“They had the potential to be one of their era’s defining bands”: How rising nu metal stars Human Waste Project suddenly disappeared

The band Human Waste Project in 1997
(Image credit: John Eder)

There are many long-forgotten bands from the nu metal era, most of them rightly consigned to fuzzy memories from a bygone time. But amongst the dross of that genre’s C-list there are a few who deserved more – and Human Waste Project are one such example. In fact, they probably didn’t deserve to be considered part of nu metal at all.

Formed in Huntington Beach, California, in 1993 by bassist Mike Schartoff, Human Waste Project went through various lineups before settling on drummer Scott Ellis, guitarist Mike Tempesta and body-piercing studio employee Aimee Echo on vocals.

It was actually thanks to Aimee’s day job that the band managed to get a headstart: the singer pierced the eyebrow of Korn frontman and scene legend Jonathan Davis. A friendship was struck up between the pair, and soon Human Waste Project were finding themselves on bills with much respected Cali artists of the era, from Deftones to Sublime. Davis often even joined the up-and-comers onstage to help cover This Town by The Go-Go’s.

Despite coming through in an area and at a time when the first wave of nu metal bands were beginning to rise up, Human Waste Project had very little in common musically with peers like Snot, Coal Chamber, Hed PE or Static-X. Although the riffs were unquestionably groovy and metallic, Echo brought a sense of pop melody that was completely lacking in the movement at that time. 

Echo spoke passionately about her love of artists such as PJ Harvey and ’80s new wave music. Thanks to that, along with her diminutive frame and being a blonde from California, she was often likened to No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani, one of the breakthrough crossover stars of the time. Regardless of the accuracy of such a comparison, it was evidence Human Waste Project were far from your standard contemporary metal fare.

Eventually, the band met famed producer and “godfather of nu metal” Ross Robinson, who was impressed enough to help craft the demo that saw Human Waste Project signed to Universal Music subsidiary Hollywood Records: home of Queen, Dolly Parton and… erm… Insane Clown Posse.

“June 16, 1996,” Echo told Kerrang! in 1998. “We were supposed to sign the day before in New York, but we had so much champagne celebrating that we totally forgot.”

Afterwards, Human Waste Project entered Indigo Ranch Studios with Robinson to create what would be their debut album, E-Lux. Released in the US on September 30, 1997, there were initially no plans by Hollywood to extend the release out into Europe. It was an… odd decision, considering that the band’s reputation had already made it across the pond.

Human Waste Project were added as openers to Coal Chamber’s European tour of late 1997 and there seemed to be equally as much excitement about them as there were the headliners. A full London Astoria enthusiastically greeted the support act on December 15. Despite opening early for both Coal Chamber and Swedish rap metal crew Clawfinger, they comfortably stole the evening. 

Five days later, the quartet’s debut single, Powerstrip, reached number 85 on the UK singles chart. Sure, it wasn’t a huge hit – but, considering the lack of push in Europe from Hollywood, it was a mightily impressive feat.

When E-Lux did finally get a UK release on March 2, 1998, the reviews were glowing. Kerrang!’s Paul Brannigan said that Echo was “HWP’s gutsy voice and beating heart” in his four-star review. He also noted that the band were “more eclectic than most of their L.A. peers” and praised their “ability to switch styles, tempos and moods – and this, coupled with Echo’s charisma, makes them one of the hottest bands around… 1998 might just be their year.”

Sadly, it wasn’t.

Just after E-Lux came out, Human Waste Project were added to the bill at the inaugural UK Ozzfest at Milton Keynes Bowl on June 20, 1998, alongside Black Sabbath, Ozzy himself, Foo Fighters, Slayer and more. Echo claimed that it was “all anybody could talk about” in the build-up to the show. 

That day should have been a coronation. However, despite playing a fantastically well received set, Echo thanking Coal Chamber for taking them out on a US tour just prior to Ozzfest so they could finance the trip and then getting the audience to scream “Fuck Hollywood Records!” hinted that all was not well.

As rumours began to swell around the music scene that Hollywood had dropped Human Waste Project and that Echo was growing tired of being grouped in with the ultra-macho nu metal scene, the band played their last show at The House Of Blues in L.A. on July 8, 1998. There was no big statement, no real explanation – the stars just vanished. In their place, Echo started the far more poppy, new wave-influenced The Start, who have been releasing music ever since.

Their time in the limelight may have been brief and they may have been mischaracterised into a scene that they didn’t truly align with. Yet, for a moment, Human Waste Project really did feel like they had the potential to be one of their era’s defining bands. The fact that E-Lux still sounds fantastic 25 years on says it all. Fuck Hollywood Records indeed.

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.