Helstar / Eternity Black Guitarist
Larry Barragan

Covering the Texas music scene would not be complete unless we tried to land an interview with someone from Houston-based metal band, Helstar. We knew our good buddy Charles England, at one time, hit the road with Helstar, so we thought it was a good idea that he do the interview. Lucky for us, Charles agreed and delivered. - DPJ

FIB MUSIC:  First off it's been a long time since I have seen you. What are you up to now?

Larry:   I've been fairly busy. I've been doing the family thing and the 9 to 5 gig for the last 15 years. Rob Trevino and I formed Eternity Black a couple of years ago and we also re-united with James Rivera to do a 20th anniversary Helstar Remnants of War tour so to speak. We plan on also doing Helstar as well and are in the process of writing some new songs. So juggling the two bands is keeping me pretty busy.

FIB MUSIC:   What got you into playing guitar?

Larry:  Actually, I wanted to be a drummer. My older brother talked me out of it. He said "You don't want to be a drummer, that guy is always in the back. You want to play guitar and be in the front." That was it. He started turning me on to all the cool bands like Deep Purple, Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

FIB MUSIC:  Who were some of early influences?

Larry:  Well, of course like I said before Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Ozzy, and Angel Witch. Deep Purple's "Burn" album got worn out. I used to listen to a lot of Rush back then too.

Helstar founders
Larry Barragan & James Rivera

FIB MUSIC:  Tell about the early Houston TX metal scene. Who were some of the bands you remember?

   Local bands, hmm, I remember Bad Heaven, Aggressor, Metal X, that's all I can really think of off the top of my head.

FIB MUSIC:  Previous to Helstar, what were some of the bands you were in?

Larry:  Helstar was really the only band I had been in since I started playing in bands. Helstar was an offshoot of a three piece band we had called Black Rose. It morphed into what later became Helstar.

FIB MUSIC:  What lead you to Helstar, how did you start the band?

Larry:  I had been playing for about three years at the time; I met these other cats that had a little band going. Hector Pavon and Paul Medina who appear on the first Helstar album got me to join there band. You know it was strictly a garage band. We cut our teeth on covers for a while but we really wanted to do our own music. Eventually, we dropped all the covers and just became all originals.

FIB MUSIC:   Tell me a little bit about signing to Combat Records. How did you land your deal?

Larry:  We met this guy who used to write for a fanzine called Metal Forces out of the UK. He took our demo to England and people started going crazy over it. We even got voted best demo of the year in Metal Forces. Someone from Combat Records got wind of us and tracked us down.

FIB MUSIC:  Wow, signed in the first band you were in. That had to feel incredible. That's kind of how Metallica got signed. What was the recording budget on that one?

Larry:  I don't recall, but it must have been next to nothing. We did the whole thing in 4 days. Two days to record and I think two days to mix. It was something crazy like that.
FIB MUSIC:   What do you remember about the place you recorded, Sunrise Studio? Anything stand out?

Larry:   I know I was unhappy with the guitar sound Carl (Cannedy) was going for. He wanted this raw Marshall sound that I just hated. The demo we recorded had more of our sound on it than the album did.

FIB MUSIC:  You parted ways with Helstar right after Burning Star, what lead you to leave the band you co-founded?

Larry:  Management issues. I didn't like the way things were going so I went my own way. It caused the band to fall apart but really it was the right thing to do.

FIB MUSIC:  What did you do next?

Larry:  I tried to put a new band together called Betrayer. I started writing material for what later became Remnants of War. The only problem was I couldn't find a drummer or another guitarist who could play the stuff I was coming up with.

FIB MUSIC:  How did you rejoin the band?

Larry:  James called me later and said he had found new management and asked me to return; by that time the band had splintered off because there was some allegiance to the original manager who was also our drummer's brother. Our bass player was dating their sister. It was big family mess. James and I basically took over and whoever wanted to stay was welcomed to, but we were going to make Helstar happen.
FIB MUSIC:  So then came Remnants of War. Where did you record it?

Larry:   We did that at Mad Dog Studios in Hollywood. That record had a better budget. We did that in a month.

FIB MUSIC:   How was that experience compared to the first recording?

Larry:  Well, we were better prepared. We were working with Randy Burns who had just finished producing the Megadeth "Peace Sells" album. He knew what we wanted and helped us on some of the arrangements as well.

FIB MUSIC:  What was the budget for that one?

Larry:  Man, I don't want to lie to you but I think it was like 10 or 15 grand.

FIB MUSIC:  You opened up for some serious heavy hitters back then. Anthrax, Megadeth, King Diamond; what was that like?

Larry:  It was cool. All these bands were making it and we felt we were right there too. We became pretty good friends with Anthrax and Megadeth.

FIB MUSIC:  How do you guys end up signing with Metal Blade Records?

Larry:  Our manager Mike Faley left our management company to become VP at Metal Blade and he turned Brian Slagel on to our stuff. We did a showcase for Brian and he signed us for two albums.

FIB MUSIC:  The first of those two albums was "A Distant Thunder". This was the first time you worked with
Bill Metoyer (LAAZ ROCKIT, SACRED REICH, SLAYER) behind the board. How did that differ from your first two efforts?

Larry:   Bill didn't try to change anything at all. We pretty much had the songs done and we just went in and recorded them. I love working with Bill. I think he captured our sound.
FIB MUSIC:   Do you remember what the budget was for that record?

Larry:  Nah, I guess I should have paid more attention but we went over on both those records anyway. Bill would never sacrifice the integrity of the sound. He wouldn't cut corners. It had to be right.

FIB MUSIC:  This also marks the entry of Andre Corbin and Frank Ferreira. A huge change in the dynamics. How was it playing with Andre? Did you finally find the player that could keep pace with your writing?

Larry:   I learned a lot from Andre actually. Up to that point I really didn't have very good practice habits. He taught me how to schedule my practice and use my time more efficiently. I didn't use a metronome until then. After that my picking improved as well as my speed. My writing progressed too.

FIB MUSIC:  You toured Europe in support of "A Distant Thunder". And opened for Yngwie Malmsteen. How was that?

Larry:   Touring Europe was a dream come true. The shows we did with Yngwie were bad ass. Although, Yngwie was kind of dick, his band was super cool with us. We never got to talk to or even meet Yngwie. Joe Lynn Turner was singing for him at the time. Joe Lynn was really cool.

FIB MUSIC:   What are your memories of your classic record, Nosferatu?

Larry:  My memories of Nosferatu? Hazy! No seriously, that CD was hard work. The music was quite complex. I remember really having to rehearse and practice quite a bit before we went into the studio. When I listen to it now I can step back and see what a nice piece of work it was.

FIB MUSIC:   Yes it is, I would have to say it's the one album I like the most out of all of them. I loved the whole Bram Stoker Story line. It's certainly the most technical album. I notice that there is only you or Andre playing on a few songs, tell me about that.

Larry:   I think that was kind of the beginning of the end. I love that album, we put a lot into it. However, I think that's when Andre and I started going in different directions musically. I hated the instrumental "Perseverance and Desperation". To me it was guitar masturbation and I wasn't into that and I'm still not into that. He said he'd do all the parts for it when it came to recording it. I said go for it. Putting that song on the album was a huge mistake and I wish I would have stuck to my guns and told him "no". Whenever I listen to the album I always skip that song. That song is a good song but it belonged on the Andre Corbin solo album, not Nosferatu. I did all the guitars on "Harsh Reality". I don't really know why. If you notice, that song doesn't even have a solo. I've never really worried about being featured in a song, to me that's just egotistical bullshit. If a song needs a solo; great, if not... shit, even better. I don't need to put a part in a song so that I can stand in the spotlight and have someone tell me how great a guitarist I am. I've never thought of myself as a great guitarist. I'm an average guitarist really. I'm not a shredder. When I solo I try to make my solos interesting and tasteful. But if I had to play rhythm all night long I would be just fine with that. That's where Andre and I were so different.

FIB MUSIC:  What was touring like? Any fond memories there?

Larry:  Well, all the tours we did were scraping the bottom of the barrel tours. All of us packed up in a van and running out of money. I remember one time we didn't know if we were going to have enough money to eat the next day so we hit this buffet and just scarfed down like no tomorrow. I'd look down the table and everyone had like 5 empty plates in front of them. The shows were always great but the shit that went on behind the scenes was always classic "Spinal Tap".

FIB MUSIC:  Yeah I seem to remember two white vans, one for you guys and one for the gear. And a lot of long hauls. Still there were some good times. Remember that Club in T.J. Mexico. Cold Iguana I believe it was. We opened for Fates Warning, they were out supporting Perfect Symmetry, it was the first night we did. Anyways, someone either fell or jumped from the top balcony and got jacked up during Intruders set. Do you remember that?

Larry:  That was a brutal show. The best show of the tour actually. Those kids were nuts. I'd love to go back and play TJ again. I'm sure they haven't changed much.

FIB MUSIC:  What about Playing "The Stone" in San Francisco, They had that damn espresso bar. We all got spun up on Coffee? I remember, we were given cds of an up and coming band called Faith No More.

Larry:   The only thing I remember was that we played on Thanksgiving and we went over the bridge the day they opened it back up after being repaired from the big earthquake. That sucked!

FIB MUSIC:  What happened after Nosferatu, why did you leave again?

Larry:  You know Nosferatu was our fourth album and we all poured our heart and souls into it. We felt like it was going to be our turn to make the next step. In the end we just ended up not doing anything because issues with the record company and what not. I had to make a change.

FIB MUSIC:  Can you elaborate on these issues?

Larry:  Well, for one Metal Blade and Roadrunner where parting ways right as Nosferatu was about to be released. Roadrunner didn't want to bring us over because we weren't going to be part of their label. We couldn't hook up with a booking agent here in the states and touring was just a fiasco. The album died without any momentum and Metal Blade eventually dropped the band.

Helstar 2006

FIB MUSIC:  You left the industry after that, Why?

Larry:  Basically, the industry destroyed my love for music. I was so depressed and disheartened; I just had to leave it all together. I could have stuck it out and moved back to LA, I had plenty of offers but I just didn't like where I was at in my life at that time. I stopped playing my guitar for about 6 or 7 years. I mean I literally did not pick it up. They just sat underneath my bed waiting for me to come around again.

FIB MUSIC:  What did you do during that time?

Larry:  Ah, you know the whole family thing, working corporate 9 to 5. I went back to school but ended up getting a job with a big 4 firm KPMG. I do IT and telephony there. I've been there for the past 15 years.

FIB MUSIC:  You've also got this new band, ETERNITY BLACK. Tell me more about that.

Larry:  Eternity Black was formed a few years ago by Rob Trevino and me. The band features Russell Deleon on drums. Russ is also the drummer in Helstar. On vocals we have Ryan McKnight and on bass we have Carlos Fuste. This band is nothing like Helstar. It's very riff oriented just straight ahead thrash metal. It's the heaviest thing I have been a part of. When you come out to see us you'll see the energy is through the roof. At first we caught some slack because people were coming out expecting us to do old Helstar tunes or thinking we were going to sound like Helstar but we nixed that from the beginning. Eternity Black is very much its own band and stands on its own.

FIB MUSIC:  Have you recorded anything?

Larry:   Actually, we've recorded two demos. The first one we did 5 songs and it was recorded at Spyder Studios here in town. Greg Gill engineered it. We went back a few months ago and recorded 3 more songs. We recorded those at Greg's new place called Diamond Studios. The newer songs are much heavier and we had a better idea of how we wanted it to sound. We're hoping we can get signed to do a proper full length CD. We have enough material, we just need a label.

FIB MUSIC:  Are you playing out much?

Larry:  Yeah, we've been playing quite a bit. We just played at the Meridian opening up for Mastery. That was a lot of fun. And we also did a co-headlining show with Stride at FBI Rocks. That will be it for the year with the holidays coming up and whatnot. We'll get cracked up again in January. We have a show in San Antonio and another show at FBI in February. There's also a short tour in the works with Vicious Rumors. James also sings for Vicious Rumors. And in between all that we will be writing new material for Helstar. That actually will start in December when EB winds down.

FIB MUSIC:  Anything else you'd like to add?

Larry:  Hey, thanks for the interview Charles. For all the fans that have supported us throughout, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You guys come out and see us live and we'll share a beer or 12 with you. Check out my bands at www.EternityBlack.com and www.Helstar.com.

Larry Barragan & James Rivera


FIB MUSIC:  What is your most disgusting habit?

Larry:  Pull my finger. He-he.

FIB MUSIC:  What is the most feminine thing you do?

Larry:  I don't change my own oil.

FIB MUSIC:  If there is a God, what is the first question you would ask God when you arrive?

Larry:  There is a God and I'm just going to ask him "What the Hell?"

FIB MUSIC:  Greatest Rock band of all time?

Larry:  AC/DC

FIB MUSIC:  What were you doing 40 minutes before you sat down to do this interview?

Larry:  I was washing my Pandora, my bike.

The Funny thing about being in the music business; if you stay in it long enough, you will come full circle. Such is the case with guitarist and co-founder of Helstar Larry Barragan. The last time I saw Larry was when we toured with a little known band by the name of Intruder. Helstar was supporting their Metal Blade release, "Nosferatu", on what was billed as the Metal Massacre tour. That was 1989. - Charles England
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