Skratch Magazine
Interview by Scott Perham
(February 2001)

 With their latest Epitaph release, PUSH AND SHOVE, Hepcat dishes out a double dose of dub with the same rock-steady groove that has brought them to this level of the game. Twelve years and counting, Hepcat have played a grueling tour schedule and are beginning to feel the loss of tread on their shoes. Older, more experienced and still lost in the vibe, Hepcat is a band that has grown, and has changed, but feel the message of the music still coursing through their veins. I spoke with front man and co-founder, Greg Lee, about where Hepcat has been, where Hepcat is at, and where Hepcat is headed to be in the future.

SKRATCH: You're back with your latest Epitaph release, PUSH AND SHOVE. Since its release, how do you feel this album has been received by your fans?

Greg Lee: It's been received pretty well. As you probably know, we haven't been touring, so I've been really checking how it's doing at the website and all those responses seem positive. I mean, occasionally you get ones that are like, "you should all rot in hell," y'know? but it's like one in every eight of those so, it's been good.

SKRATCH: Well, your other vocalist and co-founder of Hepcat, Alex Desert, has had his acting career really take off lately. He's currently starring on the TV show "Becker" and appears on this album as a guest. Is he officially out of the band?

GL: Yeah, he wanted it to be that way because we had planned a tour, and if we toured he really couldn't commit himself to it. But, he is really no more out of the band as any of us.

SKRATCH: So, his being on TV, how does that affect the sound on this new album?

GL: I think that it affected it a lot because we didn't have him there for the whole time we were writing and stuff. He came in for the things that he wrote, almost solely, and helped out in the studio with some other stuff, but not as much as he did in the full role before. The voice up front was like, he and I, and it has swayed over more to the rhythm section and the horn section, because they picked up the role with what they thought we would vocally do. So, it changed the dynamic, but not necessarily in a bad way.

SKRATCH: With a band with so many members, how does that affect the songwriting process? Is it a problem with clashing heads a lot, or does it add to the diversity of your sound?

GL: It's actually a really beautiful thing. I think that the way that we wrote and the reason it worked the best was because I was such a sucky musician. For example, I would write a song. I would come up with a bass line or come up with a chord change or whatever, and because I couldn't come up with the rest, it gave everybody and amount of freedom to do whatever they wanted to do within that space and then outside of it when we played live. So I guess that's what makes the sound so diverse.

SKRATCH: Having such a diverse sound, how is it touring with heavier, more punk bands that are so different than your style of music?

GL: It's funny because it all has a kind of root. Pretty much all music, as far as I'm concerned, whether it be a message; punk rock has it's "fuck you" kind of message, but in the past it had always been physical - about love, and pain, and drugs, and messin' up, and that's exactly where we dropped in. It's like three different poets a night.

SKRATCH: Is there a particular message behind the lyrics in your music?

GL: Well, every song that we write is like basically our own mourning, or happiness, or celebration, or whatever, and I think that people find a bond within that - a place for themselves to connect on the same level. Like, we played with everybody - hard, soft, jazz, blues, and we did it because of that. Well, except for that Rancid tour.

SKRATCH: What was up with that?

GL: Well, it took everybody like 2, maybe 3 songs to get with it. At first they had to show us disrespect because we were a rock-steady band playing with a punk band, and that I can see. They couldn't be all soft with their buddies and their girls there, but the problem was their girlfriends. They were dancin' from song one. And it took them a couple songs to realize that they were losing points with their girlfriends, so inevitably they had to get with it too, and before you knew it they were screamin' the same things they screamed at Rancid at us.

SKRATCH: Is there any artist or band that has had a major influence on you personally?

GL: Every artist I've ever heard has something to do with what I do. Other people in the band will tell you like, the Skatalites, or Bob Marley and the Wailers, but when it comes down to it, I know that everybody in the band was moved in one way or another by every band we've played with. I know for myself that every band that we've ever played with or every band that I've ever listened to, their albums has has something to do with me wanting to do what I do.

SKRATCH: Is there any band or artist out today that catch your eye as a musician?

GL: I'm really fond of Ben Harper. We did a tour with him for a while and he's a really true and honest musician, who has been schooled, but hasn't let the schooling mess him up. He's actually maintained the Ben Harper side of Ben Harper.

SKRATCH: Hepcat's made a name for themselves as a band in the US and especially here in southern California, how has Hepcat been received outside the US?

GL: Actually it's been even better. It's funny because we were terrified to go to Europe, but we all wanted to go, and we went. And we realized, that it's a whole different ball game. The music that we play, they were exposed to in 60s, long before we were. Where at the same time, Elvis and the Beatles were fighting for dominance here, reggae and all the other music didn't come through, but it went through there. So, they get it faster. The United States is saturated with a lot of stuff that's mostly bad.

SKRATCH: Yeah, here in the US you really have to go underground for the stuff worth listening to.

GL: Exactly. The underground here is like mainstream over there.

SKRATCH: Over the years, Hepcat has been known as a band that excels in their live performance, and always seems to be on tour. Do you guys have any tour plans currently?

GL: Well, after the record came out, we pretty much stopped touring. Everybody just wanted to work their regular jobs, surf, do whatever. So, we haven't even really been practicing for the longest time, but lately it seems like everybody's calling, so something's gonna happen.

SKRATCH: Have you ever thought about putting a live album out?

GL: Actually, we did in Europe. It's just 3 songs, but it's our first one. We'll probably put another one out after we get touring again, cause that one's good. I listen to that one almost every day.

SKRATCH: What do you think has been the main factor that has allowed Hepcat to be around for 12 years and still be going strong?

GL: We didn't think. Really, we just love doing what we're doing. We were having so much fun. It really started with playing backyard parties. Then, suddenly, people were asking us to play here and there and everywhere, and before you knew it we were on the road. Were were just completely out of control. Nobody has been home in a long time or seen our families really. So, we just needed to stop for a little while.

SKRATCH: So, what's on the horizon for Hepcat in the upcoming year? Do you guys have anything planned?

GL: I think the plan is, if we can, is to get back on the road and put together another album, but not a studio - like you said, concentrate on a live album.

SKRATCH: Well hey, thanks for takin' some time to go over all this with me, man, and good luck with your plans for the new year.

GL: Killer Scott, thank you.