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Hittman – Dirk Kennedy

A hidden long, lost treasure comes to mind when speaking of the New York City hard rock band Hittman. Not hidden or lost so much overseas as here nationally in the US. At least up until now. Their amazing latest album De$troy All Humans is bringing these extraordinarily talented musicians back out in the spotlight where they belong for all to see and hear.

Catching up with Hittman’s Lead Vocalist Dirk Kennedy, he explained details about the new LP, how some of the songs came about, his professional experiences, and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: The new album is called De$troy All Humans? I heard the title track and it’s really good.

Dirk Kennedy: Right. Thank you very much.

SFL Music: So, tell me about the new album. Was there a theme to it? What influenced it?

Kennedy: Well it’s the first record we made in a very long time. I don’t know if you know the history of the band, but we made records in the late eighties. Our first album was 1988 and it did pretty well. It’s mostly in Europe is where our kind of core following is because we were signed to a German record company, SPV. Then we didn’t make another record until ’93 and it was a little bit more commercial and while it did well, it didn’t do well with like the critics because they thought it was a little too commercial from the sound that we had on our first record. So, we kind of fizzled out only because of the business end of it, and getting screwed by labels and all that stuff. It just gets to a point where you can’t feel creative anymore. So, we took a very long sabbatical. Extremely long. Kind of never thinking that we would do another record. Our original bass player (Michael Buccellato) had died in a car accident about seven years ago. We all met up at the funeral and we talked about the legacy of the band. You know, for some weird reason, we had kind of developed a cult following in Europe and we got a lot of emails and social media kind of stuff and we said you know, we should probably get around to making another record. Well, we didn’t. What we did do was we had agreed to do a couple of festivals in Europe and we did them. One was in Germany. It’s called Keep It True, and then we did one in Athens which Is called Up The Hammers. Kind of a traditional heavy metal festival for the bands that are either legacy bands or newer bands. You’ll see anybody from Fates Warning, Armored Saint and a lot of up and coming new bands. So, we did those and it went so well that we decided that it was probably a good idea to maybe make a record. So, there wasn’t really anything thematically involved in it. There is some political stuff in there, but It’s kind of more in a poetic sense. An essay on like the title track. The first song on the album. Kind of an essay on todays position on America and where we stand, and how it goes against all of the humanity of it all without naming names or alienating people. We can do political viewpoints of which everybody has one and fair enough. So, it wasn’t really so much as a theme running through it, but there was an agenda and that was to make sure that this album was much closer in spirit and sound to the debut album which seems to be the album that our fans liked the most. So, we knew that if we were going to put a record out, that it had to be something that was very true to that or it would be no point of doing one. I mean, you remember back in the day with all the great bands that were out and it was a great scene until grunge came along and kind of shot it in the face, but you know, I always felt as a fan of certain bands that whatever they put out and always respected first to see where they were trying to take the listener. Especially more of the hard rock, heavy metal and or progressive bands like (Iron) Maiden or Queensrÿche or Dio or any of those kinds of groups. I always felt like I trust them enough to make a record that I might enjoy. Maybe it might take a couple of listens. Then there’s the old-fashioned fans who want bands to sound exactly as they did in the beginning, and that’s a really tough situation to be in and we were there. We were told in no uncertain terms that, don’t get too crazy (he laughed). Which is entirely what we did on our second record which you know, fair enough it took five years to make that record, and grunge had happened. Lots of things had happened to that musical landscape. So, when you don’t put a record out every year or every other year, your taste change. Your songwriting styles change. You evolve. Like I always said, that should’ve have been our third or fourth record and not our second record, but we weren’t really allowed to do a second record ‘cause we had so much legal problems because of our label in Germany. So, we were kind of held up for making another record. We had stuff that could have happened on that record, but by the time we got around to finally getting a green light to make a record, we had moved on, but we hadn’t taken into account that our fans hadn’t. You know, I was a big fan of Gerri Miller (Metal Edge) and all those great magazines. There was some great stuff with real journalists and real fans doing the work which was great.

SFL Music: Well, thank you, I was one of those journalists.

Kennedy: Well that’s what it was then. It was wonderful fans of the band who happened to be journalists and that was what was great! They went to the shows. They actually listened to the record. They knew the artists. You know, that’s something I don’t think you people get anymore. People that write reviews and stuff. You do in Europe, so I mean, the reviews and stuff that we got for this record have been really, really great because mostly the journalists over there are fans. They’re not just Rolling Stone people or people who like to hear themselves talk on paper. You know it all too well I’m sure.

SFL Music: Yes, things have changed. So sorry for the loss of your friend, your bass player.

Kennedy: Yeah. We hadn’t been a band for a really long time, but we all stayed very close as people. It’s kind of like family and you know, we got together in ’85. We didn’t put a record out until ’88 and then we did another record in ’93, but we stayed like a family. Oh, we’d say we’ll get around to doing something. We never did. I mean, it was great to see everybody in the same room for the first time in a decade. I said, hey you guys read at that time it was My Space? I said, do you have any idea the kind of love we get from like crazy countries like Italy and Greece? And they’re like, no and I’m like yeah. Let me show you some stuff, and everybody goes, wow! Because in America, we got really screwed here and in a really bad way because we had a single out and it was the number one most added single to radio in 1988 and it was a song called “Will You Be There” and it was like on a Friday Morning Quarterback (FMQB) and other compilations, and it was prime points to do some serious business and our record company went out of business the day the album was released.

SFL Music: Oh no!

Kennedy: Yeah. That was a German company that had opened a United States office and our contract reverted to German law, so we wound up being stuck on a label over there and reassigned to an American affiliate, and we tried to get another deal and we did. We got a major deal in America and they wouldn’t let us out of our contract in Germany. So, that’s what happened with our first record. We kind of like blew it in America and you know how America is very fickle. I think it’s changing now because there’s been such a big resurgence and an appetite for some of the more veteran acts and nostalgic acts, and that’s really cool. I mean, I went to go see Michael Schenker last year and I mean, it was incredible! It was packed, and there were fans there. It felt like it was the 80’s. I hadn’t seen that happen in a long time. I think that it’s changing.

SFL Music: This is still in New York where you are, right?

Kennedy: Oh yeah.

SFL Music: Is there still a big scene up there?

Kennedy: There’s nothing. There’s nothing here. I mean, people try. There’s a great club that just unfortunately closed called Blackthorn (51). We played there. We did our warm up show before we went to Germany. We played there on Tuesday and we flew out to Europe and we played the festival on Saturday. We figured we needed to get the music on front of an audience before we go embarrass ourselves.

SFL Music: I’m sure it went well.

Kennedy: It went well. It was daunting, but it went well. All the things that could’ve happened, happened. Ok, we got to make sure this doesn’t happen over there, because Keep It True, there’s about ten thousand people there, so it’s pretty prestigious to get invited, and they invited us so many times and people never do it. So, it was a thrill to be able to pull it together. Other than that, and the simple fact that we never really had much of a following here. When we were an unsigned act, we played so much, but there were so many great clubs when we were in Brooklyn. L’Amour East. We were like practically the house band at L’Amour East. We got to open up for everybody. Queensrÿche and Saxon and everyone. There were so many places. We used to play in Connecticut a lot with Fates Warning. With Liege Lord. We used to play the Agora Ballroom, and there were so many great venues for live music and now, I mean, maybe say for a couple of places on Long Island. There’s a Paramount that has national acts and local acts. Dream Theater played there and stuff like that. So, there’s a couple, but there’s no scene at all. Nothing. Not like you guys have. I know you have a great scene.

SFL Music: Yes, usually there’s something. What was the first single from De$troy All Humans?

Kennedy: The first single was called “The Ledge”. We did a lyric video for that. It’s a little bit more than a lyric video. Then we did a lyric video for “Breathe” and that was the official second single, and then about a month and a half ago, we did a video for a song called “Total Amnesia”, a more up-tempo number, which we actually, instead of it being a lyric video, we got everybody together and we shot a proper like performance video which oddly enough is our first performance video we ever did (he chuckled). We never did videos back in the day because we wanted tour support, and it was either or.

SFL Music: I saw it. It’s really good! What Is “Total Amnesia” about?

Kennedy: Jimmy (Bacchi) our lead guitar player wrote that about himself because Hittman is like the cleanest band you ever heard of in your life. Like, I’ve never even tried marijuana. None of us has ever been into drugs or drinking. Not that we don’t drink, but none of us ever partied like rock stars. Never been into that scene, and every time I mention something to Jimmy from our past, he would say, I don’t remember that. The emphasis of that song was we were about to play in Greece and we were booked a year in advance and I said, oh wow! Armored Saint is on the bill. Won’t it be great to play with them again? And he said, we never played with Armored Saint. I said, yeah, we played with them twice. He had no recollection of it and he feels as if somehow, he’s blocked out all like the major moments. The great gigs that we did back in the day. So, he just always calls me up to ask me well, did we do this and did we ever do that? I go, you never even did any drugs! So, the joke was, I think I said to him, I said, you have like total amnesia, and he went and he wrote a song about it.

SFL Music: That’s hilarious! What about “Code Of Honour”?

Kennedy: Two songs on the album were resurrected from the past. It wasn’t for lack of material. It was actually, we used them as a barometer because when we started writing for this new record, we were a little I guess, off the map. Not quite remembering the core sound of the band. So, I played a bunch of songs to him. That doesn’t sound like Hittman and he did the same thing. We had a song called “Code Of Honour” we were going to put on our second record and because it took so long to make that record, we wrote all these songs. I said why don’t we take that up and listen to it to remember what it is we sounded like and then we’ll be able to write accordingly. Well, we said, let’s do a demo of it. So, we wounded up doing a demo of it and then of course we wound up recording it, but that song was actually written in probably I think 1989. It just came out so cool, we decided to put it on the record, and then we decided to try it again (he chuckled) with another old song that we always thought was pretty cool called “Out In The Cold”. So, we took actually, out of about twenty-five, thirty songs we have for this record, we narrowed it down to eight because two are very long. That’s the first track “De$troy All Humans” and the closer “Love, ‘The Assassin’”. They’re both eight-minute songs. So, we said, that’s good. We’ll do eight songs, and we chose another old song because once again, we demoed it and it sounded fresh to us and it sounded very much like the band. So, we figured, we really don’t have very many of these gems kicking around so why don’t we take advantage of it.

SFL Music: What was the influence for “1000 Souls”?

Kennedy: “1000 Souls”, that’s a song that I wrote and most of my songs on the record are about after all of this time, kind of a re-evaluation of one’s self. Certainly “The Ledge” was, I don’t know if I’m good enough to do this anymore? I don’t know if an audience will be responsive. I don’t know if I have the goods anymore, and “1000 Souls” was really about the fans because I had gotten so many great, you know, thousands of emails over the years. I have a separate hard drive and I was cataloging all this Hittman stuff, and a fan wrote to me and he was from Istanbul in Turkey and he said, we really hope you get to play here because we believe in you. He goes, we’re a thousand souls strong. And I loved it so much I said, do you mind if I nick that because that would be a great title. So, it’s basically that song is about the fans. The people that cared enough over the last twenty years without us doing anything to encourage us. To tell us how much they like the band. The line is, A thousand souls will carry me back home, because they always said, if you ever come and play here, we’re going to show you so much love, you’ll feel like your home. So, that one was written for the encouragement.

SFL Music: That’s really nice. What made you want to become a musician? Were you formally trained?

Kennedy: I think like a lot of kids growing up in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I was a Kiss freak, (he laughed). And I met a couple of other friends like Larry (Marano, Photographer). We had a whole gang of people and we were all giant Kiss fans. My sister is a decade older than me and she took me to see Kiss in 1977 when I was a little kid and I was just so overwhelmed. I was like, that’s what I want to do! Then as I got older, my taste changed. I remained a Kiss fan. Unashamedly, still am. Regardless of you know, Kiss fans love to make fun of Kiss (he laughed). We love to critique them, but we still love them. So, my taste changed and I got more into stuff like Ronnie James Dio, and Deep Purple, Ian Gillan and Iron Maiden, Bruce Dickinson and then later Queensrÿche. So, when I decided that that’s what I wanted to do, I decided it was probably a good idea to get some real training. So, I studied with an opera coach for many years. A guy named Marty Lawrence. He was legendary to Joe Lynn Turner and Tony Harnell from TNT and Cyndi Lauper and his son is (Lady) Gaga’s coach. Don Lawrence. I don’t think you can even get an appointment with him because I thinks she’s got him locked up (he laughed). He was up on 72nd street and Broadway in New York. So, I studied with him for many years and that was Opera training. There’s no rock involved whatsoever. It was aria’s and sight reading. We used to go to classes at Juilliard because he was a professor there. So, we’d have to go there and sit in on classes, non-matriculating. We used to go there quite often and sit in on symposiums and recitals and shows. So yeah, I wanted to have a much more, less workman style to the music. I wanted to have a better grip on what the voice is capable of and what my limitations were, as opposed to you know, just getting up there and yelling.

SFL Music: You have a very powerful, amazing voice.

Kennedy: Thanks, Thank you very much. It’s been harder getting it back to where it was because back in those days, you’re singing all the time. Rehearsal five nights a week. I’m in my early fifties now and its wow! It’s like, Oh, wow that’s high (he laughed).

SFL Music: It sounds really good in the video.

Kennedy: Yeah. I mean it’s doable. You just got to work at it. It’s a lot more practice then I remembered because when you’re young, you’re invincible.

SFL Music: You mentioned Bruce Dickinson and Queensrÿche. There’s a bit of that sound in your music. Would you say that they are influences?

Kennedy: Definitely. I mean, I think that the first Hittman record was immediately tagged as a Queensrÿche kind of thing. People immediately compared the two of us and that was kind of frustrating for us because like you want to be your own band, but also you don’t mind being compared to somebody who’s so good. So, we tried to lose that the second time around, but yeah, I think when we got together as a band our influences were, we wanted to put on a great visual presentation like Kiss did or any of the bands from that era, but the music was Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and then Queensrÿche. More progressive tendency. Rush. Stuff that was a little more intricate. Not just a “Smokin’ In the Boy’s Room” or any of that kind of more L.A. rock. We weren’t that. We were kind of like a progressive metal band. Maybe a little more progressive than Maiden. A little less progressive than Queensrÿche. You know. We like singalong choruses. We always did because we were big fans of Stryper. Still am. Still think they’re a very underrated band. Great vocals, great harmonies, great hooks. Who doesn’t love a great hook in a song? Just because its metal doesn’t mean it can’t have a great hook. I mean, I listen to all kinds of music. I love great pop rock, obviously starting with The Beatles and Badfinger and I’m a huge fan of the band Jellyfish. These amazing, candy like choruses. Your song could be as heavy as hell, but you can still have some melody that’s very sweet and memorable. That whole death metal and speed metal and thrash metal. That whole world escapes me. I respect it, but it’s not something I even understand.

SFL Music: Is the band still the original line-up except of course the bass player?

Kennedy: Well, the bass player is a guy named Greg Bier. We found him in L.A and it turns out he’s from the very same street that our bass player Michael was from. As a matter of fact, our bass player had actually taught him early on some things on the bass. So, he knew our bass player. He played a lot like him. The drummer that plays with us now is the drummer from the second record, Mark Jenkins. So, the lineup is the exact same line up as the first and second record except for the bass player and the drummer. So, it’s me, John (Kristen) and Jimmy (Bacchi). The both guitar players and myself. Chuck (Khoury) our original drummer, he participated in the German show, the German festival and it just didn’t work out for this project. That happens.

SFL Music: Are there any more videos that fans can look forward to?

Kennedy: Yeah, we’re currently working on two videos. One is a more cinematic for a song on the album its called “Love, ‘The Assassin’”. It’s basically a song written in the perspective of an assassin and he writes like love letters to the people that he’s marked. So, it’s got a really big orchestral kind of vibe to it. I’ve been working on collecting and shooting footage for that. Now unfortunately, two guys are in L.A. and two guys are here and one guys upstate, so we’re going to have to coordinate getting everybody in a green screen scenario to get the band into this video world. You know, when you can’t get everybody in the same room now, we’ve got green screens. It’s possible to do it if you’ve got Final Cut Pro and you know how to edit. You can get stuff done. We did most of the record over the internet too, because everybody’s on a different coast. You send the bones of the song you’ve written to your bass player, to your drummer, then to your guitar player and everybody adds their piece. You sit around and you talk about what works, what doesn’t work. You send it back and forth and back and forth. You know people think it’s really the easier way and technology’s so great. It’s so much better to have everybody in one room.

SFL Music: You kind of feed off of each other, right?

Kennedy: Right. You feed off of each other and say, hey, can you just redo that? Or you want to try this or try something else? Whereas, you don’t have to wait until, you know, oh I can’t do that track until Thursday because I’m going to the mountains. That album took over a year to make. It could’ve been done quicker (he chuckled).

SFL Music: What would you say is the secret to success?

Kennedy: I have no idea. I don’t even know what that means anymore because the success that we’ve achieved has been mostly critical and or hand driven. I mean, I don’t know how bands make money anymore like for financial success. A band like us, when we do something, the fans are very reactive and they’re very positive. I mean, you get so much love back and its critical acclaim and all that stuff and that’s great. And that’s great when the music is all that matters and at this point, that’s all that does matter. When you’re eighteen, nineteen, you want to be a rich, rock star. You get so depressed when your career didn’t work out, but the rest of us have all come up with other avenues to make money to survive in this world. So, now the only reason we are doing it, is for the music. So, it has been extremely rewarding to come back, and I think the big key for a band like us was to stop second guessing ourselves. We were being far too judgmental about the work we had done and the work we are doing, and just looking at it honestly and listening to your fan base and what they love about the group. Then you really won’t have very many problems. And just don’t have any ego maniacs in the band.

SFL Music: Is that the advice you’d give to a new artist? A new band?

Kennedy: Yeah, I have some great advice for a new band. So, check your ego at the door because you know what? You’re replaceable. Because you know, I don’t care who you are. If you’re an asshole, you’re an asshole. I’ve had the luxury of meeting so many of my heroes and not a single one of them was that. I mean, everybody from, I had a lengthy friendship with Ronnie James Dio. He mentored me when I was fourteen years old. We wrote each other. He cursed my studying of music. When I was very, very young I was in Anthrax, the band, but this was when they were a local Queens band. They were playing Black Sabbath and Judas Priest covers and Scorpions covers. I was fourteen and I knew somebody who knew Scott Ian’s girlfriend and I auditioned and I got in. It was just a summer. We didn’t do any gigs or anything, but we rehearsed some original material, and they were getting influenced by a band who was upstairs call Metallica who was really heavy and they wanted to go in a heavier direction. I remember meeting those guys when I was like fourteen, fifteen years old and I’m thinking, wow! They’re just so true to what they do, and I always knew that Scott would be successful also because he was so dedicated to the music. It didn’t work out for me. I was too young. I had some work to do. I had some voice lessons to take and to figure what kind of music I wanted to play, but I’ve met like all my heroes. Bruce Dickinson, Ian Gillan, Klaus Meine, and I’ve never been let down. We’ve met people in bands, competitive bands. Bands on the scene in the 80’s, and you have to start everything with kindness to everyone. Treat everybody as you know, the old adage, treat others as you wish to be treated because you can’t get very far. You’ll just alienate them. Everyone around you, and the guys in my band are all salt of the earth. We’re all there for each other and that’s the key. Nobodies been an asshole. Never once. Everyone has their ups and downs. They don’t feel like they’re good enough and they need a pep talk. Myself included. We all do, but it’s important I think that you know, you want to keep a band together, it’s like check your ego at the door because knowing where you are on the food chain is very important (he laughed). You know, because for every great lick you can play. Every high note you can hit, there’s somebody prettier and younger than you that can hit it just as hard and you piss enough people off, you can be replaced too. I think you should be grateful for what you have and work together from there. That’s important.

SFL Music: That’s really good advice.

Kennedy: When you’re young, it’s easy to be cocky. It’s really easy. I’m not going to say that I wasn’t particularly cocky, but thank God I didn’t become a zillionare back then. Like these kids that get, like I think Billie Eilish seems like a pretty well-grounded girl. I can’t imagine what that’s like for her to be 19 and that famous. She’s got over a billion hits on YouTube.

SFL Music: Wow! She’s very talented.

Kennedy: She’s amazing. She’s incredible! Thank God for her. She’s real talented. She can really sing. Her and her brother Finneas (O’Connell) they’re great players. I mean, I’m not a big fan of that super dancey, autotuned pop dribble that’s out there. I don’t get offended by music because everybody likes what they like, but it’s getting to the point that everything sounds like its coming out of a mac book. Well it is actually. That’s all you need is to have pro tools and a mac book and you can make an album.

SFL Music: As far as live music, the prediction is maybe spring and summer. Were you guys looking to do any touring? Going to Europe?

Kennedy: Well, we can’t wait to do that, but I’ll tell you the honest truth. I think people are being way too optimistic. I don’t think there will be much until maybe the end of next year because people have been very stupid. They have been behaving very badly. I mean listen, I’m not trying to get political at all, but I mean, you can’t have freedom if you’re dead. Everybody’s bitching about their personal freedoms and you know they want to play these shows. No matter how good you try to set that up, there’s going to be rogue actors who are going to show up and not play by the rules. That’s the nature of the mob. The mob mentality. There’s always going to be somebody who does that. I don’t want to play shows until absolutely no worry about it. You know I’ve got a ninety-two-year-old father. No. I think it’s unrealistic and yeah, ok it sucks. It sucks, but you know there’s Netflix and there’s Amazon Prime and you can make records in your studio. We’re gonna make another record. We started writing another one because, why not? You’ve got all this time and by the time we do get around to playing shows, we’ll have the inertia of two records. So, it will be even better. Yeah and I don’t think anybody wants to put themselves in harm’s way. I certainly don’t. And you know the mask thing. It’s like eck! I wear two of them. I double mask it. I have one fashionee one that’s attractive and then I have the surgical one. I’m in New York and we got hit so badly with it, but handled it really well. New York took very good care of itself, but you know, it’s back and now we have this London variation that’s mutated and that’s a scary prospect. And the biggest international airport from London is right here, Queens. Scary stuff. We’ve got vaccines now. Great! It’s going to take a while for it to work itself through the population.

SFL Music: What else would you like fans to know about the new music or Hittman?

Kennedy: We really put as much into this record as humanly possible and we started it with the best ambitions to create a record that was true to the meat. If anybody had been a fan of the band before, we wanted to make sure that this would be an album that they would instantly recognize and appreciate twenty some odd years later, that we made a record that was for them. I can’t even say it was for us because you know, the type of stuff that we listen to. We wrote so many other songs that don’t sound like this record. It was a real labor of love to make sure that it was finally crafted to be the record that the fans wanted. I know that’s a funny thing because people always say, oh I went to see Pink Floyd and they didn’t play this, and I went to see Judas Priest and they didn’t play my favorite song. I’ve discussed this with my musician friends all the time, and somebody ‘s like, well I play what I want to play. No, no, no. You don’t get to play what you want to play. You can play one or two what you want to play, but you have to play that for her and this for him. You know why? Because they bought your record and they couldn’t wait to see you live and you’re gonna disappoint them. So, that was the last thing we wanted to do. I mean we don’t have the biggest audience in the whole wide world, but the audience that we do have, we wanted to respect enough to not go over their heads with some bombastic orchestral record with lecterns. I mean, that’s not what they wanted. We already kind of did that and kind of lost our way. So, we learned from our mistakes and the most important thing was to put out a record that was super honest. Just super honest. This is the band we always were and it’s been great because now all the songs we write sound like us. We figured it out.

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