When Integrity first formed in Cleveland nearly 25 years ago, few bands were combining hardcore punk with heavy metal. The band brought those two genres together and would subsequently inform an entire subgenre of music. Somehow singer Dwid Hellion, who moved to Belgium several years ago, has kept the band going, despite having a constantly rotating lineup of musicians backing him up. Hellion brings Integrity, which has just released the single "I Know Where Everyone Lives" as a split with the Norwegian death metal band Gehenna, to town this weekend for a rare local show. He answered a few questions via email shortly before leaving Belgium for the tour.
Talk about the initial formation of Integrity. Is it true you stole the name and logo from a car dealership?
In the late 1980s, I had wanted to make a more metal version of punk, and luckily I met Aaron Melnick. Together we created a musical recipe that gave birth to Integrity. We did have ambitions to eventually open a Chevrolet dealership, but someone beat us to the punch with that one. No need to rub it in!
What exactly made you want to combine elements of hardcore punk and metal?
Probably the Japanese band GISM had a lot to do with that. Also bands like Septic Death, early Metallica and Slayer. GISM had a Motley Crue/Rhodes-era-Ozzy vibe fused with extreme punk. They were one of the first punk bands I listened to (on the PEACE/WAR compilation), and they still influence me today.
Talk about what the music scene in Cleveland was like when the band formed in 1988.
It was a diverse scene. A lot of thrash bands, a handful of punk bands, and a ton of rock cover bands. We were seen as outsiders, and to be in the underground "punk" scene and be outsiders was quite a feat.
What Cleveland band was your favorite at the time?
Fatal Charm. They were the original violent glam band from the Cleveland area. Great guys, great music. Fatal Charm also recorded at the Mars Compound, the same recording studio that Integrity recorded our first few albums at.
I know you're a fan of Van Halen. Which version of the band do you prefer? Hagar or Roth?
There is only one correct answer, Diamond David Lee Roth!
Do you like Joy Division more than New Order or New Order more than Joy Division?
Joy Division always had that bleak, suicidal aspect to their music. The depressed inner me relates more to the unknown pleasures of Joy Division.
Talk about signing to Victory Records. What were the pluses and minuses of your record deal?
I would say never being paid royalties has been a definite downside. I guess we did receive some minor exposure through the label's efforts, so that would be a positive.
I read a review that referred to your "ill-conceived, electronica-damaged releases." How do you respond to that criticism?
It's easy to confuse our sound with electronica. At our concerts you can see the kids in the pit dancing as if it were a techno rave, but with fists instead of glow sticks.
Integrity played a farewell show in 2001. What made you keep the group going after that gig?
I lost a bet to [former Scene photographer] Walter Novak.
What inspired your decision to move to Europe?
My wife is a Belgian. And everyone knows that the Belgian beers are unparalleled.
Talk about the piece you have in the local art show Life & Death in Black & White.
[Frontman for local hardcore act Ringworm] The Human Furnace contacted me about contributing a drawing for an art show that he had been developing. He has a great idea to curate an art gallery around the theme of life and death. The timing is perfect for my schedule, as the opening of this art show coincides with our concert at the Grog Shop on Nov. 2.
And talk about the vinyl toy that you recently designed.
A couple of years ago, I illustrated a small book that accompanied two of our 7-inch records. This was titled Black Heksen Rise and the quantity was quite limited and sold quickly out of press. The owner of Monster Worship, a Japanese vinyl toy company, contacted me and asked if I would be interested in turning the main character from my book into a 3-dimensional and pose-able vinyl toy. It has been a very interesting project to participate in.
I'm not sure many people know that you had short-lived career as a music journalist. Talk about that experience and what it was like to work for an editor who didn't understand your sense of humor.
I had an editor who was a dead ringer for Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. All day long he would smoke kind buds in his office and reminisce about his California surfer days "catching the tasty waves." Whenever my editor would be coherent enough to actually give me an assignment, he would be so stoned that he'd forget to notify the venue. More times than not, I would arrive at the club with my photographer, and the club's "will call" would have no knowledge of our press pass. We'd be forced to sneak into the club, climb fences, dodge security. Usually, the review would mainly consist of the details of our sneaking into the club. It would go downhill from there: police, fights, drunkenness. It occasionally made for an entertaining read, but rarely was the actual music covered.
What's the best prank you've ever pulled?
We did a death prank that was pretty good. We told everyone that [Pale Creation front man] Nick [Brewer] was dead. No one noticed. I guess the ultimate prank was getting a job as a journalist. But, as I said before, my editor was always so stoned.