Howard "H" Smith of Acid Reign On Thrash Metal, Quarantine Vids, and Mental Health

Having released their first album in 29 years with “Age of Entitlement” last autumn, the band Acid Reign, fronted by Howard “H” Smith were all ready to hit the road with a substantial UK tour this Spring of 2020 before the inevitable happened to us all.

Now, “H” joins our show with Whitney Moore to talk about the band’s incredible history as a thrash metal stalwart beloved for their live sets and what it’s like to be “back” working on new material even in the age of quarantine.

He had no excuse not to join us, being “in lock down” like everyone else. He’s got relatives in Spain where things are very “policed” right now, and a friend in Cyprus, where you can’t go out except for food, drink, and medicine, and you have to text the government in order to get a time frame for going out, limited to 30 minutes.

In the UK, it was an hour a day for exercising originally, but things have loosened to allow more walking and being out and about. Still there are no long distance journeys or visits with relatives, though. He’s in London and can’t visit his 84 year old mother further north, which is a shame.

H has been keeping busy in quarantine by doing…nothing. Haha. He’s been listening to his new album, of course. He finds it really hard to focus and has only gotten through watching two films.

He had a change of three shirts before doing the podcast, H said, one of which was an AC/DC shirt which reads ADHD in the band font, which he wears to raise awareness that adults can have ADHD. Then he realized, as a businessman, he ought to wear the new album band shirt, and put it on. Moore said that she, too, has ADHD, so they have that in common.

[Cover image by Mark Wilkinson]

H has been doing one TikTok a day, basically, too, which Moore had been watching. Moore tends to watch the compilations, but H said he uses the app to scroll through, find stuff he wants to do also, makes videos, and then posts them on TikTok. All in order to download the videos onto his phone. Then he can use the videos on his own social media platforms.

Today’s is naked, he warns! Except for a “little cushion”. Maintaining a full social media account and doing podcasts can keep you busy enough. He does “admin” for about nine accounts because he does standup comedy and also fronts the band.

His views on social media come out in the song “New Age Narcissists” and the title of the new album, Age of Entitlement. Spending so much time online gets “on your nerves”!

When the new album came out, it was incorrectly assumed that the album title was directed negatively at young people, but actually it applies to everyone, as H has corrected that. It applies to people of all ages. It was funny, and incredibly “entitled” when some millennial forums felt the album was talking about them.

Moore had seen Acid Reign’s quarantine video for Suzanne Vega song cover “Blood Makes Noise” and asked H why they chose that song for the video. H said that one night he was “chilling out” and smoking a spliff and looking at his CD collection. He noticed the CDs he bought way back in the day and decided to take them in his car on a long drive to a comedy gig. He was driving along, listening, and wondered if there was “something in that” song that could be metal.

He called a friend, sent him the song, asking what he thought about its metal potential. He didn’t hear anything for a couple weeks, got an e-mail back with the song in a metal version, played the result in a service station, and then drove off, having been “blown away” by what he heard. On about the fifth listen, he started screaming along. Acid Reign did the song as a metal cover, sent it to Suzanne Vega’s Facebook page, heard back a couple of weeks later, and she said she loved it.

They took the conversation to e-mail, reached an agreement, got the song recorded, and asked if Suzanne would like to be on the song itself. She agreed to do that and sent them a recording to use. On their Youtube account, Acid Reign TV, you can see the video for their single of the song.

Now, during lock down, they saw a very depressing-looking isolation video by another band, and H thought, “If Acid Reign did something like that, it would be absolutely hilarious…” and that was the idea. Paul Chanter developed the narrative, having received video clips from each member. They then asked Suzanne Vega if she’d like to send something and get “final cut”. She agreed, and now she’s “in the cupboard on the video”. It’s “lighthearted and fun” and we all could use a “laugh” right now, Moore praised.

The house featured in the video is not, actually, a house they all live in together, but a fan figured out which hotel it is. Moore pointed out that if they lived together, that would “make a great reality show”. H felt that their Britishness made people feel they might all be “crazy” and live in a house together.

Moore asked who the biggest nerd in the band is, and Pete [Dee] is the Star Wars fan, H said. Paul [Chanter] is the Jaws fan. Paul also edited and put the video together. He deserves some praise for the heavy lifting. It was fun for them to do, also, H said. They are actually having fun. Leaping around his front room in a Bobba Fett/Mandalorian mask was a blast.

They get a “strangely small amount of hate” on social media, H observed, and he rarely has to moderate or ban people from accounts. “We don’t fuck about.”, he said, “If you’re a dick, we will find out pretty early on and you’re gone”. But also, other fans help police that. He loves to “stand back” and let fans interact with each other in a genial way. Especially talking about which gigs they attended, etc. Ultimately, “It’s us.”, he said, and they don’t actually always post about Acid Reign. They just keep conversations moving among people who are into metal and want to hang out.

[Inside album image]

Ego the clown features on their latest album cover, created by Mark Wilkinson, but is he going to become a mascot? No. But he has a meaning for the album. Bands like Phish are H’s hero. Marillion is the first band he saw live, and he wrote all his songs sitting in front of a Mark Wilkinson Marillion poster. He’s been a fan of Suzanne Vega since he was 16, so these latest collaborations have been hugely rewarding for him.

Talking about humor and a “jokey” association from the younger years of Acid Reign, H said they didn’t really change the “tone” of their music for the new album. Even the jokier, earlier albums talked about things like mental illness, child suicide, nuclear testing, and more. The very last two minutes of their previous album trails into Mickey Mouse and Funk. Having a pink cover on Obnoxious taught him that “a little bit of comedy goes a long way” in music.

H has been doing standup [as Keith Platt] for 25 years, and he wants to “play some fucking thrash metal” now again, too. He has the two things separate in his mind to some extent. Music and comedy don’t really “wash” and it may have held the band back previously having the comedic association. He’s not “bitter” about it, and wouldn’t change the band’s legacy, but he’s “better” now as a song writer, as a vocalist, and with a better band set up. He says that with all due respect to all previous members. This is “next level” stuff, and it’s not the “H show”. It’s about all the current band members doing their best.

These guys, as of May 2020, have all been in the band longer than any other member except for him. Acid Reign lasted from 1987-1991, a total of four years, originally. So, the new reboot of the band has now lasted that long and longer.

H also held up a Leeds United mug to show his affiliation, just so you know.

What’s it like rebooting a band? How do you grow as well as staying true to your sound, Moore asked. H hasn’t really thought about the “bad old days” before announcing the line up for quite some time, he admitted. It was “a lesson in not giving up”. Acid Reign tried to re-form and it didn’t work, and the minute he decided to “do the band anyway”, Paul and Marc [Jackson] were already involved, and they had a “summit” in a fish and chip shop in Leeds about it. They even had spam!

Trying to decide when they might be able to “do something” as a band again, they knew it was just about finding the right people. Friends and family were making recommendations for the roles, so there were no auditions. H’s experience in sales and marketing has come in useful for the band, and while walking around London one day, he realized, they weren’t reforming, but “rebooting” and that made sense.

“This is not a reformation, but a reboot. We tried to reform. It didn’t work out. If you want to hear the songs, this is the only way to do it.”, was the message they released about their new era. “You can’t knock honesty.”, H said. The band already had a song ready to drop, waiting for kick back about their announcement. They even expected a “torrent of abuse”. But it didn’t happen. There was “not one single negative comment” about their decision.

Thrash metal is a “constant”, Moore commented, and asked why it’s so big today, just like it was in the 80’s and 90’s. The easy answer, according to H, is that “most Thrash bands have a lot of disposable income since they are between the ages of 35 and 50.” For real! He went to see Exodus in a Bay Area thrash show. He did not see a lot of “youth” at the show.

He’s not saying that there are not young kids into thrash, but their demographic, through “stats and data” says thrash is ages 35 to 48. Acid Reign are a legacy band, so this is their own experience, and it may not be everyone’s. But their “very healthy” genre of thrash was in the ICU for a long, long time, H reminded. In the 90’s, it “went into a fucking coma” even if thrash never died.

The only way to “keep thrash moving” is to innovate. The Age of Entitlement is an “old school album with a new school twist”. The band wanted to give people the “warm fuzzy feeling” as if they’ve heard something like this before. This is hard to achieve due the band’s long absence, but Entitlement is a “nice hug from the past” with a “big sloppy wet kiss of modern aesthetic”. For the album’s production, they didn’t want to go for a “laptop standard” with a wide range of song lengths. They think the world is “choking on those”. Go for 10/10 rather than 7/10, H  encourages bands.

The track listing is actually important on the new album, even though you can listen to it out of order. Rather than just sounding like any other trash album, thanks to Jayce Lewis, they went for “huge”.

What are the ideal circumstances for listening to this album? Or any Acid Reign album? Edibles, cookies, smoking, or getting drunk with your friends in a car park, two meters apart, socially distanced, H advises. A socially distanced trailer party would work. That’s already “your favorite way”, probably, or maybe “in the bath, stoned”.

Asked about the plans for the Bloodstock Festival this year, and the fact that it’s being pushed to 2020, what’s H’s view on festivals in a post-COVID world? Due to the position that the band has with festivals next year, he doesn’t want to blurt out anything that’s damaging, H said.

But talking to old friend Derrick Green of Sepultura on his podcast, he speculated that there would be no touring normality until the end of 2021. Travel is the big issue. There has to be a zero infection rate or a vaccine before you can put 50,000 sweaty people in a field.

Talking to a friend in comedy, H heard his friend say that gigs would be back by September or October 2020. He was surprised by that. Rather than just having a positive mental attitude H recommends that having a “pragmatic social attitude” is better. It keeps you from being disappointed to the point that you’ll “crack”, he advised. There may not be arena shows, stadium shows, or even larger shows than a few thousand in attendance. And we need to comprehend and prepare ourselves for “what might happen” in that regard. We need to be realistic about it.

“That’s solid advice.”, Moore agreed. Music fans are dying to get back to shows, but it will happen under different circumstances, Moore is sure.

All of H’s stand up shows are cancelled, two agents have gone bust, and invoices are outstanding, he shared. Hosting pub quizzes in the UK, which he used to do, is “fucked” also. For a self-employed person, these are “interesting fucking times”. But we are all in this together.

What advice does he give? His advice is, “Don’t give anybody advice.” Everyone has to figure it out themselves. No one knows what’s right for anyone else.

These “personality vacuums”, he said, who appear advocating that we pick up new talents during lock down can just stop, H said. If you can come out of lock down without being “mentally scarred, a drug addict, or obese”, you have “won” lock down, he assured.

How does life differ, performing in metal vs performing in comedy for H? It’s very “simple”, he replied. Basically, stand up is solo, so it’s “sex on stage” and the band is “group sex on stage”. “I guess, more the merrier, right?” he laughed.

They are “genuinely” different things. Basically, thrash metal is his “first love” but he’s married to comedy. It’ll always be there, and he’s been with comedy way longer than the band. The band has lasted for nine years in total, but comedy stretches for many more years for H. Acid Reign is a mistress who he can’t resist, from his early years, he says, and “now in this beautiful time” they are able to “get back together and make beautiful music”.

H uses Patreon as his “only income” right now, which is pretty radical. Basically, the podcast he places on Patreon for backers is called “Talking Bollocks”, where he talks for twenty minutes about metal stories in the news at the moment. He usually gives people “a good kicking”, particularly KISS, who he advises: “Turn it in, guys.” Everything is “unedited”, so if the podcast is recorded in a dressing room at a gig, you’ll hear people coming in and out of the room. A good podcast should make you feel like you’re being spoken to, H says, and that you’re in the room or listening in to a conversation “just out of sight”. Keeping the podcasts unedited sometimes does make people feel like they shouldn’t be listening in, so it’s interesting for them.

The longer form interviews, like Jimmy DeGrasso, lasted for an hour and ten minutes, and they didn’t talk about music until 45 minutes into it. If you want to hear about a musician’s favorite music, there are tons of other venues to do that, so H tries to get “further under the skin” with his guests. It’s a place for exclusives, which he usually doesn’t even realize are exclusives, because people talk freely with him. Then it gets picked up by a press outlet.

His podcasts are “endless content” you can’t get anywhere else. He also does “Movie Bollocks”, talking to movie, film, and music people, about film. If you’re a patron, you get “Radio Bollocks” too, making that three bollocks! It’s a radio show playing different music.

The main thing about people supporting his Patreon is that they are getting access to the podcasts, but you also get submit questions for the people being interviewed ahead of time, H said. All for five dollars a month and a “shit ton of Acid Reign behind the scenes stuff”, too.

As for Acid Reign’s remastered vinyl releases, Moshkinstein is available in cyan blue vinyl, for the first time in the USA. The original version was released in the USA in 1988. Obnoxious is coming out on pink vinyl, remastered. There’s also a four CD box set available, with every Acid Reign song prior to the new album, called Anthology.

Regarding Tower Record’s motto, "Know Music/Know" Life, he thinks “No Music/No Life” works better for him. H’s life would be “so different” if he hadn’t gotten into metal, and lived where he lived. Since he’s been on his ADHD journey, getting diagnosed and medicated, people often say, “You must be really pissed off about not being diagnosed sooner.” But if he had been, H reflects, maybe he wouldn’t have gotten the band signed way back when. So, No Music/No Life works for him.

H thanked fans for supporting and believing in Acid Reign all these years. He’s so glad that he’s brought the band back. But he had something serious to add: If you are constantly thinking, in the back of your mind, that’s something is wrong, and you can’t concentrate on things, and if you notice that your life is full of constant changes, like changing jobs often, it’s always worth seeing a doctor and talking to someone. Sometimes talking to a stranger is easier than talking to someone you know. They are just interested in helping, and it does help.

It may lead to finding out how to get aspects of ADHD under control, like it did for him, and he’s proud to say that medication has really helped him. He’s had an “epiphany” that the millennials and boomers are locked into a generational war, but he now sees millennials differently. They are an “emotionally intelligent bunch of people” being brought up in a more caring environment than boomers. Men of his age and his era just “kill themselves” without conversation because they don’t reach out to others.

Boomers might think millennials are ridiculous, but their boomer model didn’t work, either, and they are not the “picture of mental health wellness”. Hopefully we’ll see the benefit of people being able to talk about their feelings and emotions in the future. He encourages people to “work on themselves” since any issue you have are your own to tackle.

Moore thanked H for using his platform to help end the stigma about mental health issues.

Please check out Howard “H” Smith’s Patreon platform here.

Age of Entitlement is available now in vinyl from Tower Records. Moshkinstein and Obnoxious land on June 5th and are available for pre-order now!

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