Hell Is For Heroes

By paul

Come December 19th, Hell is for Heroes will have played their last ever show. After eight brilliant years, arguably one of the greatest UK rock acts of the new century will be hanging up their respective instruments for one last time. With the help of guitarist William Mcgonagle, we look back over the band’s turbulent career.

The Neon Handshake

As you read this, try to think back to where you were and what you were doing on March 11th 2003. I remember where I was. Tower Records, Piccadilly Circus. It’s where I first bought a copy of Hell Is For Heroes now-legendary debut album, The Neon Handshake. Bought purely on recommendation of an extremely over-excited friend (I believe his exact words were ‘oh my shit, you have to check out this band, they will rip your face clean off’), it was release day for the debut album of one of the UK’s most innovative new acts.
Containing twelve tracks of gripping, British rock fury, The Neon Handshake had
every reason to win itself critical accolades from every corner of the magazine shelf, with Rock Sound quite rightly naming it their record of the year.

“The neon handshake is still the record for which we are best known and it’s an album I still look back on with pride. The making of the record was an amazing time for us musically and personally. We were in LA (we loved living in LA!) away from our friends and family and therefore able to concentrate 100% on the record.

“We were working with 2 guys (Pelle and Eskil) who were also a long way from home and it drew us all together and made the work more intense and productive. “When we came back to the UK we were super confident – we had an album we were proud of, we were gagging to get out on the road and we had a label that were totally into what we were doing.” The band tour relentlessly in support of the album, and shared the stage with some of the UK’s most respected contemporary acts.

Watch an interview with any UK band from that period and you’ll find HIFH being namechecked left, right and centre.

Transmit Disrupt.

However, while ‘The Neon Handshake’ won the band fans and critical acclaim the nation over, all was not well behind the scenes. A restructuring at EMI headquarters resulted in many of the key players that got Hell Is For Heroes on the industry ladder in the first place looking for new jobs.

“Almost everyone who worked on the first album with us at the label had been let go by EMI and we were left with a bunch of people who didn’t really give a shit about our new album. We were constantly brought to meetings telling us what kind of songs we needed to write and we ended up resenting it.”

Keen not to fall victim to the consumerism of fat-cat label representatives, the band took things into their own hands. “In the end we refused to go back to write anymore and asked whether we could leave to make the record ourselves.” It was an extremely bold move for any band, but for one who was at the time still cutting their teeth on the scene, it was a simply unheard of thing to do. Who the fuck turns their back on one of the ‘Big Four’? Fortunately the powers that be supported the bands’ wishes and they parted on good terms. And so, HIFH’s fate was in their own hands…

“The day after we left EMI, we flew to Sweden to record. It was scary – pretty much overnight we’d gone from being pampered (wannabe) rock stars to unsigned diy-ers and some of us were more comfortable with that than others.”

Mcgonagle considers it was a difficult record to make and the fact that it was released at all, he called a ‘triumph’. Fortunately, by the end of the process, things were much more positive than they were when they split from EMI. Burning Heart and Epitaph picked up the record, and in March 2006 it was released both sides of the pond. “After growing up going to shows by almost every band on those labels, it felt wicked to be a part of that; especially after feeling so on our own at the beginning of Transmit Disrupt‘s existence.”

Hell is For Heroes

Following the release of Transmit Disrupt, things seemed to be going steadily upwards again for the Camden fivesome. The shows were growing, the fans were praising them, and most importantly, they had a label again. As William Mcgonagle states, they ‘fully expected’ to release their third record through Burning Heart. However, in a way that lightning only strikes twice for the unlucky, label re-organisation once again hit Hell is For Heroes hard – and where it hurts. The curse struck again.

“Once again the curse of Hell is For Heroes struck with Burning Heart losing tons of its staff and getting rid of loads of its bands (us included). We decided that we’d make the album by ourselves anyway and rented a little studio in Shepherds Bush to write the record. After the struggles with Transmit Disrupt, we were all determined to enjoy the making of this record. I think it shows on the finished product.”

Eventually seeing its release through Golf Records, the self-titled hit shelves and digital outlets in early 2007. While it pleased the hardcore fans, it drew little attention from the media. Amidst rumours and hearsay, the band finally confirmed in October 2007 that it would be their last. The Hell Is For Heroes candle that once burned bright throughout venues across the country, appeared to have run out of wax.

“We’ve been talking about wrapping it up for ages. We are the five worst people in the world at making decisions so it’s taken until now to actually do it, although we struck out on our own from album 2 onwards. I think that doing everything ourselves slowly became really boring; having so much shit to worry about other than music definitely took it’s toll”, he says. “It kind of got to a point where no matter how much we love making music together (and we still do) there was always an ever increasing downside which made it less and less worth it. “

Will is keen to point out they’re not turning their backs on music altogether.

“We’ve been asked to write a soundtrack for a film called “We Are The Industry”. Nothing’s confirmed yet but that could happen! We won’t be playing any shows though. I recorded a couple of bands’ albums this year and that is definitely something I’d like to do more of next year again.

“Tommy [O’Donoghue] is writing some music with a couple of other folks too. I’d like to think that we’ll all continue playing music though even if it’s not together.”

However, for those of you waiting with baited breath for the announcement of a reunion show in five years time, he’s less hopeful.

“I don’t really see any big reunion on the cards to be honest. For a start we all see each other socially so we won’t get a chance to miss each other, and I don’t think there would ever be enough of a demand for us to reform anyway!”


Try these three interviews

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