Chatting with Julz Ramos of Hatchet about Touring, Music, and the Magic of BB King
Hatchet are one of those bands who have given it all up to grind it out on the road. Frontman Julz Ramos was kind enough to sit down with me backstage at BB Kings, one of the most legendary venues in the world. Excited to be opening for Metal Church and devout in his dedication to his band, their sound, and their path forward through life, he had a lot to share. It’s rare that you find a band with this level of passion and dedication to their craft, and it makes me realize that Hatchet just might be the ones to save us all.
How the hell are you?
I’m doing good man, how about yourself?
I’m wonderful… not drunk enough!
I’ll hook you up.
There’s a lot of things I want to attack with you guys. We were talking earlier about how stressful it is to set up a show at BB Kings… what’s your favorite New York metal memory?
It was 2013 when we played with Soilwork at the Gramercy Theater. We were lucky enough to be on the bus with Soilwork so we didn’t have to worry about parking or loading. We kind of lucked out being on the same bill. The Gramercy Theater is a really cool place. I know it’s in Manhattan, but despite that it was one of the easier places we’ve loaded into to play. A lot of people don’t think of that as a problem, but trust me it is. Every place has its own set of rules and its own thing. In New York it’s pretty stressful.
What does it feel like to play in a venue this legendary?
Well BB King man! You can’t get much more metal than that! When it comes down to rock and roll going back to the blues, he was as big as they get. It’s great. We love playing here. Just everything about it is great, it’s a legendary place, what can I say?
What got me in your set is the bitchin’ guitar solos; what’s your musical background?
I learned everything by ear and always gone by what sounds good to me. My influences over the years have definitely helped to shape where I’ve gotten. We’re not a shred type band, but even if we do a technical solo we try to have bends and runs so that it accentuates the music.
What goes into crafting a Hatchet guitar solo?
It’s a song within a song. The way I look at writing songs is they have to be catchy and somewhat technical; it’s not just party thrash. There’s a place for everything but for a Hatchet solo it has to be memorable and go up or down. It can’t go straight out in full retard mode. We like to kind of gives ups and downs and give it a general direction. Like I said, it’s almost a song within a song. WE want it to go to some notable places.
You mentioned party thrash and I feel like you’ve been tied into that scene… How do you feel about that?
It has its place and some of those bands are doing great, and that’s awesome, but it’s not really for us. I personally like to think of Hatchet as a bit more of a mathy thrash band. Some of our biggest influences writing wise are Testament, Xentrix and stuff like that that’s a little deeper in the genre, a little more involved. It’s not just straight up power chords and pentatonics. We definitely try and bring a different character to the sound if that makes sense. We definitely like to get to the next level. Everybody currently in the band has different influences, and that helps shape the band.
What draws you to those kinds of bands?
When I started doing Hatchet, me and the drummer at the time, we were playing in a melodic death metal band with a friend of ours who led us for about a year. Me and the drummer wanted to branch out and really play some shows. We were really influenced by melodeath though with melodic passages and catchy riffs. After playing that kind of stuff it clicked that we should be playing more intelligent thrash. I like all of it, Slayer, Metallica, all that stuff, but I’m a very melody driven guy and I love the Iron Maiden harmonies. I love the simpler but heavier riffs. Bands like Slayer pick at a million miles an hour and you can’t pick it out. I’d rather do it slower and have the drums set the speed of the song. There’s a catchier side of thrash that I think so few bands explore and I like that.
One thing that got me that didn’t hit me until I saw you live… You have a very distinct sonic aesthetic… I can’t help but admire that. Where will that sound go?
I’m really excited because I don’t know where it’s going to go. I’ve been the sole writer for all three albums. Being a touring band living in a van when we’re not playing venues or driving we’re parked at Wal-Mart and look like the scum of the earth. It’s hard to make people want to do that. When I get those people in the band it’s very refreshing. We just make it happen.
We haven’t explored writing with the new people yet, since it’s been me for so long, but I’m looking forward to what the other guys bring to the band. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next writing process will be like. Some of our newer guys are very death metal driven, they know we are a thrash band but I think everyone has come full circle, and the next album is going to be a great next step for us.
That’s exciting to hear just because there is so much that COULD be Hatchet…
That’s what I think too. I feel like we have hit a ceiling. I have been writing the material for so long and been doing everything else too, like being the tour manager and getting the art together. It would be really nice to get something together with people who can stick with me. I think with our new members we can do something really exciting. Our drummer is the youngest member of the band right now and he is very gung ho about wanting to tour. That’s always great. He’s very open to receiving input and keeping in the vein of material that Hatchet wants to do. We want to mold it in a certain way. Not that “This is what it has to be,” but every band has their certain sound, and he is very good about understanding that. He’s doing great in terms of performance style.
Given how much you tour how do you maintain that real life/tour balance?
It’s very difficult. Hatchet unfortunately has had many lineups and a lot of that has had to o with the fact that touring is not a glamorous thing. A lot of people think that this is going to be a glamorous thing, and I try to explain this up front about how we are often going out of pocket and it doesn’t always work out. It really separates the men from the boys. I’ve been wrong before, but I think the line up that we have will stay together. Our new guitarist Clayton has been in another band who have been touring a lot but on a smaller scale. Still – he has a good understanding of what it takes. So does our bass player – he knows what it is. So when it comes to a stressful show they can deal with it. That means a lot to people who have been in that situation. It keeps people in a positive direction, even when we do all this work to play to thirty people.
What do you love so much about music?
That this is what it involves! Touring, playing, booking agents… It’s a huge part of my life. It’s a huge part of who I am and I never set out for it to be that way but that is what it’s become. There’s a whole energy and work ethic behind it and it’s what makes me who I am.