Interview with Singer, Songwriter, Producer, Combat Records Exec...Thom Hazaert
|Photo by Mark "Weissguy" Weiss|
By Mick Michaels
COSMICK VIEW: Hello, Thom! Welcome to The Cosmick View. Thank you for taking some time out of your day to chat with me, it's greatly appreciated.
Thom Hazaert: Of course man! Great to chat. Sorry it took so long. Been a crazy few weeks!
CV: Does music make a difference? As an artist, producer, label exec, have you personally seen or experienced its power and potential to make change in people and in the world around us?
TH: Well yeah, of course…on so many levels. It’s become a weirder commodity these days, and we’ve had to adjust how and where to sell it, and adapt to how people consume it, but I think music as an art form will always have the power to connect with people, and resonate in a way that nothing else can. It’s a personal connection…it’s a feeling, relating to that particular song or lyric, that hits you at that perfect moment, that just stays with you forever.
CV: Over the last 10 years music programs in grade schools and high schools across the country have experienced a decline in both funding sources and student enrollment. Why do you think such a change has occurred? Do you feel it could be directly related to the expansion of remote resources now available online, giving less opportunity, availability and interest for students to actually physically interact with instructors and other students? Or is it just a sign of the times?
TH: Like I said above, music is a weirder commodity these days than it used to be. I grew up in the 80’s, and music was all we had. There’s just so much stimulation fighting for kid’s attention these days. And it seems like, more and more, schools are putting their dollars and attention more into athletic programs, things like that…it seems like overall there’s a decline in funding for the arts in general, particularly music.
CV: Thom, many critics have claimed that the reason music program funding has been decreased or cut so drastically in recent years is because those who make the funding allocation decisions believe there isn't enough return on their investment...not enough bang for the buck as there would be with sports and other competitive programs...also feeling as though music isn't a worthy enough career choice given its low success rate and uncertainty. Do you agree?
TH: I mean, it’s probably a bit of a combination. And it’s been a gradual decline for decades. I mean in the 90’s VH1 had “Save The Music”. Now it’s 2020. And yeah, kids are, as a whole, probably a little less interested in music, it’s just not the all-consuming force it was when we were kids, and as I touched on before, there’s a lot more return and glory from athletics, trophies, alumni donations, state championships. Recruiters… Colleges… High school sports are televised now. It’s big business. Not that there isn’t tremendous value in that as well, but I don’t think it should really be one or the other.
But while I think there is a decline, overall, in more hands-on, one-on-one instruction and programs in public schools, there are a lot more private entities, SCHOOL OF ROCK type places, and so many resources for kids to learn online or remotely. I mean go on YouTube, there is a play-through or a tutorial for everything. And even with the decline of the more traditional instruction in schools, the level kids are playing at, even just teaching themselves, is unbelievable.
CV: The David Ellefson Youth Music Foundation has charged itself with providing grants, scholarships and other learning opportunities for quality music instructional programs to school children and youths. Now, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Foundation as implemented its "School's Out" program, offering students a chance to get free music instruction from celebrity artists and musicians. Can you tell us more about how the Foundation formed and what other types of programs are offered?
TH: We formed the foundation, I think, in 2017? David and I had just discussed the idea of starting some kind of non-profit to give back, and somehow we just sort of arrived at the idea of the DEYMF. We officially launched it in 2018, in David’s hometown of Jackson, MN. The mayor actually declared a “David Ellefson Day”, and we went back and gave a presentation at the school, David jammed with some of the kids, and we donated a bunch of gear and instruments from Jackson, Hartke, and some of our other sponsors. And it was great. We actually surprised David with his High School band teacher, and there were TV news crews there to capture it all. And afterwards we hung out and did like a 2 hour meet and greet with everyone. It was awesome.
And while we’d done some events here and there, David, Bumblefoot, and I did some great events with the Grammy Music Education Coalition, going to urban areas and kinda jamming and mentoring kids from music programs. But mostly it had been on a backburner, as we were on tour a lot of last year, released our book MORE LIFE WITH DETH, the Sleeping Giants album… Shows, book tours, in-stores. Everything got kinda crazy. And the entire time, I’ve been saying to David, “Man, I want to dedicate more time to the foundation. I wish I could.” And then out of nowhere comes the hand of God, in the form of Covid-19 saying, “Forget all that other shit…the tours, the conventions, everything else. None of that matters.” And all of a sudden I had all the time in the world to dedicate to the Foundation. And I have. And so thankful to Jason Gooley, Melody Myers, and my team, who makes it all work and come together.
CV: What type of impact do you feel the "School's Out" program will have on young, aspiring artists and musicians, especially as the majority of the world has been under some form of sequestered lockdown?
TH: I have personally seen the impact as I am the one who not only goes through all the submissions, and schedules all the lessons, but I’m also the one who sets them up physically on WEBEX, and I get to kinda see them all, and the reactions these kids have is priceless. And, really with a program like School’s Out, it’s not just a music lesson. I mean, it’s a one-on-one hang, with your idols. I tell you what, when I was a teenager if I could’ve had a bass lesson with David Ellefson, I would’ve shit myself. It would’ve changed my life. But really back then, just being into the music, and following it, did that for me.
But the kids have all been so amazing, and talented. And I feel like part of it is not only the instruction, but motivating these kids to really dive in. And the kind of experience they are getting from the School’s Out initiative, is the kind of experience that does that. There are artists I work with today, that their inspiration when I was a kid is literally the reason I do what I do. So it’s an amazing feeling to be able to pay that forward.
CV: What about those students who want to be part of the program but do not currently own or have access to an instrument...is there still an option for them to sign up?
TH: We’ve actually been working with Jackson, Hartke, Shure, Petersen Tuners, some of our sponsors and endorsers to get some instruments and gear to give to some kids who don’t have them, and need them. A giant box of SM58s showed up at my house just the other day from SHURE.
We also just got a million dollar plus technology grant from Cisco, who gave us not only a bunch of their amazing video conferencing hardware for our instructors, but have really partnered with us on the software and tech side as well. And being as that is such a huge part of this initiative, it’s so great to have someone like Cisco, one of the biggest, and most forward thinking technology brands in the World, in our corner. Our friend Jason Gooley, who also does an amazing Metal vidcast called METAL DEVOPS, is one of the top engineers there, and he basically walked us in the door, and it was just full on, ever since. And as we got a peek inside Cisco, and their generosity as a company…it is almost unbelievable how much they give back. It’s truly an honor to have them involved.
CV: Thom, let's talk more about the celebrity instruction being offered as part of the "School's Out" program. Does such a donation of time and talent from these artists demonstrate the true nature and power of Rock ‘n Roll, and that it’s alive and well and not to the contrary as some believe, in your opinion?
TH: Absolutely. We have been working on some fundraiser events, we did the OH SAY CAN YOU STREAM streaming fundraiser, a telethon, for lack of a better word, which David and I hosted, with Alice and Sheryl Cooper, and their son Dash, Nita Strauss, Chris Kael from Five Finger Death Punch, Dirk and Kiko from Megadeth, Rob Caggiano from Volbeat, Troy from Mastodon, Kyle from Hellyeah, Charlie Benante, DMC, Carla from the Butcher Babies, Frank Hannon from Tesla, Mark Slaughter, Rachel Rine from Paradise Kitty, Jason McMaster from Dangerous Toys, Drake Bell, Daniel De Los Reyes and Jon Driskell Hopkins from the Zack Brown Band, Rhett and Link from Good Mythical Morning, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Brian O’ Halloran, Scott Schiaffo, and Ernie O’Donnell from Clerks and the View Askewniverse. The list goes on and on. It was incredible. It all streamed on the Grammy Music Education Coalition Twitch channel, and all of our channels as well, Youtube, Facebook. 10 hours. It was brutal. But absolutely incredible.
And then the following week we did the MAKE-UP TEST, another 6 hour broadcast with Dee Snider, Head from Korn, Mark Tremonti, Wes Borland, Zack Galligan from Gremlins, Fran Strine, who directed HIRED GUN, and Ray Parker Jr, Lew Temple from the Walking Dead,. It was incredible. Both were actually simulcast on some radio and TV stations, and another dedicated web player from our friends at yourmusiclive.com. And between the two events, we had something like half a million viewers. It was really an unforgettable experience.
But the fundraising we are doing, is not only to help offset the costs of the foundation, and our initiatives, but to pay and employ some of our artists who are doing the lessons. Everybody made a generous donation of their time for the initial lessons, but our strategy is to make this an ongoing thing, that never costs the kids ANYTHING, but our friends and the artists can use it as an additional source of revenue, which right now is so important. People think “Oh, he’s a Rock Star. He’s rich.” But the reality is a lot of “famous” musicians are side guys, and touring guys, who ONLY make money when the band is on the road. And in the current climate when we have NO idea when that will be an option again, it’s good to be there, and try and be another source of light in the dark for our friends.
CV: Recently, the Foundation has also partnered with the Grammy Music Education Coalition for a special online fundraiser. Tell us more about how this partnership was fostered and what you feel having such a prestigious organization like the Grammys means for the Foundation's initiative short-term and long-term?
TH: We met Lee Whitmore, and his amazing team at the Grammy Music Education Coalition, right around the time we formed the foundation. David had just won his Grammy for Dystopia, and we’d been doing a lot of stuff with them and Musicares. Somehow we were introduced to Lee and his team at the GMEC, and it was just an amazing fit. They are such incredible people, and such an amazing organization, and I can’t say enough about all of the support and inspiration they’ve given us through all of this. I mean being aligned with something as iconic as the GRAMMY organization, and The Recording Academy, which David and I are both voting members of, and very active and friendly with a lot of the staff, having that kind of amazing energy around you, really just makes you want to elevate everything you to do be at that level.
CV: For those wanting to learn more or become a part of these programs, on both ends of the spectrum, what do they need to do to get involved?
TH: Artists…you can hit up me or David to get involved. If kids (high school age or lower) want to apply for the SCHOOL’S OUT LESSONS, there is an application form on our website: www.ellefsonyouthmusicfoundation.com
CV: In April, a new single, "Simple Truth," releases which features you on lead vocals and David Ellefson on bass. Proceeds from the song are being donated exclusively to the Italian Red Cross COVID-19 relief fund. Do you feel it is the responsibility of those who can and are able to, such as celebrities, pay it forward to those in need? Does such an act of kindness and compassion restore the seemingly often lost or overlooked faith in the humanity of modern man, especially to those looking for it in your opinion?
TH: Always. I don’t want to give the idea I’m fucking Mother Theresa, I’m a dirty Rock N’ Roll scumbag like everyone else. But I’ve always tried to give back, and pay it forward, and help people whenever I can. I think it’s good for the soul, and paramount for just being a good human. We actually wrote “Simple Truth” at a rehearsal in Italy, for our European tour last year, and half of our band, Andy and Paolo, live in Italy, so not only do we have tremendous love for Italy, and the people there, who were amazing to us, and have been amazing to David for the last 35 years in Megadeth, we have some deep personal connections there.
So when we discussed the idea of giving the money from the “Simple Truth” single to a Covid-19 charity, that was really one of the first things that came up, as those guys, our friends, and bandmates were there, recording this stuff in quarantine, as we’re trying to make this record, and all this crazy shit is going on around them. And this was at the peak of the pandemic hitting Italy, and it was really surreal. So, yeah, it isn’t a ton of money, but everything helps, and if everyone does a little bit, it adds up quick.
TH: Well, we had Japan and Australia tours booked in May, with Chris Poland, which both got pushed back to next year, and Chris and I actually had some dates booked together including some festivals later in the Summer, as well as David and I had started to book a few dates and appearances for later in the Summer, which obviously are all up in the air now. And while, I’m bummed about that, I know a lot of people who have lost a lot more. We really just had to kinda pivot our priorities, which I think we have been pretty effective at. We’ve spent a lot of time on not only the Foundation stuff, and on finishing up the ELLEFSON record, which should be done by June, for a late 2020 release.
CV:Do you feel as the entire world is now sharing in the same global crisis that a gap has been bridged to lessen the emphasis on our differences we may have as a people and a more highlighted focus of the similarities we all share will be attained when this situation is over?
TH: This is a pretty loaded question, which, really, I wouldn’t even have time to fully get into, as it opens up so many cans of worms. But it’s funny, obviously it took me a bit of time to get back to you with the answers on this, and even in that time the dynamic has shifted so much, from the original “C’MON GUYS!! We’re all in this together!” To, now, people are starting to protest, and get impatient, and make it about politics, and there’s a pretty even division between both sides.
I’m not going to bring my personal politics into it, but just speaking objectively it’s really just about following the science, and the lessons of the past, but unfortunately, some people can’t see past themselves to understand just how devastating a pandemic like this can be. And it seems like, as of now, that’s the people who haven’t lost anyone. I know friends who have, I know a friend right now, whose son has been on a ventilator for weeks, and they have no idea which way it’s going to go. I guarantee, not ONE person out protesting the quarantines, and the government direction, has lost anyone close to them.
Personally, in a time like this, I just look to good leadership. I don’t care what party is in charge, as long as it gets handled properly, with an appropriate response…which to me, personally, I think has been extremely inadequate. I think, personally, for the most part, the Governors have been the real heroes in this whole situation. And kudos to congress to actually working together to get shit done, and get the stimulus bill passed.
|Photo by Melody Myers|
It’s honestly exhausting to see every day, but I just do my best to motivate everyone around me, and engage with quality people every chance I get. David and I have been doing a lot of livestreams as well, which I think has also really helped us connect with people, and that people have really gravitated towards.
CV: What's next for you?
TH: Well, as I mentioned, we’re working on the new ELLEFSON record…David, Bumblefoot, Andy, Paolo, and I, we’re maybe 6 songs in. We actually just released our Post Malone cover “Over Now” on BANDCAMP, (with an amazing cover by Melody Myers) and it comes out next Friday on Spotify, and all the other all digital outlets. I actually got a text from Posty tonight, saying it was “Fucking Epic” and we “CRUSHED”. So, whether anyone likes it, or listens to it, or whatever happens with it, from that point on, it’s really like, who fucking cares?
Of course, working on some great bands with COMBAT and EMP, we just put out the debut record for our friends in THEY MIGHT BE ZOMBIES…THE LOYAL ORDER have a new record coming out, and are blowing up at radio. We just signed the THEE ROCK AND ROLL RESIDENCY guys from Nashville, who also play with Gene Simmons and Ace Frehley, and Accept, and literally, everyone else in the World. They did a record, and we’re gonna put it out. I also did some guest vocals on the new VIRUS record, which is coming out in a couple weeks on Combat. Randy Burns, the Producer of Peace Sells, who I’m actually managing now too, is actually mixing the single I sang on, “Evilution Apocalypse”, so I’m super stoked about that as well.
On a totally different note, I’ve been working with a software and app development company called Imagination Room, helping them market and develop some amazing apps; POOL, a great photo sharing app, and Zero Messenger, a super high-level, basically military grade, encrypted messenger, that we’ve actually been working on pivoting from a more consumer-facing messaging app, to more direct military and medical applications. So, it’s actually a really exciting time, all things considered. I just love to create, and come up with ideas to push things forward, whether that is in music, technology, wherever I can apply myself, and be creative, is always a win as far as I’m concerned.
CV: Thank you again Thom for spending some time talking and sharing with
our readers. I wish you all the best and continued success.
Check out Thom at:Twitter: https://twitter.com/thomfnhazaert
David Ellefson Youth Music Foundation: www.ellefsonyouthmusicfoundation.com
Combat Records: www.combatrecs.com
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My name is Mick Michaels...I'm an artist, music fan, songwriter, producer, dreamer and guitarist for the traditional Heavy Metal band Corners of Sanctuary. Writing has always been a creative outlet for me; what I couldn't say in speech, I was able to do with the written word. Writing has given me a voice and a way for me to create on a multitude of platforms including music and song, articles, independent screenplays, books and now, artist interviews. The Cosmick View is an opportunity to raise the bar and showcase artists in a positive and inspirational light. For me, it's another out-of-this-world adventure.