JAMEY JASTA Previews 2024 MILWAUKEE METALFEST And Touts Current Metal Scene: 'I See The Future Is Bright'

December 19, 2023

By David E. Gehlke

HATEBREED frontman Jamey Jasta had his work cut out for him when he took over the long-shelved but highly important Milwaukee Metalfest in 2022. While the festival's reputation was occasionally dotted by founder and promoter Jack Koshick's shaky relationships with its bands (word to the wise: Don't ever ask a member of OBITUARY about Koshick),the reality was that Milwaukee Metalfest was the only game in town for a Stateside extreme metal gathering that catered to all corners of the scene. The festival's initial 1987 to 2004 run proved essential in bringing over key European bands while propping up the likes of CANNIBAL CORPSE, DEATH, KING DIAMOND and TESTAMENT, laying the groundwork for similar events like Maryland Deathfest and Decibel magazine's twice-a-year beer and metal happening.

Jasta and his team's work paid off: The successful 2023 rebirth, headlined over three nights by BIOHAZARD, ANTHRAX and LAMB OF GOD, re-established Milwaukee Metalfest and reset its standing within the metal scene. Furthermore, it gave Jasta an opportunity to assemble an even more formidable 2024 lineup that includes BLIND GUARDIAN, KAMELOT, MR. BUNGLE, KATATONIA, DEATH TO ALL, IN FLAMES, LACUNA COIL and plenty more. When BLABBERMOUTH.NET caught up with Jasta, he was still fine-tuning the lineup and plotting HATEBREED's next moves, which include a Long Island residency to celebrate the band's 30th anniversary and a new studio album. All in a day's work for one of metal's busiest men.

Blabbermouth: What was your perception of Milwaukee Metalfest before you took it over? Was it something HATEBREED ever played?

Jamey: "We did. It was a big deal! We had been trying for years, since '95. When you're a kid band and looking at the ads in the back of Metal Maniacs, PIT and S.O.D. and all the magazines back then, you never think, 'This is something that is achievable.' But we went for it. We tried to get a hold of somebody who knew somebody. As I would write the letters or make the calls — I used to call Jack's landline all the time and couldn't get through. It went to voice mail. This was in the answering machine age, so he'd play it back on a tape. Finally, in '98, I got a hold of a booking agent who told me he's friendly with Jack and could probably get us on, but it wouldn't be for much money, like a hundred bucks and maybe a six-pack of beer and a case of water. That was fine. But that was normal for us and bands like SHADOWS FALL. Everyone wanted to make the pilgrimage to Milwaukee not just to network but also to see bands who were hard to see at the time. Although we were super-involved in the hardcore scene, we were too metal for the different sub-genres of hardcore and punk. We were also not metal enough or death metal enough for the black and death metal and old-school death metal scene, even though we had come up doing those shows. We played with SIX FEET UNDER, A.C. , INTERNAL BLEEDING, BROKEN HOPE, NAPALM DEATH and AT THE GATES. We opened for AT THE GATES in '95. We did many shows with death metal bands and were fans of that music, but when we heard about the '98 lineup, we said, 'We'll do whatever we have to do.' MAYHEM was on the bill and we couldn't believe they were allowed into the States!"

Blabbermouth: Well, sure, especially considering the infamy that was associated with the band.

Jamey: "Yeah! We couldn't believe it when we got on. We thought, 'Okay, we'll book a tour to and from. Whatever we have to do. We were lucky enough to get on some dates with ENTOMBED. Even then, we were getting just enough gas money to get to the next city. We didn't care. [Laughs] When we got there, we couldn't believe it. We saw people we saw in Metal Maniacs, PIT and S.O.D. , and the people we have been looking at inside of record and CD covers since we were kids. We had a blast. Now that I'm booking the festival, I realize when I'm seeing the submissions of kids going, 'Yeah, we're from Kansas. We just want to play.' It's not as crazy as I once thought because I did it! I would be like, 'Hey, maybe get a couple more shows under your belt. Don't blow all your savings to drive out to Milwaukee to play for 20 minutes.' I can't say that knowing how many careers it launched. Also, just going to the shows this past summer, playing the festivals and all those shows, I couldn't believe how many bands actually would come up to me and go, like members of AMON AMARTH, IN FLAMES, AT THE GATES — so many people saw the press release and that the festival happened. They all said it was so cool we brought it back and that it was their first show in America. It's just wild. We really captured that spirit. There was such camaraderie. It was fun running to all the stages. I remembered how much my knees hurt. [Laughs] It brought back memories of running up and down the steps to see certain bands, but we did try to have much less overlap than the old-school version. We also gave people longer sets than 10 or 15 minutes. [Laughs]"

Blabbermouth: You mentioned the set times, but organizationally, Jack ran into a lot of issues running the festivals. Did people express those reservations when you took it over?

Jamey: "Some big old-school names gave me the 'go' sign and their blessing. Gene Hoglan [DEATH, DARK ANGEL, TESTAMENT] was a big one. That meant a lot for him to say, 'It's in good hands with Jamey.' Then, to have DARK ANGEL headline the first night back was magic. My hair was standing up on my neck and arms. Now, to have him back for two nights in a row with DEATH TO ALL and knowing what those DEATH albums and songs meant to so many people who went to the fest prior to me getting to play, we want to make sure we're doing right by them. That was a big part of it. Going back to the spirit of, yeah, let's get some international bands and bands people don't always get to see, like BLIND GUARDIAN and MARDUK. We got some of the most hits out of the gate with the TESTAMENT announcement. They're such a big part of Metalfest's history since they played Milwaukee Metalfest II with EXODUS. We're still building the lineup. I think it's good we're not going on Memorial Day weekend. We're announced so much earlier. We didn't announce it until January of this year [for the 2023 installment]. I really think going out of the gate in November and having another big headliner announced in the first week of December has helped."

Blabbermouth: Milwaukee Metalfest now has competition, particularly from Decibel and Metal Injection. Does that affect the way you plan the lineup?

Jamey: "It's hard to plan a lineup. But I think the repeated bands at a lot of these other fests help us. Not that I'm against repeats. I know fans love repeats and it sounds crazy, but I saw it with Blue Ridge Rock Fest. We played it two or three years in a row, and it kept getting better. It's totally fine to repeat with some bands. I can see at least five or six — I always said we weren't going to do any repeats, but I can see at least five or six being added between now and February and people would just love it. I think they would get an even bigger reaction next year because they helped us lay the foundation. It's not like how it used to be, where there was so much scarcity that you had to see a band on their headliner tour. It's funny — EXODUS just played in Joliet, which is about an hour away from Milwaukee. Now that we announced TESTAMENT, people are hitting me up to put on EXODUS! That's such an endearing quality that a lot of metalheads have: It's never too much. I think that goes to the abundance mentality, which I loved and always believed in. I never thought, 'Let's squander this little number of people or record sales or anything in life!' I'm always like, 'Let's share. There's more to go around. The more, the merrier. There's enough to go around.'"

Blabbermouth: You have a nice array of bands, starting with day one, which appears to be the black and power metal day. Day two is death metal, with HATEBREED, KATATONIA and MR. BUNGLE sprinkled in and day three is a potpourri.

Jamey: "The 'headliners of tomorrow' is something we talked about ever since the idea first came up to bring the festival back. Last night, as we were getting the stuff together for TESTAMENT, I thought, 'We're in a great place. We can still add thrash on Friday or Saturday because we have DESTRUCTION and HEATHEN. BUNGLE is going to play some thrash. With the up-and-coming thrash bands, which they've been submitting like crazy, hopefully, those older fans will come early and check those bands like they did with some of the death and thrash metal last year. We had such a great response for CASKET ROBBERY, JUNGLE ROT, MACABRE and a lot of the locals and regionals. We're going through that now as well. I would be happy to load up Sunday with locals and regionals. I feel like that young crowd is excited and engaged to see AVATAR and SLAUGHTER TO PREVAIL; although different, they are young and hungry for heavy music. Then we'll have the old-school heads for LACUNA COIL and DEATH TO ALL. I think we're in a good spot to curate further. This was such a good year for music and next year, we're going to have a new TESTAMENT, HATEBREED and a bunch of new records from a bunch of the bands on the fest."

Blabbermouth: Between HATEBREED, putting on shows, producing and a podcast, you've accomplished a lot. But has the festival been more work than you thought it would be?

Jamey: "It's been crazy. It has been more time and effort than I expected, but it's been rewarding in a lot of ways because I see the future is bright. For a minute there, a lot of the festivals were rehashing the same headliners every year. I love playing all those festivals and it goes back to what I was saying about the repeats: the fans love it, too, especially if the bands switch up their sets. But there's always been something missing as far as bridging the gap between the real underground stuff — the bands that slug it out in the clubs and VFW halls, they don't get the big Ozzfest or big tour with SLAYER, MEGADETH or LAMB OF GOD, as we did. That's not a reason for me not to put the ladder down. I still feel like I need to. [SLAYER's] Tom Araya and Kerry King and L.G. [Petrov] from ENTOMBED, Paul [Gray], Corey [Taylor], Joey [Jordison] and Clown [Shawn Crahan] from SLIPKNOT, Andreas [Kisser] and Max [Cavalera] and Igor [Cavalera] from SEPULTURA and SOULFLY — all these guys put the ladder down for HATEBREED. I don't know where we would be or where the scene would be. I know it's normal to go through peaks and valleys, but it seems we're coming back to a peak just with the real, underground stuff. We sold out two nights at The Chance [in Poughkeepsie, New York] with INTERNAL BLEEDING and ALL OUT WAR. Some podcasts are focused on all these underground bands that are doing bigger and better than ever. Club tours are selling out left and right. Then there are bands like AMON AMARTH, CANNIBAL CORPSE, OBITUARY and FROZEN SOUL, who are all Milwaukee Metalfest alumni. Some of those shows on that tour [headlined by AMON AMARTH] are doing arenas. It's incredible. Just to even be in the conversation is amazing. Hey, if that involves a year or two of work, I'm always happy to repay the dues if I can do it."

Blabbermouth: You alluded to this before, but what's the progress on the next HATEBREED studio album? We're coming up on four years of "The Weight Of The False Self".

Jamey: "We've been writing a lot of songs. I have a good number of lyrics. We'll probably get into the studio early next year and work around the residency. We had a residency in Long Island — we had three shows sell out today in 30 minutes, so we're adding a fourth night. There are already talks of adding a fifth night. Frank [Novinec, guitar] is in Florida, and Wayne [Lozinak, guitar] is on the West Coast, so if they fly in for rehearsals, we'll probably do some writing and probably get into the studio in late winter/early spring and maybe, hopefully, have something out by the fall or winter. But for 'The Weight Of The False Self', I think every band felt the need to be busy during the downtime and wanted to get something done. This time around, I've been waiting for those moments where I feel really inspired and I try to work more inspired and not just work-to-work. But both approaches work. If you're not inspired and you have to put your nose to the grindstone, eventually, you stumble upon something great. You do have to put the work in. I've done enough records and produced a lot of records in the last four years — I've executive produced and produced four or five records in the last few years, where it's like you have to give your ears a break and hit it when it's fresh. But seeing and hearing a lot of these bands that are young and inspiring made me appreciate the different subgenres and styles of production and tones. There are so many young, talented bands that sound different now, which is awesome. I think we went through a time where everybody was gridded out. Everybody had the same distortion. Everybody had the same vocal pre-amp or vocal effect. I liked a lot of it. I appreciated a lot of it, but now I'm hearing this new wave of bands that are doing all different tunings and some really cool placement of notes and melodies and riffs on different areas of the neck. I'm always listening and getting inspired. Some of it will apply to HATEBREED, but some won't since we're an institution at this point. We have to keep the recipe the same, but I like to get different ingredients in. You learn to appreciate those ingredients over time. If we followed up two years ago, I don't know if it's going to be as inspired as it's going to be now. We've given it enough time and life. I think they got their due."

Photo credit: Jeremy Saffer

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