It was as if not a day had passed since the last time we had met with James Rivera. In fact, it was like Deja-vu since our conversation took place once again at the same hotel, at the same table with a slight 20-year time gap. Then he had come with Seven Witches…now with Helstar. Since then we have had countless conversations and met many times and I honestly feel he is one of the most honest and loving artists in the business who lives and breathes for his fans.
After we exchanged our news and I was informed that James finally bought his own house in Houston, it was time to start the interview or rather… our official conversation. James began by saying how grateful he feels that after 40+ years, Helstar is still going strong and they are more popular than ever. The fact that they are still recording and touring all over Europe is the greatest reward he could ask for in his career. When I countered that his fellow Helstar bandmate Larry Barragan decided to abandon ship in 1990 because commercial success had eluded the band, James admitted it, however, pointing out that they were younger in age then and it made sense that the definition of success was different for them. However, in 2006 with the reunion of the “Remnants of War” line-up, Helstar are firing on all cylinders with James telling us in all honesty that his relationship with Larry is better than ever. “He’s my brother and he feels the same way I do. We’re always there for each other even though we live on different sides of Houston. Don’t forget that Houston is the size of a country like the Netherlands. I often visit Larry’s to record and I always have my room…I feel at home since Larry’s family is amazing!” says James.
The conversation then turns to a possible new studio album. After all, it’s great to have a musical legacy for which we will always be grateful but what about new material? It’s been 7 years since “Vampiro”, Helstar’s last full length album, and the fans are asking for new songs since “Clad in Black” (2021) contained only three new compositions. Rivera admits that the pandemic delayed their original plans and that both he and Barragan decided to let the two years of Covid pass and present the world with something in a proper and orthodox way. Hence this delay which will come to an end later this year when the new album will be released which lyrically will be the continuation of “Vampiro” while musically will contain all the classic technical characteristics of Helstar’s music.
At that point, we point out that “Black Wings Of Solitude”, one of Helstar’s few ballads, is one of their best songs. James not only agrees but adds that if it had been written in 1989 it would have been a huge hit. At the same time he confesses to us that his dream is to one day do a proper Halloween show in the style of Trans-Siberian Orchestra with vampires as the central theme. “I want it to be something presented as a Halloween show with music by Helstar and called ‘Black Wings of Solitude’. It will involve – if they want to, of course – all the former members of Helstar who will play on 1-2 songs in the show,” says James. Of course, that’s great news and we wouldn’t leave it all like that so we ask: “Is everyone welcome…? Even Andre Corbin who you didn’t have the best relationship with…?. “Of course yes,” James immediately replies…everyone is welcome. Andre, Frank, Rob, Jerry, Rene…everyone. No hard feelings from any of us anymore. Back then we were younger and saw things differently. I know that all Helstar fans will be happy to see all of these guys on stage together again. Of course, it’s an expensive production and I don’t know if it’s going to happen. But it’s a dream of mine,” James adds.
The conversation then revolves around the Hammer movies where we are both big fans and I’m especially glad that James declares himself an admirer of Christopher Lee and not Bela Lugosi (as most Americans do) while he also likes that I’m an unrepentant fan of Peter Cushing…even though he is Dracula’s arch enemy! For the record James’ favorite movie is “Dracula Has Risen From The Grave” while Larry prefers either “Scars of Dracula” or “Taste The Blood of Dracula”.
Finally, we couldn’t help but ask him what his favorite album of all time is. “That’s very difficult,” he tells us….and after thinking for a moment: “As a kid, the album that spoke to me the most was ‘Sabotage’ (Black Sabbath) but it was ‘Taken By Force’ (Scorpions) the album that made me want to be a musician. Add to that “Sad Wings of Destiny” (Judas Priest) and “Stained Glass” (Judas Priest) and I think I answer your question,” James says.
The conversation continues -off the record- on a more personal note and after a while we let him go to rest or even better…go out in the city at midnight looking for his next victim to bite and baptize in blood…forever!