Interview: Himsa

Himsa Interview
Musically, it’s metal with a hardcore shell. It’s the drive and askew ideal behind this music that first drew me to the bands ‘harmonic thrash’ assault. It riffs and it barks. And has some shit buried way down deep that’s had years to fester, and now John Pettibone has found some good therapy. It’s called Himsa.

The band has brought hardcore and underground music to some pretty remote areas by booking tours in regions no one has really pulled off before? (China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, Hong Kong, and Japan). Why is that important to Himsa?
Johnny: Only two members of the current lineup right now did that tour. I did not go on that tour because I had other engagements with another band I was in called Botch. We already had a tour booked when they decided to go to Asia. So we had a fill in singer and our first drummer is actually the one that went on that tour. We have a different drummer now. But the year before, our bassplayer Derek had went to Asia just to backpack around and met a lot of hardcore kids and kind of got the name Himsa to the kids out there. And they really wanted them to come over and play because bands don’t go over there. He came back with the idea of the band going over there and at the time everyone wanted to do it, knowing that it would cost us a lot of money as far as plane tickets. We’d just have to show up there with just our guitars and play on the equipment there. It was really really DIY. They went over there for a little over a month and had a great time, traveling by train, and just hanging out with kids. Still today, we get a lot of email from kids that were at those shows, a year and a half later, saying that was the best thing they ever saw.

Something you might consider doing again?
J: We are thinking about it. It’s a matter of timing cause right now we concentrating on writing on a new record. Trying to get to Europe because some of the guys have never been to Europe at all in any band they’ve played in. So that’s probably our main concern right now.

That seems to be a real focus of your band. To get out and bring the music to the people.
J: That’s all we want to do. All of us have been in bands in Seattle for numerous years. Some have gone on to tour the entire US, some have gone to Europe. Two of us are 30, a couple of people in our late 20’s, so this is kind of our last ditch effort to really make it in a band. This is like our passion. With all the other bands we’ve done before, we’ve never found out how far we can go. We want this to work. We’ve sacrificed so much in two years of the Himsa lineup now, so it’s like all or none.

‘Death Is Infinite’ is the title of your new EP album. Do you believe that? Whatever state of being you pass into after you die… that’s it for eternity?
J: Yes. I think so, yeah. It’s a good in my aspect because it could happen tomorrow, it could happen 50 years from now. By looking at that, I just make the time I have now the best I can in fulfilling my life. And the other members of the band feel the same way. It’s just about living for the time that you have.

Hardcore and metal seems to be adjectives thrown around the Himsa description, but the guitars are very metal, almost speed thrash in the dexterity. Do you get the metal kids or the hardcore kids at the shows? Is there a difference?
J: It’s a good mixture of both. What’s funny, in Seattle, in just the last couple of months that the EP has been out, we’ve had a lot of nu-metal kids. Kids that would never, ever know about the underground hardcore scene, or even the underground metal scene, that are starting to show up at our shows. Because we’ve had the opportunity to jump on a couple of shows here in Seattle. Like playing with Mushroomhead. Which they never would have thought of asking us to play. So we got that crowd. Even the pop punk kids come to see us here. It’s awesome. That’s what I want. I don’t want to stick to a certain genre that we fit in.

On the ‘top 10 quotes form your last tour’… #3 was ‘Are you down with the sickness’? Is that a jab at Disturbed?
J: (laughs). Not a jab, we just heard the song constantly on the radio. The kid that does our merch and roadies with us, his name is Colin, when we play he throws out just fucked up things out of the blue just to get us to laugh. Because on stage, we try to come off as a serious band. Especially me, because if a strings breaks, I get pissed off because I don’t like talking between segues. With the silence I kind of choke. So Colin will just throw something out and make everybody laugh. Makes the audience laugh.

Do you sell Satanic Merchandise?
J: We have some pentagrams on some stuff. I guess I wouldn’t peg us as a satanic band at all. Each person in the band has their own views on what they stand for as far as faith. As for me personally, there’s aspects of Satanism that I agree with, some that I don’t. Even some Pagan and Wicca aspects that I like, but I would never ever put myself or anyone else as a religious person. I have faith in myself. Some people will try and take it seriously and I break it down that the sign is more of a rebellious sign, against Christianity than being a Satanic band.

And speaking of your website, you have a certain sense, of say Macabre. Is that a representative view on the band?
J: I write all the lyrics and I do run it by all the guys. Most of the time they agree with what I write. I write in an abstract way with a darker feel to it. Living in Seattle it’s kind of a gray area of living. It’s not a big metropolis. There’s always rain. It’s a depressing place, but I love it. I’ve always kinda been a depressed kid throughout my life, just how I grew up. People that know me, that really really know me. My close friends that know how I am. But then they see the lyrics I write and they are like, ‘I didn’t know you were this disturbed.’ I hide it well. I don’t let it shine when I’m in a crowd. It’s just kind of my own personal issues I deal with myself.

Himsa music has been self-described as aggressive. What is it in your environment that has bred such motivations?
J: It stems from Junior High and High School. Fucking assholes that picked on me. It’s the classic story of the kid who didn’t have many friends and the asshole jocks picked on him. ‘Born to Conquer’ that song is written on an exact person that was a senior in my high school when I was a freshman that constantly picked on me, and that was my revenge that I sought out on him. In fact, I see that guy still today because my parents still live in the town I grew up in. And when I go back there, he’s still there and I run into him. He doesn’t know who I am. I recognize him in a second. He’s worked at the same gas station he’s been working at since high school. He’s still the auto mechanic there and I’ll come in and I’ll see him, and he’s missing a thumb and I look at him, and I know that I did it.

He’s missing a thumb?
Johnny: Yeah.

And you did that?
J: This guy made me fucking cry in front of people. This asshole just humiliated me in front of so many people. In high school, you had to take electives and I didn’t want to be in sports, so I got thrown into auto mechanics. He happened to be the teacher’s assistant. He even lit into me more, with me having to answer to him. So one day, I just couldn’t handle it. He had his car up on car jacks, and he walked away from his car for a minute, so I fiddled with it so hopefully the car would just fall down and maybe the hood would bonk him on the head or something. For me, I thought that was big because this guy was going to beat the hell out of me any day. He leaned forward on the car; the car fell down off the jacks and his hand slipped into the engine. Into the fan belt, and it tore his thumb off. He just thought it was his own fault. I actually never told anyone until just a couple of years ago about this story. I still want to beat the hell out of him.

Were you an angry kid?
J: Definitely. My mom would say different because I was a momma’s boy. My parents were always cool as long as I did my schoolwork and my chores, they let me do what I want. So I got to go to punk shows at an early age. At home was one thing, and outside of that, it was another. My parents knew there was something wrong with me but kind of looked the other way from it and kind of let me sort it out myself. I think it helped better than harping on me and making me get more depressed about my life at the time.

How did music help you during this?
J: The very first show I ever went to. The Black Flag show in ‘86. Just seeing Rollins play just made me want to be in the music scene forever. Collecting Misfit videos and seeing how Danzig was on stage, and that just blew me away. I loved that. At the time, I didn’t know kids in bands or anything like that. Then I went to see a band called Inside Out in ‘89. Just blew me away. I was a straight edge kid at the time. From that point on I wanted to be a singer in a band. Some friends of mine had a band and needed a bass player and I jumped in playing bass for a little while, but ended up taking over singing for a band called Undertow. From then on, I’ve always wanted to be into music.

What makes you laugh?

J: Richard Pryor. Just good times with my friends. Touring. Touring always makes me happy. No matter what. We could have shows canceled, be starving and dirty and I’m still stoked to be on the road. I’m happiest on stage. I’m angry and I’m in the moment, but deep down, it makes me happiest. And my family.

What’s the most hardcore moment you’ve ever witnessed?
J: I guess the first time I went to Europe and kids over there knowing songs of my band. That was the most amazing thing. That kids living half way across the world singing back to me was just amazing. But better than that, was my old band, Undertow, played a reunion show in ‘97. It was like, kids flew from Europe to Seattle to come see us play. Kids from all drove all over the US to come up and see it. That was probably the best time of my life. That one moment with three guys I grew up, playing in a band, touring everywhere and putting out a couple of records. Never believing something like that would happen, and then selling out the big club in Seattle to kids from all over the world. I had this big speech and thank you and I came out and just choked. So I was just like, ‘We’re Undertow’ and the place just erupted. Like 20 kids went to the hospital for broken bones. We went to go visit them and they were like, ‘No, this was the best time of my life.’ So it was awesome.

What does Himsa music mean to your life?
J: Passion. Anger. Brutality. Making kids have a good time.

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