HYDROGYN - Take A Deep Breath
September 10, 2008, 10 years ago
To be brutally honest, after listening to Hydrogyn’s 2006 debut Bombshell a few times I was convinced the band would fade into the ether of bar circuit hell following whatever small scale tour they were able to put together with local bands out of their Kentucky backyard. Beyond producer Michael Wagener’s name being attached to the album, a solid cover of Skid Row’s ‘18 And Life’ and vocalist Julie Westlake’s obvious-as-the-nose-on-your-face sex appeal there was no way the band’s brand of straight-up melodic rock would fly in today’s hate-fuelled metal environment. Not a chance. Didn't matter they were nice people, either, Hydrogyn just didn't stand a chance.
So much for “expert” opinion. Thanks to some brilliant in-house marketing and genuine belief in Hydrogyn’s music by some people on the outside, the band spent a fair bit of time on the road both in the US and Europe supporting Bombshell. Their US tour was particularly effective in getting a buzz going in that it cashed in, for lack of a better term, on the card marked “Sex Sells.” Dubbed the Strip ‘Em Blind Tour, the band announced they would be playing stripjoints across the country, with the strippers included as part of the stage show. Potential fans were invited to come out for a unique concert experience, and by all accounts nobody left disappointed. Some may still be sitting front row waiting for Round 2.“That caught people’s attention, definitely,” Julie says of the tour. “We came up with the name because we were actually going into the strip clubs to play. And it was actually me that came up with the idea (laughs). It’s like, there are these guys in the band and who comes up with it? Me (laughs). We actually went into a strip club in our area and shot the video for ‘Blind’. I was on stage with the girls singing the songs for the video, and I thought ‘Wow, this would be a cool show doing it this way…’ We talked to the club owners and they were up for it. Things were set up so that we could put the guys on the back end of the stage and have the catwalk free for the girls. It was an interesting show, and I choreographed the girls, took care of their apparel and everything. It was fun for me because it wasn’t just a case of getting on stage and singing. I did five or six costume changes myself. It was a lot of fun.”
The European fans didn’t get to see the Strip ‘Em Blind spectacle, but only because the band wasn’t prepared for such a strong reaction from overseas.“After we finished recording Bombshell we did a few shows in the States, but it turned out we had a large fanbase in Europe,” Julie explains. “In fact, it really started with our distributor in France (Underclass), because they did a ton of promotion for the album and really got the band name out there. From there it started spreading and we were contacted by a promoter in the UK to come over for some shows. The French promoter jumped in on that, had us come over to France to do some shows as well, and in the end we did two European tours last year. It was kind of a shock to us that we were able to do that because we released the album on our own, so it was just available online. We were shipping out hundreds of CDs to France and Europe in general, we did some interviews via email, but we never really knew our name had gotten that far until the orders started rolling in. We were more visible in Europe than in the States.”
Bombshell’s follow-up Deadly Passions has since hit the shelves, and folks such as yours truly who have been fence-sitting in their regard for Hydrogyn as a viable musical entity versus an attractive T&A; ad will be impressed. The fluff that dominated Bombshell has been replaced by a solid backbone of guitar driven melodic rock, to such an extent that it would sound like a completely different band without Julie’s voice spearheading the songs. With all due respect to Wagener and his noteworthy body of work, Hydrogyn was better off taking a do-it-ourselves approach this time out.“When we went into Deadly Passions we decided to go into a local studio, record and produce it ourselves. We enjoyed doing Bombshell with Michael and having the opportunity to work with him, but he was completely booked every time we wanted to get into doing the new album with him, and to be honest, if I can’t work with Michael then I don’t want to work with anyone else. So we decided to do it on our own. And I have to be honest; in saying that, the reason it’s so different is that we had full control over what we were doing. Working with Michael was great, but he also had his ideas of what he wanted the band to be, and I think his ideas and ours were a little different. There were some things that we wanted to do that he wasn’t really keen on doing, and because he is who he is we kind of backed down. Bombshell wasn’t exactly everything that we wanted it to be, so going into this new album we wrote songs that were more aggressive. We really love the new album because it’s everything that we wanted.”
In the end, Deadly Passions is much better representation of Hydrogyn’s sound. Look no further than the live footage available on YouTube and compare it to their new work for proof. Better yet, go see ‘em live.“Yeah, people would come up to us at our shows and tell us how surprised they were that we were so much heavier live compared to the album,” says Julie. “I don’t know if that has anything to do with the way Bombshell was recorded or mixed, but maybe some of it has to do with the fact we dropped the songs we didn’t necessarily want on Bombshell from the live set. We focused more on the aggressive side of things on Deadly Passions and stayed away from the more mild stuff. Even on our cover of Alanis Morissette’s ‘You Oughta Know’, we always did that song live before we recorded it. I think our version is quite a bit heavier than hers and sounds really ticked off, but the lyrics are really aggressive and I think that’s how Alanis wanted it to sound. It was just a lot of fun.”
So Hydrogyn are a group of metalheads in spite of what Bombshell might have suggested to people…“I guess you could say that. It’s kind of weird for me being referred to as a metalhead because I came from a country music background. Up until about six years ago I didn’t listen to rock or metal, just country and gospel music. I got into it because Jeff and our former guitarist, Jeff Boggs, were in my country band, and they were writing for what would become Hydrogyn. They needed a vocalist and asked me if I would do it, and I was up for the challenge. I guess it’s something that’s always been inside of me because now I love singing the material. And during the writing process I’m always pushing to make things a little darker. It’s all starting to come out, as you can hear on the new album.”
Go to www.myspace.com/hydrogyn to check out audio samples from Deadly Passions.