The band around frontman Thijs ‘Maniac’ Bruyns existed for almost twenty-five years. Unfortunately, the band didn’t released that much through the years, but their MLP "Breaks Loose" from 1984 is an item on many ‘most wanted lists’. The MLP is quite rare. On the MLP HAMMERHAWK is more or less a Dutch answer to MOTORHEAD combined with lots of twin guitars MAIDEN style. After many line-up changes, the band moved to a more thrashy approach which resulted in the "Welcome Home, We expected You" album. After many problems with record companies, the band went back to their roots. On the musical level, but also back to releasing the albums by themselves again. In the meantime guitarist Paul van Rijswijk is involved in forming GODDESS OF DESIRE. The band itself also does side projects as HENRY VII and MENTERHAWK. Anyway, lots to talk about with the members, Thijs (T), Ray (R), Paul (P) and Dennis (D).
OK, tell us first what HHAMMERHAWK is all about?
T: "Heavy metal, heavy metal and......heavy metal!!"
P: "Yeah!! But also a good party, hot chicks, beer and sex!!"
Thijs and Ray formed the band in 1981. How did you meet each other and what made you form a band?
T: "Well, that’s a good story. I played in the 70s in a punk band, called BLITZROCK, but that music bored me. I was the only one with long hair and I was more into Hardrock/Heavy Metal since I was nine. I lived in Australia until my fifteenth and discovered AC/DC in their early years. When we went to Holland in 1975, almost no one knew AC/DC. The people here were much more into softer music which annoyed me a bit. It seemed whole Holland was listening to fucking ABBA. But I had contact with an Australian mate, who had sended me tapes so that I was kept informed about what was happening there. I liked also bands like KISS and STATUS QUO. Anyway, I met Ray, who played in a cover band called COLD GIN. I asked him if he was interested to start a heavy metal band. He was and so we started a band called HAMMERHEAD."
R: "That’s right. Thijs asked me to start a band with the intension to be the loudest band of Holland. That sounded like a good idea and so we started up HAMMERHEAD. Soon we found in Bart van Rixel a guitar player."
T: "Yea, we called ourselves HAMMERHEAD at first, but then we got some problems with that name as there was already a Dutch band, called HAMMERHEAD. We had already a cool logo, which I didn’t want to change that much so we just changed ‘ead’ into ‘awk’. We didn’t really knew what HAMMERHAWK meant, but later we found out that the axe of an Indian chief is called a Hammerhawk. Other problem in those early period was the singer. I was singing at the start, but I didn’t like my singing too much. So we looked out for another singer. But the others liked my voice and so I became the singer as well. But sometimes our second guitarist, Hans de Jong, sang a song as well. Hans had a high pitched voice. That kept that part of the crowd happy who didn’t liked my voice."
R: "I still remember our old rehearsal room. It was an old bulb barn from Bart his dad. Every time we wanted to rehearse we had to clean up that barn, haha."
In that 1st line-up you did support gigs for bands as BODINE, HIGHWAY CHILE, PICTURE and VANDALE. Soon people called the band the Dutch MOTORHEAD. I bet you weren’t happy with that...
T: "We were as we were and still are huge MOTORHEAD fans, but our music was not meant to sound like MOTORHEAD. At the beginning we didn’t even knew MOTORHEAD. I think we sounded more like MAIDEN, but it was probably my voice, what was causing the comparisons with MOTORHEAD as it sounded a bit like Lemmy. Plus that we also did a few covers from MOTORHEAD during our shows. But also songs from the SCORPIONS and SAXON."
Ok, so you played a lot of gigs and then Hans de Jong leaves the band.
T: "Yes, at some point Hans wanted to do something different. He liked softer music and went his own way. So after his departure Alex van Die replaced him."
And then with this line-up you made the MLP..
T: "We though it was time to record something on vinyl. So we put some money on the table and released it ourselves. About 2000 copies where made."
What were reactions after the release?
T: "The MLP is all over the world nowadays. I remember we had sended 400 copies around the world and that’s all I know. But for the rest it gave us a lot of gigs and good reviews. Not very long after the release, Bart left the band. He wanted to play some softer music. He formed DDEFENDER, which wasn’t really that much softer. And that annoyed us. Also Alex van Die left the band in that period."
But the band moved on, right?
T: "Yeah, suddenly it was just Ray and me again. But we decided to form a new line-up again and we found in Rob Steeman a new guitarist. Rob didn’t want to play the old songs anymore and wanted to make a new fresh start with the band. We did like the old songs, but we realised it was maybe good to move into a new direction. We thought it was the only way to let HAMMERHAWK live at that time. So musically, it became more thrashier, and guitarists came and went in the band."
In ’89 the band released the "Dark Side Of The Alley' demo on which the new HAMMERHAWK style can be heard and followed by the album/CD "Welcome Home, We Expected You' in 1991. What can you tell us about that period?
T: "The songs of that album were written in the previous four years. And we did still a lot of gigs. For example as support for SODOM. The "Dark Side Of The Alley’ demo gave us a record deal with the Overdrive label. So in 1991 we recorded and released the album. About 10.000 copies of the "Welcome Home.." album were sold. Not bad I think, but we had a good distribution. Virgin Records was the distributor."
P: "The album had a worldwide release. Only in Germany the album wasn’t released. The Germans thought too many thrash album were released there and decided not to release ours. I think it wasn’t really Thrash what we made. Its quite difficult what it was, but others compared it with SACRED REICH."
A huge problem for the band is all those line-up changes. Am I right with that?
P: "Absolutely. Every time something went the right for the band, someone left the band. Also after the release of CD, people left the band. People were mostly leaving because they wanted to play a different sort of music. Our record label back then lost its trust in us so new album was made. But as always, the band didn’t gave up and probably when we’re eighty, we’re still playing metal!!"
R: "We’re just like weed in the garden. It’s always there, no matter what people try to remove it. Same goes for HHAMMERHAWK.
T: Of course there were times that we were thinking of quitting. Especially in that thrash period."
P: "Through the years I got offers from bigger bands with record deals to play there, but I always preferred to play in HAMMERHAWK. HAMMERHAWK is a way of life. We’re also going out together to get drunk and party. The band becomes a part of your life."
Since ’92 the band has quite a steady line-up. What happened since then?
P: "Since ’92 we went back musically to the old "Breaks Loose" style. We tried it for some time with another singer, Richard Post and another drummer, Emperor Mark. But it didn’t work out, so Thijs went back to singing again. That also made us interested in the old style. We looked at the old demos again and put a lot of those back into our live set. Songs like "Chinatown Braindamage", "Discovery' and "Heavy Metal Forever" weren’t played live for ten years. This also because I was a huge fan of the old HAMMERHAWK. I came in 1990 in the band, playing in AFTERDARK before. I was still a heavy metal fan and when I joined the band I directly wanted to play the old stuff again. I was also involved forming GODDESS OF DESIRE to bring back the spirit of the eighties. But I didn’t continue as HAMMERHAWK was my top priority."
You also released the old stuff on CD recently. Another example of that ‘back to the roots’ direction?
P: "It were also the fans who wanted us to do that. They were asking us for years to release it on CD. I can understand that cause "Breaks Loose" is my favourite album as well. So we released it and added some bonus tracks to it. The CD sold quite well. With the little money we earn we can do new things."
In 1998, you released a 'Best of' CD with an overview of seventeen years of HAMMERHAWK followed by a reunion gig with all the old members (and that means a lot of people on stage) also on stage. How did it go?
P: "It was brilliant!! It was quite a preparation, because you to contact all those ‘lost’ former members. Fortunately, we found almost all of them and most of them were enthusiastic about it and joined in. Then they have to rehearse again so that’s also something we had to arrange. But it was all worth while. We started the night with the very 1st line-up of HAMMERHAWK and ended with the current line-up. Totally it was a four and a half hour gig!! I think, we had around twelve former HAMMERHAWK members on stage that night."
D: "For me, it was great to see all those old line-ups again. As a young boy, I stood in the crowd watching HAMMERHAWK. I was in group of people, who followed HAMMERHAWK to almost every gig they did."
You’re also known for the good contacts with the legendary MENTORS! You gigged with them in the USA and Holland. How did that came up?
P: "That was because of me. I am a huge fan of them and contacted them through the internet, one month after singer El Duce died. I became good friends with Dr Heathen Scum and took care of a few gigs in Holland and the Doctor arranged a few in the States. In 2000 we even made a MCD together as MENTORHAWK."
What are the plans for the future?
P: "Swedish label Stormbringer will release a single on vinyl plus a picture disc version. And we’re busy with a full-length album."
What means metal still for you in the 21st century?
R: "In the early eighties were the years of the real metal, later called the NWOBHM. Nowadays I see nothing which looks like the same. But I have to say I don’t keep up so much with all those new bands."
P: "I can see that heavy metal is coming back, but the problem is that there is so much junk out there. Amongst death metal, HAMMERHAWK is also quite popular. We did a gig recently with SINISTER, a death metal band. The guys were huge fans of us and heavy metal in general. But why they don’t play it then? Many of those death and black metal bands have that. I can't understand that. If you love it, why not play it?"
Imagine, tomorrow you win 1 million in the national lottery. What would you do with it?
R: "Built our own studio."
P: "Release a lot of CDs and start our own record label to spread the world with heavy metal. And also make CDs with my funband, THE FLYING EMBRYO’S. The band with also former SAS IRON bass player Charles Heijnen. The band is like a Dutch version of ONKEL TOM ANGELRIPPER's drinking songs."
At the live gigs Ray always plays in a cage. How did that idea came up?
R: "Thijs came up with the idea. We were searching for something to entertain the crowd. And they loved our cage right from the start. After a few years we changed the cage by making a few gaps in it. And later we had a different show with an army look including army cloths, army nets etc. We didn’t use the cage in that period."
P: "Yes, but the people always kept asking for that cage. So the cage came back on stage and that’s where it belongs. Its typical HAMMERHAWK."
And people also always remember is that blow up doll on stage during "Blow Up Doll", a song from the "Dark Side Of The Alley" demo.
P: "That doll was funny in the time of the demo. But you cant always do the same thing as it gets boring. So we didn’t have the blow up doll on stage for many years now."
A few years after this interview the band quit after almost twenty-five years. Thijs tried to set up a cover band, but last news is that he stopped playing. Paul is still active in other bands and his FLYING EMBRYO’S. And he owns his own recording studio (Voodoo studios), where he recorded stuff for bands like CHAINSAW and DESTROYER 666. Dennis and Ray are also still playing.
Unfortunately, the planned full-length album is never released. The band recorded the album just before the band split up. One song "Slaughtered By Nature" can be heard on the "Heavy Metal Maniacs vol.2" compilation. A great Heavy Metal song! Maybe one day, that album will be released. A reunion is out of the question for now....
Thijs 'maniac' Bruijns passed away on August 28, 2010 at the age of 50. R.I.P. dear metal brother!!
(interview/text conducted by Stefan van Zijl)
Thijs ‘Maniac’ Bruijns – bass/vocals (ex-MENTORHAWK) [1982-2003] (R.I.P. 2010)
Ray van Wijngaarden – drums (ex-MENTORHAWK) [1982-2003]
Paul van Rijswijk – guitars (EMERALD, THE MENTORS (live), ex-AFTERDARK, ex-FINAL HEIRESS, ex-MENTORHAWK, ex-WARRIOR, ex-GODDESS OF DESIRE) [1989-2003]
Richard Post – vocals
Dennis Hartog – guitars (ABSURD UNIVERSE, PUTREFIED, SINISTER, ex-MENTORHAWK, ex-LUNATIC WITHOUT SKATEBOARDS INC.)
Hans de Jong – guitars/vocals
Bart van Rixel – guitars (DEFENDER) [?-1984]
Alex van Die – guitars
Rob Steeman – guitars
Thijs Terluin- guitars
Wouter van der Schans – guitars (ex-BLACK KNIGHT)
Danny Vlaspoel – guitars (CRANK ADULTS, EGGHEAD, ex-BRUTAL OBSCENITY)
Silvano Puggioni – guitars
Rob Oorthuis – guitars ( CENTURIAN, NOX)
Jason Hyse - guitars
Mark de Ruiter – drums
*Demo 1 (1981; 4 tracks)
*Demo 2 (1982)
*Breaks Loose (EP 1984)
*Live Vara recordings (demo 1986)
*Dark Side of the Alley (demo 1989)
*Welcome Home, We Expected You (CD 1991)
*Henry the 8th and his Henry’s (tape in a can 1992)
*IJmond Pop (compilation CD 1992; "Raping the Future' and "Steel")
*Let me go! (demo 1994)
*Promo (demo 1997) *The Future (Written In The Past) (CD 1998; 'Best Of')
*Breaks Loose (CD 1999)
*Crapvideo (Video 1999)
*Heavy Metal Maniacs vol.1 (Compilation CD 1999; "Heavy Metal Forever ft. Maniacs boy choir")
*Mentorhawk (MCD 1999; together with THE MENTORS)
*40 Jaar IJmond Pop (Compilation 1999; book with 2 CDs featuring HAMMERHAWK)
*War (CD single & PD 2000)
*Motel 7 (split CD 2000; HAMMERHAWK, THE MENTORS & MENTORHAWK)
*Heavy Metal Maniacs vol.2 (Compilation CD 2001; "Slaughtered By Nature")