It’s been a rough couple of years for Long Island hardcore mainstays This is Hell. Parting with half of their band and their former label, not to mention scrapping the first few takes off of what would become their new album (Weight of the World), all in the span of about a year, it’s been… well, hell.
But the six-year-old band, no strangers to setbacks and hard knocks, picked themselves up and did what they always do best… hit the road.
Well-accustomed to cramped vans and out-of-the-way punk rock clubs from Atlanta to Amsterdam, This is Hell soldiers on, content with making an impact on hardcore kids, one tour stop at a time.
Founding member and guitarist Rick Jiminez spoke recently about the new record, living for the band and life on the road.
Innocent Words: It looks like you guys have a pretty tough tour schedule coming up.
Rick Jiminez: To be honest, it’s really not that busy for us, compared to what we normally do. We’ve been home now for about a month and a half, and we go out for a month in the U.S. and a week and a half in the UK. For us, that’s pretty slow.
IW: Is spending so much time on the road by design? Did you purposely start out saying let’s be on the road as much as possible, or did it just happen?
Jiminez: When we first started, that was kind of the point of the band, to go out full time as many shows a year as possible. All of us had done other bands for years, but none of us had really done it full time for one reason or another. This is just something we wanted to do, not just make hardcore music a hobby, but do it full time and make it our lives. The whole point in the beginning, aside from making music and having a good time, was to go and play as many shows as possible. The first couple of tours we just kind of booked ourselves… even our first European tour. I’d say for the first few years we were a band, the longest we were ever home at a time was five weeks out of the year.
IW: That just seems like it would be tough to have a life outside of the band.
Jiminez: It’s completely impossible. It was kind of the difference between a hobby and making this band a top priority. That’s why we are always out so much. We’ve gone through tons of label changes and member changes and writing a new record, which is why we haven’t been out as much lately.
IW: So, what do you do when you’re back home?
Jiminez: I try to get some work in because I’ve got to make money somehow.
IW: And how do you do that? Obviously you can’t have a traditional 9-to-5 job.
Jiminez: What I’ve been doing somewhat recently is tiling. My brother-in-law runs a tiling business, so when there’s extra work he can throw around, he’ll throw me a bone, so I can try and make ends meet. But, it’s definitely rough.
Jiminez: You know, that’s a hard question because it wasn’t really that hard. It was something we had wanted for so long and something we had done on a small scale, so it wasn’t like we were thrown completely into a foreign environment. Like you were saying before, having a life outside the band became increasingly difficult, but that’s the sacrifice you make to live the life we do. That’s rough and that’s a reason why we’ve had so many member changes; making a commitment like that is not for everyone. Especially since we’re a hardcore band, there’s not that many positives. It’s hard to maintain doing a hardcore band forever because there’s close to no money being made, there’s no fame, no glamour, there’s no people thinking you’re cool. Especially us, we’re not a band that is drawing in tons of people.
IW: That being said, what is it that’s kept you from dropping this and giving up music?
Jiminez: You know, it’s a combination of a couple of different things. It’s funny, I’m probably the most pessimistic person out there, but at the same time, I’m one of the few that is still doing this. When we play shows and there’s someone who knows our songs and gets psyched at what we’re doing, that’s definitely an amazing feeling. By no means do I ever take that for granted… I also do like that I don’t have the regular 9-to-5 existence. That to me is completely dreadful. I don’t think I could be in a more miserable spot than that. But that’s what a majority of the world does. You’re taught from a very early age that it’s all building up to getting a 9-to-5 job and going through the motions. It’s not like I was some super progressive thinker, but I never once fed into that. Even when I was super young, every one of my aspirations in life was to not end up like that.
IW: So, did you know all along you were going to play music, or was it just do anything but a normal job?
Jiminez: Oh, it definitely was going to be music. I think one of my earliest memories in life was about wanting to be in a band. I remember at 3 years old watching Def Leppard on MTV and making fake guitars out of cardboard and wanting to be in a band. And I didn’t even learn how to play guitar until I was 11 or 12. Once I started playing guitar, everything else was based around trying to be in a band. And once I heard hardcore, that was it!
IW: So, how did you get into hardcore and punk?
Jiminez: I was actually more of a metal head growing up. The first band I really, really liked was Def Leppard, and from there went to Guns N’ Roses, which became Metallica and Megadeth, which became Pantera and Slayer. From there, you discover other bands. When bands like Green Day and Offspring came out, I was still a metal head and started to find punk bands and then hardcore bands. When I saw Sick of It All for the first time, it was like a switch going off. Everything made sense. Musically, it was what my life had been leading up to.
IW: You guys played with Sick of It All recently. What was that like?
Jiminez: We’ve played with them a few times, and it’s completely ridiculous. That band is the embodiment of everything that is correct with music, so being accepted and treated like a peer by them is completely, unbelievably ridiculous to me. That was always the goal for me, being able to play with Sick of It All…. And you know what, that still is the pinnacle for me. That’s also how I feel about being asked to play some shows in Europe with Agnostic Front. That band invented New York hardcore. No one can dispute that.
IW: You had mentioned something earlier I want to get back to. You’ve got as new drummer, a new bass player, so half the band is new. How does that change the dynamic of the group?
Jiminez: Dynamic wise, it changes because it’s a different group of people hanging out, which in itself is a pretty big difference. Our last bass player and our current bass player are completely different personalities. In fact, our last bass player’s name is John Moore.
IW: Yeah, I was hoping you didn’t think Innocent Words brought in your old bandmate to interview you.
Jiminez: (Laughs.) Me and John grew up together. He’s been my best friend since 1985.The group dynamic changes just because there are different personalities in the band. Writing-wise, there’s not as much difference as you think. I’ve essentially been the main songwriter early on… When I first started writing this record, it sounded a lot like the last one, and I wasn’t really feeling some of the songs. If I write something and listening back to the demo don’t feel anything, that’s usually it for that song.
IW: So, did you make a conscious decision to change it up at that point?
Jiminez: It wasn’t “I don’t want to do this because it sounds just like the last record;” it was more a concern of whether I liked what I was hearing and what I was trying to get out and express. The first few songs that we wrote, and we ended up scrapping, weren’t really what I wanted to write about. It had a dark, brooding feel, and I was really over that at this point. Little by little, as I kept writing, the stuff became faster, more aggressive and thrashy and metal-ish. It was more of the attitude of how the band was feeling at the time.
IW: How have you been affected by the economy? God knows it must cost you guys to fill up the van a lot more than a few years ago.
Jiminez: It’s not really that we can’t do as much, but that we are hardly making any money. If gas prices were the way they were eight years ago, it’d be crazy. We still play shows where we are getting dick, where we may or may not break even.
IW: You guys have played with some pretty disparate bands like Bayside and Glass Jaw. Have you guys ever played shows that were completely the wrong crowd for you?
Jiminez: Totally. We’re not always correct with the decisions we make. We think “This is going to be such a great tour, it’s going to be great,” and it’s a terrible thing: no merch every night, no one comes to see us.