Higher Power Metal: Discussing “III: Pentecost” with Wytch Hazel’s Collin Hendra
Retro heavy rockers Wytch Hazel have drawn quite a bit of attention these last few years with a consistent stream of excellent and always-improving albums—and for their unabashed love for their lord and saviour Jesus Christ. Last year, their third album III: Pentecost came out on Bad Omen Records to near-universal acclaim (aside from a bit of grumbling from metalheads who that are less interested in Christian lyrics). For the uninitiated, Wytch Hazel sound quite a bit like the glory days of early heavy metal just before Iron Maiden and Saxon took over the world; some good references are Ashbury, Wishbone Ash, and Pagan Altar, but Wytch Hazel’s sound is all their own, paying particular reference to medieval melodic structures and to uplifting hymns to the Lord.
III: Pentecost is largely a continuation of the sound that they started years back, with a good mix of heavier and more doom-laden bits (“Dry Bones”), hard rocking and uplifting tunes like “Spirit and Fire,” and a handful of ballads. It’s possibly their finest album to date, which is saying something. On the heels of this excellent album it seemed like a good time to sit down and talk to the band’s guitarist and vocalist, Collin Hendra.
Your new album just came out a couple months ago; did you expect III: Pentecost to have such wide success in the year-end lists that have been going up the last month or so? How does it feel?
Part of me knew that the people who liked the last two albums, would almost certainly like this one! However it looks like Pentecost has been received by a wider audience so I’m really happy as it’s our most successful album to date. It’s definitely a surprise when you see so many of those lists and we’re coming out, as so many of these people's Album of the Year! It feels good and honestly I feel very grateful that I get to do what I love and people are loving it too!
There has been an increasing frequency of instruments not typically associated with metal (piano, violin, cello) in your music over the years, and nearly half of III: Pentecost featured cello. When and why did you initially decide to start incorporating those into your music? Do you write those sections yourself, or let the session musicians playing the instruments write their parts?
I don’t think it was ever really ‘off the table’ but as you experiment with the music in general–varied instrumentation starts to become an interesting option. I write all the parts myself–I use virtual instruments at the ‘demo stage’ to get an idea of what it might sound like when recorded with real instruments. Our producer sometimes adds a few ideas, such as the 4 cello notes in the ‘I Am Redeemed’ chorus–simple yet effective! On this release, I played the piano and organ parts and my dad recorded all the cello and cello harmony/overdubs.
A wide variety of influences go into your music, and you guys play both metal shows and unplugged acoustic sets. Do you consider Wytch Hazel to be a metal band, a rock band, or does it even matter?
I think the goal from day one was to start a ‘heavy metal band’ in the traditional sense. Take a band like Saxon though, and they could equally be described as a ‘rock band’ and a ‘heavy metal band’. The acoustic arrangements felt quite natural, in a Led Zeppelin sort of way perhaps. Like you said though–does it even really matter!? In my own words I consider us to be a ‘rock band’ but I tend to use the term ‘hard rock’ when describing the band to a non-listener.
Are there any influences in Wytch Hazel’s music that would surprise your fans?
I think there are deliberate influences and influences that you didn’t intend. For example, with having kids, I watch a lot of Disney and Pixar films so, ‘film music’ and the ‘musicals’ genre almost certainly have a subconscious, influential space; by osmosis perhaps? I am unashamedly a big fan of Lady Gaga, maybe that will surprise fans, maybe not–she’s a great songwriter and fabulous singer.
Most of the sentiment about Wytch Hazel that I’ve seen is that you guys are a rare band that has only improved over the years. Do you feel the same way? Is there any of your material that you’re less into these days, or that you wish you’d handled differently in hindsight?
I think the first demo and EP should have been handled by someone who knew what they were doing!! I basically recorded those releases myself, and I genuinely didn’t have much of an idea of what I was doing! That said, I think the songs are good on those releases. I’m not sure how it comes across but I don’t think there are any Wytch Hazel songs that I dislike, I’m happy to play them all!
How did you get in touch with Bad Omen Records, and what keeps you coming back to them? Will Wytch Hazel ever work with another label?
Well, we were first contacted by Rise Above Records (by Will Palmer) but it was so early on and with a lineup change imminent, It didn’t feel like the right thing to do. We were also almost ready to sign with High Roller Records but it all sort of ‘fell through’ in the end! Will Palmer contacted us again around 2014 I think as he had a new record label, and at that time it just felt ‘right’. The thing with Bad Omen is that they just ‘get’ what we’re trying to do and we basically just listen to the same records – that counts for a lot. Bad Omen is also a rare label who actually gets involved and doesn't just throw money at bands with no advice or suggestions. I’m really happy to stay but I’d never say never to a different label, it’s hard to look into the future and make a judgment on it!
How did the split with Borrowed Time come about?
We were contacted directly by Borrowed Time actually; they pretty much had the offer with High Roller set up and we were the ‘Chosen Ones’ by them I think! I think it was just a cool thing to do, very NWOBHM so we jumped at the chance really.
You played some drums on “The Crown” in addition to your normal instrumental roles, according to the album credits. What instruments do you play? How long have you been playing music?
I’ve been playing music since the age of 6 starting with drums. Apparently, I’m ‘one of those annoying people’ because I play drums, guitar, piano and I sing, but there you go – it’s my main skill in life, I’m pretty bad at everything else!
A few years ago you briefly played live with Angel Witch. How did that come about, and how do you feel about the experience?
Oh yeah, what a great experience! I’ve been a big fan of Angel Witch for about 12 years now so it was pretty amazing to be asked to play guitar for them! Basically, Bad Omen Records is run by Will Palmer, who plays bass in Angel Witch. He rang me up and said, I’m going to need you to play with Angel Witch on this date and I said “Oh I’ll just ask the lads if they’re free,” because I thought he was asking Wytch Hazel to support. He was like “No, you! I want you to play this show, on guitar, in Angel Witch, we need someone to fill in.” So yeah it was a bit of a dream come true to be honest! I think they were looking for someone who got the old-school thing and the NWOBHM style so I was honored to be thought of.
Your religion is no secret and is a big part of your music. Aside from grumbling online, have you guys ever faced any difficulties in the scene because of it?
Genuinely, I can’t think of a single instance! I’m sure there will be times in the future because I get why people might be critical of Christianity, I really do! We’ve pretty much always had an overwhelmingly positive response even with the blatant Christian lyrics, so I’m grateful for that—equally though, I don’t mind interesting or difficult conversations either, it comes with the territory.
Long before the birth of Wytch Hazel there was a booming Christian metal scene in the ‘80s, with bands like Barren Cross, Scarlet Rayne, Saint, and about a million others dropping great (and usually completely unsuccessful) albums. Are you into that stuff, and is it an influence at all?
If I’m completely honest–I haven’t even listened to Scarlet Rayne and I have listened to Barren Cross and Saint probably once or twice! Too busy listening to ‘obvious’ bands like Queen, I reckon! I like Stryper and all the cheesiness that comes with it and would say they were an influence.
Are you into any other contemporary Christian bands, or is it a non-concern when it comes to music?
To be honest I don’t listen to a lot of music labelled ‘Christian’! I listen to contemporary church music, due to being part of Church and I enjoy it, but I can’t even think of a modern ‘Christian band’ that I listen to!
What are your first priorities for Wytch Hazel following the end of the pandemic that disrupted the world this last year?
Well the first priority above all else is and probably always will be to keep writing more music to the highest standard possible. I’ve worked pretty much all through the many ‘lockdowns’ or ‘restrictions’ so it’s ‘business as usual’ for Wytch Hazel. We will work on new projects and gig as soon as possible (and is safe).
Do you have anything else you’d like to talk about or promote?
Yes! A few things: we released a new single, people can download (& donate please) here, also I now have a ‘Patreon’ style platform set up where people can support me as I work towards committing 1 day a week to all things Wytch Hazel (I work full time currently) the link is here. l also I have set up something called twytchhazel where I’m experimenting with livestreaming.
III: Pentecost released October 30th, 2020 via Bad Omen Records.
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