By Carl Begai
The last place anyone expected two former members of Megadeth to resurface is with a band hailing from Ashland, Kentucky. Sounds like the set-up for a redneck joke, but in actual fact it’s a very serious buzz now that guitarist Jeff Young – from Megadeth’s 1988 record So Far, So, Good… So What! – and recently departed bassist James Lomenzo have officially joined Hydrogyn. An extensive overview covering the how and why of Young and Lomenzo coming aboard can be found on the BW&BK site here. Below is an inside look at Young’s relationship with guitarist Jeff Westlake and vocalist Julie Westlake, which amounts to a trial-by-fire gone right.
Westlake: “After Deadly Passions we had problems with our label, Demolition, and it left such a bad taste in our mouth that Julie and I were about ready to completely shelve Hydrogyn. We were thinking about doing some solo projects and see where that would take us, but then Jeff entered the picture. I feel like I’ve known the guy my entire life. We get along great. He brought in some songs, I brought in some stuff, we’re teaching each other the parts that we have to learn, we’re writing stuff together, and that’s really brought Hydrogyn back.”
Young, who has more or less steered clear of the metal world since leaving Megadeth in favour of a career working in world music and classical guitar, reveals his return to the realms of distortion was all a matter of finding the right people to work with.
Young: “I distanced myself from rock because I got sick of the personalities and characters that come around in that arena. That’s exactly what sparked my return. It’s not that I didn’t want to play that kind of music, I’ve just been waiting to find the right chemistry. I didn’t want to go out, just put a band together and blow my wad with something that might not be right. I’ve been able to study musical styles from all over the world and bring that into Hydrogyn.”
“The strange thing is that I asked Michael (Wagener / producer) about Hydrogyn when I first heard (debut album) Bombshell. I was intrigued because I was working with Badi Assad at the time. It was a no-brainer when Jeff contacted me. Michael Wagener did my first demo after GIT – that’s how he became involved with mixing So Far, So Good… So What! – and of all the people that he’s worked with in the 30+ years that I’ve known him Jeff and Julie are the only ones he’s let spend the night at his house. That told me everything. He has them come in when he’s giving workshops to his engineering students, so I could tell by the relationship that they had that me, Jeff and Julie were going to vibe. And although Jeff and my guitar playing styles are different our songwriting styles gel. The stuff that I brought in, it sounds like Hydrogyn.”
Westlake: “Jeff brings a lot to the table. He brings years of experience, he brings an attitude that we always wanted in the band. I’ll be really honest with you, we’ve had some good people in the band but we’ve never had the players that we wanted to have around us. Finally I just decided it was time to step it up a bit to go the places we need to go, and put Julie on the plateau she needs to be on. We needed better musicians than what we were dealing with because Julie and I want to take Hydrogyn to the ultimate level. We made a few calls, sent out a couple emails, and back came Joe Migz (kHz / drums) and James Lomenzo.”
It turns out that Young’s first recorded work with the Westlakes is in fact not for Hydrogyn. Following a test-the-water acoustic show in Cleveland in February 2010, Young was asked to help out on Julie Westlake’s new solo album, If Ever A Day, and record parts for a song neither he nor Jeff Westlake care for,
Young: “After we did that gig in Cleveland, we came right back and Jeff told me that Julie had an acoustic version of Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ going on her solo album. He asked me if I’d interested in throwing some guitar down on it because he didn’t like what Slash does at the beginning of the song. Could I come up with a variation of that, something that wasn’t so annoying? I kind of arpeggiated that type of progression and made it more of a mantra and less carnival-sounding like Slash plays it. So, it’s like I got here and I was thrown right in the fire (laughs).”
“Julie’s solo album, it’s a whole different style for her. There’s a bit of country, a bit of pop, it’s a very universal album. And to watch this girl record… I’ve seen her sit in a chair in front of the computer with a microphone in her hand, not even trying, and she sings like nothing I’ve ever heard before. This was the thing about me getting back into doing rock and metal, that any band I was going into had to have an amazing singer.”
Westlake: “Julie did an album that the fans pretty much requested of her. She wanted to do ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and I personally hate the song. I haven’t liked it since Day 1. I never liked the riff, I thought it was hokey, and that’s where Jeff came in. That song was sitting there for almost a week while I tried to figure out what I was going to do with a song that I hate. Jeff took it, and three hours later he was like ‘Are you ready to record?’ (laughs). It came out great.”
Young: “I’ve heard other chicks try to do Guns N’ Roses – Sheryl Crow botched up Sweet Child O’ Mine’ pretty bad – we’ve heard them try to do AC/DC, like that debacle with Celine Dion, but the thing is Julie can sing a track like ‘Hanging On’ from her solo album that would appeal to Mariah Carey fans, then turn around and sing Brian Johnson in one take.”
Further dispelling any thoughts that Julie is mere eye candy with no substance, Westlake reveals she is more metal that people give her credit for.
Westlake: “With Jeff coming in I decided we had to do a Best Of from the early years of Hydrogyn (entitled Phase 1) to show people that the first chapter is over and there’s something new coming. Julie suggested we put another song on the album, so I asked her which song she had in mind and she said ‘Assault Attack’ from the Michael Schenker Group. I was like, ‘What?!’ (laughs).”
Young: “Michael Schenker is God for me. Jeff’s guitar tracks on the cover of ‘Assault Attack’, the tones are better than Schenker’s (laughs). He used a little Fender frontman reverb, which is about 15 watts, no bigger than a breadbox.”
Westlake: “The vocals on ‘Assault Attack’ are literally just a scratch vocal. Julie sat with a live hand-held mic in front of the speakers and demoed the thing right there in front of the computer. All I wanted was to get the vibe from her for when we recorded it, but it came out so well that we kept it.”
Young: “She was doing a vocal on one of our new songs the other night. If you can imagine walking into a room – any office in any town – and seeing a girl sitting in a chain in front of her computer, that’s what it looked like. The only difference is that instead of typing and doing secretarial work she’s got a Shure microphone in her hand and she’s headbanging. Most singers want to stand up to get more power out of their voice, but this girl’s sitting down and not even trying and blowing things out, I’m so stoked. That was the key thing for me. Whatever band I was going to be in, unless Chris Cornell or Paul Rodgers or Brandon Boyd from Incubus was available I wasn’t thinking of a singer I wanted to work with. When I heard Julie’s voice for th efirst time I thought ‘This is it.’”
Continuing to move forward based on the release of Phase 1 and the ongoing work on the new studio record, Westlake and Young reveal the band has already received tour offers. If things go their way Hydrogyn will be on the road starting this summer for the next year-and-a-half. Asked if he believes the Megadeth connection has pushed potential promoters to book Hydrogyn, Young believes it has come into play but refuses to believe it’s the only factor.
Young: “It’s the Megadeth connection but it also has to do with what James Lomenzo has accomplished over his entire career – from Pride & Glory to White Lion to Ozzy to Megadeth – and the stuff that I’ve done in metal and in the world music and classical guitar world. And what Hydrogyn accomplished before us. We have a wide fanbase, so when booking this act that’s going to qualify us for some serious consideration.”
For updates watch BW&BK and go to Hydrogyn’s official website here.