by Sean Stroh
hIPNOSTIC is a heavy rock band from Orange County, CA. Their music is driven by a passion for heavy contagious riffs, powerful rhythmic grooves, thought provoking arrangements that filter through a positive and hopeful lyrical message. The band draws inspiration from artists like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Chevelle, Seether, Shinedown and Red.
In 2011, Blake and his long-time musical brother Rob Swanson reunited to push the band to a whole new level. The band continues to reach new melodic territories and create a broader sonic landscape. The intertwining of their guitar and bass personalities gives the band an even heavier rock sound. In 2015, the new line-up was complete with the addition of powerhouse drummer Lawrence Scott.
Since the release of their first single in years, a heavy rock interpretation of the classic Bill Withers hit “Ain’t No Sunshine”, the buzz surrounding hIPNOSTIC has been growing. This past summer, the group performed two electric shows at The House of Blues in Anaheim, where they were able to showcase hIPNOSTIC‘s trademark heavy riffs, strong guitar solos as well as their brand new drummer.
The group’s critically acclaimed debut album, Dissolve Me, received four nominations at the ALL ACCESS L.A. Music Awards. Now, nearly a decade after the release of Dissolve Me, hIPNOSTIC founder and lead vocalist Blake Hastings says the long awaited follow up album is nearly complete.
Coming Up Magazine talked with Hastings about his time playing in a rock band on the Sunset Strip, the benefits of the power trio and the status of their upcoming album.
Could you take me through the history of hIPNOSTIC and your friendship with bandmate Rob Swanson?
hIPNOSTIC was all about getting back to creating pure music. It was about getting back to the roots. Rob and I used to play in a band on the Sunset Strip in the early 90s called Lixx Array. We actually started our musical careers out playing in that band. It was just at the tail end of the hair band hysteria in a way. We were also in a band called Spirit Tree which was more post-grunge type of music. That’s kind of where we started our musical friendship.
On Dissolve Me, Rob was not actually involved with it too much. He took a break from music to raise a family and I continued to write, produce, record and mix music that I love the most. When the record came out I had various other musicians that were playing in the band at the time. I tried not to worry about trying to fit into fads or making everybody happy. And so I decided to put it out and it did extremely well. I had no expectations of what was going to happen because of most of the time in this industry there are let downs and generally a lot of things just don’t work out. You got to do it for the love and passion and that’s really where Dissolve Me was born out of.
A lot of great things came out of that album. We got some awards and great press as well. A few of the songs were on ESPN and “Ritual” was also in a horror movie called “Dead Matter.” So there were a lot of cool things that happened which weren’t expected at all. You just kind of do it and hope that people embrace.
It was wonderful to have Rob back in 2011. He was just jonesing to get back to playing together again. The two of us are truly a musical partnership and has always been my kinship. He and I are the yin and yang. The John and the Paul. The Rob and the Jimmy. We just work well together. We have a bond that very few musicians have. He’s like a brother to me.
And quite a lot has changed in the music industry since that first album was released in 2004. ITunes was still in its infancy and YouTube or streaming services like Spotify hadn’t been created yet. Do you find it harder or easier now in 2015 when it comes to trying to get people to listen to your music?
There are a lot of things that are commonplace now that weren’t even around back then. I have to say that the tools and vehicles of getting your music out now are just incredibly awesome in so many ways. I think if social media is used properly and you’re willing to put the time and be diligent about it then it can be very beneficial. The tools are much more at your disposal to promote your band than it was 10 years ago. There is no question about it. Back then you would rely on emails to inform people about your shows.
I think that for younger bands like ourselves that are in certain market places, it’s an incredible avenue if you use it right to get your music out. From 2004 to now, we’ve gained such a bigger fan base because of sites like SoundCloud, Facebook and Spotify. It has helped us reach way much more people than we normally would so we really embrace the new methods of social media.
The one drawback for a new band is trying to make revenue off selling music. Everyone’s heard that battle. But at this point it’s not a concern. We just want people to listen to the music, enjoy it and get it out there. That’s really the main purpose. The revenue? If it comes it’s great but it’s not even on the radar.
Looking back on those years performing on the Sunset Strip with Lixx Array, was there anything you learned about what it took to be in a successful band that you carried with you and applied with hIPNOSTIC?
That was such an incredible time to be in a band and play. The music scene was just amazing and I’m sure if you ask many musicians who played with us they would say they miss the camaraderie. It was great to see people getting out and seeing local original music. Now it’s tougher for people of our genre–hard heavy music–to get people out to shows unless you’re some big name.
But basically some of the tools we utilize now that we learned back then is getting out and promoting our shows. It could be handing out flyers, handing out tickets or doing some of the old school stuff. Back then you couldn’t just hit the send button on your Facebook friend list. We had to go out on the strip and hand out fliers, network and grow a fan base organically. So when big shows come up around here we will get out there and engage the people. And of course we utilize social media. If you do those two things you basically have two weapons of mass destruction in your pocket.
Rob and I are also very animated on stage which is one of the things we learned from playing in that scene. The one thing bands always did well on the Sunset Strip is put on a show. A lot of the newer bands sometimes don’t engage, talk or even look at the crowd. We find incredible entertainment value in little things like looking at the crowd and really grabbing their attention and making them part of the show instead of just standing there. The entertainment aspect of hIPNOSTIC is huge and I think so far it’s been working well.
You guys recently had a pair of shows at The House of Blues in Anaheim. Were those shows short of symbolic of this new chapter of hIPNOSTIC?
Yeah absolutely. The first two shows have been incredible.
Our first show on June 3 was part of the Black Sheep Invasion Tour and it was the debut concert for our new drummer Lawrence Scott. You normally think you’re going to start out and get your feet a little wet in the waiting pool but we jumped right in and he did a fabulous job. We were blessed to be a part of it. We got to play with our fellow hard rock bands that night. Then the following month we got a chance to come back and do a GigBoss show.
The House of Blues is such an awesome venue. It was a great opportunity to perform in front of other common bands and fans of our type of music. It’s great to be friends with these bands to promote our local hard rock music. We’re all better together than we are separately.
What made you and Rob ultimately decide on Lawrence and what was that whole search process like?
We wanted someone who was on the same page as Rob and I musically. We took quite a bit of time to find the perfect fit and the whole process took around a year. We certainly didn’t want to settle. Throughout the entire search process Rob and I continued to write and rehearse the upcoming record. In the very first jam with Lawrence it was evident that he was on the same page as we were. It was a wonderful breath of fresh air and he’s just a wonderful person. We’re very blessed to have him. This is the strongest chapter of where the band has ever been. The power and creative chemistry is at its very best now. It’s awesome.
Has remaining a trio and not expanding beyond that been a conscious decision by you and Rob?
I think it’s a great question. I actually feel like ever since Rob and I were starting out we always had a gravitation toward a more raw feel and an openness that only a three piece band allows. We’ve always played in three piece bands musically so it really wasn’t anything different for us. We would be the back-up singers for the lead singers in our old bands so it was kind of a natural thing for us to step up and take over the lead vocals. It’s a whole new pair of shoes and it takes a while to wear those shoes in but we love the challenge.
One of the wonderful compliments we get when we play live is that we sound so full for a three piece band. If I go into a lead it doesn’t sound like all the bottom drops out. Rob’s got a good heavy bottom on his bass.
In a few earlier interviews this year I know you mentioned a second album that was in the works and planned to be released by the end of the year. What is the current status of that long awaited second album and is it still on track to be released by the end of 2015?
Boy…we can’t wait to get out. We are more on track of getting it released first quarter of 2016. As of now, everything is recorded but Rob and I just got to finish up some vocals on it and then we’ll be mixing it. I would say overall, we’re about 85 percent done with it.
“Ain’t No Sunshine” has been getting great reviews. It’s a very classic tune everyone knows but with our unique stamp on it. People didn’t expect it and it’s nothing like the original but it’s true hIPNOSTIC all the way. Our video for it will be out by the end of the year.
Was it a bit weird or even surreal to be back in the studio recording another hIPNOSTIC album after all these years?
Well, the second record has been in the works for a long time. It’s just been the usual ups and downs of the recording process. I’m a perfectionist so things take a bit longer than they would with someone else. It’s just kind of my nature to put the detailed work into everything. We don’t tend to rush things out.
After all those years of not having any material out it was incredibly great to reset the chapter. The growth from that first album which I like to equate to a freshman being thrown into college, to the recording of “Ain’t No Sunshine”, was night and day. We really went up many levels from that album in terms of the production and performance. The two albums are quite far apart in many ways which is good. It shows growth and shows the band isn’t staying in the same spot.
Are there any upcoming or relatively unknown bands you are currently listening to that you would like to give a little shout out to?
On the local scene we have so many great friends. I would say some of my favorites are RED9 and of course our dear friends Radiodrone. The two shows we did at The House of Blues were both wide Radiodrone actually. We’re very tight with Ethan (lead singer of Radiodrone). Star Off Machine is another band we love too.