Jeremy Wagner, noted horror author and main riffer for death metal band Broken Hope, has been busily completing a gallery he’s aptly dubbed “Wagner World.” The 4,000-square-foot, music-studio/horror-and-rock memorabilia museum is a tribute to his favorite guitarists and includes rare instruments from the late Jeff Hanneman (Slayer) and Paul Gray (Slipknot), as well as Metallica’s Kirk Hammett.
In this exclusive interview, Wagner offers Guitar World a peek at his latest acquisitions. He also discusses his admiration for Hanneman, his latest novel and much, much more.
What was it about Jeff Hanneman and Slayer that first appealed to you?
I still remember the moment I decided I wanted to be metal guitar player. It was when I heard Metallica’s Ride the Lightning. I was floored and couldn’t stop listening to it. I immediately went on a mission to find the heaviest music and that’s when I found Slayer’s Hell Awaits. But it wasn’t until Reign in Blood came out that I discovered Jeff Hanneman had written all my favorite songs and riffs and was an awesome lyricist. It was another turning point. The thing that drew me was the extreme nature of his writing. He had this incredible talent to take aggression and extreme guitar playing and mix it with the catchiest riffs you’ve ever heard. He was a big source of inspiration to me on all levels.
When did you start collecting Hanneman gear?
I’ve been collecting gear and different instrument for years, especially vintage Marshall heads and ESP guitars from the Eighties. During this time, I developed a close relationship with Matt Masciandaro, the president of ESP, and became aware of an auction Jeff’s widow, Kathryn, was going to have. I had the unique opportunity to buy direct from her.
Where do you keep your acquisitions?
I’ve got a renovated property near my house that sits on six acres of land. The first floor is where Broken Hope rehearses and where I have a bunch of memorabilia that I like to call the “Jeff Hanneman Museum.” It has a number of Jeff’s awards and prints of live shots of Jeff rehearsing. In that same room is a vault where I have many of Jeff’s original guitars and Eighties-era ESPs hanging on the racks. There’s also a “Paul Gray Museum.” Paul was a friend who always loved Broken Hope and the two of us would talk frequently. I’m also a fanatic about 1984-86 Metallica and have an impressive collection of horror memorabilia.
I’d really like to display it publicly someday. But I don’t collect just to acquire famous gear or to flip it for profit somewhere down the line. I’m on a mission to respect, honor and carry on the legacy of these guys. That’s why the things I have, especially with Jeff Hanneman, I feel a deep emotional connection to them. Jeff’s widow told me that Jeff would have wanted to have these things played and used. That’s why I used two of Jeff’s guitars on the last Broken Hope album, Mutilated and Assimilated. We also dedicated the entire album to him.
Out of everything you’ve accumulated, what’s your favorite piece?
The number one thing is Jeff’s iconic, punk-rock Jackson Soloist that he acquired around 1987. This guitar is hands-down the most famous guitar in metal. The story was Jackson wouldn’t give Jeff an endorsement. At the time, they were big into only giving free and custom guitars to hair metal bands. Jeff paid about $2,000 for it at the time, stickered it up and used it from the South of Heaven era all the way up until he retired it in 2011.
Can you give us an update on Broken Hope?
This year marked the 30th anniversary of the band and we just came off a month-long tour of Europe. It was a celebration. Right now, I’m in writing mode for the next album and hope to hit the studio again in 2019.
In addition to being a guitarist, you’re also a novelist. What can you tell us about your latest book, Rabid Heart?
I’ve always been a dark-fiction writer. My first book, The Armageddon Chord, was about a guitar player who transcribed songs from different pieces of music. He winds up transcribing one from hieroglyphics that unleashes the apocalypse. My new book, Rabid Heart, is like the movie 28 Days Later meets Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road. There are rabid zombies called cujos, which are the result of a virus the government was using for military purposes. But these aren’t the dead rising from the graves. These are humans that have been transformed into violent, aggressive zombies. The main character discovers her fiancé has the virus and believes she can save him by driving them both to Florida. Along the way, she drives through this hell world of undead and human predators who believe the world is up for grabs. The reviews for it have been great.
What are you most looking forward to about this next phase of your career?
My two biggest passions are guitar and writing. So, I’m looking forward to putting out more Broken Hope albums and new books, including another novel and an authorized bio.
You can check out some of the most noteworthy items in Wagner's collection in the gallery below, with notes from Wagner himself.