LiQUiFY recently caught up a few mates from across the really big ditch, and hung out for a night in Brisbane with US legends Hed PE … here’s what followed – Words and photographs by Luke Sorensen
It was late in 2010 when I first ran into Jeremiah Stratton – aka Trauma. He’d just picked up the seat as stick man for the legendary US anomaly group Hed PE and was raging every night behind the kit.
Night after night I got to see them crushing the crowd with a ferocious energy, something that I think it’s safe to say was a lot of fun for all present. Out front was band staple Jared Gnomes, working the crowd and driving his resounding ideology and massive sounds forward like a man possessed and behind was Jeremiah putting his 110 percent in, offering up nothing but a big sound and rich visual flare.
The drum spot in this band had, up until this point, arguably been one of contention and crisis at times, with a series of short-lived experiences seeing four more drummers come and go in as many years – a transitional period that would ultimately culminate in the arrival of Jeremiah onto the scene. The last time I had seen this band was in Coolangatta, with the mighty Anthony Biuso on drums, himself certainly not short of incredible talent and zest for putting on a world-class display – yet here we were, sitting down to dinner with a young man who would eventually go on to become the second longest serving drummer for Hed PE, for now at least ha!
Jeremiah was fresh, and by fresh I mean this guy just oozed charisma and energy which is absolutely the kind of thing that brings the drummer of any band forward into the light. He delivered the songs without compromise, staying true to the legacy of the band’s music whilst adding his own personal stamp of authority to everything he was doing – a real pleasure to watch and hear. On the States tour, we all sat back each night from the side of stage and watched him mould himself into his newfound home, embracing all that the band was and is and will likely be in times ahead. It was clear that with each strike of his sticks against the skins he was becoming his alter-ego namesake, becoming Trauma – there was no doubting that this wasn’t just a job for Jeremiah, this was his fucking mission in life.
Like a lot of politically active and socially involved bands, Hed PE goes full force interweaving strong ideology into its music, expressed both in the lyricism but so very expertly in the actual music as well. If you were to look at big name bands with similar reputations for such persona – band’s like Rage Against The Machine, Pennywise and System Of A Down – it could easily be said that Hed PE is a class leader and innovator that could rival and surpass them in many respects.
In a sort of organised chaos, the band infuses so many elements of metal, funk, reggae, hip hop, punk and hardcore styles with a constant emphasis on delivering it as if it were a punch to your face – not the kind of punch that knocks you out but rather the one that wakes you the fuck up. Unafraid and unreserved Hed PEignites your mind as well as your soul, forcing you to critical thought and inspiration.
It’s no surprise that over the years the resilience of this band has endured above and beyond the people behind the instruments, becoming one of those rare bands that transcends beyond itself to become a stand-alone institution, impervious to the kind of damage that would devastate many other bands in times of transition. In contrast, some bands exist in the frailty of their facade and fakery, so much so that even if a little of what is behind that curtain is exposed, the band implodes upon itself and ceases to function.
From strength to strength and from change to change Hed PE has evolved like a fluid creation should, sucking up the evolution and forging new pathways at every junction, away from the standard direction and laying its own future. The sound of their music is like a wave of evolutionary progress, bending and warping to fit the space it’s in at any given time.
Recently two new members took up the charge, instantly forging the latest chapter for the band and setting it off down yet another pathway. On bass sees the enigmatic Kurt Blankenship take over from long-time string smasher Mark Young – Kurt being only the second bass player to fill this spot. When I was in Brisbane in October this year I went in with zero expectations knowing not what to expect but Kurt quickly placed ownership on his role and demonstrated he is more than capable of keeping up with the bass-laden array of phonics and segments that dominate the band’s overall sound.
Jeremiah is well ingrained with Hed PE nowadays, a real part of the framework and is forging his own story, which is being progressively inked to the pages of this bigger book. He’s a real testament to positivity and truth, living his life deeply connected to these principle ideals. It’s an admirable thing to watch from an outside perspective but recently the positivity exuberated hasn’t necessarily reflected the reality of his existence.
Despite Jeremiah’s outwardly infectious good nature and depth of character, the last year or so has really tested his resolve, not just as a musician but within his own personal life as a series of tragic events hit hard leaving him little joy. After their recent tour here I caught up with him to talk about all things Trauma but it was a difficult topic to broach – perhaps something I could not possibly begin to even understand.
The death of his brother Jacob in July brought shock and devastation to Jeremiah, whose closeness and connectivity to his family and friends is central in life. It had also followed on from the recent loss of a close friend in a motorcycle accident. In an impassioned video message at the time, he told family and friends that, “I’m hanging on by a thread but, I’m hanging in there.”
Nearing the end of his year Jeremiah is reflective and perhaps a somewhat different person, being forced to mature so much in such a short space of time to handle the tragedies in front of him. He reflects a little on it all and tells me, “2015 has been my worst year on a personal level. I lost my dog, a couple of close friends, and I lost my only brother. It’s been very tough, but keeping strong is my only option.”
Jeremiah has put his energy back into his work and his mission, not letting any of these events become an anchor, as it potentially could become or would do for so many.
“I got my family counting on me, and my band, so I can’t let anything deter me from achieving success and happiness, no matter what,” he tells me.
Resolute and driven, he’s ready to draw strength from his pain and place the energy into something with worth. He finishes up saying, “I keep that in mind and just keep moving forward with positivity. Not gonna sit around feeling sorry for myself, that’s for sure.”
We’re chilling at the so-called post-show party now, at the Crowbar in Brisbane where a strange sort of scene has assembled for a few drinks and some mellow times. Jeremiah is in control of the music and he’s blasting out some Faith No More as if it were his gospel for the evening – there are no complaints.
As each punter walks in the door they’re captured by MC Trauma on the microphone, blasting them for just being, and ordering them to go to the bar and get a drink and join him. It’s as bold as it is hilarious given the propensity for the odd nutter to swing first and talk second after midnight in the Valley. Nonetheless you can’t fault Jeremiah’s toxicity – his positive effect on people is almost super-hero instantaneous. He really has delivered a calm sort of happiness to the room which sets the tone for the next hour of conversations, random happenings and custom playlist.
In walks new mate, who happens to be one stellar fucking guitar player, Greg Harrison – aka Gregzilla. I’ve only just met him but you can tell straight away he loves what he does and loves to see people enjoying his art. He’s smiling all the time, a lot, even when he’s in the middle of some intensely complex riff and transitional shred moment, he’s still oozing happiness.
Another evolutionary newcomer to the Hed PE mantelpiece, Greg is however not new to axe playing, and tells me of his intense interest in guitars and the many things he gets up to on them. In fact the multifaceted approach he describes instantly parallels the performance I’ve just witnessed, well not every part of it haha, but the musicianship for sure.
“I started playing guitar about twenty years ago after playing piano for a few years. Early on I got into and learned a lot of Hendrix, Metallica, Pantera, Death, Yngwie Malmsteen and Racer sort of stuff.
“Twelve years ago I moved to Hollywood and studied at G.I.T. (Guitar Institute of Technology) and focused on jazz, blues, Latin, gypsy jazz and country music. After I graduated I began teaching there and even wrote a book called Shred Guitar (available on Hal Leonard).”
Hed PE is not Greg’s only gig either, he’s into some pretty diverse stuff and he tells me he takes on many forms when behind his guitars.
“I also have an extreme metal band we play 9 strings in, called PDP. For me personally, my favourite stuff I like to play in my downtime is gypsy jazz. I also have a gypsy jazz group in Los Angeles called the Hot Club Of North Hollywood, and we’re releasing our first LP early in 2016 on vinyl, which was all recorded live and on video as well.”
The savagery and awesome array of audible arsenal that this band carries with it might be packed into a suitcase every night, but unleashed on stage it is a force to be reckoned with – now more than ever it seems. If there was one thing I do miss from times past, it would be my old mate Doug, or rather DJ Product, the skate fiend. You always knew where he was because you could smell the paint and hear the can rattling away as he dropped his next masterpiece, whether it be on some wall behind a venue or on a recycled skate deck he pulled out of nowhere. His art is pretty slick.
For what seemed like an eternity, Product was spinning records and scratching up a storm behind the band. It’s strange to not see him now but my mind twists on the possibility that we’ll see evolution take its course – some young protégé step up to the plate.
Every time I see this band they put on a killer show, and I’m not talking about some over-rehearsed dazzling show of strobes and flashy moves but a genuine storm straight from the heart – heavily influenced by singer Jared’s deep commitment to the Hed PE institution and philosophy. He’s a private person for the most part but always fronts up to sign merch and share his time with his flock. In a way he’s a sort of father figure to a lot of the kids his music has inspired over the years and the proof is in the audience.
I’m talking to a couple in Brisbane after the show, who’ve flown over from New Zealand just solely to see two of the shows. Such is their commitment they’ve literally travelled 2,300 kilometres – nearly 1500 miles – just to spend a few hours in front of some bands. They tell me they’ve got to get out of here soon – they’ve got a flight to catch but they’re still, in a strange sort of way, losing their collective shit over the excitement of the gig.
As people stream in to the after party they’re coming up to Jeremiah and reaching out to shake his hand, but he’s recoiling. His arm is a mess after playing hard and he’s dealing with a new kind of repetitive strain injury that appears as painful as it is frustrating. He is coming to terms with managing the physical side that comes with the job, explaining his routine.
“Well I’m not 25 anymore that’s for sure haha! So now at 32 years, I find that putting a lot of consideration into my nutrition and overall health makes a huge difference on how I feel while I play. Some drummers are more stiff while some are fluid – I’m quite fluid and move around quite a bit while I play, so being healthy, sober and hydrated on stage is one of the most important things,” he says.
But it’s certainly not a stale point either with a balanced and measured approach to maintaining maximum functionality without sacrificing parts of the touring life that some might argue are also mandatory.
“Now, after the show, as you know, we’ll do something about that whole sober business, hahahaha – but during the show it’s always sober and amped up to shred. That really is the key for me.”
On tour this year with Hed PE is the long awaited and rare performance from the US band Snot, whose turbulent history makes way for the full original line-up to return, minus their original singer Lynn Strait who was tragically killed in a car accident shortly after their debut album was released way back in 1997.
The band erupted on stage in Brisbane, doing the whole debut album Get Some in its entirety – a sort of tribute to Strait. This time it’s with the mighty Carl Bensley on the microphone who doesn’t hold back from the start to the end. Carl is a beast of a vocalist and frontman, driving his piercing stare into the crowd in between launching himself around the place. It might have taken a long time but wow this band is just packing punch after punch after punch! I think both bands this night were equals. This was truly a tour that will be talked about for some time.
Greg resonates exactly what I’m thinking when he tells me, “Australia has been an amazing experience, both the shows and the people. The dudes in Snot are badass and it’s been an honour to shred with them every night.”
Snot’s guitarist Mike Doling needs little introduction, having played not only with Snot from the beginning, but with bands like Soulfly, and currently with Channel Zero formed out of Belgium. He’s going off this night, destroying the place with his incredible playing – stopping late in the set to pour gobfuls of whiskey straight from a bottle into the mouths of those in the front row.
I’m watching this all go down, the electricity and purity and perhaps the abandonment and organised lawlessness of it all, and thinking how truly fucked up the Gold Coast is in respect to the lack of venues, governance and a cultural environment that can attract such amazing events. Save for the odd show at the cramped Cooly Hotel, our so-called tourism city seems to work very hard to shield itself from high energy acts of metal, punk and thrash – despite the massive underground popularity of such things, as evidenced by the addition of an extra show in Brisbane after the first one sold out.
Jeremiah gets to talking again and tells me, “Snot was a whole lot of fun. Great bunch of guys that love to laugh so we were in good company!”
His role in the band has become more involved as he has progressed, from simply playing drums in the beginning to a more managerial support role. We’d all love to think that those things handle themselves but the truth is this is a working-class band and a damn good one at that. Each show’s success is of course measured foremost by the reaction of the fans and the performance, but to travel and do these things whilst paying the bills at home takes a dedicated approach and discipline.
“It’s now seven years since I joined Hed PE and I definitely have more vested interest in the band,” he says.
“Jared and I have gotten much closer now as well after Jackson and Mark left the band, so it’s much more hands-on stuff now compared to only playing the drums. Now I’m dealing with agents, promoters, management, but it’s great, I wouldn’t have it any other way at this moment and I’m happy where we’ve come after all these years.”
Hed PE has outlived and outshone everything and anything that has been thrown at it over the years, from record deals gone sour, personal conflicts and tragedies through to an endless liquid state of identity in respect to its members. Somehow it’s a beast under its own power though and today more than ever maintains a relevance and strength most bands would envy. I ask Jeremiah why he thinks that is, and just how it is that some bands fall and stumble, yet they don’t.
“Well there are many reasons why, in my humble opinion, Hed PE has secured such longevity. First and foremost, no matter who is performing, Hed PE will always be committed to musical excellence and explosive performances. I think that has a huge part in why we continue to thrive in this industry,” he says.
“Also, we are a very diverse band. Where a lot of times a band will stick to one genre of music, we enjoy toying with all sorts of sounds and styles to spice up the creativity. In 2015, it is rarer to find someone who is stuck in, listening to ONLY metal or ONLY reggae. Most people like this and that, and a great advantage we have with Hed PE is that we play all sorts of music. But make no mistake about it, it’s gotta be heavy!”
As for the longstanding political and social themes that are underlying in much of the Hed PE body of work, there’s a tendency to easily see another reason for the band’s longevity. Staunch as fuck and proud to make a stand, Jared’s lyrics have always gone straight for the throat of every issue he tackles. Whether you like it or not, or more so whether you agree or not, there’s no doubting his conviction and passion for the things he sees as wrong with his country and the world, and seeks to change.
A family man, a parent and a husband, Jared is not short on advice for politicians and leaders who want to fuck with the little guys and uses his powerful music to disseminate ideas and information in line with his strong views – much to the liking of the Hed PE tribe who draw strength from it.
As it is, we all have differing views of the state of the world today, and Jeremiah is no different to any, however I have to ask him if he’s down for the entire Hed PE mission and mantra and if it’s something that affects his drumming.
He laughs and doesn’t want to get too deep into it, but tells me, “it’s a great question! The lyrical content is Jared’s and while I agree with some things, others are debatable haha!”
I look around the room of dwindling sore heads in the Crowbar, late is the hour and the tour manager has just rocked up to drag these guys off to another city – such is the life of the touring musician. Boarding the submarine to surface again the next day – new town, new crowd, new high-impact show.
Greg wraps up telling me, “Joining Hed PE has been awesome. The guys are super rad and we all gel really well together musically and personally. It’s been a real easy fit, we’re really looking to the future right now and it’s looking bright.” It’s been good to see my friend Jeremiah showing us all how keeping your chin up and your attitude straight can take you places. He reckons, “I love performing more than doing anything else. It feels so great to be able to meet so many great people on the planet. I mean hey, it brought me to you Luke haha! I’m honoured to have this chance to do such things and I don’t take it for granted.
“Australia has always been good to us and I hope to be coming back as much as possible.” //
Jeremiah Stratton throws shout outs and thanks to Pearl Drums, Scorpion Stix Percussion, Sullen Art Collective, Soultone Cymbals and Greg from The Drum Cartel //