Pettibone, Johnny (Himsa)


Himsa: Hail HorrorSurrounded by forest, washed in seclusion, darkened by gray skies and pouring rains. The members of Seattle’s metalcore band Himsa don’t have far to look for inspiration for their music’s dark sounds and themes. In fact, that inspiration engulfs them.

“Seattle can be a pretty dark and dreary place—there is a darkness that seems to be around us all of the time,” says Himsa frontman Johnny Pettibone. “We’re way up here in the Northwest, we’re separated by miles and miles of forest and it rains all of the time. No wonder it’s the nation’s suicide capital. It can be very depressing. But Seattle is a big part of our identity as a band.”

And that identity clearly bleeds through in the band’s music, their lyrics, even in their album titles. Himsa has recently released its newest disc—aptly titled Hail Horror—and are currently in the midst of the multi-band “Undoing Ruin” Tour (presented by Revolver Magazine) that will be hitting virtually every major city in the U.S. through the late spring. While Pettibone is an admitted horror fanatic, there is more to the CD’s title than simply praising his favorite movie genre.

“The title Hail Horror is actually a reference to a book I’ve read called I Lucifer (written by Glen Duncan—Ed.),” says Pettibone. “In the book, God has given Lucifer the opportunity spend a month on Earth as a mortal. But when an archangel tells him that it’s all a trick, Lucifer gets angry and decides to unleash terrors on Earth such as hurricanes, tornadoes, plagues, STDs. He says, “I will unleash a hail of horrors… .” When I read that, I knew I had a great title for this CD.”

In their own way, Himsa—the reverse spelling of a Sanskrit word for “peace and harmony”—has unleashed their own “hail of horrors” with the release of their newest, 10-song effort (Prosthetic Records). Following on the heels of their well-received 2003 release Courting Tragedy and Disaster and their subsequent, full-length DVD You’ve Seen Too Much Live, Hail Horror finds the quintet—which also features guitarists Kirby Johnson and Sammi Curr (who returned to the band after a leave of absence), bassist Derek Harn and drummer Chad Davis—at their thrashing, brutal, blistering best. The band has evolved substantially since its inception in 1998, having endured line-up changes and a staggering amount of touring. And among the dozens upon dozens of bands that occupy the burgeoning metalcore or “scream-o” genres, Himsa’s Hail Horror has the potential to vault them to the level of such bands as Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God, The Haunted and others.

L-R: Derek Harn, Sammi Curr, Pettibone, Chad Davis & Kirby JohnsonSomewhere in the barren, snowy landscape of western New York, we caught up with Pettibone to find out about their latest tour, his dark lyrical approach and the band’s penchant for using horror movies and dark images in much of their merchandise.

Dave Manack: Himsa is one of several bands, including Darkest Hour, A Life Once Lost, The Acacia Strain, Dead To Fall and others, with similar sounds and styles. Amongst these bands, how can Himsa separate itself and stand out amid the strong line-up that’s featured on the “Undoing Ruin” Tour?

Johnny Pettibone: Each band on this tour is different, and I personally like and respect every band on this bill. But a tour like this definitely makes you want to go out there and give 100 percent every night, because you know every other band will. You have to find a way to give everything you have every time you’re out there; I know if I collapse at the end of the set then I’ve left nothing on the stage.

DM: Hail Horror is a step away from your last release Courting Tragedy and Disaster, in the sense that is has more thrash elements, more guitar harmonies and leads. How did the writing process differ this time around?

JP: Kirby (Johnson) wrote most of the guitar stuff this time around, which is why it sounds more “thrashy” because that’s the sort of music that he’s always been influenced by. His style is more (San Francisco) Bay Area thrash. Sammi wrote a lot of the guitar parts on Courting Tragedy, which is why that has more of the Swedish influence. We do have those thrash and metal elements, but we also have a punk and hardcore intensity to our music.

DM: Where do your main influences come from as a vocalist?

JP: Mostly from hardcore bands like the Cro-Mags, Chain of Strength, Tragedy, Integrity, Unbroken, bands like that.

Revolver's Darkest Hour tourDM: Lyrically, songs on Hail Horror like “The Destroyer,” “They Speak In Swarms” and “Send Down Your Reign” all seem to have very dark connotations; yet they also seem to be very abstract in terms of their presentation. For example, in “They Speak In Swarms,”” you say, “Omens awoke in fiends of need to remain forlorn/Residual horror begs for life to no avail/flesh is fortune, the light is fortunate, a threat too severe for satire and fault.” Are these songs purposely open to interpretation?

JP: A lot of the lyrics on Hail Horror represent some of the personal horrors I’ve had to endure in my life. But they also talk about how I’ve made it through these things and how I am a stronger person because of them. They are sort of abstract because they’re personal experiences, and they are dark in many ways. But they are also open to interpretation; I don’t want (the lyrics) to be pinned down to one certain thing or another.

But “They Speak In Swarms” is actually (inspired by) a horror coming called 30 Days of Night. (Created by Steve Niles, 30 Days of Night is a vampire tale, based in a secluded Alaska town called Barrow. In Barrow, the sun sets and doesn’t rise for over 30 consecutive days and nights. From the darkness, an evil arrives that brings terror to the residents of Barrow. The only hope for the town is the Sheriff and Deputy, a husband and wife who are torn between their own survival and saving the town they love).

DM: The world of heavy music is much different than it was, let’s say, 20 years ago, when bands like Himsa were taken out on tour with arena-headlining bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, etc. There was also a good deal of exposure on MTV. Now, it seems like the best way to build a following is with constant touring on widely varying bills. And Himsa is obviously no stranger to touring, as the band has practically lived on the road for the past several years. Do you sometimes wish Himsa had seen the “heyday” of metal?

JP: No. Actually, I’m sort of glad that there aren’t those big arena metal bands anymore. Bands like ours are supposed to be underground; you earn your following and you keep touring non-stop. I look at our band as somewhere between The Misfits and Slayer, the way we tend to tour constantly and do most everything ourselves.

DM: Judging by the majority of Himsa’s merchandise (you have sweatshirts with the logo from The Omen, and shirts with werewolves and Jack the Ripper), you guys definitely have an interest in the horror genre. What are some of your personal favorite horror films?

Himsa's Omen sweatshirtJP: I love pretty much all vampire movies, and I’ll watch any vampire film that comes out. My favorite has to be Nosferatu, because it’s the first vampire movie and it’s so dark and evil. And I did really like Shadow of the Vampire, even Interview With the Vampire and the Blade movies. But I’ve always loved Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula (in the 1931 film). Dracula has that thing he does with his eyes…the way he can look at someone and they’re immediately under his spell. He could bring women back to his lair just by looking at them. I wish I had that power!

DM: When did you first realize you loved horror movies?

JP: My grandfather was a Jehovah’s Witness, and when I was a little kid he sat me down and made me watch The Exorcist. I guess he wanted to help me develop a faith in God, because he said something like “This is what’s going to happen to you if you don’t believe in God.” That’s a pretty messed up thing to do to a little kid. And that movie scared the hell out of me. It’s one of the reasons that I’m not religious at all, but it’s still one of my favorite movies of all time.

For more information on Himsa, visit their website right here or Prosthetic’s site here (you can hear audio samples at both locations). Here are the remaining dates for their current “Undoing Ruin” Tour:

24 Richmond, VA @ Alley Katz
25 Wilmington, NC @ Soapbox Laundro-Lounge
26 Jacksonville, FL @ The Imperial
27 St. Petersburg, FL @ State Theatre
28 Orlando, FL @ Backbooth

01 Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade
02 Nashville, TN @ Exit / IN
03 Little Rock, AR @ Vino’s (no Darkest Hour on this one)
05 Dallas, TX @ Gypsy Tea Room
06 Houston, TX @ Engine Room
07 San Antonio, TX @ White Rabbit
08 Albuquerque, NM @ Launchpad
09 Tempe, AZ @ The Clubhouse
10 San Diego, CA @ Epicenter
11 Pomona, CA @ Glasshouse
12 West Hollywood, CA @ Whisky A Go-Go
13 Las Vegas, NV @ The Clubhouse
14 San Louis Obispo, CA @ Downtown Brew
15 Fresno, CA @ Belmont
16 San Francisco, CA @ The Pound
17 Sacramento, CA @ Boardwalk
18 Portland, OR @ Rock ‘n Roll Pizza
19 Seattle, WA @ Showbox (record release show!)
20 Boise, ID @ The Venue
22 Denver, CO @ Marquis Theatre
23 Lawrence, KS @ Bottleneck
24 St. Louis, MO @ Creepy Crawl
25 West Dundee, IL @ Clearwater Theater
26 Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock Social Club
27 Pekin, IL @ Planet X Rollerworld
28 Indianapolis, IN @ Emerson Theater
29 Pittsburgh, PA @ Rex Theater
30 Cleveland, OH @ Peabody’s
31 Asbury Park, NJ @ Club Deep

01 Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
03 Lexington, KY @ Arts Place w/Manntis, Full Blown Chaos, Classic Struggle
05 Wichita, KS @ Headway Skatepark w/Manntis, Full Blown Chaos, Classic Struggle
06 Colorado Springs, CO @ The Black Sheep w/Manntis, Full Blown Chaos, Classic Struggle
07 Grand Junction, CO @ Mesa Theatre w/Manntis, Full Blown Chaos, Classic Struggle
08 Salt Lake City, UT @ Avalon Theater w/Manntis, Full Blown Chaos, Classic Struggle

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