As part of an ongoing series of exclusive MetalTalk Interviews, we speak to up and coming Hard Rock/Metal band Hell To Pay about them and what drives their ambition, a chat about their career so far and what their aspirations for the future are.
The members come from all over the UK and the band was formed in Manchester in 2008, but the origins of Hell To Pay date back to 2005. As guitarist Dario Nikzad explained to me: "(Vocalist) Daniel Martin and myself both moved to Manchester to study at University, and we ended up in the same halls of residence. It didn't take us long to have our amps stacked up in the Common Room and we were jamming out over songs like 'Purple Haze' and whatever else we both knew for hours – looking back now, I just hope that a few people who were there appreciated the shred!"
Nikzad continues: "We started working on some tunes back then but that was soon cut short when we both decided what we were studying wasn't actually for either of us. It wasn't till a couple of years later and we were both studying for music degrees that we met up again and began working on songs together again."
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With regards to recruiting the rest of the current band, Nikzad explains: "Tom (drummer Tom Henstock) was actually in a band that opened for us one night and myself and Dan both thought he had loads of potential, and our drummer at the time, who's now our sound engineer actually, had to quit unexpectedly a week before a show, so we gave Tom a ring, he nailed the set in a week and he's been with us ever since."
As for recruiting a bass player for the band, Nikzad describes filling the vacant position as "a nightmare! Just think Spinal Tap drummers, but worse! Stuart Robertson was actually well known to us and when our previous bassist let us down a couple of weeks before a tour, he was pretty much the first and only person we could think of. Over the last ten months or so though he's totally made the position his own and it's been awesome to have him around."
Moving on to late 2008 and the band had been writing and rehearsing for a couple of months: "Actually we'd recorded a demo which was for sale by the time we played our debut live show at The Ruby Lounge in Manchester city centre," explains Nikzad. At this point, though, the band were playing under the moniker of Balls Deep. When asked where the name came from Nikzad explains: "We couldn't agree on a name and generally thought it would be hilarious to force Dan to introduce us as Balls Deep – actually, we've got a couple of friends who refuse to call us anything else!"
"Someone's probably still got that demo," jokes Nikzad, before adding: "Fast forward a couple of months and we'd changed our name and played our first proper Hell To Pay show at The Roadhouse in Manchester." I ask him what prompted the name change to which he explained: "It didn't really fit with the material... if we ever decide to form a comedy rock band side project a la Tenacious D though, you know what it'll be called!"
As far as the band are concerned, they have come a long way since then including the release of an EP in 2011 called 'So Far So Good'. I ask Nikzad about the reaction to that first foray into proper recording to which he replies: "It was brilliant. All the feedback we got in terms of reviews was really positive, which gave us the confidence to really go out there and try and make this work. The EP was recorded for nothing and we were pretty much left to write, record and produce it ourselves, which was a bit daunting at first, but we have a few people to thank for their help in putting it all together."
Since then, the band have recorded their debut album, 'Judgement Day' (released in May 2013), which Nikzad is keen to point out was recorded on their own terms. "There's been no compromise in terms of material - these are simply songs done in the way we wanted to (have them). I think that's the most important thing to all of us in the band. We've toured the country extensively, I don't think there's a town, let alone city, we haven't visited, and we've had an awesome time meeting some great and often outlandish people along the way. Leighton Buzzard... you're in a league of your own with that one!" he jests.
"Along the way, though", he says, "we've had the chance to play some great shows, occasionally in front of thousands of people and play alongside some great bands – including a personal hero of mine in Paul Gilbert (guitarist for Racer X and Mr. Big), but hopefully all that is just the beginning!", Nikzad says enthusiastically.
Having the experience of writing and recording original material, I ask Nikzad about the songwriting process within the band: "Dan's the epi-centre for a lot of the material" he confirms. "A lot of the initial ideas, whether they're melodies or riffs generally come from him, although I'd like to think I've added at least a part to most of the songs! Once Dan has got a rough idea pieced together, that's when the two of us will sit down and go through it as a unit to work out the arrangement, any additional parts and concepts production-wise and then bring it to the rest of the band... when all of that work probably goes out the window and everything changes!" says Nikzad.
"Thematically, we've got a pretty broad range of ideas," Nikzad goes on to explain. "With the album, for example, we cover some pretty expansive topics like war whereas we've also tried to cover some much more specific personal issues like confrontation, doubt and betrayal to name a few. It makes us sound a bit melancholy describing it like that," Nikzad explains further, "but we just wanted to tackle serious issues that people could relate to, and I suppose some of those things are linked to love in a way".
"With the material that we produced for the EP, we got pigeonholed as some sort of Sleaze/Glam band, which considering the material was probably fair (at the time), and without being disrespectful to the genre - there's a lot of bands from it we love - we felt we had more to offer than just that", Nikzad says. "A lot of the inspiration comes from real life events – I would say at least half the songs on the album are in some way semi-autobiographical. Having said that, sometimes we've just got a specific idea or concept in mind and other ideas might come from some films or literature that we just like the story of - we don't really do politics though!" he affirms with a smile.
From here, it makes sense to approach the band's musical influences, and I mention that on their Facebook page, the band have listed the likes of Whitesnake, Deep Purple, Megadeth and Iron Maiden right through to Mr Big and Extreme as being bands that inspire them, but how do these bands influence the performance and songwriting within Hell To Pay now and in the future?
"To be honest I think that list is a little dated now," says Nikzad, "although the majority of those artists do definitely still apply, there's just a lot more to be added. I think those bands have all had a different impact on the way we write and perform and if I was to analyse it properly we could spend hours and hours explaining that.
"Essentially though, like the majority of newer bands, we just tried to take the things we liked most about our favourite artists, gel them together and put our own spin on them. It's pretty difficult to say how specific artists have influenced us, but I like to think there's a lot of variety on 'Judgement Day' - it's an album which covers the classic rock/Metal spectrum.
"Fundamentally, though, we thought if we had some Ronnie Dio/David Coverdale type vocals, with some Megadeth riffage, add in some lead guitars in the vain of Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme) and Paul Gilbert, with an occasional nod to Thin Lizzy in the harmony department. And added together with some melodic bass and some pummeling drums - not only would we enjoy the tunes we came out with, but hopefully a few other people would too. We don't think we're on par with the bands I've discussed they're just the standard we're aiming to reach."
"From a live aspect too", Nikzad explains further, "we just want to go out and have a good time! We didn't want to be one of those moody bands that seemed to hate performing. (To us) playing live is the main reason we're in this business, and as you can probably tell from the ridiculous faces we pull on stage we really do try and enjoy ourselves. So naturally we've probably learnt a lot from watching bands like Queen, Iron Maiden, Steel Panther and AC/DC. I think it's safe to say we all wish we had (AC/DC vocalist) Brian Johnson's swagger!"
I ask Nikzad if the band have any upcoming releases planned, to which he replies: "Our debut album is winging its way to an online record store near everyone with a computer very soon. We've done a limited edition run of physical copies as well, which you'll be able to get from our online store. The official video for the title track is up on our Youtube page NOW!"
I mention that the band secured a support slot for Snakecharmer (featuring ex-Whitesnake members Micky Moody and Neil Murray along with Adam Wakeman (Ozzy Osbourne Band) and Harry James (Thunder) at the Manchester Academy and ask Nikzad how this came about?
"We've played a lot of shows over the last few years and fortunately for us their F.O.H engineer and chief at STS Productions Pete Dutton has been at a couple of them, and was kind enough to organise it for us."
I also ask him which other gigs they have lined up for later this year? "We've got a few festival dates and mini tours lined up over the summer and then we're looking at doing three or four major shows before then end of the year. A couple are in the pipeline and a couple are confirmed but we can't say anything just yet but keep an eye on our website for details!
"Next year is really starting to come together though," he continues, "with hopefully our first foray abroad and we've already been confirmed for a spot on the main stage at the Hard Rock Hell AOR Festival March next year."
So for someone who's not been to a Hell To Pay live show before, what can they expect? "An honest, gutsy all out rock show," he says quite firmly. "Like I've said before, playing live is what we all really just want to do, but It takes a lot of work just to get there at this level. So when we finally get on up on stage we really try and make the most of it. If our hands aren't blistered and our voices aren't croaking by the end of the show, then you haven't been to a proper Hell To Pay show!"
Winding up the interview, I ask Nikzad what he (and the rest of the band) want to realistically achieve? "Realistically is a pretty unrealistic word when it comes to being in a band," he corrects me. "If there are any bands out there who don't dream of being successful, going on big tours and getting to just live as musicians then I presume they're the one who don't make it!.
"That's what keeps you going when you literally spend a night playing to one man and his dog - and we've genuinely been there", he says. "We'd be happy to just make a living from doing this but I don't think there's a limit on what we want to achieve."
All is can say to the band is good luck and all I can say to you, the reader, is to go and check out Hell To Pay!
You can watch the official video for 'Judgement Day' here:
You can see Hell To Pay live here:
Saturday 27th July - Blackthorn Music Festival, Compstall
Saturday 24th August - The Beer Engine, Coventry
Sunday 25th August - Meat Grinder Festival, Stafford
Friday 30th August - The Hairy Dog, Derby
March 2014 - HRH AOR, Haven Hafan y Môr Holiday Park, Pwllheli
Hell To Pay are:
Daniel Martin – Vocals/Guitar
Dario Nikzad – Guitar
Stuart Robertson – Bass
Tom Henstock – Drums
Official Website: http://www.helltopayband.co.uk/
Thanks to Dario Nikzad and the rest of Hell To Pay for their time.