Catching Up With James Rivera of Helstar
The new Helstar 2 CD/1 DVD set 30 years of Hel contains songs pulled from the bands entire career recorded from a concert in the bands hometown of Houston Texas earlier this year. Was this show performed specifically to coincide with the concept of a career spanning type event or did it just end up that way?
It was all planned out that way from the get go. The show had been promoted that way from the moment it had been confirmed. I think however it the show took on a life of its own because of our rabid fans.
Are there some songs or albums touched upon during this performance that have either rarely been played out or have never been performed live?
Songs from Multiples of Black have not been performed live since 1995. It has long been considered “the black sheep of the family” album and now “Good Day To Die” is one of the most liked songs in the set based on crowd response.
If someone were to ask you “Hey James, I’ve never heard of your band before. But I’m interested in making a single purchase for my collection and I want THE defining moment of Helstar”. What would you say to him?
You know what I’d probably say to him is that the 30th year Anniversary set that we just released wouldn’t be a bad place to start. Not only because it touches upon our entire career but also it because it defines our band musicallyand our sound as a band in 2012. Our newer albums are a whole lot heavier than our older material I would almost describe it as “Melodic Thrash”. I would also more than likely suggest they go get The King of Hell (2008) and Glory (2010) because it is much more representative of what Helstar is now and always wanted to be. Forget the past. Then again how do I know that this guy is not more into classic metal like Judas Priest sounding bands, which is where his heart and mind may be? Then maybe I made a bad move and should have suggested Burning Star (1984). He might like that much more. The new Live album is the safest way to go about answering it. The other point I would like to make about that older material is that this release presents that older material in a much heavier light here in 2012. The whole show makes all the material sound fresh and current although some of the tracks are thirty years old!
Helstar did a tour of Europe last month how did it go?
It went great. We got to go to some obscure countries for the first time. That’s the most exciting part about playing in Europe we love all of our German and Dutch families we call “Mainland Europe”. Belgian and Austria are always going to be part of our trip over there it’s inevitable. We went to Turkey and Budapest this time and it just took our excitement level up a notch. The energy level in those counties is so intense because they don’t get much exposure to metal over there.
Do you think European audiences are more dedicated to classic metal than here in the US?
Without question. It’s a way of live over there and not a trend like it was here in the States. As our corporate world takes over and one minute we are into this type of music or that band and then the next band and the next style of music. The odd thing about that question is it’s not just Europe it’s the rest of the world except us! Mexico, Canada, all of South America true metal fans. Metal is big everywhere but here. Sad but true.
While you were in Europe after the Helstar dates you also performed in a tribute band correct?
I have a tribute band called “Sabbath Judas Sabbath” The Ultimate Tribute to Black Sabbath and Judas Priest The Dio years only. It’s basically my own small little enterprise. I have seven chapters total now. Six in America and one in Europe. The one in Europe may expand to two or three. The one I have in Europe right now is a band called Metalsteel from Slovenia (metalsteel.net) . Intially I was paying in Germany and Holland where all of my main contacts are located and fans were driving 10 11 hours to a gig. So I need to be around closer to their home turf. So when I was there we did one show in Italy and 3 in Spain. When I know Helstar is going over I always try and book gigs for a week or two longer while I’m there.
You played a few shows in Texas earlier this month and you have another scheduled for The Warehouse in Houston where you shot the DVD on December 1 and the big 70, 000 Tons Of Metal Cruise Jan 28-Feb 1 2013 are there talks of doing any other touring throughout the US?
I don’t think so. Right now we are in the initial stages of writing for the new Helstar record. Just going through some ideas and some riffs right now. For me personally I’m going to start booking more Sabbath Judas Sabbath gigs for the US maybe through mid spring. That’s what keeps me busy in between projects I get antsy otherwise! My latest new chapter of this tribute band is now out of Pittsburgh and I did some shows with them prior to leaving for Europe.
Will there be a new Helstar album in 2013?
Yes there will. I’m working on that right now.
You took some vocal lessons early in your career with an opera teacher?
After I did Burning Star, the first record, I decided I needed to seek some assistance up until then I was just all natural self taught. Singing is a god given gift. People can give voice lessons but if you don’t have that gift of a unique voice you can’t teach that. A trained singer will know based on hearing your voice if you have the potential to become a singer. I was noticing early on that I was losing my voice and having problems with my vocal cords and I was abusing them because I wasn’t breathing right. This friend of mine knew this teacher who was the Houston Opera Trainer and she also worked at the Houston School of Performing Visual Arts. Basically it was a school for gifted kids who went here instead of a regular high school so that they could study their art more. Still have regular school subjects but focus more on their individual talents. This friend of mine went to that school for art and he knew her. He gave her Burning Star and he told her I was interested in taking lessons. She actually called me. She said she listened to the whole record every single song. She then said honestly there isn’t much I can show you. I thought that meant..you suck! But then she said you already have a gift. What I can teach you is how to breathe properly and that’s what your problem is. So for 2 months once a week she taught me how to breathe from my diaphragm. I still use them today. It’s like learning how to breathe again like when you’re a baby. Watch a baby breath. That’s why there belly’s are going in and out. As we get older and gravity takes over and our bodies change we start to breath more from our chest and lungs more and less from the belly. Good singers breathe like babies!
I heard an audio interview where you talked about your first band that you were in called Death Wish (cool name by the way! Charles Bronson was king in 1980!) and you were doing covers by Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Scorpions are you good at mimicking different voices?
Yes I can. As a kid I was always trying to mimic actors on TV, film, and cartoon characters. My mom told me even I was very small I was always doing something with my voice, besides singing. Something I have started to look into is voiceover work. If anyone is reading this and can point me in the right direction please let me know!
Other than writing for a new Helstar record are you working on any other musical projects at this time?
I had joined the band Malice and we released a new album this year called “New Breed of Godz” and we almost went to Europe as well. The problem was that our guitar player (Mick Zane) had some medical issues with one of his hands and Jay Reynolds has been busy with Metal Church as well. I’m sure we will do another Malice record when the time is right.
I also understand that you are a real Rat Pack Fan like myself? Do you think you could have pull off hanging with that group knowing their reputation for nonstop partying?
You think the bands from the 70’s and 80’s partied hard..those guys had raised the bar so high I don’t think anyone is ever going to come close to that 3 ring circus! How easy could be living in Las Vegas playing at one Hotel doing two or three sets a night for 2 or 3 weeks in a row! Not getting on a tour bus going from city to city these guys never had to travel for long distances. I would love to travel back in time and spend a whole day trying to keep up..
Are there still musical goals and endeavors that James Rivera wants to accomplish?
There are several. Because I admire singers like Tony Bennett, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Neil Diamond I have always wanted to start a smooth jazz project. Totally different from anything I have ever done but it is a passion of mine and I hope to be able to pursue it at some point. The other guys in Helstar became big time IT guys with huge companies after the early success of the band. I never did. They have the luxury of touring as their vacation! I kept crawling around like a roach in the 90’s trying to survive in this business. But they owe the comeback of Helstar to me because I kept the fire lit and the passion alive it made it a possibility for them to come back for a reunion. I will die with a microphone in my hand. When the metal days are over and I can’t hit those notes any longer it will be time to put on a suit with long grey hair and do my jazz thing!