HYDROGYN - So Far, So Good… What’s Next! (Part 1)

March 11, 2010, 9 years ago

By Carl Begai

hydrogyn feature

Guitarist Jeff Young is known in metal circles as one of the many talented guitarists to have put in time with Megadeth over the course of the band’s 25+ year career. His tenure was short lived, lasting only one album (So Far, So Good… So What! in 1988) before getting the boot from frontman / founder Dave Mustaine. Since then he has made a successful career focusing on world music and classical guitar, taking on several different projects, with a solo album entitled Equilibrium released in 2009 being his latest achievement. Young remained more or less under metaldom’s radar for all but the diehard fans up until December 2009, when he called out Mustaine via MySpace for “talking smack” about him (details to follow). News a few weeks later that he’d officially joined Kentucky-based rockers Hydrogyn raised some eyebrows, with fans on both sides seemingly taking a wait-and-see attitude. Word came down soon after that ex-Megadeth bassist James Lomenzo had also joined the Hydrogyn fold, however, and reserved curiosity became a full-on buzz. Once applauded as a decent-to-kick-ass outfit, for the fence-sitters Hydrogyn has suddenly become a band to watch for more than easy-on-the-eyes vocalist Julie Westlake.

Guitarist / founder Jeff Westlake discusses his thinking behind getting two former Megadeth members on board for the band’s new album, Judgement, which was in the process of being written at press time.

Westlake: “To be honest with you I think the seed was planted in the fall of 2005. We’d been working with (producer) Michael Wagener, and Jeff had been working with him on and off for a couple years for his solo album, Equilibrium. Michael had played Jeff some of our stuff and Jeff really liked it, and it seemed like every time Hydrogyn was in the studio Jeff was right behind us. It was just a weird coincedence, so we were always being kept up-to-date on each other without even meeting. This last time Jeff was mixing Equilibrium with Michael – it was actually the day Michael Jackson died – and they called me over Skype asking if I wanted to hear Jeff’s version of Aerosmith ‘Seasons Of Wither’, which is one of my favourite Aerosmith songs. One thing led to another, we were sending emails back and forth, and Jeff ended up being a guest on my radio show Westlake And The Pig. From there went from ‘Hey, you should do a track on the next album with us…’ to ‘maybe you should do two songs with us…’ to ‘Fuck it, you should join the band.’ That’s literally the way it happened.”

Young: “Once we got to talking, Jeff told me that if I knew any musician on par with ourselves that he’d trust me on it, and I immediately thought of Joe Migz from kHz. I discovered them through MySpace and they instantly became my new favourite kick ass band. We became friends over MySpace and it turned out that kHz were big Megadeth fans. Joe happened to mention he was a big fan of Megadeth and my playing and he said flat out that if I ever put anything together, if I was going to get back into metal or rock, to give him a call first. That’s what I did and he immediately said yes. As far as the bass player slot, as soon as we heard that Lomenzo was out of Megadeth we called Michael Wagener and asked if he had any way of getting hold of him. He hadn’t had any contact to Lomenzo since White Lion, so I hit him up on Facebook with a letter. We talked on the phone after that, and what an amazing person he is. I can’t say enough about his professionalism. He was instantly down as well.”

With two former Megadeth members in the fold the expectation is that Hydrogyn is going to sound considerably heavier on the new album…

Westlake: “I don’t want to say that Hydrogyn is going to sound slightly this way or that way. Let’s just say it’s going to be different. You made the comment that you heard the difference between (first album) Bombshell and Deadly Passions. The difference between Deadly Passions and this new album, Judgement, is going to leave you with the same feeling; that the two are very different from each other.”

Young: “Our thing is that we don’t want to have one dud song on the album. We’re spending a lot of time crafting each piece and I think they have all the best elements of what Hydrogyn has had to this point, plus the vibe that I bring and that the other musicians bring. Two of us have played in Megadeth so there’s going to be that level of chops. Jeff and Julie wanted to make sure that this new Hydrogyn is totally modern.”

As mentioned, songwriting for the new album is well underway, with Young and Lomenzo fully committed to Hydrogyn. No one is more surprised than Westlake at how quickly things have taken off on a creative level.

Westlake: “We’ve already sent five songs to Lomenzo in Los Angeles… he opened the first one on a Saturday, sent it back to us on a Monday, and our jaws are still on the floor (laughs). We had certain expectations since it was James Lomenzo doing the track, and what we got back with the first track was what we expected times 10.”

Young: “It’s some of the best playing I’ve heard out of the cat. I have to be honest and say that I haven’t heard any Megadeth since Rust In Peace, but I know the stuff he’s done with Black Label Society and he couldn’t have played a more perfect bass line to this song. Without instructions. It’s a very complex song, there’s a lot of chromatic stuff and weird off-time things, and I don’t know how he copped it so quickly. I did write out the intro chromatic lick so he’d know exactly what notes they were, but aside from that we said ‘Have at it’ and what we got back was a finished bass track. It makes the song sound like it’s already been mixed. We only sent him the drum machine, scratch guitars and Julie’s scratch vocals.”

Stylistically Westlake and Young are very different players. Westlake established his rock-based metal approach on Hydrogyn’s Bombshell and Deadly Passions albums, while Young has his brief thrash history and catalogue of world music and classical guitar as a calling card. Hard to believe they’ve found a middle ground, but the current songwriting binge is proof enough.

Young: “First off, after working with Shitstaine I wasn’t going to play with any guitar player that had an ego. That’s why I worked with Badi Assad, and it was a great four year process that gave us a #1 album on our own. Playing with Jeff, we both came in with no ego.”

Westlake: “I think that’s why it works, but the biggest part of that has nothing to do with what Jeff is or what I am. It comes down to what kind of a person he is. I knew from talking to Michael what Jeff was like, just as he found out through Michael what I was like. We used our connection there to feel out the situation over the last couple years, and I don’t think we even realized that’s what we were doing.”

And in case anyone is in a frame of mind to dismiss the new Hydrogyn as a Megadeth has-been novelty act…

Westlake: “This is not a one-off. We plan on doing this for a very long time.”

Young: “No one that’s contributing tracks has a different attitude about that. James and Joe have heard the old Hydrogyn stuff, they’ve heard Julie’s solo stuff, and James said straight out that he doesn’t take any project that he doesn’t want to be a part of. Just from speaking with him, James is very excited about having a singer for probably the first time in his career that’s a real motherfucking singer that can sing anything.”

It’s highly unlikely, however, that Hydrogyn will be covering a Megadeth tune any time soon…

Young: “No. I wouldn’t give Mustaine any more money.”

Westlake: “We’re not saying that if you come to a Hydrogyn show we won’t kick into the solo section of ‘Hook In Mouth’ or ‘In My Darkest Hour’ somewhere in the set just for shits and giggles. And to prove that Jeff was the one that truly played those solos.”

Westlake is, of course, alluding to claims Mustaine made in the press about how he issued guidelines to Young with regards to playing the solos on So Far, So Good… So What!. Something Young takes exception to, which resulted in his aforementioned open letter to the Megadeth frontman.

Young: “There’s no anger here. I’ve been Rip van Winkle when it comes to Megadeth for the past 23 years. Of course, I’d pick up Guitar Player magazine and I’d see Shitstaine shooting off his mouth, and up to this point I’ve ignored it. It was all banal attacks and silly stuff that wasn’t even worth addressing. When I was on tour with my trio in the summer I had a guitar student who brought an issue of Guitar World magazine, and Dave Mustaine was still talking smack about me. I’d seen Mustaine say this in the past about Marty Friedman a couple years ago, that he’d sung Marty’s solos to him. Marty’s solos are so exotic that Mustaine doesn’t even know what scales those solos are, so I raised my eyebrows at that point, but when he finally had the balls and the audacity to just lie in print and claim that he sang solos to me for So Far, So Good… So What! I decided that was enough.”

“I was on tour at the time so I really didn’t want to divert my energy from what I was doing, so I let it go for a few months until finally I decide to write an open letter to Dave Mustaine. I didn’t care if anyone else read it, and I posted that blog on MySpace entitled Dave Mustaine: Your Pants Are On Fire. In it I just said that he had to stop talking smack about Megadeth’s former members. Not just me, but every one of us that helped provide him with the success he so selfishly enjoys.”

Go to this location for discussion about Hydrogyn's forthcoming album, Julie Westlake's solo record, and the band's cover of Michael Schenker's 'Assault Attack'.

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