On Earth As It Is In Hell: Andy Sneap Interview

Legendary producer Andy Sneap really needs no introduction but we will give it to you anyway. The man who also plays guitar in Hell has produced every major metal band out there and of course has worked with Judas Priest and Saxon on both of their upcoming releases scheduled for early 2018. His CV also includes Accept, Amon Amarth, Arch Enemy, Exodus, Megadeth, Kreator, Nevermore and Testament. He played guitar with British legends Sabbat in late 1980’s and has been a member of his biggest influence Hell for the past decade, since group’s reformation.

Steel Mill’s Jari Asell and Heather Williams talked to Andy among other things about Hell, Judas Priest and his methods as producer.

So I was traveling through the metal universe and I saw Hell. It could have been a metal site, a webzine, a label site but I saw it and it just grabbed my attention. I looked it up and saw your name and I had heard your name mentioned somewhere before so I listen to the music and it’s amazing. Dave Halliday started the band right?

It’s all four guys really. Dave was in a band called Race Against Time, Kev Bower was in a band called Paralex with Tony Speakman, the bass player. Tim Bowler was in a band called Overdrive, and they were all sort of local bands in the early eighties that were gigging around this area in the Nottingham, Derby area of the UK, so they all knew each other. So they got together and formed Hell. Dave’s band Race Against Time had just split up and Kev really wanted to be in a band with Dave so that’s how they formed. That was really around the time that I met Dave Halliday. I was only twelve and desperate to play guitar. I’d had a guitar for Christmas from my mum and dad. It was a cheap electric. When I say cheap, I looked it up, and today it’s worth about nine hundred pounds but I haven’t got it any more, lol.

What happened to it?

I exchanged it for a Marshall years and years ago and it wouldn’t be a guitar for me these days. It was a real old sixties type guitar. I got introduced to Dave by a friend of mine at school who I used to see walking around school with a guitar and that’s how I met the guys from Hell. I got playing, had lessons from Dave for five years and followed the band and just took it all on board. I formed Sabbat when I was fifteen and we were signed by the time I was eighteen so that’s kind of the way it went.

Describe the friendship you had with Dave back then.

Dave was a very big influence on me as a teenager. I was very in awe of this band. Out of all the local bands they treated things very professionally. It made an impression on me on how to organize and how things should be done. Looking back now they weren’t professional and didn’t have the experience like I’ve had now but it was a good starting point and a good example to set really.

How many times a day did he have you practicing with him?

Well, to be honest I was playing all the time as a kid. That’s what you do, you’re like a sponge whatever you’re into when you’re at that age. You’re so focused on it, so I just sat in my bedroom for hours playing guitar when I was a kid and maybe I should do that now, haha.

Do you give guitar lessons now?

For a while when I was in my early twenties. When I first left home and I needed to make some money I taught a few people guitar. I did alright. I don’t mind doing that, but I don’t need to do it now.

Was Hell formed yet when you were Dave’s student?

Yes, they were formed in 1981.

Dave committed suicide. How did that affect you? Did it happen because he was upset at the way things were going with the band?

The band had actually split up six months before that happened. It was personal things in Dave’s life and a lot of other contributing factors to it. It wasn’t all based around the band at all. I’m not going to go into it. It really was an awful time. I was seventeen years old when that happened so it made a very big impression on me. It made me look to music as a way out of that whole thing. I really just focused myself on music and really pushed Sabbat. I just stuck my head in the sand, focused on the band and really got into making Sabbat work, which is why I think I drove it so hard in those early days.

Dave left all his songs to you. What were your thoughts when you found out he had left you his music. What did you do when you received it?

It was only a written thing he had put in his will. He left his guitars and amps to me as well. I’d always envisioned hearing the Hell songs, how I’d seen them live – the power of seeing it live and all I had was these cassettes that were recorded in the rehearsal room. I’d listened to his music for years and years and I got this idea to record Dave’s songs and to do it properly and to try and get his songs out there because of everything that happened. It had always been hanging over me to do this, so when I got reintroduced to Kev, we had this way of doing this and it seemed the logical thing to do.

That could have been him saying “Get my music out there!”

I’d like to think so. It’s a nice idea. It’s a tempting thought isn’t it that you’ve had things passed on to you to do, but I don’t believe anything like that. I’m a total non believer in any of that, but I do believe in positive thinking and striving to put one’s self in a position mentally, because you convince all the people around you that you’re the guy for the job. If you’re in a bar, and you’re the guy who’s having a good time, you see people attracted to you and drawn towards you. You have that vibe. Also, in a work environment, if you’re positive and you go at it with a good approach and a good mental attitude you’ll get good results out of people. I think if you’ve got that thought that you’re doing this because of what happened, it drives you. It puts you in a certain positive mental attitude. I don’t believe in any of this “someone’s looking down and pushing the buttons”, but I do think if you have a certain thing in the back of your mind saying you have to do this “because”, and it’s forcing you to do certain things in a certain way, it does affect the whole situation around you.

I think it’s amazing that he made that connection with you when you were so young and he must have thought really highly of you and must have really made a connection with you to leave you his songs, his guitars, all his stuff.

I didn’t really think about it at the time, but when I look back now, yes he must have seen a spark there in a seventeen year old kid who was driven to play music. I didn’t go to school a great deal in my last year or so. I used to get dropped off at the school gates and just walk to Dave’s house and go and play guitar all day. It paid off, haha!

Haha! I love that! What made you choose music over going to college and getting some training?

I didn’t have a good time at school at all so especially in my last few years I was in a lot of trouble. It’s the typical story of the kid dropping out of school and wanting to be a guitarist. I left school and I didn’t have a job but by the time I was eighteen, I was in Germany recording my first album so it worked out thankfully. I wouldn’t encourage any kids to do that. I know if I had kids now I’d be like my parents who were pulling their hair out, but it’s all I wanted to do. I haven’t got any other skills. I’m so into music, that’s all I’ve ever focused on.

So how did you end up reconnecting with Kev Bower and the rest of the original members of Hell and resurrect Halliday’s music and reform the band?

I was working in Florida and it was around 2006 I believe, or was it 2005? Somewhere around then, and I was on instant messenger and this message popped up and it was from a guy called Tom Bower who was Kev’s son who I’d never met. Tom was into all kinds of metal like Nevermore, Trivium, many of these newer bands. He’d been showing Kev some of the albums because he knew obviously his dad was into metal. He was showing him some of the albums I’d produced and Kev saw my name on some of the album covers. I’m sure he thought to himself there can’t be many Andy Sneaps out there that are into metal, its got to be the same guy that used to come and see us back in the day, so Kev was saying I know this guy.

So Tom used his internet powers, popped up on my messenger and said my dad says he knows you and I told him to put his Dad in touch. So we got back to the UK and we met up. He hadn’t played guitar for twenty years hadn’t done any tours. I think he was selling road sweepers at the time, so we reconnected there. I gave him a guitar when he came down to the studio, put it in his hands and said let’s hear some of those old riffs again. So it was great. It was great to hear some of these riffs that I only had on cassette. To hear some of these riffs clearly, the potential in some of these songs, it made me want to re record them. So we got the original drummer Tim and Tony the bass player. I don’t think Tim had been playing much but Tony had been in some bands around the area so he was still pretty switched on. It was like rock school 101, all sitting together and playing again. “no, no you play it like this” and Tony would guide Kev through it a little bit. We spent three years going through some of the older songs that were our favorites, putting them together and recording them properly.

We’d do them in blocks of three, and sort them out weekends, then we’d have a good solid week at it and then a few hours here, a few hours there so it took a while. Then we did a voice over on “Plague And Fyre” and we got Dave Bower, Kev’s brother down to do it because he does a lot theatrical work and a lot of radio voice overs. So he came down and did the spoken part and in the middle of that he started singing along because he knew all the songs. He’d seen Hell back in the day, because he used to hang out with Dave also, so it was all these weird little connections how we all knew each other. I’d never met Dave Bower back in the day. He started singing the songs and he was perfect for it. He’s got that higher register, that Geddy Lee sort of register that Dave Halliday had. Dave Bower is very theatrical because he had been in the theatre, he was doing west end plays and stuff. He can add that extra element to the performance. We realized right there and then we’d found the missing piece of the puzzle and it’s worked out great.

I think the whole thing is just really neat. I like that old element of having the tapes, its just so classic and vintage. Hell is amazing. I love the band. I really like the “Curse and Chapter”- album. The whole record is perfect. I found it to be more solid and stronger than “Human Remains”. Did you produce any of the Hell albums?

Yes. It makes total sense that I do the production. I’ve got the studio here and I’ve got the equipment to do it. It’s all my doing really. I play guitar on them as well. More so on the second album actually, more so on “Curse And Chapter” than the first one. That was really me trying to get the guys playing again and then with “Curse And Chapter”, I played a lot more rhythms and solos as I was more in on the band then. That is probably why it’s more solid and also the band had been playing for a couple of years.

The witchy voices were perfect in the song “MacBeth”. Who was doing those voices?

That’s Kev, Dave Halliday and Tony Speakman. That was an intro they made for the song back in the eighties. They just did a four track recording in the rehearsal room. I just added some sound effects to it, cleaned it up a bit and dehissed it, got it so it was usable on the album because we wanted to try to get as much of Dave Halliday on the first album as we could. There’s a few little bits on the start of “Plague And Fyre”. The “bring out your dead”, that was Dave from a live show that I managed to lift off. We managed to get him on the album, and he is on the front cover as well if you look closely.

When can we expect the next Hell album?

We’re sort of writing bits and pieces. We’ve got six or seven ideas now, maybe eight, but we’re not really in a rush to do it. We won’t put anything out until we feel it does justice to the last two records. If it’s another year, if it’s another five years, we’re not in a desperate race to put it out, we’re just seeing how it goes really. Hell isnt a full-time thing. You have to appreciate I’m doing production pretty much all the time and I’m away a lot and the other guys have other lives. They’re all in their early fifties to late fifties. It’s not like we’re all a bunch of seventeen year old kids living at mum and dads house where we can spend two months on the road. It’s not like that. We’ve all got our lives and families. It’s a professional hobby, that is the best way I can describe it, haha.

You guys don’t have the endless energy like you used to!

No. It’s not like that. We are pretty energetic on stage for how we are. We’re quite lively. We do rehearse a lot of the moves and choreography and stuff up on stage as well. We don’t like to be boring and just be five guys up there not doing anything. We put a lot of thought into the show. The drive isn’t quite as ambitious as it would have been with a bunch of seventeen year old kids is what I’m saying.

I watched one of the shows and it would be really cool to see you guys out there playing again. So any tour/shows coming up? I know you guys have a festival coming up right?

We’ve got one in Malta and we’ve got three shows a couple weeks later, one in Belgium, two in Holland with Destruction. We’ve got that lined up. I’ve said to the guys that this year should have been spent writing more than going out and doing gigs, that we really need to focus on doing another record before we start going out and doing live shows again. So that’s kind of the situation we’re in. Hopefully everything is going to get a bit more focused towards writing and recording soon.

Is “Save Us” Hell’s only musical work from the original line-up?

The songs on the first two albums, most of those were written from back in the day, but “Save Us” is the only actual official release that they did. They did a couple of demos that got pressed into vinyl by bootleggers since, but “Save Us” and “Death Squad”: the double A side single was the only vinyl they put out back then.

I just can’t quit wrapping this around my head that you’re sort of carrying the torch here. I don’t think there are very many things like this that go on. It’s like your carrying on the torch for Dave, like you’re carrying on his legacy.

There definitely is a strong background story to this whole thing isn’t there. I think it’s really interesting. Someone suggested making a film about that. We’ve always wanted to see the band moving forward though rather than being seen as a retro new wave of British heavy metal band. There are many bands trying to be more eighties now. We’re trying to move the band forward and keep Dave’s name in there somehow. We’ve helped his family out also by sorting his royalty share out, which wasn’t easy. Obviously, we’ve passed all that down the line to his sister. It’s been nice to do.

I think that’s a great idea. A Hell documentary. I’m sure you have people you can contact to do that. You probably have so many connections out there it’s insane.

When we did the first album we tried to tell the story on the packaging and put a lot of the old pictures in there. We have sort of put it out there and told the story quite well I think.

Do Hell has a website people can go to?

Yes: https://www.hell-metal.com/

Let’s talk about producing. How did you get into that? How long have you been doing that?

I got into it when Sabbat split up in the early nineties. I was living in Nottingham by the time the band had split up and I spent a couple of years just selling guitars at a local music store. In that time, I was building my own little studio inside the rehearsal room where Sabbat used to rehearse. I put a little eight track recorder in there and I was demoing my own material and recording a lot of local bands as well. Little punk bands and stuff, doing singles and demos for them. By the end of 1994, I’d progressed to working at a bigger twenty four track studio in Nottingham. I did some live sounds at the local club in Nottingham, Rock City. I was doing the in house engineering there and by that stage, I’d met Colin Richardson who was doing Machine Head, Fear Factory, and Napalm Death. I was engineering with him on a couple of projects and then at the end of 1996 I ended up in San Francisco with Colin doing the second Machine Head record “The More Things Change…”

Then we went down to L.A. and met people from Metal Blade, Century Media, and Roadrunner Records so I made a lot of good contacts. Then the following year I was doing bands like Skinlab and Stuck Mojo. I can’t remember all the bands I was doing back then but they were the first bands I was doing for Century Media. I did Earth Crisis for Roadrunner. That one trip to America in 1996 really got my foot in the door, there wasn’t that many engineers back then that were doing metal stuff. There were a few of us, but not like there is now. There’s a lot of up and coming kids because of the way recording has gone, everyone has their own recording set-ups now. It was a good place to be. I was in the right place at the right time when all of these labels were looking for a new guy coming up. I sort of managed to get in there. I havent looked back, and the work has been pretty solid since then. You do a good job, you get an album in on time and within budget, and people start noticing that. So they keep coming back to you.

So can you say that back then you kind of just fell into it? It’s just one of those things you just do, you didn’t plan it.

I always wanted to do it. I always enjoyed doing the studio side of things, being creative, and putting the big picture together. It was always part of being in the band to me, so even though I wasn’t in a band, I felt like I was part of something because I was making records and being creative. The thing I liked about it and still like about it, is that you’re not fixed to any one band. If you’re in a band, you’re always going as fast as the slowest member of that band, and you’re relying on four other guys to pull their weight within the band. If they’re not doing that, and I’ve been in those situations in the past, it’s very frustrating when you’re the only one trying to drive it forward. For me, to be my own destiny, in my own hands really, being on my own in production, I really enjoyed it because I was making my own path, not having to rely on anyone else.

Did you just get done in the recording studio with Judas Priest today?

I’m actually doing Saxon today believe it or not. I am juggling Saxon and Priest at the same time. Priest is just about done; we’ve just got a couple of days maybe just one day tweaks left on it. A few things that Glenn (Tipton) will probably want sorted out, running orders and things so that’s as good as done. Same with Saxon as well really. They are both aiming to have their albums out by early next year.

Is it public knowledge then that Saxon is coming out with an album?

Yes, it’s all out there. We have been doing Saxon for quite a while actually, because they’ve been coming in and doing bits and pieces, and even at the end of last year we’d started work on that. Then I had to jump onto the Priest album while Saxon were out in America touring. So I’ve kind of been going between the two. I’ve been spinning my plates with both albums really, but it’s worked out fine.

Do we know the name of Saxon’s album yet?

Yes, that’s out there, it’s “Thunderbolt”.

Are we allowed to know the name of the Priest album yet? Any artwork made out yet?

They have a name and artwork but it hasn’t been released, although I think it’s going to be released in the next day or two. (It’s called “Firepower” and will be released in January 2018, ed.)

Judas Priest questions:

What are most the important Priest albums and why?

For me, my favourites are “Stained Class” and “Screaming For Vengeance”. I guess its different for every Priest fan as with music, it always takes you back to when you first heard it, or a certain period in your life, and those were the two albums that really got me into them. I’ve got friends who are a couple of years younger than me and they are all about “Defenders of the Faith” so I’d say every one of these classic albums is relevant to the bands success.

Which Priest album or albums have got the right sound to your ear?

That’s a bit of a pointless question, we’ve all got used to how the records sound and its really about what equipment was available and the style of production that was “in” at the time etc. “Stained Class” wouldn’t seem right with “Painkiller’s” production and “Sad Wings Of Destiny” wouldn’t sound right with “Turbo’s” production. Again, why would you want a set sound on everything anyway? I think it’s interesting when bands mix things up a bit, certainly Priest have always taken onboard whats current and its probably added to the longevity of the band whether you like all their albums or not.

What do you think of “Screaming For Vengeance”?

I love it. I had a listen to the multitracks whilst doing the new album, its great to hear bits isolated, interesting when you’ve heard it so many times as is. What surprised me was how live alot of the tracking was. “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” was everyone together and Glenn added a thickener guitar track down the middle. On “Bloodstone” for instance, the main verse vocal went down live with the drums, you can hear the bleed on the mic. There was also a six-month gap while the band sorted management issues out so the album was recorded in two halves.

How relevant is “Unleashead In The East” still today? What about “British Steel”?

I think it’s a classic part of the bands history, there’s no denying that. I think “Unleashed In The East” really set things up for “British Steel”.

What do you think of analogic recordings and no compression, which has the best sounds?

A lot of people that get into this debate don’t really understand it. I don’t miss the days of tape AT ALL. A lot of times you had to settle for second best and I remember wearing tape out, the top end going, cleaning the heads constantly, bad batches of tape, re aligning the machine….

People that hark on about it I think are talking about the approach and feel that tape forced you to adopt because there was no other option. When people talk about Digital, a lot of the time they are referring to how tight and clinical you can make things now and not the actual sonic quality. For me, I actually prefer hearing things coming back exactly how we are laying them down rather than less top end, more low mid etc that tape gives you. All those harmonics tape gives you are cool, but if I want that, I’ll use something to give me that, there are plenty of tape simulations out there that are really good.

Analogue had compression, all the sharp transients that you don’t lose with digital were gently squashed with tape so it’s a balancing act. Modern day recordings should be loud but not totally slammed. I find limiting adds a glue to your mix, which it needs and it is similar as to what tape used to give us. But a lot of those old analogue albums don’t really stand the test of time, it’s the fact the songs are so good we still enjoy them and we’ve got used to hearing them a certain way. Production changes with time, trends and technology, the same as music.

Thank You Andy!

Interview: Jari Asell & Heather Williams
Article photo: Gobinder Jhitta

Live photo: Soile Siirtola