November 12, 2017 – Chad Hanks (American Head Charge) was born in 1971 in Los Angeles, California.
With vocalist friend Cameron Heacock he formed American Head Charge in 1997 after they met in 1995 in rehab in Minneapolis and emerged as major players from the late ’90s nu-metal boom. The success of their 1999 indie debut, Trepanation, caught the ear of mega-producer Rick Rubin (Metallica, Beastie Boys, Chili Peppers), who signed the band to his American Recordings label and got the group out to his allegedly haunted Los Angeles mansion to record 2001’s “The War of Art.” Metal magazines Kerang and Rough Edge each gave the album four-star reviews (out of five), and VH1 picked it as one of the “12 Most Underrated Albums of Nü Metal.”
The following observation was included in the liner notes to Trepanation:
“No Thanks To: Any Minneapolis local music publications (you know who you are…) that have ignored and/or continue to ignore the hardcore/industrial/rapcore local scene. Take your Replacements memories and shove them up your collective asses.”
During the recording of that album, guitarist Charlie Paulson of the Los Angeles ska-rock band Goldfinger — a childhood friend of Hanks’ from California — described how Hanks provided the fuel behind AHC’s fiery sound.
“Dissatisfaction with the world at large makes him play music,” Paulson said. “And then it’s not being satisfied with the music that’s being made that makes him play the kind of music he plays. There are musicians very few and far between that are as talented as that guy.”
Hanks and frontman Cameron Heacock were AHC’s two constant members, enduring such calamity as the sudden death of guitarist Bryan Ottoson in 2005 and more stints in treatment programs. Bryan died of an accidental prescription drug overdose in 2005 while on tour supporting their second album “The Feeding”. He was only 27.
The band broke up a couple of years later, but reformed in 2011 and toured worldwide alongside heavyweight radio-rockers like Mudvayne, Ozzy Osbourne, Slipknot, and Metallica.
But both being the principal songwriters for the band, they stood out through their intelligent lyrics and balls to the wall industrial metal rock, which had created a loyal following that wanted more.
With the new world of the internet, DIY recording-production and distribution had become big in Indie Rock and Chad successfully appealed to their following with the request to fund their next endeavor: AHC’s fourth and last full-length, Tango Umbrella, came out in 2016 and was fully funded by an Indie Gogo fundraiser.
His Facebook page said on May 2, 2014: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! Just minutes ago, AHC reached our $46,000 Indiegogo campaign goal, with 15 days left! THANK YOU ALL!!!!!!!!! New added perks are still coming, as well as a few new ones up there right now. Every single bit goes to furthering the future of this band. Who needs record companies when we have such a beautiful, loving, and caring fanbase?
They actually ended up with a total sum of $52,600 from the fundraiser.
Chad Hanks lived the overrated and often misunderstood live of rock musicians all over the world. A dream, talent, passion and the hope to find a following that can sustain their life style as a fulltime musician. Most often it does not work that way, especially with rapidly declining numbers of venues in recent decades. This was the case with Chad Hanks too. He more or less complemented his income with odd jobs and teaching guitar. According to the numerous tributes from his students he was very good at that.
Amazing guy — he touched so many students’ lives as a teacher at School of Rock for many years. Those kids are devestated this week — my son said Chad changed his life, allowing him to become the man he is today. Phenomenal bassist, even better human.
Sometimes it is hard to draw the line where someone is a rock and roll legend to be included in this line up and when someone is just an innocent bystander in a rock and roll world of wanna-be’s. Musicians like Chad Hanks don’t have their names in the magazines and papers every week. They operate in niche markets, mostly because they don’t want to bend to the flavor of the month. That doesn’t mean they are not good. They just don’t want to sacrifice their integrity as musicians.
I decided to include an interview Chad did with Livewire, just a couple of years before his untimely death from a terminal disease. He was full of life, spit and vinegar and passion for the future. Proud of their fanbase and the band. His Facebook in late 2016 showed one happy entry where he announced his engagement. It soon became real quiet after that.
Chad Hanks died on November 12, 2017. He was only 46 years old.
Livewire: Probably one of the hardest things to come up with is a name for your band. You are stuck with it forever. So with that in mind, where did you get your name?
Chad: Just came up with it. It means nothing. No meaning by it. Pretty much that purpose right there. Do you think what a Led Zeppelin actually is?
Livewire: Well, there’s a story behind that one. Someone said you’re going to go over like a …
Chad: …Led Zeppelin. But as far as a name having a meaning to it… After the name is introduced to the public and if the band has any longevity to it, the name doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s just a word that identifies you. And I’m a fan of 3-word names. One of the first names we used was Gestapo Pussy Ranch.
Livewire: There goes my next question. Of course you would have been known as G.P.R.
Chad: Right. Warsaw Ghetto Pussy was another possibility.
Livewire: So you were into pussy apparently.
Chad: Well, you know it was an offensive name.
Livewire: Can you really offend anyone at this point? You just wouldn’t be stocked at Walmart.
Chad: Yeah exactly. You get a sticker on your f*ckin’ CD.
Livewire: What do you feel sets your music apart from other metal acts these days?
Chad: It doesn’t suck. [dramatic pause] There’s a lot of shit out there right now. There’s a lot of bland modest rock…moderate rock / bland rock. It’s like a bowl of oatmeal that’s been sitting out for a while and has no taste to it. It’s just weird. We have been on some bills, I won’t say which ones. I won’t name band names.
Livewire: You’ve been on Ozzfest this year, as well as the Pledge of Allegiance Tour. Now you’re opening up for Slayer.
Chad: We’ve done odd dates with other bands. Stuff like that here and there. But it gets to the point sometimes where I’d walk off the bus and I could hear music and I couldn’t differentiate between who was onstage.
Livewire: So you say you don’t suck.
Chad: Well, suck is subjective.
Livewire: I agree, so what do you do mean. Why don’t you or how don’t you suck?
Chad: I think we probably put a little more thought into arrangements and I think we put a lot of thought into sonics, layering, melody, counter-melody, tempo changes and mood changes. You know you put on a record and the first song sounds like the second and the fourth sounds like the seventh song. Why even make a record? Why don’t you just make a single? (laughs) I’d like to believe our record kinda does this [gestures a peak and valleys motion.] We got different moods and textures.
Livewire: It seems like you’re playing with a lot of different genres within the metal mainframe.
Chad: Yeah, without losing the audience. We don’t want to sound like Mister Bungle or anything like that.
Livewire: So how was it to work with THE Rick Rubin?
Chad: It was great. I’d heard horror stories about other producers berating musicians and giving them a hard time. Real hardcore assholes, kind of iron-fist mentality. Whereas Rick was a very gentle, warm, ultra-creative…really easy person to get along with. And it translates into, ‘Let’s try this guys.’ So we’d try different arrangements and literally 8 or 9 times out of 10 it was like, ‘wow, why didn’t we think of that!?’ (laughs)
Livewire: And that’s what he should be, right?
Chad: Yeah, it’s like cutting half of this out, going straight into the chorus here and whatever. Arranging it different. We never realized the song could be so good.
Livewire: Was there anytime that Rick went into a direction you didn’t like?
Chad: That was one of the main reasons we went with American [Recordings.] We have the ultra final say. On everything. I mean ads and papers don’t go out until they come through me or Cameron [Heacock.] So down from tiny little things like that, all the way to the songs on the record.
Livewire: Was it intimidating to speak up?
Chad: He would say, ‘let’s try this’ and we’d give it a shot and we don’t like it. He’d say or you sure? No. Okay, lets move on.
Livewire: You’ve said there’s good and bad metal out there. With this in mind, who are some of your contemporaries that you admire these days?
Chad: Such a hard question, man. Um, the Tenacious D record is really good. (laughs) It’s one of the best records I’ve heard in like six months. I had the song “Dio” stuck in my head for two days. The Slipknot record [Iowa] is really good.
Livewire: I couldn’t get into it. It’s just gruuuuuu!
Chad: It’s a blast record. Everything’s on 12. But you know there’s moods when I get into that. Slayer’s record is awesome. And I’m not just blowing smoke because we are on tour with them. That f*ckin’ record is really good. System’s [of a Down] record is amazing.
Livewire: And doing really well.
Chad: Doing VERY well.
Livewire: I think it all began with Marilyn Manson covering Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams.” Any chance you guys might cover a classic ’80s hit? What are your thoughts on this fad in general?
Chad: I think it could be the absolute kiss of death. It’s the Orgy syndrome.
Livewire: Right, with [New Order’s] “Blue Monday.”
Chad: It was a solid cover. I mean you become known for someone else’s song right off the bat. You better have a bunch of good shit in the bag as back-up. Um, I love doing covers. I’m a total fan of doing them live.
Livewire: What covers have you done?
Chad: We did “Filth Pig” from Ministry for a compilation. We did “Irresponsible Hate Anthem” [Marilyn Manson] once or twice. We also did that for a compilation. Whenever we try to do something we either have to recreate samples. Also, we have to find instrumentation for seven people.
Livewire: So everyone has to be included in it?
Chad: Yeah, I don’t want to do like a Sex Pistol song and have two keyboard players sitting out picking their noses and scratching their butts.
Livewire: Any guilty pleasures that might shock us? Like can we find Britney’s latest or Tony Bennett in your cd changer right now?
Chad: No. Well, we’re into a lot of weird shit. You might probably be surprised to find P.J. Harvey or Tom Waits maybe. But those are two artists that are amazing. Absolutely amazing. Not really guilty pleasures just maybe stranger thing to find in our CD case.
Livewire: You’re from Minneapolis, which really isn’t associated or known as a breeding ground for hardcore metal. Was it hard to emerge from that scene?
Chad: Yeah. Well, it was a blessing and it was hard at the same time. It was a blessing because nothing like that at all was going on there. But at the same time when I moved out there after I think 1995. Once I got out of a treatment center there was no heavy rock scene. It was like real bad throw back metal bands that didn’t realize that it’s not 1985 anymore. There were like jam bands. Everyone was sucking The Replacements’ dick in that city. And that was all you had. Oh, and Prince, of course. But there was nothing like that going on. So we made our own group. I’d like to believe that we had something to do with the current heavy metal scene going on there now.
Livewire: That’s got to be pretty satisfying.
Chad: Yeah, since then there’s a band I hooked up with Mudvayne’s manager now. One band there that’s hooked up with Sony are doing some stuff. So there’s some good shit happening there that’s relevant. Opposed to the crap that was there 6 or 7 years ago.
Livewire: You mentioned that you pretty much met either at rehab or halfway houses.
Chad: Actually, currently in the band right now there’s four of us that met like that. Me, Dave, Martin and Chris. But actually we just happen to be sober and met him [Chris] at a music school. The other three guys are normal, well…
Livewire: Are you guys staying clean or is it a struggle in the vein of Scott Weiland?
Chad: Um, no (holding up a Newcastle beer), thank God. Personally, I got the monkey off my back.
Livewire: Are you now picking and choosing your vices?
Chad: Yeah, it’s weird when you’re in the program and you’re sober. I was four years sober. They definitely make you believe and I can understand why. If you try it your head will explode. So you live in this kind of fear.
Livewire: What made your decision to finally say I’m going to drink?
Chad: I ran it through my head for 8 or 9 months before that wondering if I could. Whether I would ever drink again or even smoke a joint again and not run out and start shooting dope and sell all my gear. And, like, f*ck over all the people that depend on me.
Livewire: So you were in the program and you went to the meetings?
Chad: Oh yeah, the whole deal.
Livewire: Still do?
Livewire: Don’t feel the need for it?
Chad: Doing this is a nice…it’s kinda like if you sit there running the tape through. There’s a lot relying. Not to sound egotistical or blow smoke up my ass or toot my own horn. But there’s a lot riding on the fact that I keep this all together. There’s this and everything is all interconnected. I’d f*ck it up with my six best friends. I’d f*ck up the possibility of people dumping tons of money into us not trusting us anymore. It goes all the way down the line. Those are bad odds. I wouldn’t bet on being able to try using heroin again and keep us all together. It just isn’t going to happen.
Livewire: This summer you were on Ozzfest. And I understand that Martin, the singer, burned an American flag and also shot a gun off during a performance. Along with your lyrics, do you feel since the tragic events of September 11th, that these can be taken as anti-American messages. Combined with your sometimes violent images, they might not be too well received now. Have you toned it down a bit?
Chad: Well, personally I don’t care. My personal views are the flag is a piece of cloth. I know how I feel inside and I don’t need something physical to represent how I feel about this country. I’ve never felt like that in my entire life. I was actually the last one rallying to keep doing it. The shotgun thing is one thing. The problem with the shotgun is it’s just not legal. It’s got to be a stage gun. The barrels got to be blocked at which point it’s not effective anymore. Then you’re doing a sfx show. The flag thing, after what happened on the 11th we were just about to start the Pledge tour. We were still with Mudvayne when that happened. So we had the okay to burn the flag.
Livewire: When you say the ‘okay’…what does that mean? The okay from who?
Chad: (A series of people who were involved in putting the Pledge tour together.) They are behind what we are doing. Opposed to Ozzfest where Sharon (Osbourne) is laying down the law and we really have no say. These are people where like we want to do this and we want to make sure it’s okay. And we are going to make sure the fire codes and everything are fine. We want pyro and you can do what you want on the tour. So it comes down to this happening and I’m talking on the phone to Gary. And he’s like, ‘dude, you can’t f*ckin’ do that.’ Gary’s my manager. I bring in the band and the booking agent, Dave Kirby. Everybody’s like, ‘you can’t.’ So I finally got so f*cking frustrated of people being scared, I literally put my hands up and said, ‘f*ck it,f*ck it, we won’t do it. Good good…next?’
Livewire: How do you feel about it in retrospect?
Chad: The only reason I can come up with to say that it was okay was the fact that just by Serj in System [of a Down] writing that essay he did on the website. I mean the guy got bomb threats, the guy got death threats. They beefed up security on the Pledge Tour because of things like that. And I’m not going to get f*ckin’ stabbed in the back or shot by some overzealous f*ckin’ weird ass patriot. Because he decided to snap in the parking lot because we burned a flag.
Livewire: So you don’t consider it a sellout, you consider it…
Chad: SMART! To me it’s really more of a safety issue.
Livewire: Have you ever considered yourself patriotic or do you feel more patriotic since what’s happened?
Chad: I feel the same. I’m not political at all. There’s no political message that you’ll ever hear come out of my mouth.
Livewire: I can tell you guys are mostly Republicans. With this in mind how do you feel on how George W. is handling the country?
Chad: I don’t care. (laughs)
Livewire: Did you vote for him…did you vote at all?
Chad: I didn’t vote. The one time I have voted in my life I voted for Jesse Ventura.
Livewire: And of course he won.
Chad: He won and I got my 300 bucks in the mail. I mean it was cool. I didn’t follow the whole campaign. I just knew that he was like that weirdo that needed to be in office. That’s about as far as I thought. Someone who’s a little different who’s going to do things differently.
Livewire: Still you got to have some thoughts on George W. He’s got a rating that’s off the charts right now.
Chad: I don’t think that anybody that comes into power as President can really do anything gigantically different. I really personally don’t feel that regardless of who is in the White House. My life is pretty much going to be the same.
Livewire: Even in this current environment? I mean this is the biggest thing that has ever happened to our country. Pearl Harbor is small potatoes compared to September 11th. It IS a different world at this point.
Chad: I think he’s doing a good job. I do believe we need to find this asshole and get rid of him. It’s not cool to fly planes into buildings. I’m not down with that. Don’t get me wrong.
Livewire: Do you think you’re in denial or do you really feel that we’re America and for the most part my life hasn’t changed for what I’ve known it for all these years and why would it now? Do you think that’s ignorance?
Chad: Might be. It might very well be. Then again, I might just be callous and shallow and not care. I’ve actually thought about that. (laughs) I don’t want to sound like this unfeeling person. I understand that people lost family and lost loved ones. I understand the magnitude of what happened. So I don’t want to come off that I don’t care that thousands of people died. I really want to make that clear. All I want to say that personally it has not affected me. I didn’t know anyone there.
Livewire: So what’s next after your stint with Slayer? Any possibility like many artists such as Paul McCartney and now Billy Joel that you may consider doing a classical music CD?
Chad: It would be interesting. Actually Coal Chamber already did that.
Livewire: Are you working on any new material?
Chad: We’ve been writing here and there. We actually just talked to our manager about getting us some Protools. A mobil Protools rig.
Livewire: Okay, is that like on the computer?
Chad: Yeah, it’s a computer program. It’s basically what we recorded the whole album on. We got the physical drives with all the songs on in storage. So we can do remixes on the bus. It’s a really good way to get some material together while we’re on the road.
Livewire: Are the songs you’ve been working on in the same vein as the “Art of War?”
Chad: We haven’t really gotten shit. We got skeletal pieces of songs and riffs, and riffs that go together. It would really take more to have an actual set-up in the bus. To where we can start playing these different sounds and samples.
Livewire: And this is the plan for the future.
Chad: Yeah, definitely. I don’t want to get off the road and go, ‘shit, we’ve got to write twelve songs. You have six weeks…go.’ I’d rather let it marinate overtime.
Livewire: What do you think the future of metal holds? There is a resurgence of interest in it, where it’s become alternative rock at this point.
Chad: You know what, it’ll wane again in a couple of years and then it’ll come back again.
Livewire: Right now you have the new metal and then you have the boy bands and Britney Spears.
Chad: First of all, I hate that term ‘new metal.’ Someone came up with that for lack of a better term for something they couldn’t describe. It’s a nice tag that sheep can latch onto.
Livewire: Well, us journalists we have to call it something.
Livewire: Well, but that could be Elvis Presley!?
Chad: I’ve been hard pressed to find any kind of tag that I feel comfortable with. People say, ‘describe your music.’ I can give you bands I like. I can give you bands that Dave likes. I can give you bands that Martin likes. But you’re not necessarily going to understand that you can hear Oingo Boingo in the music. You know what I mean?
Livewire: Are you saying you are influenced by Oingo Boingo?
Chad: F*ck yeah.
Livewire: “Dead Man’s Party”? What are we talking about?
Chad: Dude, we’re talking “Only a Lad”… See out in California it’s okay to like Oingo Boingo. They use to do a Halloween show every Halloween in L.A. It was a thing that happened for ten or twelve years. That’s what you would do on Halloween. They would throw this huge party.
Livewire: And look, where did Danny Elfman go? He went to classical.
Chad: Scores, composing and arranging. He’s f*cking brilliant.
Livewire: So maybe I was onto something?
Chad: Hey, if I’m doing what he’s doing in ten years I won’t be upset. Not at all.