Originally spawned in Huntington Beach, California and formed by lead vocalist and frontman Jared Gomes (also known as MC Underdog), guitarist Wes Geer and bassist Mark Young, it at first appeared that (Hed) was simply a product of its environment – a screaming, tatted G-punk midst all the other G-punks stomping around Surf City with a bottle in hand, a joint in the other, and a dream on the mind. When copyright issues forced the band to add the additional acronym “planetary evolution” to their name, Hed(p.e.) was born and would remain and thrive for twenty years and counting. Self-financed, produced, titled and released, Church of Realities marked the beginning of an impressive discography in which the band delivers every musical genre imaginable. You name it – punk, rock, hip hop, jazz, funk, metal – the list goes on, but their real trademark is an incredible fusion of hardcore punk rock and gangsta rap. It was predominantly this style that grabbed the attention of Jive records in ’97 and within a year, Hed PE made their major label debut. It wasn’t until the year 2000, however, with the release of Broke and the band’s first single Bartender that they really began gaining momentum in and out of the studio. Their second release had proved that any publicity is good publicity, when it created quite the stir amongst critics who considered the lyrics misogynistic and highly egotistical. The album, tied with their third release Blackout also helped to extend the band’s reach both musically and geographically. In 2004, the band left Jive Records due to financial issues, as well as the label’s stiff contractual terms. That same year, they released Only in Amerika with Koch Records, which featured a much heavier, hard-core punk style, courtesy of the band’s then-newest member, guitarist Jaxon Benge. After putting out a series of albums with Suburban Noize Records, they began touring internationally and independently, incorporating an extremely diverse range of influences into their music, including but certainly not limited to: Black Sabbath, the Beastie Boys, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Motley Crue, Bob Marley, Rage Against the Machine, Led Zeppelin and Notorious B.I.G..
As a fan, its easy to think that their style must simply be one big mash-up of each member’s own musical preferences. On the contrary, each member has their own set of eclectic tastes and more often than not, these tastes tend to overlap. In Benge’s words:
“Our drummer, Trauma, is a very big fan of Obituary and I am as well but I’m not nearly as familiar with their music as he is, so if he were to come up with an idea – let’s just say for instance – like a drum solo or any idea really, musically, that may have spawned from an influence or stemmed from that band it would have been something that would have otherwise not been presented to the group…Either way, it works out great because you know we’ve all developed a great rapport in terms of working together musically that whether or not we’re familiar with each other’s preferences in terms of music we still find a way to add to the music.”
With the addition of Benge in 2004 and Trauma (Jeremiah Stratton) in 2009, the band took on a new and exciting dynamic. Although their newest album Evolution is in many ways a return to their heavier roots, it also showcases their overwhelming versatility – tackling musical styles that previously were on the back burner or not addressed in such an overt manner. For Benge, Black Sabbath’s Tony Lommi remains one of his biggest influences. With this album, however, he dissected them on a much more personal level, drawing on the band’s signature deep grooves and dark guitar riffs.
“I mean I’ve always been into Black Sabbath but I’d never really sat down and kind of studied them as closely. I think in doing so, combined with the timing of their new release – or their release in ’13 – I just kind of got on this kick of listening to their music constantly and it really did wonders in terms of inspiring, so they’re definitely one of the bands that I’ve really enjoyed lately. Alice in Chains has always been pretty much my favorite band, so those are some of the influences that are kind of at the forefront at the moment.”
Although Gomes had a vision of what he wanted the album cover to look like, it was actually a fan that brought him the artwork and ultimately, exceeded the band’s expectations. The cover depicts a Rastafarian, psychedelic and immersive experience, which ties into the more old-school, “pre-metal” sounds also featured on the album. As noted by Benge:
“It’s really a cool idea and in terms of a genre that’s predominantly showcased on the record. I think doing something along the lines of that kind of style – it seems a little, kind of – not against the grain – but it definitely does stick out among other album covers that may showcase that kind of style. For instance, if you think of a metal band or you think of maybe even a dim-core type band, the first idea that comes to mind, in terms of album covers, probably wouldn’t be psychedelic. Maybe it would, I’m not sure. But I think the idea was just kind of formed on its own merit.”
Lyrically, Gomes has always been one to tackle social and political issues via airwaves, and with his new-found sobriety, Gomes has had to find new and real coping mechanisms, of which his favorite outlet is music. While many of the band’s earlier works feature party-time lyrics, Evolution proves that his musical and lyrical approach has definitely transformed into something more significant and more meaningful. Benge exemplifies a song off the new album titled One More Body, illustrating how the new album discusses various political issues including the failures of organized religion and the relationship of man to his fellow-man, saying:
“It’s empowering to let people know that you are a human being – not just a function. You know, you should not be scared of standing up for what’s right. I think that message alone taps into many different facets of just social awareness – basically, just how to treat one another, as human beings. So, sort of to me, that song really serves as a reminder that ya know, hey we’re all human and we really need to re-think how we treat one another…it’s like the golden rule: treat others how you would like to be treated. So, I really do believe that a song like One More Body – maybe I’m reading too much into it – but to me, I really do believe in that message and it resonates very well I think with a lot of people.”
Musically, the feedback has been positive as well, and further solidifies their new engagement with Pavement Records. While on tour, the band wasted no time reminding listeners of their incredible talent, opening the set with some of their newer material including No Turning Back, One More Body, and one reggae track, Nowhere to Go; and while life on the road is always rough, Hed PE proves it also has it perks. For a band like Hed PE, whose fan-base has been starving for new material, the tour has been a delightful adumbration that good things take time. By the same token, the band has been reminded of its loyal fan-base and the incredible high of being on stage:
“You can sense when you go into a new song, there’s a certain sort of – apprehension, because obviously, there’s not quite the familiarity with the new material. But when you get to a certain point in the song and people start getting what you’re doing, that lack of familiarity turns into sort of –I don’t know – acceptance, excitement – excitement and whatever other responses come with that. And it’s definitely evident when we play some of these new songs.”
With their confidence on the rise, it’s important to note that the loyalty is definitely mutual. After their tour bus broke down, the band was forced to rent a caravan and move around from city to city in order to make it to all the shows. Certainly their commitment to the music and their fans overrides any delay in the production of new material and proves that all good things take time.