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Katon W. De Pena is metal. For more than20 years he's proudly flown the freak flag and unironically flashed the metal horns as the singer for OC's most noteworthy thrash metal band, Hirax.
Aside from Hirax, you were part of (now defunct) Junk Records and now run Black Devil Records.
Yeah. Junk was a whole different thing. We were doing more of the punk rock & roll thing. I grew up on that, too. The thing about Black Devil Records is it's more of what I do. As a kid it freaked my dad out. I know heavy metal. I grew up around crazy white-trash kids. And I'm partially white-trash myself. I might be black, but that's the stuff I grew up on, and I'm proud of it. Even if I tried to dismiss it or avoid it, I wouldn't be able to. I'll be walking down the street with my wife, and people will be yelling, "Hirax!" I just turned 42, and it's been with me twentysomething years. How many 42-year-old, crazy, black, metaller dudes do you see running around? Not many.
Has it been hard to be a black man playing metal?
It's been a wild ride. It's never been a bummer. When I first started out, I wondered, "How are people going to accept this or take this?" If it wasn't for Hendrix or Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, I probably wouldn't be sitting here. They paved the way for me, so I try to pay respect and bring those guys up in every interview I do. There's still some ignorance out there, but that's part of the reason I do it. I want people to realize that not every black guy wants to be a rap singer. I want people to know there are black heavy metal guys out there.
Was it hard being a metal band from OC?
It was tough. At that time nobody took Orange County bands serious. We had to work our way out to break out of the Orange Curtain. We started going to places like San Francisco and got more popular there. When we went to the Bay Area, there was us, Exodus, Metallica, Death Angel, Testament. It was a good time to be part of that whole explosion.
So you're proud to be metal?
Not to sound corny, but we are very much into heavy metal. We just like all that stuff. We're big horror-movie fans. My wife and I just moved into our new place, and the address is 666. To us it's just a number. We think it's funny. We're totally into heavy metal, the lifestyle, denim and leather. You'd be amazed how many productive, good human beings are heavy metallers. It's all art. I've never been freaked out by it. I'm more freaked out by straight people, to be honest. I wonder what they're up to. What are they hiding?
Another band that's still going from when Hirax started is Metallica . . .
I don't know what the hell happened to them. Maybe it's the money thing because they're multimillionaires and a corporation. When you're a leader, you don't need to become a follower. They were already selling millions of records. They know they sold out. I knew those guys when they were trendsetters. It kind of saddens me.
Have you seen their movie Some Kind ?of Monster?
I haven't laughed so hard in my life. If money makes you that screwed up, then I don't need it. Some of the things they were crying over—I bet you the reason they don't mind is because they still made a shitload of money off it. I knew James before they were called Metallica. Sometimes I feel bad doing these interviews because I know it gets back to them, but I miss my old buddy James. My problem with them is probably that I wanted them to kick ass forever. I think you can kick ass and not sell out.
VISIT WWW.BLACKDEVILRECORDS.COM FOR EVERYTHING KATON.