If hard work was all you needed to be successful in the music world, (hed) pe would have been on top a long time ago. They've been on the absolute edge of breaking wide-open, dating back to their 2000 Jive Records release, Broke. Bands that were working the same California clubs cut from a similar piece of cloth, were already making it big: Korn, Incubus, System of a Down - while (hed) was championing the underground but yet to hit the big time.
If ever a band's will to survive gets put to the test, Chad Benekos' departure after tracking the follow-up to Broke would prove to be that test. Guitar.com sat down with guitarists Wesstyle and Sonny Mayo as the Jagermeister Tour got underway. (hed) was as strong as ever playing to a packed house in Boston and as both Sonny and Wes indicate, there's much awaiting (hed) in the future. Check out the latest from one of Orange County, California's favorites.
Guitar.com: So how's the tour starting out for you?
Sonny Mayo: To be honest, it's starting out a little rough. And Philly was cold as can be.
Guitar.com: Guess it'll take a few shows to get the bugs out.
Mayo: I'm sure.
Guitar.com: For those not familiar with you or (hed) pe, you've been really active in the California rock/punk scene for quite some time. You were on the Ozzfest bill in '98 with Snot and you were also a member of Amen. What led to you joining (hed) pe?
Mayo: Well, I actually didn't make it to Ozzfest that year. I left to join Amen.
Guitar.com: That was late '97, early '98?
Mayo: Yeah, I left in April of '98, which was just prior to Ozzfest.
Guitar.com: So what transpired in Amen to lead you to (hed)?
Mayo: Hmmm, I don't know what led me anywhere (laughing). My life has been so weird. Things happen - sometimes we try to force things to happen a certain way and we usually become frustrated. When we allow things to happen just the way they will and just be a part of it - just do your part. And follow your dreams still, like, help realize the dream but don't try to make it happen. Let it happen. I think that's what led me to (hed)pe. I was in Snot and I was going through a tough time in my life, personal issue and also business issues. And then I got the opportunity to play with Shannon Larkin (former drummer for Ugly Kid Joe), who I had just hooked up (with the gig in Amen). Amen was looking for a drummer through Ross Robinson (their producer). I hooked Shannon up with Amen and then Shannon turns around and says, "hey they need another guitar player."
Guitar.com: Very cool - that was fortuitous.
Mayo: Yeah, so I tried out and it was really killer. And I had wanted to play with Shannon again so I joined the band. And then the tragedy of Lynn Straits death (lead singer for Snot - died in a tragic car accident not long after their first release Get Some) brought Tumor from Snot into Amen and Mikey (Doling) went to Soulfly. I mean I've always been friends with (hed) pe. We did tours of the world together with Snot, (hed) pe, Sevendust. We did America like five times. We always gelled well together, a really easy vibe that made it so easy to kick-it together. So Amen went on for four years, we toured the world and put two records out. March rolled around, March 2002 - I had been sober for about four months. I'm clean and sober for a year now.
Guitar.com: That's great, congrats on that.
Mayo: Yeah, it's really great. Thanks. We had been dropped by Roadrunner in '99 and we got dropped by Virgin in 2002. I was at a point in my life where I wasn't sure what I'm going to do. So I was like "Casey (Chaos - lead singer for Amen), See you later. I gotta go."
Guitar.com: And that was the end of Amen?
Mayo: Well that's when I left. Amen's not over. I left Amen. Then Shannon left Amen. Sort of, everyone left Amen except Casey, the singer and songwriter. So I was just writing some demo's up in Santa Monica with a couple of buddies of mine who own a studio up there called Clown Studios, Nicky Sixx works out of there. Traci Guns and that crowd. I was working and hanging out. I also work with animals when I'm not doing this. Hanging out with my girl, my dog - just kickin' it. Then I got the call from (hed) saying that Chad had left the band. And I was like - "really?" (laughing).
Mayo: Totally, now wouldn't that just be perfect? And he was like, "well?" He was kinda checking me out. He asked, "What's your party situation like?" Because in the past, we'd done some serious damage to ourselves, together.
Guitar.com: Back in the day.
Mayo: Right! I mean everything.
Guitar.com: Whatever it took, understood.
Mayo: Yeah, (laughing) - so I told him at that point, for eight months I had been sober and he was like "killer, dude." And a month later I was down there.
Guitar.com: So all the guys in (hed) were all cleaned up as well, then?
Mayo: Yeah, times change and it's really nothing but good. When artists change, it's great. Even Metallica, when they took a different direction, it was great. They can't be the Master of Puppets Forever. They have to grow as artists and humans.
Guitar.com: Or you'll die, either as an artist or a human.
Mayo: Right, you die.
Guitar.com: I think a lot of artists have recognized that in recent years. Sort of learning from the legacy of it - either you wake up from that or else.
Mayo: Or you end up hanging out at the Rainbow down on Sunset, talking about the record you had out fifteen years ago. And how your still trying to live off the past glory.
Guitar.com: Exactly and that can be so sad.
Mayo: Right and we've all seen those guys.
Guitar.com: Sure, go to the Rainbow tonight, you might bump into them.
Mayo: Yeah, "Oh I remember you - you're that guy that 15 years ago that had that big hit." (laughing)
Guitar.com: Now that's tragic (laughs). One of things that I found interesting just about (hed) in general. I hear songs like "Bartender" or "Swan Dive," (from their 2000 release Broke on Jive Records) and they fit the musical dynamic of the time. Maybe some of their material wasn't as "radio-ready" as some of their contemporaries at the time but I was surprised that some of the other bands that broke out (pardon the pun) from the same area, the same piece of cloth, if you will, at that time (Korn, Limp Bizkit, etc.) and (hed) didn't. You were kinda on the outside looking in at that time, did that surprise you as well?
Mayo: You know, I've thought about that here and there, especially being a (hed) pe fan. I couldn't understand it at first. There's a certain thing about originality. Some of Jahred's lyrics are so hardcore and the s--t is so abstract in a way. And for people, like us, who play and know s--t can relate to it. But a lot of times I think it just goes over people's heads. There's that one or three songs on the record that has the hook but they're so close to the full package.
Guitar.com: "Blackout" has it though. At least, I think it does. ("Blackout" is the title track from (hed) pe's upcoming release.)
Guitar.com: I haven't checked the Billboard charts in the last week or so but I would think that would prosper on the modern rock tracks. Blackout should really blow up.
Mayo: One would think.
Guitar.com: I think "Suck It Up" is also a great song but probably for more of the hardcore fan.
Mayo: Well, there's also "Getaway." That song is huge. It's got a bit of a reggae feel to it, maybe a little Sublime in the beginning.
Guitar.com: Right, yeah, that's a powerful song as well. I've only heard the whole CD twice so some of the material isn't quite engrained yet.
Mayo: On that note, the thing is we do have a very strong core following. Last year, when I joined the band back in September, we went out in October. Frankly, I didn't care if anyone came out to see us because I was onstage with one of my favorite bands. Don, there was a time, where I walked to the very edge of the stage, stage left and I turned around and looked at the whole band. I just kinda took it all in. It was almost overwhelming. I was playing. I was right there in the moment.
Guitar.com: Being in the moment like that is so - people are always thinking about what I'm going to do tomorrow. And I have to figure out how I'm going to get to that next thing. Having the ability to live in that moment - I know that Jahred had mentioned his leanings towards Buddhism and I'm the same way.
Mayo: Me too.
Guitar.com: That can really be the core of it.
Mayo: Living in the present is so important. And being onstage with them was so killer. To my pleasant surprise, we were playing like thousand-seaters and these places were PACKED! We only sold 250,000 records with the last release (Broke on Jive Records) but still, there's seems to be like a thousand kids in every single city we play, that want to come out. It's been killer. There's always hope that if it does break, well there's already this hard core following to build on.
Guitar.com: Did you get to track any of the guitars on Blackout?
Mayo: I didn't actually. Chad quit the band right after he finished tracking.
Guitar.com: It seems so strange that Chad would bail at such a critical time. Was there or is there any animosity between Chad and his former bandmates?
Mayo: I think it was probably weird. It's always all little weird. It was when I left Snot. You know it's strange at first but then everything turns out okay in the end. But with these guys because it was such an easier transition with me. It became easier for them to look at Chad and say that they understood. Maybe they thought "You are screwing us." But when I stepped in and things didn't look as bad as they first did.
Guitar.com: Yeah, you can understand both sides. If you don't want to be in the gig, it would suck to do it for the wrong reasons and at the same time...
Mayo: I can relate to that and to Chad. I don't know what his reason were for leaving but I know that my reasons for leaving Snot, at the time, were very valid to me. We were right on the cusp of Ozzfest. Something brought me this way. Had I never taken that route, would I be sitting here today. I don't know.
Guitar.com: What Guitars will you be taking out with you on the Jagermeister Tour?
Mayo: Here's my deal. I'm a true hold out. I held out as long as I possibly could. I'm buying guitars because I wanted to play a particular type - namely Les Pauls. But on that same note, once I joined (hed) pe and had to adjust to the tunings, one of my Les Pauls, my Custom, could handle the tuning. I use it as my back up. Where my Standard really couldn't handle that low "B" tuning. I had to borrow a guitar from Chad, one of his old guitars that he used in (hed) pe. He actually insisted before we left. He was like "Dude, you're gonna need this." It's a Sub-Sonic Fender.
Guitar.com: Really, they have an extended scale length, don't they?
Mayo: Yeah, they don't make them anymore, as far as I'm aware.
Guitar.com: Did you have to increase your string gauge to support the lower tunings?
Mayo: Yes, I go up to .060. I like to go .060, if it were perfect, I'd like .060, .050, .040 and then like .026, .018, .013.
Guitar.com: To maintain the kind of tension you need, you have to do that.
Mayo: But here's the deal with Ibanez. I call Rob over at Ibanez and he was like "What brought you to us?" And I said "necessity." He knew a little bit more about me then I knew about him. He knew that I was a Les Paul user and I was like "Oh, okay - I see you've been doing your homework."
Guitar.com: Any guy in Artist relations worth his salt, is paying close attention to anyone who isn't playing their product. And they'll make mental notes as to who is playing what product. It's part of the gig.
Mayo: So he shot me with that right away - I know you're a Les Paul man. So I told him about all about my issues with the tunings. And my Standard couldn't handle it so he shows me this "SZ - model," which is brand new, I think. The deal is, I think it's a quarter inch longer scale length to a Les Paul with the string thru the body. It sounds great. The tension is just right. It's a really rad guitar.
Guitar.com: Is Wes Playing Ibanez as well?
Mayo: He does. Mark (the bass player) does too. On the single "Blackout," Jahred wrote the song in a Sitar tuning. And Rob knowing that I like Les Pauls, came at me with an Artist, which is killer.
Guitar.com: I have an old one from the late '70s but I destroyed it in the mid-'80s by installing a Kahler on it. It sucked every ounce of sustain out of that guitar. I've been meaning to get it fixed for years but it's too embarrassing to even take out of the case.
Mayo: Oh man, that's what the '80s did to us (laughing).
Guitar.com: It still feels great.
Mayo: Yeah, they have great necks. Solid wood with the double cutaway. It just feels very Les Paul-like. I'm really happy with Ibanez.
Guitar.com: And "Blackout" is the only song you get to play it on?
Guitar.com: Is it tuned real drone-y?
Mayo: It's tuned "C - G - C - C - G - C." Just a wide open tuning and you bar everything.
Guitar.com: I know you said you were a strong Gibson hold-out. Are you taking anything Gibson out with you or have you sworn a blood oath?
Mayo: (laughs) Well, Rob (Artist Relations rep at Ibanez) gave me two guitars. He gave me the "SZ" and the "Artist." But for each guitar there's a Les Paul backup. The Custom is my backup for the SZ and my Black Standard is the back up for the "Blackout" tuning.
Guitar.com: So as of yet, it's been an Ibanez tour. Unless something breaks, the Gibson's stay outta sight.
Mayo: Yeah, it's early. But the Ibanez' have been working great. The SZ is a killer guitar though.
Guitar.com: Ibanez does do it all. From 4-string to 8-string, guitar or bass.
Mayo: And the guys in the Ibanez Custom Shop in North Hollywood...
Guitar.com: I remember when the set that up. I knew the Artist Relations guy really well and I went to the shop right after it opened but I have been there in forever and I'm sure the staff has changed nine ways to sideways.
Mayo: They're really nice guys and when I came in to pick up the guitars, they had totally spec'ed out the guitar with the Sperzels and JB's that I wanted. And I had moved the strap peg on the bottom of the guitar up to here (he moved it north, away from the input jack by about six inches), so the guitar hangs a little more naturally on me. And these guys were like "Hey is everything okay." And they tuned it to a normal 7-string tuning, without the high "E." So I had to have the re-intonate it and stuff. They were really helpful.
Guitar.com: How many tunings do you use currently?
Mayo: Just the two. "B" Standard - so it's a little bit different when I get to where the "B" normally would be. Know what I mean?
Guitar.com: Like dropping the "E" string off of a standard 7-string tuning?
Guitar.com: You beefed up the string gauge, so do they put in two truss rods or anything custom?
Mayo: No, they changed the relief a little bit but it's all pretty standard. The neck is a little thicker and wider. And the heel on the headstock is really big. We can go by my rig and check it out later. The guitar is so versatile. One of the things with (hed) is that they have this particular sound that, that twangy, split humbucker and the SZ screams in that setting. I set the toggle to the center position and it operates the inside coils on both buckers.
Guitar.com: What do you have for a rig?
Mayo: I still use a Mesa Triple Rectifier and two 4x12" cabinets loaded with some vintage 30's. I've been thinking about trying to hook up with Randall. I've been hearing good things coming from them. But I used to bi-amp but I had to scale down on this tour due to space and size constraints.
Guitar.com: I guess you would have to given how many bands are out and how mobile you have to be. Are there any local acts supporting this event?
Mayo: They might be depending on the venue. Yeah, they have one local act here in Boston.
Guitar.com: So you're on the Jagermeister Tour until the end of April and then what's up.
Mayo: We hoping to link up with a big US tour but we might do some European dates. Just a few cause we want to focus on the US thing.
Guitar.com: Oh that's cool. I really appreciate you taking the time with us. Best of luck on the rest of the Jagermeister Tour.
Mayo: Do you have time to go check out the guitars?
Guitar.com: Yeah sure - let's go see....