Norwegian death punk Hank Von Hell was the frontman of Turbonegro until 2010. He’d been performing since 1989 and eventually the rock and roll lifestyle wore thin and left him needing a break. After getting sober, he got stuck into new creative vents that a life on the road had never allowed. Hank became a presenter at local radio station Moskenesradioen, had a joint #1 hit alongside Maria Solheim in the Norwegian Singles Chart with 'Rom For Alle' and in 2011 he was a judge in Norwegian Idol. 2018 saw him return to form with debut solo record Egomania and in 2020, Hank Von Hell is back with second album Dead. He told Vive Le Rock! how he’d fought his record label to keep the title Dead.
What motivated the new record?
I told the label I wanted to make a darker album. Egomania was a resurrection party. After you’ve been fighting monsters and demons for a thousand years you need a party, a lager and a sandwich. As a solo artist I knew I’d have to give some explanation for my weird choices both during my time in Turbo and my exit. It’s a story motivated by darkness, tragedy, anger and sorrow and how to deal with it. It’s like mindfulness but I’ve discovered a new technique called Mind-fucked-ness.
How did you come to the title Dead?
I wanted something death related and we talked through some bad ideas like Death From Above. It just sounded like a Motorhead album even Lemmy wouldn’t make. I decided that if we’re going to do this album and deal with the phenomenon of not living, we’re gunna call it Dead. The label were so freaked out and said it was the worst idea ever. Eventually I told them I’m not changing it. Its where we’re all going and it’s a homage to people’s health. Death’s what happens if you don’t get help with addiction.
The second track is also called ‘Dead’. Are the lyrics ‘You’re already dead’ about people living their lives on autopilot?
Well it’s about mass apathy. It’s a wake-up call, a paradox. People who are living robotically, dumbed down by superficial illusions of life are actually desperately trying to avoid the devastating inevitable truth. It’s also a homage to David Bowie’s ‘My Death’.
You’re a very visual person which makes you a good storyteller. You said before that your song ‘Blood’ is a stadium anthem with the power to make a five-year-old face his bullies. Do you imagine specific fans when writing your songs?
Yes, the writing process is technical and I define the listener and identify their state of mind. I provide a soundscape and lyrical narrative that gives that person an opportunity of relief.
What is your fascination with death?
I had a dramatic overdose in the ‘90s and my heart stopped beating so I experienced death. Since then I’ve had a totally different outlook on being dead. I’ve been walking around with one foot in the grave since that encounter. I’ve had a taste and I have something to say about it. We are all going to the same place but it’s not so bad.
You’ve been open and honest about the impact of drugs on your life and mentioned how paying for drugs fuels crime and terror in places like Mexico. You had an epiphany about your personal accountability and got sober.
It’s a dance with the devil in the pale moonlight. Of course I don’t judge, I’m not God. I’ve met so many people with addiction or mental health issues which leads to drug use and that doesn’t make you a bad person. Usually I’ve done worse! I have not put myself on a moral pedestal. My method is that addiction sucks individually so you have to empathise. If I can help you with my story that’s good. I’d say that if you’re an addict, be aware of it and know it’s not a victimless crime. But is it a crime? I don’t agree with the laws criminalising drug addicts. It creates worse problems. If someone’s hopelessly addicted, try to help them so they can live a life of quality.
Where do you think rock'n'roll stands in 2020?
Rock'n'roll is not dead. It’s the only thing that can save us. A lot of the younger generation are going back and discovering rock and rejecting new music. I think they appreciate physical music and know what they are fans of. Music is a diary to my fans and it's important these people are still here and still demanding more rock'n'roll.
Hank Von Hell performed a livestream concert from the empty Ullevi Stadum in Sweden on 15 June which you can watch at hankvonhell.com. Dead is out now and he will be rescheduling tour dates for 2021.