The Under The Spell Story…
I guess the Under The Spell story really begins at the end of the No Escape story. After No Escape had been released on Mike Varney’s Shrapnel label in 1984 we decided to add another Guitar player to the Hexx line up to help fill out our sound live. Because of all the guitar overdubs I was able to do in the recording studio it was necessary so we could better recreate live the fullness of the guitar sound on the album. Enter….. Mr. Clint Bower! Clint joined us right after No Escape came out and performed with the band at all the gigs and shows we did to support our first release. We were still pretty young and naive about how the music business worked in those days and it slowly dawned on us that Shrapnel records had done everything it was going to do for us for that album. Without any real management, tour support or label support in Europe after a year, it seemed like the buzz and interest in the band was tapering off. It was now around January or February of 1985.
Our deal with Shrapnel was a two record deal with Shrapnel holding the option to fund another album release…. or not. When I approached Mike Varney about the possibility of recording a second Hexx album he said we would have to write and demo up all the songs for the album so he could decide if the material was going to be good enough to warrant Shrapnel records picking up the option.
I had already been working on riffs, arrangements and lyrics for new songs with bassist Bill Peterson, and had the first song….witch was actually Under The Spell, pretty much finished.
I showed it to Manzo and he tweaked some of the lyrics and vocal phrasing a little bit and it was done. That night was the last time I saw Dennis Manzo for over 25 years or so, until he joined back up with us to start rehearsing to perform at the Keep It True Festival in Germany. He had decided he did not want to pursue a career in music and quit the band to start a job in the banking world.
This was a major setback for us. Even though we were from the San Francisco bay area, a well known hot bed of talented musicians and artists, good heavy metal vocalists with a melodic high range did not exactly grow on trees.
At that point the future of the band was really in question. We were not even sure we were going to be picked up for our second album option and we had just lost our singer that had really helped define our sound. We started franticly looking around for another singer. We had gotten a few demo tapes of guys and most of them were just not good enough to follow what Manzo had done on No Escape.
Clint Bower had a long time friend and drummer by the name of John Shafer. John was always around and came to every rehearsal and gig and eventually became Dave Schmidt’s roadie and under study. Dave took John under his wing so to speak and showed him all the things and techniques he had learned. This worked out well because shortly after Under The Spell was released Dave Schmidt left the group and John Shafer took his place and is back with the band today carrying on the legacy bestowed to him by Dave Schmidt!
Anyway…..John told us about a vocalist we should check out he saw not too long ago performing at a local gig that sounded a lot like Ronnie James Dio. John somehow knew or found out where this guy lived and we all went to his house in Oakland to check out his band rehearsing one day.
This guy turned out to be Dan Bryant! He had these young kids backing him up and I think he was teaching them how to play all their instruments. Dan Bryant as we soon found out could also, in addition to being a great singer, played guitar, bass and drums! And he did have a voice that sounded kind of like Dio and we thought he would be a suitable singer to take over for Manzo and would fit in great with the group and help us sound the way we wanted our new material to sound.
We explained to Dan Bryant our situation with our record label and talked him into doing a demo with us to see if we could get our second album out. He and his band at the time had no prospects for getting signed yet so that’s how, luckily for us, we were able to snatch him away from his other project.
During the weeks and months prior to finding Dan Bryant I was feverishly working on riffs and putting together material for us to work on to go on the demo. I had the riffs and basic arrangement of the next song and after a little polishing tweaking and working together with Bill Peterson, The Victim was born!
I was starting to listen and become more aware of the trash and speed metal styles that were popping up around the S.F. Bay area. We all loved and were influenced by Deep Purple , Rainbow Black Sabbath etc. and I was trying to come up with material that would complement Dan Bryant’s vocal style. I wrote Edge of Death in about an hour one night. With a little trash metal influence combined and contrasted with a slower and heaver verse sections. It seemed to suit Dan Bryant’s vocal style very well.
A Time of War I think was the next song to come together. I can’t remember now who wrote what parts on that one. I wrote the lyrics and Bill Peterson , Clint Bower and I all collaborated on the music and arrangement. I think I probably came up with the intro and solo section.
I think Clint Bower had come up with the main riff for Out For Control, then Dan Bryant and Bill Peterson and I came up with the rest of the arrangement and again I probably came up with the solo section. I think Dan Bryant had a hand in the lyrics on this one too.
With The Hexx I think I was trying to have a little speed/trash influence kind of like Edge of Death but with more faster parts. I think our drummer Dave Schmidt had the drum intro going and we kind of built the song around that I think Dan Bryant wrote most of the lyrics for that one.
I soon had all the riffs, music and arrangement for what was to become Suicide but I did not have the lyrics yet. At the time my girl friend, Paula Horychuck and I had moved into my mom and step dads house temporarily until we could find another apartment to live in. One night Paula got a phone call from her father telling her that her cousin whom she was very close to had just committed suicide. That night, with tears streaming down her face she wrote the lyrics to Suicide. I came up with the vocal phrasing and fit it to the music I had going and that one was done.
Fever Dream was based on a story by Ray Bradbury. Bill was reading one of his books at the time and had turned me on to the story. I had also recently had horrible nightmares one night after eating too much cheap Chineese food and drinking way too much whisky! I think I had came up with the lyrics first and then put together a bunch of riffs I had left over that did not make it into other songs. If you listen to that song the riffs and chord progressions are really weird and trippy……kind of like my nightmares!
The last song we developed for the demo was a song Dan Bryant had going called Golden Cross. Dan had wrote both the music and lyrics to this one and that’s how it appears on the demo. When we finally did go to record the new album I wrote new lyrics for it and is now known as Midnight Sun.
We were all pretty broke at that time and to this day we have not seen a dime from No Escape, but we still all had our day jobs. Dave Schmidt had a good job as a hazardous waste disposal engineer. He was on call and would have to go at the drop of a hat and go suit up and go help clean up some toxic chemical tanker truck spill on the free way somewhere. I talked to Dave just last year and he is still doing that kind of work but he is higher up in the company now.
Bill Peterson worked as a Fire extinguisher sales and service man for a company called Bay Area Fire. I worked there with Bill too for a while but was not working there at this time.
Clint Bower worked in a copy mat place where they have a bunch of copy machines and make flyers and photo copies etc.
Dan Bryant had a job making Flight cases for various music and other types of fragile equipment.
I was working in the painting trade painting houses in the Berkley and Oakland areas.
All of us having our day jobs made it possible for us to all save up and chip in to pay for what is now known as the Under The Spell Demo! Someone told us of a cool studio up in Northern California where we could get a good quality demo made cheaply. So we blocked out about a week of studio time and went up
there and laid down all the songs and material we had been working on. Two of the songs did not have lyrics and we were toying with the idea of having a couple of instrumental tracks on the album but Mike Varney talked us out of that idea later on.
After the demo was all recorded and mixed I quickly sent Mike Varney a cassette copy including the lyric sheets. I think it took him a week or maybe two to get back to me. Let me tell you we were all very nervously awaiting Mike Varney’s response to our demo. We all poured our guts and money into that batch of songs and we kind of figured that if he did not like it for whatever reason and chose not to pick up the option for our second album, it would most likely be the end of the road for Hexx.
Looking back now, if he had passed on the option we still had what we thought was a pretty good demo tape and could have shopped it around to other labels but of course everyone and their brother was shopping there amazing demo tapes around at that time. The competition coming out of the Bay Area at that time was becoming very fierce!
The day finally came when I was to receive the call I had been waiting for from Mike Varney…………..
On the demo one of the songs I wrote was a little more thrasher and had no lyrics and no title. We just referred to it simply as the instrumental. Mike Varney did not like the thrasher elements starting to develop in our music, however he was impressed enough with the rest of the songs we recorded with Dan Bryant to pick up the option for our second album and we were then put on the schedule at Prairie Sun studios in Cotati California to record the Second full length Hexx album! All our persistence and hard work had paid off. There would be at least one more album from HEXX!!!!!
Now with another full blown studio album to record soon, we still needed at least one more song. Bill Peterson had a riff and some lyrics with an unusual feel to it that we started messing around with. This developed into what would become Hell Riders. Dan Bryant tweaked the lyrics, I added some solo parts and now all the material was together for our new metal offering!
It’s mind boggling and amazing how much hard work, effort and luck goes into being in a band and trying to get a record deal and have your music get out there and heard by the people. The odds are really against you on so many levels. Looking back we were pretty lucky to have one record out, let alone getting to do a follow up. I really think being able to get Dan Bryant on board at that time had a lot to do with us being able to continue and move forward after Manzo left the band. We figured Manzo would be a hard act for anyone to follow so he would have to be really good!
Anyway……… when you finally get to that point and are getting ready to finally record a record for real, lots of things have to happen quickly. Not only do you have to have the band very well rehearsed and razor sharp to be ready to record in the studio, …… ( After recording no Escape we had a good idea of how fast we needed to record to stay on budget and still manage to get a decent product that could compete with all the other metal records that were coming out at the time) …..but you also have to think about the cover art, who is going to do it? What should the cover be about and look like? What is the back cover going to look like? What about the band logo this time? What will be the track list….what will be the order of the songs? Which ones will go on side A? Which songs will go on side B? What about the liner notes and special thanks section? All the lyrics have to be confirmed and proof read for errors. A photo shoot has to be set up and a new batch of photos must be taken and one chosen to go on the cover somewhere. Oh yeah……and everyone in the band AND the record label have to all agree on EVERYTHING!!!!! Believe me, this takes nothing less than a bloody Christmas miracle!! And, all this is going on while you are trying to concentrate on making the best album of your life because if it aint, it very well might be your last!
Well, that all being said, It is still all very much fun, thrilling and exciting to go from thinking and realizing that the band might be totally over and done with, in one minute, and all our hard work gone
for nothing,…..and the next minute, jumping right into gearing up to record a new album, having a second chance, a new lease on life so to speak, and having hope that we might still have a shot at climbing up the ladder of success another rung or two……..like all the other hundreds of bands all around us seemed to be doing!!!
Okay, so right off we started to think about cover art. Our friend Alvin Petty did the No Escape cover for us last time and he had also just done Metallica’s Creeping Death cover as well so we wanted to try something a little different this time around.
My father was a very good artist, his medium was oils and he had been painting most of his life. He was known for being a little difficult to deal with and so far had not been able to sell many of his paintings. So I got the bright idea of having him do the cover art for us. He was broke…. just like his son, and could use the $ 500.00 bucks we had for the cover art budget and I thought it could be a good break for him to possibly get more jobs doing album art. The guys had seen some of his artwork and agreed to give him a try. We all went over to his house one day and brought with
us 10 or 15 current metal albums to show him examples of what our cover art would have to look like to compete with in the market place. ( My dear old dad was never quite up on current trends of music or fashion ……or anything really ) So after looking over all the album covers we went ahead and pitched the idea we were all talking about.
We wanted something darker and a little more disturbing than the No Escape cover, something to reflect what we thought was our newly evolving heavier and darker sound. We described to him Something like a real scary looking Voodoo witch doctor dancing around in a lit up hexagon with a bunch of bones and sculls and shrunken heads on sticks and stuff under a creepy moon lit sky in the jungle or something. He seemed to like the idea and said he would come up with some preliminary sketches for us to look over in a few days or so. When we went back to look over the sketches it actually looked pretty cool, and much like we had envisioned……..except for one little thing. He had not put in any bones, skulls or shrunken heads on sticks that we requested. When I pointed this out to him he just kind of shrugged it off like it was no big deal, this was just a rough sketch kind of thing so we thought nothing more of it and told him to go ahead and start painting it. A couple weeks went by and he called me to have everyone come by and take a look at the finished painting. We were all very excited and thrilled to see the next Hexx album cover art!
When we got there and went up into his art studio, he unveiled the painting for us. At first we all kind of gasped with excitement because it was very colorful and interesting, very well done and very close to what we had described for him to create for us.
However……there were some obvious problems with the painting. What was supposed to be a real scary Voodoo witch doctor, turned into a mildly frustrated and pissed off looking Mayan tribesman. Also there was no bones, sculls or shrunken heads on sticks! After several moments of awkward silence I finally said to my father, who had obviously put a lot of time and effort into this painting……..Say dad this
is really great……..but I thought you said this was finished. Where are all the bones, sculls and shrunken heads on sticks we had asked for? He said as far as I am concerned it IS finished!!! I won’t ever allow any bones, sculls or shrunken heads on MY artwork!! ….. Another
long awkward silence ensued. We all knew that this artwork as it was, would not be scary or shocking enough to compete with all the other metal album art that was flooding the market at that time. The way he said that to us let us know there was no hope of working with him further and talking him into adding the sculls and shrunken heads and things. We all just instinctively looked at each other and silently walked out of his house. I was so embarrassed and angry with him that I did not speak to him for two or three years after that. Many years later he gave me the painting as what I perceived as a kind of peace offering . The painting was just as we had left it, except he painted in our logo on the lower left side.
Okay……so …..moving on to plan B! We had already had wasted too much time with that whole debacle and time was running out. We had to find another artist fast and start all over from scratch! Luckily Mike Varney was working with an artist that had just done some work for some of his other bands. He put me in touch with Guy Atchison, I think he lived in Chicago. We had some phone conversations and I think it was his idea to change our original idea from a witch doctor dancing around outside at night, to more of a wizard in a cave conjuring up spirits and things. I told him the story of what had happened with my Dad, and that we were in kind of a hurry. He asked me if we wanted him to paint our logo on as well and I told him…… whatever you do, do NOT paint the logo on the artwork!!!! I told him that we have an overlay we will use so we can decide the best placement for it on the artwork.
I guess he didn’t like the idea of us having control over where our logo would sit on his artwork because after a few weeks the painting showed up at my house, and sure enough he had painted a big weird looking red logo right on the artwork. There was nothing we could do about it. It was too late, we had run out of time and the painting had to go into production just the way it was. Big weird looking red logo and all! We were all pretty bummed about it at the time but we just had to live with it. The artwork itself we thought was amazing!!! So we eventually got used to it. But now, almost 30 years later, Metal Blade records is re releasing No Escape and Under the Spell and we have corrected the problem by having the blue logo from No Escape put on the Under the Spell as well! ( see photos )
Now that the artwork was done we still had to take new band photos fast! By now it was December of 1985. We were about to go into the studio sometime in mid January to start recording, so Mike Varney hastily booked us a photo shoot with one of the photographers he often used for all his other bands. For some reason we all decided ( except for Dan Bryant ) to smoke a big fat joint before we went in to do the photo session. The studio was large and had a bunch of stage props lying around so we all started goofing around with various things that were lying about. Somebody found this big frosted plastic hallow ball with an opening at the bottom of it and we got the idea to put a light in it. Well….we took several pictures with that glowing ball and that was it! After we got back the proof sheets ( see photo ) we picked one, and one of those is the photo you see on the back cover of Under the Spell!
We had good memories from recording No Escape, and we all loved recording at Prairie Sun Studios! It was up in Northern California on this large property, like a ranch. They had these cool little guest houses we would stay at because It was too far for us all to drive up there every day. It was great fun for us! We would pack in lots of food,……mainly crap!!!…..Bags of potato chips, pastries, cookies, candy,….you know……rock star food!!…….Not to mention, lots of ice cold beer, and plenty of killer green buds as well!! We would record in 8 to 10 hour shifts. It took us about two weeks to do the whole project . In those days, we would record the bass and drums first….live! Then overdub all the guitars, then record the vocals, and then do all the mixing!
On the morning of January 28th 1986, at around 8:30 am we were all just waking up in the guest house we had rented and were starting to stir around. Someone turned on the television set just in time for us all to watch the famous launch of the United States Space Shuttle, Challenger! We were still just rubbing the sleep from our eyes when the ship just blew up! We could hardly believe it! They kept showing it blow up, over and over again on every channel! We finally just had to turn it off and get back to work on our new album.
One night I was scheduled to track some more of my lead guitar solos. I was having some technical issues with some of my equipment that could not be resolved until the next day for whatever reason. There were some bass overdubs that still needed to be done so our producer, Steve Fontano said to go and fetch Bill so we can track his bass. Well…..back in those days we liked to party as much as possible! Smoke weed, drink beer and whisky, and do a little Cocaine once in a while as well! When we were involved in one of our recording projects, be it a demo or a full blown album, whoever was not slated to record that day would usually be indulging in having a good time with everyone that was there or just hanging around. I was scheduled to record all night so both Bill and Clint had been drinking and smoking weed…..and who knows what else, all that afternoon. We could not waist the studio time so Poor Bill had to do his bass overdubs totally wasted! Ha!!! Good Times!!!!! Luckily for us all we had a lot of experience performing under the influence of one thing or another and Bill was able to lay down his tracks, no problem…..after all, we were pros!!!
I remember we were almost finished mixing the album when John Marshall came up to visit and hang out with us for a day or two. I can’t remember if he was still Kirk Hammett’s guitar roadie at that time or not. Anyway……Metallica had just finished recording Master Of Puppets, and John had an advanced copy with him. It would not be released for several months yet but John was very close to the source…… well,….. anyway….. I can tell you that we were all feeling pretty good and proud of ourselves about our new recording……..that is until John played us all the tracks from Master of Puppets! We recorded Under the Spell in about two weeks time. John told us that Lars took longer than that just to get a snare tone he liked. Ugghhh!! We knew there was no way our new album was going to be able to compete with that record.
Bill Peterson and I had been friends with Kirk Hammett since junior high school and it was a little hard sometimes not to compare his fantastic success to our relative lack of success. We of coarse are very proud of him and happy for him, but I would be lying if I said that we weren’t just a little bit jealous. I think we still are…… a little…. even to this day!
The album was finally finished being recorded and mixed, and most all of the production parts were ready as well, except for the liner notes and special thanks section. In those days, it was a real cool thing, and kind of a big deal to be mentioned in a bands special thanks section on their album, so we wanted to make sure we included all the people and things that had recently helped us and influenced us before and during the Under the Spell project. We also managed to talk Mike Varney into letting us have a photo collage ( black and white ) on the back of our lyric sheet! ( No Escape did not have the budget to include a lyric sheet, so for us, this was a big step up! We all thought we were really big time now!! )
The photo collage that you get on the back of the lyric sheet with Under the Spell was a lot of fun to make! First thing we did was to all get ferociously stoned on killer green buds!! Then start cutting up our only, once in a lifetime photographs of that time we had acquired, and pasting them onto a big sheet of cardboard.
We did it quickly in one evening because it all had to go to the printers the next day with the rest of the production parts for mass reproduction. Looking over the photo collage I am reminded of many funny stories…….one being from the picture of our drummer Dave Schmidt
I know this is going to be back tracking a little bit because this little story goes back to when Manzo was still performing with the band back in late 1984. We were doing a show at the Keystone Berkeley on University Ave one night. In those days Dave had a little low tech pyro trick he did at the end of our set. He would soak two old sweat socks in gasoline or something and tie them each around a pair of old drum sticks. At the end of our last song we would have a long dramatic pause where we would all hold a power chord for minute or two. During this time, Dave would take the opportunity to light his drumsticks on fire and then hit all his symbols furiously! Well…. for some reason on this night, one of those flaming, stinky old sweat socks came flying off his drumstick and went right into the first row of the crowd! It landed right on top of this dudes head that was head banging at the front of the stage and burst his hair and whole head on fire!! We could not believe what had just happened! The people around him started hitting him about the head to extinguish the flames and he quickly disappeared under the crowd. After the show we were all back stage in our dressing room drinking ice cold beer and talking about what had just happened when the guy who we caught on fire was escorted into our dressing room by the Keystone security. This guy has something he wants to say to the guys in Hexx, said the security guard. I thought for sure he was going to start telling us how is father was going to sue us all and the night club or something like that. Instead he had in his hand a flyer from the show and the what was left of Dave’s old burnt up sweat sock. This poor guy had a big bald spot burned on the top of his head and had obviously suffered
some serious burns to the top of his scalp. He held up his flyer from the show and asked us if we would all sign it. We quickly got him a cold beer and he went on to say what a great show we had put on and how it was the greatest night of his life because he got to ” Burn For Hexx” as he put it. We just could not get over it, but we were very relieved he did not try and bring legal action against the band or the club. Needless to say, that was the last time Dave Schmidt did his famous flaming drumsticks trick!
While we were waiting for Under the Spell to be released here in the states, Mike Varney told us that he had secured a licensing deal for us with Road Runner records in Europe. This would mean that Under the Spell would be manufactured, pressed, and distributed properly in Europe . With No Escape it was only available as an expensive import album in Europe and we were told that is why it sold so poorly there. We really thought this was really going to help us break through to the big-time with this new album.
When Under the Spell finally got released sometime in mid 1986 the metal music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area had changed a lot. All the shows and clubs seem to be catering to bands that were playing in the thrash/ speed/ Death styles. It seemed a lot harder for us to get gigs around the bay area
and when we did, we did not seem to go over as well as before. The crowd would perk up a little when we would play our faster numbers like Edge of Death or The Hexx but that was about it.
Again with no tour support No Management, and continued difficulty in getting local shows, things started to look bad for the group. It also seemed like the press was not as interested in Hexx anymore. When No Escape came out I remember doing lots of magazine interviews and we were featured in many fanzines in Europe. This time around it seemed like nobody wanted to know about the band. This really hit us hard because we really thought this album was much better than No Escape and would surely be our breakthrough album. There was however, a one page article in Crash Magazine from October of 1986 that gave us a great review of the album but that’s the only one I can remember.
I could sense the morale of the band was getting low and I could also sense that Dan Bryant was quickly losing interest in the band. I think he was getting offers from other groups to do things, and that our album was going to be more or less just a stepping stone for him to move on to more successful projects.
There was one glimmer of hope though! We were told that Kerrang magazine in Europe was going to publish a review of Under the Spell in there next issue! This really gave us some hope because we thought that Kerrang was one of the biggest Metal magazines in Europe at
that time and a good review from them could really get the ball rolling for us in Europe. We already had given up hope for any success in the states at this point. I lived and worked in Berkeley at that time and would frequent the record shops on Telegraph avenue. They would always have the current imported Metal magazines for sale there. Around the time the new issue of Kerrang was to arrive I would stop by the record shops to see if the issue had been delivered with the review of our Under the Spell album. I remember thinking to myself that they are really going to love this album and give us a great review and this will save the band in this……… our most darkest hour of desperate need!
Well……. the day finally came! There it was on the shelf! The brand new issue of Kerrang Magazine. I couldn’t wait to read the gushing review of our new record and run home with the magazine in my hand to the band with the good news! I picked it up off the news stand and started thumbing through the pages looking for the album review section. There it was! And they even printed a picture of the band right in the middle of the page! My heart raced with excitement and new hope!…. Until……I read the caption printed right under the photo of the band…….it read…..HEXX , defiantly NOT Under the Spell. My heart sank, and a soul crushing, cold, numbing sense of doom came over me. I could not believe my eyes! At first I thought maybe it was some kind of mistake, then I went on to read the article. The guy that reviewed the record was just not impressed with it at all, and he told the world so in this review.
I didn’t purchase that issue of Kerrang. I just walked out of the shop, got in my car and drove home in a fog. I knew then, that this was the last nail in the coffin for HEXX. After that we just kind of lost touch with Dan Bryant. I think he went on to work with other bands and do other records.
At this time our drummer Dave Schmidt decided he had enough as well and officially left the group. Now, without our great drummer, our killer new lead singer and absolutely no prospects of getting another record deal…… and no one to help us…… what do you think Bill, Clint and I decided to do? Well, I’ll tell you exactly what we did! We got MAD!! We got REAL MAD!!! We decided, FUCK IT!!!! We decided, if no one would help us……. we would help ourselves!!! We decided we would make one more demo! We would call it ……The Help Yourself Demo. It would demonstrate and reflect all the anger, fury and frustration we all had boiling up inside us! Thus…… began……our Quest For Sanity……………. But, that is another story………….
.....to be continued.....