Hittman

Dirk Kennedy is one of the coolest singers that ever graced the metal scene, one of the very few people who actually really gave Geoff Tate a run for his money when it came to actual singing ability and not just range and screaming like a banshee (nothing wrong with that) and with his band Hittman, he was responsible for two quite unique and quite different albums that left their mark when they were released, with their eponymous debut being unanimously considered a classic by everyone, while their sophomore effort being criminally overlooked, just for sounding too different. Little do people know that in between those albums there was meant to be an unpublished “other album” and of internal strife due to record company crap that actually led the band to a premature dissolution. Now almost 30 years, since the band’s original formation, we decided to get in touch with him and ask him a few things about the bands early days – but it sort of ended up in a bit of a fully-fledged interview, even if there’s no product to promote... but this doesn’t really matter. Their eponymous debut album has got what it takes to be placed in our “Hall of Fame”! So here it is... celebrating nearly 30 years of great music and the great legacy of Hittman and remembering Mike Buccel is Dirk Kennedy!
Hittman band pic

Hello Dirk, thanks for taking this trip with us down memory lane.
 
D: It’s my pleasure.
 
 
Please tell us a few things about how Hittman came to be. Also why did you use a double “T” instead of the proper spelling, were there more bands with that name around at the time?
 
D: Actually, “they” had the name before I got there. A guy named Scott Knight from a band called Armed Forces came up with it. He was actually Hittman’s first singer (maybe a few months before me) I hated it. But like all things, it grows on you and before you knew it we were Hittman, end of story.
 
 
Please share some (funny) stories from the early days too.
 
D: Probably the funniest, is when I answered the ad they placed, I used a fake British accent. I thought, God, I’m too young and they won’t take me seriously so I’ll pretend I’m older and British and that might make them think I am cool. It actually worked! I think I told them the truth about 2 months into the band and we all laughed about it. I was just 17 and while I could already sing well I didn’t have a lot of experience except for that other band, lol. And that wasn’t much to speak of. Oh yeah and then they went on and became Anthrax. Damn!
 
 
Tell us more about the debut, which we’re actually featuring here. If you could jog down you memory and give us any details about the recordings it would be greatly appreciated?!
 
D: It was an exciting time for all of us. We had made a demo (the now classic, to many, Hittman – 5 song). It was traded around the world, we were featured in Kerrang and a guy named Dave Reynolds, from Metal Forces magazine became a kind of champion for the band. Put us on the cover and said a lot of nice things. We were then offered a few deals but nothing we were that excited about. So we borrowed money from our parents and started to make the debut on our own with Bob Spencer. Then a guy named Mike Schnapp who went on to run Epic records at Sony, came to us about SPV. They were opening a USA based metal label and wanted us. They wined and dined us and we went for it. We finished the record for 14.000 dollars and the day of its release they closed up their American office. The album was now in Limbo for a year. No label, no tour, no nothing!
 
 
How did you feel once it was all done?!
 
D: We were really proud of it, but so many legal things got in the way, so that ruined everything. By the time it came out, SPV had gone back to Germany and we were obligated to stay with them even though we had been offered a million dollar deal with Mercury/Polygram. SPV wanted the million and a percentage for the next three albums. That went on forever and while the album did well in Europe and Japan it died here only to be illegally released by Roadrunners deal with SPV a year later. By that time our Polygram guy had left and we were no longer being signed. So we were pissed. The music on that album is the music of five people who were greatly influenced by our heroes: KISS, Iron Maiden and of course this new band Queensryche. I changed my original Dio influenced style to fit in with the new Prog vocal style that was becoming all the rage. I always had the ability to adapt pretty fast. I worked with my opera coach and got the extra octave so I could compete with the Geoff Tate’s and the rest of the vocal shredders. It was a lot of work but I’m grateful because it gave me over 4 octaves to work with.
 
Notice I don’t do any of that stuff on the demo, since I didn’t have it yet. I later introduced raspy vocals for “Vivas” so it would have a blusier vibe. Many people thought it was a Bon Jovi kind of thing but it wasn’t. He is raspy in the studio only, live he’s a very clean singer.

 
 
Allegedly and from things you’ve shared with some of us fans there was going to be a “third” album that should have actually come out between the debut and “Vivas” which is actually a sort of crossover style, not entirely as deep as “Vivas” but not as heavy as the debut. Maybe the perfect sort of transition... what happened to that material? Was there a “general title” to that and can you tell us a few more things – like how many songs were written etc.?
 
D: Oh Yeah, The 2nd album was to be called “Precision Killing”. We had the whole thing written. It even had a theme, a story (which we killed because of “Mindcrime”) coming out at that time and we didn’t want to do anything else like them because I’d get compared to him ad nauseum. Songs were: “I Witness”, “Code of Honor”, “Murder by Numbers”, “Mabre Noor”, “My Last Confession”, “Never Love a Stranger”, “Answer my Prayer” and a few I forget. It was heavy and progressive and we thought it was going to be our major label debut. But SPV fucked it up and we sat for years trying to get out of our deal. By that time music was moving fast as so were we. We started writing lots of songs. So “Vivas” is a combination of where we had been and where we were going. I love that record. But it should have been our 3rd or 4th in retrospect to allow people some time understand what was going on.
 
“Vivas Machina” managed to really estrange a lot of fans, with its very artistic approach, however, if one takes a lot of listens he cannot but ultimately like the album, since it is very well crafted. In the same way that say Queensryche changed from “Warning” to “Promised Land”, you did too, but just in the course of two albums... it was maybe a little too abrupt a change for some people to deal with.

 
 
Share your thoughts on “Vivas” with us and any more things you feel we should know about the album!
 
D: I guess I answered that above. It was abrupt to the fans but not to us. I was playing a lot of piano then and we were obsessed with harmony vocals and lots of things. We wanted metal with hooks and songs that might make it on radio. And Mike loved grooves.
 
 
Ultimately you gave up and disbanded at some point with you resurfacing many years later as a solo artist, (but doing quite your own thing) only to find out that the music industry is the same pretty terrible place it always was. Why do you thing, companies don’t give a damn about sheer talent and great voices?! Why do you think that Hittman never quite made it?!
 
D: Well yes, I retreated. I was so sick and tired of the business side of things that I just quit making music. I didn’t sing for years except at weddings and funerals and I really was disillusioned by it all. Hittman didn’t make it because SPV made sure we didn’t. They screwed us from the get go. They wanted money (and made it) and didn’t see how much bigger the band would have been had they let us go and still made money from doing nothing.
 
 
Do you feel that anything has changed – these days – with the advent of the internet in the way of distributing music and promotion – or is it even worse? The sole reason for asking is because you did a solo album and both tried to shop it through traditional labels – big and small – but ultimately had to DIY.
 
D: It’s better and worse at the same time. You can make records at home that sound great. If you do them right. I made “Life is Now” mostly in my home studio, but I did drums in a major studio and had it mastered by a legend Greg Calbi at Sterling. But you have to promote through Facebook and all that crap which is hard. I think you really have to be 15 and have a viral video or a sex tape to make it these days. You know the world is a terrible place when reality stars exist. They don’t have talent, or do anything. They are just regular people on TV.
 
Hittman band pic

Last year, Mike Buccel (Hittman’ss Bassist) was very unfortunately taken from all of us, in a car accident I believe (R.I.P.). As a close friend of his, please share your memories and tell us a few things about him that you cherished.
 
D: Mike was the heart and soul of Hittman. He was our leader and our director of cool. While Jimmy and I might have been the major writers he made everything better. He was so full of life and the funniest person I will ever know. He always called us out on music when it was crap. I wished he had said more about “Partners in Crime” because I hate that song and wished it wasn’t on “Vivas”. Also his songs are very complicated to play he was just the most amazing player and arranger. We all miss him terribly.
 
 
There was talk of a Hittman reunion once or twice in the past for KIT, now with Mike gone, is that a total no-go, or could it still happen just as a one off show with a stand in (possibly a friend of his, or yours) just to celebrate the Hittman legacy and his life and obviously to please a few die-hard fans that never got the chance to see that?! (it would never be the same – but it would certainly bring closure)
 
D: I doubt it. I can’t imagine playing without him although we all talked about doing something at his funeral. We’ll see.
 
 
From having spoken to you a bit, you’re obviously in a headspace that I’d call the “Dirkworld” and you’re probably very happy there... but since you did start with all these metal bands and you sort of still listen to these and like it... how do you feel about the rock/metal genres? Some people when they get older, they feel it’s like some sort of “flu” they had when they were in their teens and they have outgrown it... I’m a good 35 and I still love a good deal of it... it’s just that I am getting down with more diseases these days... that back in the day I might have thought as a bit of a heresy to even consider... as a rocker...
 
D: That’s a funny way to put it. No, I love metal. But not, new metal. I love the music that inspired me and feel like it ran its course to the point that no new metal band is doing anything groundbreaking. (they probably are, I just don’t hear it) or look for it. I still listen to Maiden QR, Priest Scorpions etc. But it’s because it’s like a religion to me, I’m at church. It makes me remember how great it is and will always be. I can’t stand the tuned down chunky metal with the cookie monster vocals. Horrible. I’m a singer, I like good singing. So I moved on to singers who were interested in touching my soul. Kate Bush, Gabriel. Artists making statements. But man, I absolutely loved Scorpions’ “Humanity: Hour 1”. That record is way overlooked.
 
 
Weird Questions time! If you were not Dirk, but you could be anyone else (historical figure, mythological beast, man/woman... whatever) who’d you choose to be and why?
 
D: Neil Armstrong or any of the Apollo astronauts. So I could go into space and the moon (if we really ever went there, lol) see the earth from the heavens, It would probably make me realize how fragile we really are.
 
 
Dirk Almighty: If you were God for a week what would you do?
 
D: Dis-invent guns bombs and all nuclear devices and make man think that eating animals is un-evolved and it’s time to honor the planet and all its creatures. Oh and I’d time travel and tell Randy Rhoads not to get in that plane.
 
 
Debut album or “Vivas Machina”?
 
D: Both. Fave Hittman songs: “Breakout”, “Behind the Lines”, “Will You Be There”, “Dead on Arrival”, “Words”, “Answer My Prayer”, “Jackson Heights” and “Mercy”.
 
 
In the music industry who deserves to be smacked in the face?! (or if you’re not that violent just made to STFU)
 
D: David Foster. (i.n.: He means the well-known Music executive, record producer, musician, composer, songwriter & arranger...)
 
 
Can you tell us which would be your favorite Musical Comedy?
 
D: “Waiting for Guffman”, a very dry Christopher Guest film, you know, he’s Nigel in Spinal Tap… (i.n.: Of Course we know and LOVE HIM!)
 
 
OK. Salute the readers of Grande Rock and metal fans worldwide.
 
D: To all the readers of Grande Rock! Thanks for being there and for caring about this music after all these years. All hail the true Rock and Metal fans. Honesty in music rules and so do the listeners who know the real from the crap.

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