By Brad Lopez
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By Noah Hubbell
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I can't even drink yet," notes Havok frontman Dave Sanchez. "But I've probably played and been inside more bars than people who are 25 years old."
One look at Sanchez, whose baby face is framed by long, dark, wispy curls, and his vintage is unmistakable — which makes the thrash metal his band favors all the more intriguing. Recently signed to Candlelight Records sight unseen, Havok traffics in a style of metal popularized by such groups as Metallica (an outfit Havok instantly evokes and is often compared to) that saw its peak around the time Sanchez and his bandmates were born.
There's nothing particularly novel about that; kids have been playing music made before they were for decades. But what makes Sanchez's inclination noteworthy is how and when he discovered the genre. Guys his age typically have an entirely different set of influences, and the few who gravitate toward thrash often have sensibilities informed by older siblings or uncles or neighbors. But Sanchez has a younger brother and was raised by a single mother with a much higher affinity for the likes of Billy Joel and Elton John than the acts that helped shape his tastes. Ultimately, Sanchez turned himself on to the titanic metal outfits from the Reagan era: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Pantera. But not without a little nudging from mom.
"In fifth grade, I was listening to the radio a lot," he recalls. "I didn't really know who any bands really were; I just knew songs. I mean, I was a little kid. So I was trying to figure out what I could buy at the record store that didn't have a parental-advisory sticker on it, because I was in fifth grade. And my mom was like, 'What about Metallica?' And I was like, 'Okay, sure,' and I went and bought a Metallica album, and that was it for me." A short time later, "I was huge into Slayer, Megadeth and Metallica — all that kind of stuff. So anytime I sat down to write, without thinking about it, I would write stuff that sounded like that."
At fifteen, Sanchez's proclivity for thrash led him to form Havok with a classmate at Bear Creek High School, a drummer named Haakon S. ("I can't even spell it," says Sanchez of his former timekeeper's last name), and a four-stringer who "looked a lot like Garth from Wayne's World.
"We weren't really trying to start a band," Sanchez recalls. "We were just messing around playing Metallica and stuff. Eventually we figured out that we needed a lead guitar player to play the solos, because I couldn't do them. So we put up signs at all the music stores around town first, and Shawn [Chavez] responded, and we've had him in the band ever since."
Indeed, Chavez and Sanchez have served as the core of the group, which has had a constantly rotating rhythm section. (In fact, Havok is currently seeking a new drummer.) Sanchez is hopeful that the addition of bassist Jesse De Los Santos, who joined the fold last fall, and a new timekeeper will shut the revolving door for good. "Our new bass player is the one that I feel like he will be in it until he's dead," Sanchez enthuses before acknowledging the Metallica parallels. "Yeah, he's our Cliff Burton," he says with a laugh. "He's going to die, and then we're going to have to keep replacing bass players."
The band's rise to prominence has been swift, especially when you consider that six years ago, Havok didn't even exist. Go back a few more years to the start of the decade, and neither Sanchez nor Chavez had even picked up a guitar yet with any sort of seriousness. But you'd never know that today, listening to the guys play or seeing them live. And surprisingly, Candlelight didn't need to do the latter in order to offer the band a deal.
In December 2007, just before the holidays, the members of Havok — who, like countless like-minded independent artists, have handled every aspect of their career, from recording their albums to commissioning artwork to booking their own tours — sent press kits to every metal label they could think of, along with a copy of their last record, the Pwn 'Em All EP. Within a few months, Candlelight and another imprint had expressed interest. Sanchez says Havok ended up choosing Candlelight because "they pretty much just had everything we wanted. We were looking to stay independent as a band, but then they also could give us a lot of support and backing."
"We'd been doing it all independently," Chavez adds, "setting up our own tours and stuff like that, and we kind of wanted to continue doing that. Anything they could do to help would help tremendously with where we wanted to go."
It's not hard to see what attracted Candlelight, or why a face-to-face encounter wasn't required. Burn, the band's forthcoming full-length, expertly darkens the doorstep of Havok's forefathers: The galloping rhythms, the wah-inflected leads, double kicks and syncopated cymbal crashes channel classic-era Metallica and Megadeth, while Sanchez's forceful vocals and high-pitched shrills sound like an unholy union of Tom Araya, Dave Mustaine and Joey Belladonna.
"I think we have a little bit more melody to the riffs and intricacy to some of the stuff," Sanchez points out, noting that Havok is no mere carbon copy and that his influences extend beyond the classics. "There's some bands, of course, that play music that's impossible to play — like, you know, Megadeth. I would say that we sound like the old-school thrash stuff but it still sounds fresh and new, the vocals and the soloing."
"I think one thing we do like the old thrash bands along the Metallica lines is that we play those songs that progress in the right direction," Chavez interjects. "You know, Metallica songs, they last, and they're always moving in a way that you can groove to. I think that we make some really solid songs; they're not just these three-minute songs that shred by you. They have definition and meaning to them."
Beyond creating an authentic sound, the members of Havok have established themselves as seasoned, self-contained road veterans. By the time Candlelight enlisted the act, Havok had already embarked on six tours of its own. And as soon as a new drummer is named, the guys plan to hit the road again in earnest for at least the next year. Right now, Sanchez's younger brother, who's still in high school (natch), is filling the drum stool. And he'd probably become a permanent addition were it not for the fact that he's about to head to college: One of the best running backs in the state, Steven recently earned a scholarship to the Colorado School of Mines.
Evidently, hard work runs in the family — and produces results. While he didn't expect to land a recording contract his first time out with his first band, after a year or two with Havok, Sanchez says, he and his bandmates thought, "'We can actually do something with this if we want.' I was playing with good musicians, and the songs were coming along pretty good.
"Honestly, it's been the goal for years," he adds about signing with Candlelight. "I mean, it's a little surreal, because I know it doesn't happen to everybody, but I've been working my ass off for years and years and years to get to this point. So it's not that big of a shock to me. But I'm still way psyched about it."
Chavez, too, sensed early on that he was part of something viable. "What gave me that impression was just our whole setup," he says, "just how we ran things and our whole operation, how we had shows and were very professional from the get-go. I really think we just had this drive, and we both decided that we really wanted this, so we just set forth with it."