When it comes to metal, there is no doubt that the name of Chuck Schuldiner is a huge milestone in the history of this music. DEATH was in fact the beginning of everything between extremeness and progressiveness in the scene of heavy metal influencing a bunch of bands throughout the years.
Those who were lucky enough to see DEATH playing live are still talking for a unique and unforgotten experience, but those who weren’t, have at least the chance to see DEATH DTA TOURS. A tribute live band consisted of former DEATH members that honor the legacy of Chuck Shuldiner and DEATH in general.
This special package is coming to Greece for two shows in Athens (01/04/16) and Thessaloniki (02/04/16), and we grabbed the chance to conduct an extensive interview with drummer Gene Hoglan and guitarist Bobby Koelble who have coexisted in the band during the period of the all-time classic “Symbolic” record.
We would like to mark out that although the questions below have been sent to both musicians for a mailer interview, Gene Hoglan preferred to record an audio “Question And Answer” version of the interview which we found really awesome and can be heard below. The complete version of the interview including the answers of both musicians is available in text format below as well. Take a deep breath, and enjoy the longest interview ever made for Metalpaths!
Hello there and welcome at our webzine Metalpaths. We ’d like to start with the fact that Chuck’s heritage, to this music we all love, is absolutely tremendous. How do you feel to be able to resurrect his exceptional music every night on stage?
Gene Hoglan: Well, I tell you, we’re in a very fortunate position. We all love Chuck’s music and we all love playing Chuck’s music. We love playing Death music. So, we are very fortunate and we do get excited every night. We have such a great time doing this. It’s so much fun for us, and apparently it’s fun for the fans too. They’re enjoying this and at times there are people coming up on us saying “Look I never got the chance to see Death, this is my first time, I never got to see you guys when you were putting out albums etc. You know this tribute from those guys, from those albums, is a blessing, thank you!” So, we definitely enjoy it, we have a great time doing it and it’s held in very high esteem. The shows are always all about Chuck. It’s Chuck’s music, we have good time playing Chuck’s music for fans. That is how we feel. We are very fortunate and we have a really great time doing it. For me, I get to play with Steve Di Giorgio and Bobby Koelble every night and Max Phelps as well, our “Chuck”. It’s amazing, these guys are amazing players and good friends for many many years. Best pals, it’s like going out with your family. Our whole operation is just a very sweet crew. Like a family, we have a really good time doing it.
Bobby Koelble: Chuck has a very special place in all of our hearts, and his music means a lot to all of us. We were very fortunate to be in the band, and It’s been a lot of fun to come back together after so many years and play these songs again. We really want to do them justice for Chuck and his fans.
Give us some feedback on how did this whole story behind the “DTA Tours” even started. There are always people not aware of the background story. When and why did this band form in the first place?
G.H.: This whole idea kind of comes from this idea that I’ve put together in 2011, when they re-released “Human” and they were re-releasing “Individual Thought Patterns”. I do a lot of clinics, drum clinics, and I dedicated this entire round of clinics to the “Individual Thought Patters record that was coming out rather playing five or six songs, and it was going over really great, and thought we should form a band, this is the closest we could ever get to see Death. I‘m Gene from Death, playing Death songs, and that’s the closest we are going to get to see Death’s music. Then a promoter came to me and actually, Sean Reinert, why don’t you take Gene’s idea, expand on it and get a bunch of band members, all the guys we could get, to come along and go out and tour this. And we went “That’s interesting”. They took my idea and then turned it into the whole Death DTA Tour. Now, that promoter is, fortunately, no longer involved, so this is just essentially mine. My idea, and we just ran with it, and there you go. We had these incarnations, the very first tour was a U.S. tour. It was like five or six dates only, and that’s pretty challenging when you’re only doing low number dates and yet you’re crossing America to do those five-six dates. That was pretty challenging. But I just wanted to do a quick little ran of five-six shows and see how that goes, and it went really good. We had seven ex-members. Everybody from those records, Paul Masvidal, Sean Reinert, Steve Di Giorgio, Myself, Bobby Koelble, Shannon and Scott from “Sound Of Perseverance” and there were seven guys. We had Charles Elliot doing some of the vocals, and we were going to have Steffen Kummerer from Obscura, but at the last minute, with a visa situation that happened, we were able to call our friend Matt Harvey (Exhumed) and he came out. These were the guys that were doing the very first DTA tours in 2011 and 2012. It went over great! There have been certain incarnations since then, there has been the Paul and Sean incarnation. This is just me valuing myself, patting myself on the back. I love our incarnation, we play the entire catalogue. We’re here to play the entire catalogue. Chuck’s legacy is more than just the four first albums. He had seven albums out of Death music. We play stuff off every record. That’s really fun. That’s for the fans. And there you go there’s a very long answer to a very brief question, but that’s how it all started and now we’re on a really amazing spot with this project where it’s great, it’s fun, the vibes are so high! We have a really great time doing it!
B.K.: Well, I ’ll try to keep this as short as possible. A couple guys who were involved with a webzine called Sick Drummer, who had a rapport with some former Death members, tossed out the idea of having a reunion. So, many of us who had played with Chuck over the years came on board for this little tour in 2012 which was called “Death To All”. It was five shows in the U.S., and musically speaking, it was a great experience. There was a fairly large outcry to bring the tour to other parts of the world, and to other areas of the states that didn’t get to see the initial tour, so Perseverance Holdings, with the cooperation of Chuck’s family, decided to put together a smaller band to tour abroad, which began in 2013. Due to legal constraints, the name had to be shortened to DTA, which eventually became Death DTA so people would know it was a Death tribute. I came into the smaller band in 2014.
So, after some short of a break you ’re back on the road, spreading Death’s music to audiences that weren’t lucky enough, to see Chuck alive. How do you feel when you know that there are people that grew up with this music and never got the chance to see it performed live before? It’s something that brings the expectations of performance to a higher level by the audience for sure.
G.H.: Fair enough, and we are up to that challenge every night. We play the songs exactly like they’re written. We are the guys that recorded that stuff. We have a really good time doing that. As I was saying there are a lot of people that do come up and are going “Thank you, Thank you guys“ and there’s people yelling from the audience “Thank you for doing this”. That feels really good. We’re happy to entertain people. We’re happy to be able to have some dreams come true. Like “Hey, I never got to see this live, now I get to see it”. Of course, we don’t have Chuck with us, but we are the best Death tribute band out there. I mean out there, there are some really good Death tribute bands, but we are the guys that were involved in the writing of it, and the creation of these songs. We are the ones that helped mold the direction of the songs, as well. So, we definitely get our capes on it. That’s pretty fun. We do enjoy bringing smiles to the audience. That’s what happens so much. What I’m saying in other interviews, the metal crowd, they got their metal faces on, during most metal concerts, your skully grrr face…with Death is just a sea of smiles that we see. It’s a great time, everybody has a great time. Every show is a totally different show, we into a short of a jam if we’re into. The show itself is an hour and forty-five minutes and that’s without a jam! We’ll do freak out and we’’ll do something. Something will pop out on stage and we’ll end up going with it, having some great fun with it! You get Death’s music, you get Chuck’s music, and then you get some extra with four guys that really dig jamming together. That’s what people can look forward to.
B.K.: Honestly, I think that’s the main reason that we ’re doing this, because so many of his fans never got to see it. In the states, there was a resurgence of heavy music in the 2000’s, and since then the music of Death is more popular than ever. It sucks so unbelievably bad that he’s not around to see it, although of course he had a great fanbase while he was alive. It’s obviously not “Death” without him there, but we still try to live up to his standard of excellence that he set for himself and his musicians. We give 110% every night, even though we’re not exactly young anymore haha. Except for Max, of course.
Death’s music, is quite demanding, in terms of performance. Do you need some preparation, in particular, before the shows?
G.H.: My preparation for all these tours, I warm up, like I do with most bands. It might take me about ten minutes. But I tell you, the way we are going to come up with a different set list this time, but in the way the set list was designed in the past. The set Is kind of a slow warm. By the time we get to some demanding songs I’m already warmed up. There have been times when I have done, literally, like no warm up. Thirty seconds sitting with the practice pad, with a couple of sticks, just right before we go on stage. That’s how it is worked out, but, the prep is like these songs that we all recently played a lot, so there’s no need to prepare a lot. The preparation is before the tour. When you decide to do a different set. Let’s do another song that we haven’t done recently. That’s for me when the prep comes in. When I learn a song just by listening to it, and I’m the easy one because the other guys have to play notes, you know. I just have to hit things, so it’s easy for me to learn a song in my bus kit after doing it a few times. We all know the Death material very well. There’s not a super prep that needs to happen. We always bring it. Every night. I’m so amazed by the players that we have, they are also incredible. Steve Di Giorgio, is an incredible bass player. Bobby Koelble is an incredible guitarist not only lead guitarist but also rhythm guitarist. And Max is an amazing rhythm guitarist as well. I get a real chuckle when we make a little board rec to check it out the next day and I go “wow! this sounds like a live album”. This is so tight, there isn’t anything pre-recorded, everybody’s notes are perfect, everybody’s playing is perfect, it’s really incredible. I really enjoy it!
B.K.: Everyone has there own way of getting ready for a show. I like to warm up for at least an hour. Gene has the hardest job for sure, but he’s such a beast that he always seems to make it look easy.
The line-up of the band consists some of the corner stones of extreme metal in general. All former co-workers with our beloved Chuck, in recording and performing Death’s music. Once you ’re on stage what is the first thing you think of, apart of the technical stuff or the performance itself.
G.H.: Well, I tell you. We have such a good time on stage. We are smiling at each other. We play off each other. The music, it is challenging I suppose, to a point. But mentally, we all got the tunes together so, we just start by having fun. I got to admit, all the technical aspects are the first thing you really think about. How is my mix, to be able to say to my assistant , turn the guitar down, turn some bass drums up, or whatever it may be. But then we just start to have a good time. I love playing a lick. Stevie Di would turn round and look at me, he’s always playing off me and I like to play off him, and we have a great time doing that.
B.K.: For me, the main goal is just to connect with the fans. To give them as much energy as I can, and hopefully get it back in return. I love to watch the fans freak out and sing the lyrics. They usually know them better than I do haha. We’re all there for the same reason: to celebrate Chuck and his music. So we just want to make it a fun, positive, ass-kicking vibe that will be a memorable experience for everyone.
Was it hard to choose the set list of the shows? I mean there are so many recordings and most of them are considered “classics”. It had to be difficult, I suppose.
G.H.: It is a challenge. That’s why maybe if Chuck were here, it would have been majorly different. I know that when we were in Death, we played an hour. An hour show may be seventy five minute show. This show that we got now is two hours, and that’s because we do care. We care about the set list. There are many songs that are classics, and we try to do all of them. Our set list is twenty songs. Twenty song on the course from seven albums is on average three song from each album. We try to get everything in there. Actually, the set list is twenty-three songs. In the past, we, in order to accommodate everybody, and not keep everybody there for three hours, we have medley-ed some of the songs, taking two songs from “Leprosy” and putting them together. Two songs from “Spiritual Healing” and put those together. A couple of songs from “Scream Bloody Gore” put those songs together with the medley-ing style, getting two songs for the price of one. I’m sure we’ll be pulling some of that stuff out for this tour, but we do try to consider the fans and, for me, definitely my version of Death DTA will play all music. We play every album. I’m not gonna short chase the fans that play only the first four albums. I have always said that was complete shenanigans and foolery. I don’t believe in that, I don’t back that. I’m glad to be part of this project, because it’s gonna get them right. And it’s got to be for the fans. No bullshiting around, like “we just play only from the first four records, cause we weren’t playing in the last three, or we were too lazy to learn them…”. Fuck that! We’re Death. We’re here to represent Chuck’s music, and his entire catalogue. That’s the way that is. That’s the way I roll, that’s the way the rest of the band rolls. That’s just the way it is now. That’s the why I’m in now. I’ m never leaving. I’m the drummer for this band, that’s it. That’s the reason why the entire catalogue is going to be taken care of. Because, I’m here, and big daddy ain’t gonna let shenanigans go on.
B.K.: Yeah, it can be a little difficult, but we try our best to include the ones that we know are fan favorites, and ones that we know Chuck liked to play live himself. On this tour, we ’re going to delve a little deeper into Individual Thought Patterns, so hopefully there will be some pleasant surprises for everyone.
What about the rehearsals? Did you even get together before the shows or was it just one or two rehearsals and then straight on stage?
G.H.: It would be great if we got two rehearsals! We will get one! I’m speaking these words and I’m currently on tour, in the U.S. Steve Di and myself are both playing for Testament and we are on tour, major tour in the states, with SLAYER and CARCASS. The day after the tour, this is a five week tour, we get about ten hours or maybe twelve hours at home. Then we fly, we fly home and then we fly out the very next day to do one rehearsal, and that’s fine. I mean my chops are gonna be on fire. Stevie Di’s chops are gonna be on fire. We are bringing some new songs into this setlist, so we’ll concentrate on those. There are little one pre-production rehearsal, on the first venue. I believe our first venue is in Italy somewhere, in Rome I believe. So, we’ll base camp out of the Rome gig, we get in there, into that venue the night before. We fly , we land, we go right to rehearsal. There’s no like , ok let’s…We’ve landed, we’ve flown this fourteen hour flight from the states, land, go to your hotel room. Sleep over night and then rehearse tomorrow. No, we land in the afternoon, and later that day we are jamming! So, there’s no days off, we get our one rehearsal in and we are going to kill it! It’s gonna be awesome! We are all killer players, we all know the songs, a little touch up on those new songs that we are bringing in to the set. And we are set to go!
B.K.: Before the initial tour in 2012, we rehearsed for three or four days. Now that we have most of the songs up and running, we do one long rehearsal the night before the tour begins in the city of the initial show.
The Greek audience had the chance to see Death with Chuck Schuldiner back on the “Sound Of Perseverance” tour. Unfortunately, none ever predicted the future back then -and none does it now as well-…What can we expect, of Death (DTA Tours), us fans who hadn’t had that chance to see Death’s music performed live?
G.H.: Well, you’re going to see Death’s music performed live, by the guys who recorded it, that were there and helped shape the songs. We all had our little writing parts in Death. Chuck wrote the music, but we helped him form it, so, you got the guys who were in charge for that. Lovingly, recreating these songs every night. I guaranty you every fan is gonna have this biggest smile on their face at the end of the show. It’s going to be a great night for everybody, we even got this new merch on this tour, we haven’t had before, so that’s cool. That’s exciting, for the fans. We love that. It’s gonna be a great night. Expect to have a big smile on your face Greek Death metal fans. You’re going to walk out of there going: “What a fantastic night, that was really cool. I really enjoyed that!”. That’s exactly what you’re going to get. I’ve done some of these other interviews, where some of the questions are like “What do you think about the people that don’t like what you’re doing?”, I’m hearing it through interview questions. I don’t pay attention to the internet. I don’t read forums. I get on blabbermouth every once in a while, and see what people say on that but I don’t go through and see what people say about and if they agree or disagree with what we do. But if you disagree with what we do, you’re absolutely welcome to disagree with what we do, stay at home, don’t come to the show. Don’t have a smile put on your face, don’t create a good memory with Chuck’s music, don’t come! Seriously, we love high energy crowds, we love high energy folks and if you’re going to come to the show just to have miserable time, just to go home and write about it on your computer, man, you’re more than welcome to stay at home and not come! I don’t know what to tell you. If you don’t like what we are doing, you’re welcome to do so. You can be a minority, and sit there saying crap about it. You can put out a Death tribute, by all means do so! Play it better than us. Go do it better than we do. Have all your friends coming back after the show with their smiles on their faces and all you can hear “Dude, you’re a dick cause you’ve missed it!” . You want to sit there and write crap about it on your mom’s computer, fine! We don’t hezr it, that’s what I’m saying! We don’t see your complain. It never reaches us! There’s no fan out there, I don’t care who you are, there’s no Death fan in the world that would say such stuff. It doesn’t affect us, or what we do. That’s the thing I find most humorous about it! God, if there are people out there complaining about it, fuck that’s news to me. Even if I got an email saying “did you know this person said this about you?” it’s not going to change what I do. I’m Gene Hoglan, I ran my own life. I ran my own metal carrier. You don’t! Go do whatever it is you do. Everybody runs their own carrier! Death decisions as a family. The most thing we do considering the fans, is putting together the set list. Trying to do it for the fans. We’re doing this whole thing for the fans. We’ve all got projects, were we could be doing and concentrating on, but Chuck is beloved. We love Chuck! We love his music. We love playing his music. We love playing together. There’s a whole lot of positives, and thumbs ups, for doing this project. Together with the guys I’m going to be having a huge smile on my face as well. I lov seeing you smile, but I guarantee you I love seeing Di smile as well. That’s why we do it. All the Greek fans of Death and metal in general, you’re gonna have a great time, and really enjoy it!
B.K.: Well, like I said earlier, it’s not the real thing because Chuck’s not there. And it never will be again. But we loved him and his music, and we were his friends, so we’re just out to offer his fans who want to see it the best possible presentation of his music we can offer. And we all get along very well and we like to have fun with it, so you ’ll see that element as well. We probably smile a little too much for a metal band (laughs).
You ’re touring together with one of the most admired progressive death metal bands of our times, Obscura. Death was always death metal and intellect combined. Now, bands like Obscura, seem to have taken Chuck’s spirit and driven their music through it…It’s like this music father taking it’s music child on tour. What’s the spirit within the tour?
G.H.: Well, we love Obscura, we’ve had Steffen Kummerer, well he was our guitar tech for many of these tours. We bring him up to do some “Symbolic” and “Sound Of Perseverance” era music. We are happy to have them. Steff is our good friend and we love him and we’re happy to be together on tour. If Obscura is an example of being influenced by Chuck’s music, this is how it’s been taken to the next level. There’s no better band than Obscura, to help represent the newer era of the Chuck child with the dad etc. The children out there are killing it! There are a lot of great bands out there mainly influenced by Death. Great killer bands. Great musicians, good players, good songs. We are happy to have Obscura with us, and being aware of their Death influences, and if there are bands out there that want to pick up the torch and carry it long, and write some technical death metal, great! Awesome! We love it, we back it, go for it!
B.K.: We all have the utmost respect for Obscura and really admire what they have accomplished and what they do. And of course, Steffen has been on the road with us and has been part of the show, so we ’re really looking forward to working with him again. There newest recording is incredible, so we’re looking forward to hearing those tunes live as well.
All right, thank you for your time and thank you for the music as well! Any few words for closing up this interview… anything you want to say to the hungry Greek fans?
G.H.: If you’re hungry then go out and eat, damn it (laughs)! We love Greece, we are so excited to be coming in Greece and playing Death’s music! Chuck’s music for the Greek fans. We are really excited to bring Death over for you guys! We really hope you enjoy it! We know you will! We know you are going to have a great time. It’s going to be a classic night, that’s going to live for years and years and years! Who says that about their band? Everyone says come down have a good time…I guarantee you this is going to be a night that is going to live for years in you people! What great memories will be there! You’re being promised by a dude in a band that you’re gonna have a show that the memory will last for years? I’m saying No, come out and see Death and walk away with something to hold in your heart for many years! How cool is that? To all our Greek fans, we love you guys, we’re excited to be playing for you, and it’s going to be an amazing, great, incredible night for all, including the band! It’s going to be awesome! (Personal note, I got my friend Ilias, and his band Memorain, they’re opening a couple of these shows, at least one of them. I’m stoked for that, I can’t wait to see Ilias, I played on his record, Stevie Di played on his record, a personal note I’m looking forward to hook up with my friend Ilias ) All right you guys! We love you, thank you very much, we’ll see you in Greece! Bring your metal horns, bring your smiles, bring your fan pants, ready to have some fun listening Death music! Alright! Thank you guys. We’ll catch you soon! Thank you very much! We’ll see ya! Bye bye!
B.K.: As always, thank you for helping to keep Chuck’s music and memory alive. We look forward to a great night of nostalgia with Obscura, combining the old and the new in one of the most amazing places in the world. See you soon. Let the metal flow!!