and hold our studio recording dates. I will never forget, it was so strange–I just walked up to the bank teller and told her I wanted to withdraw $ 8000 in cash. She looked at me like she was waiting for me to brandish my gun or something. I bet she must have had one finger on the alarm button! I did not stop to think maybe I should have tied my hair back and worn normal looking cloths to go into a bank and withdraw all that money. I think I was wearing a satanic looking Slayer t-shirt on under my black leather jacket with my long hair hanging down, and of course my dark sunglasses.
After much whispering amongst themselves behind the counter, the bank teller went into the vault and after a few moments emerged with a grey cloth bag with draw strings. She started counting out piles of money aloud and neatly stacking them behind the counter. “Bla-bla-bla and that makes eight thousand dollars.” Then she just hands me this big bag of money, “Is there anything else we can do for you today Mr. Watson?”
I had smoked a joint with the guys before I left the house to go to the bank and I was still a little stoned and kind of tripping on the whole experience. I had never even seen that much money before, let alone have someone just hand me a big sack of it. I was caught off guard when she called me Mr. Watson. I instinctively looked behind me expecting to see my father standing over my shoulder. Feeling kind of foolish I said ‘no thank you’ and walked out of the bank climbed into the luxurious 1980 sky blue Ford Pinto I owned at the time and headed back to Point Richmond and Starlight Sound Studios to plunk down our deposit for our studio dates. We were on our way–once again.
By this time we had come up with the Quest for Sanity concept along with some basic ideas for some artwork. We knew we could not call it the Help Yourself EP. During the next two weeks, we worked on the artwork concept with Kent Mathieu while rehearsing the songs that would be on the EP. Kent Mathieu was a super cool dude, he lived in Berkeley and grew killer green
buds so we always liked to go to his house , get high and kick around ideas for album cover art–it was great! By the time we were ready to go into the studio, Kent was working on the painting for the cover. The recording took less than two weeks to complete and again we hired John Marshall to engineer the record.
The recording and artwork were finished about the same time. We shipped our recorded safety masters along with the painting, logo and title overlays, lyric sheet and another photo collage similar to the one we did on Under the Spell, off to England for possessing and pressing. The staff at Music for Nations had no idea what the cover art was going to look like. It was kind of strange to us because the first two albums we did for Mike Varney, he handled almost everything. He would pay the studio, photo shoot and artwork costs. Here, this label all the way on the other side of the world who we had never even met in person just sent us a big bag of money and just trusted us to be responsible enough to send them a sellable product. We could have easily spent all that money on wine, women and song disappearing into the night and there would have been very little they could have done about it.
Another week past and our spirits were up. We didn’t seem to mind going to our laborious day jobs anymore. The heavy drinking subsided a bit as well. Or maybe now we drank to celebrate our reprieve from the “HEXX, where are they now file”. Music For Nations, being located in England made communications a little troublesome. This is before the internet and the luxury of email. They were 7 or 8 hours ahead of us and we would get calls from their office in the wee hours of the morning waking us from a dead sleep to talk business. I got the call one night from one of our reps there that
everything had arrived safely and that they were just blown away by the recording and the cover art painting by Kent Mathieu. In a very British accent he exclaimed with excitement, “It’s really quite amazing! Good job lads!” It would still take two more months for all the production parts to be processed and the records to be pressed and nother month to the release date and for us to get our promo copies, but we did not care, we were just so happy to have our music being put out there. Now maybe we could compete and start gigging with all the other speed/thrash /death metal acts that seemed to be taking the world by storm.
When Quest for Sanity was finally released in Europe, Music For Nations took out half page ads in most of the big metal magazines, We were very proud. After being down and out again, we were back, meaner, faster and mad as hell! Our frustration poured from the groves of that record like a fatal flesh wound. When the reviews started coming in from all the trade magazines who had reviewed it, it was a real mixed bag. It seemed like nobody knew we had changed styles and most people were expecting another power metal release from HEXX. Most of the reviews were very positive, but all expressed shock and amazement that we had done this. Not to mention that we could do this. The camps seemed to be divided. Most of the power metal fans did not care for Quest for Sanity. Maybe they felt betrayed and they might have thought we were just jumping on the band wagon of the new death/thrash metal craze that was taking off. To a cretin point that may have been true, but what was also true is that we had become very pissed off and frustrated. This naturally manifested itself in our music. We did, however, manage to pick up a whole bunch of new fans that seemed to love it!
It took a little while for the word to get out that HEXX was back with a new release and that we had changed our style. In some ways this really worked to our advantage because there was a cretin curiosity factor there. We started getting asked to play shows again. We began doing some shows with Sadus and Autopsy. Soon we were opening for bands like Destruction, Dark Angel, Coroner, and playing the Keystone clubs again. We were having a blast! We would play Quest for Sanity in its entirety and throw in Edge of Death, Under the Spell , A time of War and Out for Control. We now had a killer live set and we could really get the mosh pit going full tilt!
We started looking around for an American Label to release Quest for Sanity domestically. We were told after a while from Music for Nations that EP’s don’t sell as much as full LP’s and that’s why the sales in Europe were just okay and not great. Still, we figured someone would surly pick us up now. Pretty much the same thing happened with Quest for Sanity as did the Help Yourself demo. We sent the EP to all the metal labels and they all said they weren’t taking on anymore thrash/Death metal bands at this time. SHIT! The EP had pretty much run its course in Europe. Again without any tour support we were going to be very limited with how many records we would sell there. It became obvious that it was critical that we get Quest For Sanity released here in the states as quickly as possible or our goose would be cooked—again.
We were doing a show somewhere in Los Angeles when after the show we were
approached by a guy calling himself Richard C. He explained how he had a small record label called Wild Rags Records here in LA. He seemed to know all about HEXX and wanted to know if we had a release date for Quest for Sanity here in the United States. We told him we have not yet found a label to release it domestically yet. He asked us we would like to discuss the possibility of putting Quest for Sanity out on his Wild Rags Record label? We said sure why not? After all, at this point we had nothing to lose. We reached an agreement and signed the necessary contracts and documents.
It turned out that Richard C. owned a retail store in LA called Wild Rags. It was a hip clothing store for hard rock and metal fans. He had a large inventory of rock and metal t shirts and record albums and cassettes. As well as all kind of heavy metal accessories like spiked wrist bands leather gear and so on. He operated his record label out of his store. He showed us some of his releases but we had never heard of any of the bands. He also had an underground Heavy Metal newsletter called the wild Rag. He said he would arrange for us to play in New York and in Texas with some of the bands from his label. As well as print up Quest for Sanity tour shirts to sell on the road along with copies of the EP. It was actually a pretty cool set up for us.
Richard C. pressed the new US version of Quest for Sanity within a few weeks and it was ready to ship out to his distributors and hit the awaiting US market. We were very happy! We managed to luck out again with
just enough support to keep us going, plus we were going to tour in the US to support Quest for Sanity come springtime. Things were going great–we were becoming much more popular in the bay area than we ever had before, and now our EP Quest for Sanity was about to be released in America. Richard C. wanted us to have a special Record release party show in the bay area to kick off the release. This would help generate interest in the release as well as help get us some much needed press. Richard C. was already paying for print ads in some of the major US metal magazines but was more focused on the underground fanzines to help get the word out cheaply.
We had booked our Quest for Sanity Record release party show to be in October(1989) at the Omni in Oakland California the weekend right before Halloween. We were all very excited about it because we were headlining of course, and Sadus was going to be our support act. Richard C. came up with the idea that he would give away a free copy of Quest for Sanity with every paid ticket to the show. This really helped us stir up some interest in the show. There was a lot of buzz going on about the show and presold tickets were strong. On the flyers for the show we advertised about the free record giveaway.
We were back to our normal schedule of rehearsing the set twice a night, every night. It was really brutal during the work week because after putting in a long day of hard labor we were just exhausted. We pushed ourselves on and after we got to our practice room and smoked a joint and had a couple ice cold beers we would get our attitude adjustment and kind of get our second wind. It was around 4:50 pm Friday October 17th 1989, I was Forman on a paint job in Berkeley California. We would normally work until 4:30 pm and then spend the last half hour of the day cleaning up the job site. On Fridays I would usually knock off a half hour early so my crew would have plenty of time to get back to the shop and get to the bank in time to cash their paychecks. We were working on a 10 story apartment complex just off Ashby Ave. It was a big job and we had to use a set of falls to reach all the way to the top of the building. (A set of falls is a long plank made of wood and steel supported by ropes run along the rooftop and fastened to giant metal hooks attached to ledge at the opposite side of the building.) I had worked with a set of falls many times before but this was the first time I was responsible for the safety of the men while we are working on them and making sure they were properly secured every night before we left the job site. I was driving the company vehicle back to our shop a few blocks away. It had been a long
grueling work week with a full rehearsal schedule to boot and I was very tired and dreading having to be on my feet another 4 hours or so at practice.
I was driving west on Dwight Ave towards the Bay when all of a sudden it felt like I had a flat tire or something. The truck became impossible to control so I pulled over to the side of the street to see what the matter with the vehicle was. The truck was stopped but it was rocking back and forth violently. We were having an earth quake. A BIG earth quake! I looked to see all the telephone polls that ran down Dwight Ave waving back and forth causing the telephone and power wires to look like they were skipping rope–I had never seen anything like it!
Being born and raised in the San Francisco bay area I had been in several earth quakes and grew up knowing that we lived in earth quake country and someday the big one was going to hit us. I thought to myself this must be it. The violent shaking lasted for what seemed like 5 minutes or so. People were coming out of their houses screaming and crying–it was really scary.
Then all of a sudden we heard a big explosion coming from behind us. I could see large plumes of black smoke coming from the direction of the University of Berkeley campus. I found out later that the science department building had blown up or something. After the shaking finally stopped, I decided I had better get back to the shop drop off the truck and get home to see if there was any damage to the 100 year old house we were renting from my aunt and uncle. Once I got back to the shop some of the guys from the other crew were gathered around one of the trucks in the
yard listening to the radio. The emergency broadcasting system had taken over the airwaves and some of the first news reports about the earth quake were coming in. The first one was that the Bay Bridge had collapsed! That really freaked everybody out. Then they reported that some of the major freeways and over passes had also collapsed. The baseball World Series was going on in the city, oddly enough between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s. It was billed as the battle of the bay. The stadium did not collapse but everyone attending the game were pretty shaken up and terrified. They went on to say that parts of San Francisco were in ruins and fires were breaking out everywhere. It was almost like a dream. I could not believe it was really happening. I got into my car and started to head home to point Richmond.
Using the freeways it would only take me around half an hour in traffic to get from Berkeley to Point Richmond. Hearing on the news that a lot of the freeways were damaged and unusable, I decided to take side streets all the way home. It took me over 3 hours to drive through the chaos and crowded streets to get home. It was a total mess. The earth quake occurred right at 5:00pm and everyone was getting off work and trying to get home. The Bay Bridge connecting San Francisco to the east bay was out. People working in the city and living in the east bay were stuck in SF and vice versa. When I finally got home night had fallen. It was eerie. There was no electricity, the telephone lines were down, everything was dark. Bill and John had already made it home and we were all glad to see that we all were safe. We walked up the hill by our house where we could see across the bay to San Francisco.
I never will forget how the city looked. It was so weird and creepy. Instead of seeing all the lights of the city skyline it was in total darkness–except for all the orange glow of all the fires burning. Needless to say our long awaited US record release party scheduled for the following weekend in Oakland was canceled and postponed indefinitely. As was I suppose most every other activity you could think of except getting the city and east bay area up and running again.
By February things had finally started to get back to normal around the bay area. We rescheduled our record release party at the Omni and it was a great success. For some reason Richard C didn’t give out our records as people came through the door to the venue. He waited until after our performance at the end of the night. Maybe he thought it was a smart marketing strategy or something.
When they made the announcement over the P A system that we were giving away free copies of Quest For Sanity at our merchandise booth, he was mobbed–it was total mayhem. He started to tell everyone to form a line and, of course, that just went out the window! By now our fans were nice and drunk and fired up by our performance. They just mobbed him like animals and took every last record we had as well as some other stuff we didn’t really want to give away for free.
Summer was approaching and so was our little mini tour of Texas. Texas is huge and one of the largest states in America. Metal was very popular there. Richard C. had two bands on his label from Texas, Sufferance (formerly Annihilator) and Gamacide. We flew into Corpus Christy and were met by Alex and the rest of the guys from Sufferance. We were going to do 3 or 4 gigs with them in the lower half of the state. We had never been to Texas before so we were very
excited to be there. It was very humid. The place was kind of a mess. Broken trees and tree branches were all in the streets and everything looked disheveled. Alex explained that a hurricane had just hit Corpus Christy a few days earlier.
After picking us up at the airport they took us to our hotel where we would stay our first night. Our first gig was set for the following night. The hotel was right across freeway from the gulf coast of Mexico. We were traveling on a tight budget and both bands were staying at the same hotel complex, four guys to each of two rooms. Our hotel was about as cheap as you could get. The place was a rundown dump. Just the kind of place where drunk and unruly heavy metal maniacs should stay! We had been drinking on the plane ride over so we were still a little buzzed. It was getting late, after midnight. The hotel complex was very old and run down. The units were separate single story little shacks.
As we started to walk along the driveway to find our room Clint noticed a huge cockroach crawling along the outside wall of one the hotel units. You know that saying, everything is bigger in Texas? Well for a lot of things that is true. It sure was about the cockroaches we saw there!
This cockroach was the biggest cockroach any of us had ever seen. It was at least 3 or 4 inches long and an inch or more wide.” Oh God! KILL IT! KILL IT!, someone said jokingly. Clint was drunk and started trying to stomp the thing with his foot as it crawled across the outside wall of this unit. Clint is big and tall with long legs and he had the longest hair of all of us. When he kicked the wall of this shack it made a real loud noise and you could see the whole shack shake every time he kicked the wall. It was hilarious, he was too drunk to kill the cockroach. We were all laughing hysterically it was such a sight. A light came on inside the unit Clint was stomping on with his great big feet. A man and woman drew the curtain to see eight or nine guys all in black leather jackets and long hair laughing hysterically standing outside their hotel room while the biggest one was trying to kick the whole place down! They quickly shut the curtain and turned out the light. I can’t imagine what they must have thought.
When we finally got to our hotel room, we opened the door and clicked on the light. Clint screamed, “Oh no!” There were hundreds of those big black cockroaches all over our hotel room. All over the beds, the floor, crawling on the walls and drapes–everywhere! We had never seen anything like it. It was like something out of a horror movie. They were all scurrying away because we turned on the light and in just a few seconds they were all gone. Not one to be found. “Where did they all go so fast?” we wondered. One thing was for sure, they were not far away and would surely be back if we turned off the lights. For that first night of our tour we left the lights on all night long. I don’t think anybody really got any sleep that night for fear of falling asleep and wakening up covered in those huge black Texas size cockroaches!
We toured the southernmost part of Texas for about a week or so with Sufferance. Some shows were better than others but everywhere we went people seemed to know about us and we would usually have a decent crowd to play to. Alex and the guys from Sufferance were really cool guys and we all got along and had a great time with them. The Northern part of the Texas tour we would hook up with another one of Richard C’s bands called Gamacide. They were just outside of Dallas and all lived together in a house in a Dallas suburb. We had to take a bus from Corpus Christy up to Dallas. We had a few days before our first shows with Gamacide so it was a good opportunity for us to hang out, drink beer smoke dope and party with those guys , and get to know one another a little bit. We did another week’s worth of bookings with those guys and we all had a blast!
After we flew back to San Francisco we had about month to rest up before we were to fly to New York to meet up with another one of our Wild Rags Records label mates, The Jersey Dogs. This was the first time we had been on the east coast so we were very excited. Being from New Jersey, the Jersey Dogs were very proud of being from New Jersey and from the east coast in general. They drove us all around Ney York and showed
us all the sights. Those guys were also very cool and we all got along great and had a great time doing shows with them. The shows we did in New York were very much like the shows we played in Texas. They were mostly small clubs and all the metal heads from that town would show up to check out whatever band was touring through. Some nights we would have raging mosh pits and everyone going crazy but sometimes they would just stand there and stare at us in disbelief and then start clapping and cheering after each song.
After we returned home at the end of that summer Richard C asked us if we wanted to go back into the studio and record another EP to follow up Quest for Sanity. Clint had just written Watery Graves but we did not have any other new material ready enough to record right away. Richard C suggested we record speed/trash/death metal versions of Edge of Death and Under the Spell. We had been performing them in our live set anyway so we thought, why not? We went back to Starlight Sound Studios in Richmond Ca and again with John Marshall at the helm knocked out the three song EP in about 4 days. It was great because this gave us another chance to hang out with our artist friend Kent Mathew again, smoke a bunch of pot, drink a bunch of beers and dream up the cover art for the new EP. This time we would have our android friend from the cover of Quest for Sanity washing up on the beach after a bloody futuristic battle at sea. The title being of course, Watery Graves.
Watery Graves was a limited pressing and only released in the US at this point.
It got us some more press and some more reviews in the trades but because it was only a 3 song EP it did not break any sales records. We knew we had better get to work on a full length album right away. Having released two EP’s in our new style we were ready to take it up another notch with our music. We did not realize until many years later what a courageous gamble changing our style over to the speed/thrash/death metal style really was. Looking back now it was the only thing we felt like we could do or really felt like doing. We felt like we had been accepted by our fans and felt warranted pressing on but we were still looking for a big break. The right label to get behind us and a chance to really flourish and bloom as musicians and creative artists.
We managed to avoid defeat once again by the skin of our teeth for at least the time being. We were still restless and unsatisfied and there was a storm brewing in all our collective consciences that would fuel our fires of passion and frustration. Little did we know that our long and troubled Quest for Sanity would lead us to a Morbid Reality.