A Conversation with Jamie Jasta of Hatebreed

This is the original transcript of the interview, only minor editing has been applied for readability. This has been the basis for articles but has never been published in the original form.

Wortraub: You are being described by the press and of course by your label as the most hardcore band in music. What do you think qualifies you for that?
Jamie:
Are we? I mean, all we do really, is emulating the bands that we looked up to over the years, adding our little take on it. We always liked Sepultura, Slayer, Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, so when we write we just want it to be adrenalin fuelled, charged music. As heavy as we can go. I’m pleased with the end results. All three records, I went back to and listened to while we were doing the record. I listen to a lot of other bands but I still think we are on top of our game. I really feel, on this last record as well, I think we have proved ourself.

Wortraub: I just got a chance to listen to the album. It sounds even hard and less compromising than the last one. Will there even be a single?`
Jamie:
Not really. The video is probably going to be „Defeatist“, which is like straight out of hell, fast and brutal.

Wortraub: The only possibly less hard song I could figure was „Destroy Everything“ …
Jamie:
Right, that is more Sepultura-style, a little more of a groove.

Wortraub: Why do you keep to your hardcore musically and do not experiment?
Jamie:
We start off fast. To experiment would be shooting ourselves in the foot. I think, our fans have come to love a certain aspect of the music, a lot of it is the break-downs, the fast parts, the tempo changes, the adrenalin of it all. With this record we really try to tap into that where I could I picture going berserk at the shows. It is more of a record where I thought about the live response more than anything.

Wortraub: You were going for a very direct sound, like the live shows?
Jamie:
Yeah, just cause I want everybody to get the feeling out of it that I get performing it. I try to come up with chants, big sing-alongs and choruses, that people can relate to.

Wortraub: But the sing-alongs would actually imply more melody, a hook?
Jamie:
You are over-thinking it. It is really primal. Words can’t really describe what the outcome of it is. You go to a show, you go crazy, you loose your mind and you are singing it and wether you it’s entertainment or wether you really believe in the words and you feel it, it’s an individual experience for each one. It’s got to be primal, it’s got to be bludgeoning, it’s got to hit you over the head. If it doesn’t, than it is not Hatebreed.

Wortraub: The new album is called „Supremacy“, which is even one step further than „The Rise Of Brutality“. „Supremacy“ in the sense of staying your course…
Jamie:
… it is also about supremacy over the demons, the darkness, depression. It is the supremacy of self, personal power, power over one’s self, whatever it is that holds you back. So it is a multifaceted, very loaded word, that would really grab people’s attention, be like: „What’s this going to be about?“. That is why the booklet is going to be like twenty pages of just documenting two years of my life, where I lost family members. I’ve had serious deterioration in relationships with people I thought I could trust. I lost our manager to a brain tumor. It just made me rethink everything, like my mortality, my vision, my goals. Everything. Having that doubt, at 28, I felt like I wanted to make a record where I felt like it would be really personally charged. Where people could say: „I can relate to this. I can overcome what I am facing.“

Wortraub: What about the proposition of brutality? Could your music be read to promote violence in a way?
Jamie:
No, because I feel like if you really read the booklet that comes with it, you are going to be able to grasp the entirety of the album. At the end of the day, sure some shows might be violent, with the pits and everything, but everybody leaves with a smile on their face. It is a cleansing. It is like a football game, like controlled hooliganism.

Wortraub: Your lyrics are informed by hardships, being down and out, fighting injustice … which has been part of your life, right?
Jamie:
Yeah, different adversities throughout the last two years, is what gets addressed on this record. I felt like I had lost my way of communicating how I felt. I had to reconnect with why I started expressing my words over songs. If you think about, it is why we are a band. A lot of bands just sing about nothing, or fantasy, or dragons, or stuff they might see. But for me, I wanted this to be even more personal. I opened myself up, that is what the liner notes deal with.

Wortraub: But your life has changed, you are a famous musician, an TV show host …?
Jamie:
All that gets addressed in the liner notes. It is actually something that I bring up, because I felt strongly about it. The notes deal especially with when „The Rise Of Brutality“ came out and we were selling-out the tours. The press was our best ever. It was out best received record in Europe and Japan and South America. It was the best press we ever had. Very high highs and very low lows. To not even get on stage some nights, not even wanting to write another record. That is what I am trying to purvey through this record. I really thought at some points: „I am never getting on another stage, ever again.“ That was to me a very defeating feeling. I felt like I had completely lost my mind. So, in order to purvey that through an album, which can be very limiting to say through a song exactly how you feel, because a song is constructed in way that everybody agrees upon, so that is why it is addressed in the liner notes.

Wortraub: Do you feel like you lost some of the authenticity?
Jamie:
No, because at the end of the day we are all human and we are all on the same journey. I needed to purvey that with this record. Everybody’s journey may be in different paths, but it is essentially the same thing.

Wortraub: Do you then still have the feeling you have to struggle in this life?
Jamie:
Oh, without a doubt. I feel like just having mistrusted so many people close to me and having lost so many close friends, not knowing how to deal with it. That in itself was a very hard thing to accept. A lot of this record is about acceptance as well. Because a lot of people stew over things a lot, and that was probably what my main problem was. I watched my father bury his brother, I lost three friends to drug addiction, who completely ruined their lives and other peoples lives in the process. I thought, why am I so powerless in this situation, why couldn’t I help these people. Things like that a very complex and deep questions that can really eat your life up, if you don’t address them. That is what the record is about. There is other songs as well. It is not focussed on overcoming depression, anxiety or feelings that you get from the downs of life but it is the main basis of it.

Wortraub: Are you a brooding person? Thinking until you come up with a solution?
Jamie:
I think, I am an optimist. But yeah, I like to have a solution, obviously, if I could. I would free every sick kid from the hospital bed, bring every person home from the war, if I could. Because I feel like everybody deserves their best out of the their time on the planet. You have to start with yourself, always. There is a lot of that which gets addressed on the record. If you listen to the older records: „Perseverance“ was like a rebirth for the band, which I think this is too, but that was a lot different. There was four years that went into that album. There was a bad struggle with our label, there was members leaving, members coming back. There was all sorts of problems surrounding that record. So when it exploded around the world and we started becoming these different types of people we were like: „Ok, we got to follow up right away with ëRise Of Brutality‘ and shows these people what exactly we are doing this for and we did. And when we silenced the critics yet again and all the nay-sayers, that is when personal stuff started falling apart. I let the band and my other project spread so thin, that is what has gotten us to this point.

Wortraub: If you could change one thing in this world ñ what would it be?
Jamie:
You know, I have been asked that before in interviews and I have thought about that and there are so many good causes out there and there are so many problems that my personal causes change every day. If I was to say that right now: a cure for cancer would be amazing, world peace would be amazing. It is hard to say, there are so many.

Wortraub: You stated that on your records you try to balance the negative with the positive. Do you feel the same about life? Is there a good for every bad?
Jamie:
Yeah! Some of the topics on this record are seeing the good through the bad. Because sometimes it is really hard to see the good with all the shit going on. There is a silver lining in most scenarios. If I affect someone positively, I feel like, at least I am not sucking the life out of them. Sure there is people out there that don’t see the silver lining but maybe I can change that.

Wortraub: So, do you want to give a guideline with your lyrics?
Jamie:
No, not a guideline. If someone just wants to bang their steering wheel on their way to work: great. But if they really want to look deep into it, say I want to listen to this, while I am at the gym, listen to this before I go and face my day, or they want to go to the show and break up the monotony of the week, go crazy at the show and get a cleansing of all this negative energy, then even greater. I hear it every day of my life. Every time a play a show, every time I walk out and talk to fans. They tell me of this positive thing, so it’s got to be working.

Wortraub: What has been the most touching experience you had from fans?
Jamie:
The most recently was: I got a letter from a kid who suffers from multiple-sclerosis and he has somehow overcome the disease entirely. I was amazed. He has Hatebreed tattooed on his back. He wrote me the nicest, longest letter. I don’t know anything about his illness, if it comes back, or how it goes. But he says that Hatebreed is part of his daily life. That he uses to overcome his limitations that the disease has brought him.

Wortraub: Aren’t you afraid of that kind of power?
Jamie:
I don’t know. I have never thought of it like that. Originally when I started to communicate my feelings in songs I would think about what other people would think. And I would say: „Oh, I don’t want to say that in a song“, then part of me, getting the cleansing, getting the cathartic feeling from the music, is saying whatever I want to say, not worrying about it. That is a totally liberating thing. That is really all I try to do, say what I want to say. If I have to change it to fit over the part or change it so it doesn’t sound like one of our other songs then I do it. But I don’t think about how it is going to be interpreted.

Wortraub: On the new record you got a song called „Immortal Enemies“. You have the feeling life is a perpetual struggle? Is there a solution to it?
Jamie:
Yeah, well. All I am doing is asking the question. It says „Enemies are never gonna die, where does the solution lie?“. That is something that you ask yourself, and I ask myself often. Not enemies as in a physical enemy, or mortal enemies, but as in eternal … whatever. It is a song symbolical of how sometimes enemies change. For today, say, you can look at the paper or the tv and you can say there is this war happening, there is this conflict, but tomorrow it is going to be something new. For me, I just try to live my life to the fullest every day and my own solutions lie within myself. When I get up, am I gonna call someone I care about? Am I gonna exercise? Am I gonna try to learn something new? Am I gonna read a book? That can be the solution sometimes. That is the question I am posing. It is a song about acceptance as well. Sometimes you just have to accept that there is always going to be conflicts.

Wortraub: Is there a chance for Utopia then?
Jamie:
That would be great. I have thought about that a lot. Something I have read about. I don’t know. I think now, as of recently, I am a very easy to please person. Get me a nice meal, let me have some alone time, let me read, see my family, my daughter, my dog, I am pretty much utopian just doing that.

Wortraub: Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Still doing this?
Jamie:
I hope to be because I feel like we are finally getting to the point, after ten years, where we are getting it right. Right is the only word that can do what we are doing justice. Especially when I finished this record I went into the mastering, started writing the liner notes and the lyrics, it felt weird, because it felt ok. Normally, when I am finishing a record I feel wrong, because someone is quitting the band or something is happening, someone is dying or something really horrible happens. This time around I feel like there is light surrounding the whole thing. The playing, the sound, us producing it ourselves, which was not an idea a lot of people were into, the management and the label wanted a big producer, big names. We wanted to keep it more in the DIY, doing it in our little studio near our houses with a guy who hasn’t produced many big records but is our friend and knows our sound. I felt like we got the vocal tone right, the bass is enormous and finally cuts through, the guitar tone is insane and Matt’s drumming is completely amazing. I just felt great about it.

Wortraub: You just mentioned DIY, are there any other hardcore ethics you embrace? Like you drink water at the moment, right?
Jamie:
Right. I route the tours, we do the artwork … it is still very hands-on, very DIY, I always joke, that everybody who works for us has the easiest job because we do all the work ourselves. Another thing about this record which I thought about was that on the last album Universal was really pushing for a single and they weren’t really into „Live For This“ and „This Is Now“, which were going to be our videos, and I said: „Look, we have all creative control, that is how we signed our deal, we are a hardcore band, we want all the creative control. This is the music we made, we are not gonna tailor it to your needs.“ And I think, they did not promote the record because of that. Where Roadrunner put it out, everywhere else it was a great success. In the US it was still a success, sold over 200.000 copies, all our shows were sold out and we were nominated for a Grammy, which is unheard of for a hardcore band, I felt like it was good that we stuck to our guns. On this album then, the label wants to go with the heaviest song that does not even remotely have commercial sound as the video and the single. It feels good to be on Roadrunner, to be authentic, it feels right.

Wortraub: But still, the ethics … do you drink, smoke, party? Are you into straight edge?
Jamie:
Right now, yes probably. I would not consider myself straight edge but I think right now, I am trying to learn as much as I can. I have never had a childhood, I never went to school. I was living on my own when I was 13 years old. I am just now learning things that people normally learn when they are like 14 or 15 years old. Getting fucked up and partying would kind of get in the way of that. I did all that when I was 13, 14, 15, when we started touring. Now I try to keep it cool. Right now, there is no time to be that way. Plus, I employ so many people: I have a record label, my clothing line, the tv show, a management company, where I manage other bands. There is no real time to party anymore. I let these guys party, they go crazy. I just watch and then go to bed. They stay up all night singing, sleep all day, while I do the work.

Wortraub: Your records tend to be short and precise. Do you hate excess?
Jamie:
It is not hated. I just don’t think I could get everybody else to agree to let it go on the record. I would probably go for some longer stuff, but I think the fans don’t really want it either. Especially our generation, our fans that we have build over the last decade, they like it short and sweet. That is a lot of the feedback I got from „The Rise Of Brutality“. People were like: „Man, it’s fast and brutal.“

Wortraub: So, you don’t really want to change anything about it then?
Jamie:
This is the thing: when you build a house, you can’t go and change the foundation without having to tear the entire house down. Other bands might do that. Unfortunately, in our genre it has never worked, not once. No proven band has been able to do it. Every band that has done it, has tried and man, have they failed miserably, in hopes for commercial success. We do it like Motorhead does it, and Slayer. Those bands have kept it the same.

Wortraub: Thanks for the interview.