So Jim, do you still remember how and when did you get involved in the metal scene and what did you find so interesting in this music?
I don’t know exactly when I started to get in to metal music. I think that I was in my early teens. The metal I started listening to was not thrash or speed metal. That type of metal hadn’t started yet. I listened to the classic metal bands, such as Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Priest, ect. I really enjoyed the songs that were harder and faster than the slower songs. I thinks that is why I ended up getting into thrash and speed metal. That’s when I realized that classic metal wasn’t enough for me. My younger brother Ron, had some friends that were into new bands that I had never heard before. He turned me onto Punk. I really liked the speed and aggressiveness of the music. This eventually got me into thrash and speed metal. I was just getting exposed to this new type of metal music and learning about all of the new bands. Believe it or not, I grew up with Kerry King, and Dave Lomardo of Slayer. We grew up in the same neighborhood, and went to the same schools. My friendship with them obviously introduced me to Slayer’s music and other music like them.
Were you into known, established bands or rather into smaller, underground ones?
I started out listening to established bands, but as my taste developed, I started listening to a lot of underground bands. I liked the underground bands because they didn’t have to conform to commercial expectations. They could play whatever they wanted and say whatever they wanted. No topic was taboo, or unacceptable. This is evident with the advent of satanic lyrics and imagery.
Was Los Angeles a good place to be metalhead?
L.A. was a good place to listen to and be exposed to some great metal music. Some of it was home grown and most was imported from elsewhere. Because we are such a large city, we got a lot of big bands come here to play. We also had some great bands come out of L.A. Metallica started out here in the L.A. area, before they moved to the Bay Area. There was Slayer of course, Agent Steel, Hirax, and the list goes on and on.
How about the bands that started popping up in the early '80s, such as Metallica, Slayer, Shellshock/Dark Angel, Omen, Savage Grace, Abattoir etc.? Were you familiar with these bands and with the underground as a whole?
I was just starting to get exposed to real metal bands at about this time. As I stated before, I got to see a lot of famous bands when they first got started. I remember seeing Slayer play during lunch time at one of the local high schools. They were one of the originators of their genre of metal music. Dark Angel didn’t come around until a few years after Slayer got started.
We had a scene out here that was called the Venice Scene. The bands were mostly from the Venice area of L.A. It included bands like Suicidal Tendencies, No Mercy, Cryptic Slaughter, Excel, and Beowulf. A lot of these bands were crossover bands, which was a cross between metal and punk. Suicidal Tendencies was actually banned from playing any venues in the LA area, because of the extreme violence their fans caused. The bands and their crowds dressed like local Hispanic gang members. Suicidal’s Mike Muir had to play with No Mercy just so he could play in L.A.
It wasn’t really until the mid-80’s when things started to explode around here. Unfortunately, we had to import a lot of bands from other areas so that we could see some good shows. I remember seeing Exodus come down from the Bay Area several times and play some phenomenal shows. They were probably one of my favorite bands. Paul Baloff was a great front man (R.I.P.). This was about the same time I started playing with my high school friend Ernie Espinoza, my Death Force guitarist. Although, we didn’t have a band yet.
Which clubs did start opening their doors for the Metallers? Did you often hang in those clubs?
I didn’t hang out at clubs in particular, I just went to where to good shows were. There were a lot of clubs that catered to the glam rock bands in Hollywood. There was Gazzari’s, The Roxy, The Rainbow, and The Whiskey. These places weren’t necessarily places for the metal crowds to hang out, but it you wanted to see all of the hottest girls in L.A., that’s where you needed to go.
There were a lot of places to play back then. Some of the places were clubs, halls, or auditoriums. Anyplace that would had a stage, and place to put the crowd. At the time, the scene was still new and a lot of the promoters didn’t know what to expect when they booked a metal show, which was to our advantage. The crowds in L.A. were hungry for brutal metal, and there were some raging crowds. There were some great slam pits, and a lot of stage diving. Back then the venue security would let everyone go fucking nuts, it was great. There were a lot of places that only had one or two metal shows before they stopped booking metal bands. Eventually, the number of venues dwindled down to a few. But they had some great bands play. My favorite venue was Fender’s Ballroom in Long Beach, a suburb of L.A. They had some of the best underground bands play there, both metal and punk. There was also the Whiskey (sometimes between glam bands) and the Troubador in West Hollywood, The Waters Club in San Pedro, The Country Club in Reseda, The Woodstock and Radio City in Orange County.
Of course, the glam bands had all of the really cool places to play, but that’s what being commercially acceptable will do for you. They got all of the money, girls, and whatever. But they had to play that glam shit, so the pay off wasn’t worth it for me.
How did you view the glam/hair bands, such as as Ratt, Dokken, W.A.S.P., Mötley Crüe etc.? Were the underground speed/thrash acts overshadowed by them?
Oh God yes, we were overshadowed by all of the glam bands. As I previously stated, they got to play at all of the best venues. They got all of the publicity and all of the record deals. We all started out playing a lot of the same venues, but commercially, things just exploded for them. Underground metal was left in those posers wake. There was a huge rift between the metal crowds and the glam crowds. There was violence between both crowds, each believing that they deserved to be there more than the others. The metal crowds believed that they deserved to be there because they were true to the essence of metal, no posing. A lot of the metal crowds believed that they were in it just for the music, not the image. They hated the glam rockers, because glam was fake, shallow, and just about image. The glam rockers hated metal because the music was just noise to them. A lot of them felt that unless you were a G.I.T. graduate (Guitar Institute of Technology) you weren’t a real musician. G.I.T. was pumping out guitarists that all sounded and looked the same, like cookie cutters. The glam bands were eating these guys up. Which is why, all of the glam bands sounded and looked the same.
At the time, each believed that they were being true to themselves, so how do you fault anyone. I guess it was all for the best, I mean most of us were probably too ugly to wear lipstick and pink tights anyway. The advantage of being into thrash metal was that whatever I wore when I woke up, chances are those were the same clothes I wore on stage. I didn’t have to worry about costumes or wardrobes.
Do you agree with that the L.A. scene was divided into two parts? There were the commercial hair/glam bands and the underground speed/thrash/power ones…
I think that the answer to the previous question pretty much answered this one as well. But yes I do!
At which point did you decide to start singing? What were your influences to become singer?
I always sang at home, mostly in my room along with records of bands that I liked. I was like most kids, I fantasized about being a famous rock star and performing for large crowds. Then I formally got into singing in high school. The singing I did there was nothing like the singing I did later with Death Force and Dark Angel. However, it got me used to performing on stage and learning how to breathe and project my voice. The side effect was that I now speak too loud. I couldn’t whisper to save my life…ha ha!
I ended up being a singer in a band because I wasn’t good enough at playing guitar, and I really wanted to be in a band, and I didn’t care how I had to do it. So I figured that my best bet in getting into a band was to be the singer. So I started to work on figuring out my singing style. I tried many different styles and went with the guttural growl that you hear on the Death Force demo and bootleg tapes with Dark Angel. I thought that my singing style matched well with the thrash metal sound of Death Force. I just kept my own style and used it with Dark Angel. Don Doty had a different style than I did. I didn’t want to change my style to try to make me sound more like Don. So I auditioned singing the way I sang and they seemed to like it and brought me onboard. Other than a little reverb, I did not use any effects on my voice. I did my best, and I hope that people liked it.
Did you start your career with Death Force or were you invloved in other outfits before?
I started my metal career shortly after I got out of high school. Ernie Espinoza, Eddie Morza and I, started playing together when they graduated from high school, which was a year after I graduated. We started out playing cover songs, just to get used to playing with each other. We tried out many different bassists and guitarists, but it wasn’t until we found bassist Jason Gaines and his friend Chris Ingles on lead guitar that we found our band. We all just had the same goals and musical tastes. Up until Death Force, we didn’t have an identity. We hadn’t found a name for ourselves yet. Musically, we were figuring out where we wanted to go.
Do you still remember how and when did the band get together exactly and what about the musical past of the other members? Was Death Force the very first act for all of them?
For the life of me, I can’t remember how we met Jason. I think he was a friend of a friend looking for a band. As I previously stated, Chris was a friend of Jason’s, from school and he introduced him to us. As far as Ernie, Eddie, and myself, this was our first true band. As a matter of fact, we entered the music world together. I can’t say if Jason and Chris were in other bands, I don’t remember.
Did the line up consist of you, guitarists Chris Ingle and Ernie Espinoza, bassist Jason Gains and drummer Eddie Moraza right from the start or did you go through some line up changes?
For some reason, we had a hell of a time trying to find a bass player. For a while, I actually played bass. I wasn’t that good, but I wasn’t that bad either. I held my own, until Jason came around. I actually liked playing bass and singing, and I was getting comfortable doing both. He was a very good bass player and kicked my ass at it. So I bowed out, gracefully of course! Chris was a good guitarist. He had some good solos and filled in the rhythm section quite well. His stage presence needed some work. He didn’t feel real comfortable on stage and it showed. Eddie was a decent drummer rhythmically and he was a powerful hitter. He couldn’t play the double bass that well, as it was still something kind of new. Not like now, where every drummer knocks out those double bass lines in every song. Ernie was a good rhythm guitarist and kept the sound heavy. He really developed a lot throughout the years. At some point, Chris left the band due to some personal issues. We eventually replaced him, but I can’t remember the guy’s name. He didn’t last too long, and one thing led to another, so we just ended up going our separate ways.
Who came up with the name of the band? Who designed the logo?
Jason came up with the name and the logo. Jason was very creative and artistic. He had a wild imagination. One day he came to rehearsal and dropped a bomb on us with the name Death Force. I was a little reluctant at first, because a bands name can make or break a band’s image. So I wanted to be 100% certain the name kicked ass and made the right statement. We all sat around the rehearsal room, and it kept sounding better and better. After a while, we knew that Death Force was the right name for us.
At the time, Jason was still in high school. He was in some graphics arts class doing everything but his schoolwork. This was lucky for us, because he ended up designing and creating our logo. He even made a bunch of stickers and flyers for the band, while in his class. Money was short back then, as with most bands. We scraped up as much money as we could, and bought as many t-shirts as we could afford. Jason then printed up a bunch of band t-shirts for us and our supporters. The shirts were cool, with the logo in front, and our band saying on the back side. It was also one of our song titles “Rage til Death”
Can you tell us more about your rehearsals? Did you start writing originals or did you play mostly covers?
We never really did cover songs for too long. It was only at the very beginning, as we learned to play together. As soon as we could, we started to write original stuff. We weren’t the most prolific song writers, and it took us a long time to write our music. Basically I wrote the lyrics and Ernie, Jason, and Chris wrote the music. We all took part in the music arrangement. I wrote down lyrics any chance I got. Anytime a catchy line or phrase came to me, I would write it down. It didn’t matter where I was. Most times I was at work, doing everything but my work, I would then put some of these lines and phrases together and come up with a song. Other times, I just came up with an idea for a song and put the song together that way. There was no science to it. It was just whatever worked best at the time.
We rehearsed most of the time at Ernie’s house in Paramount. We had to rehearse before his father came home from work. After that, depending on how things were, we might be able to squeeze more rehearsal time in or just quit for the day. Ernie’s dad was cool, and as patient as he could be considering there was a thrash metal band playing in his rear house. We rehearsed as often as we could. Most of us had to work in order to support ourselves, and some of us were going to school too., and I was doing both. In an ideal world, we would have had the time and money to rehearse as often as needed to get our act together, as soon as we could. But how many bands had that kind of luxury. None of the bands I knew.
What were your favourites, your influences? Which bands did have the biggest effect on you?
Like I said earlier, I loved Exodus. I think they were the premier thrash metal band ever. I also liked Possessed, which I had the pleasure of touring with when I was with Dark Angel. In truth, I liked any band that had a heavy, fast sound. Anything that made you want to bang your head and get into the pit. To name a few others, there was Celtic Frost (Morbid Tales), Destruction, Kreator, Agnostic Front, VoiVod, Sodom, Megadeth, and Hirax, ect. As far as my personal influences, I picked a little from her and little from there. I don’t think Death Force sounded like anyone in particular, we were a mix of all types of sounds.
You recorded a three tracks demo featuring „Killer", „The headbanger" and „No penitence" in 1986, do you still remember, how were those songs written?
Those were some of the first songs that we wrote, and so we made those tracks our first demo. We just wanted to get our name out there as soon and as much as we could. We recorded the demo in a small recording studio in the South Bay. We did it in an afternoon, with a producer that wasn’t very good. This was obvious by the way the production sound came off. We were young and inexperienced at the time, so we didn’t know any better. We were just so happy to be in the studio, we didn’t care at the time. If I knew then what I know now, the demo would have sounded a lot better.
The music for the songs was written by everyone. The lyrics were mine. For the song “Killers,” I remembered writing the lyrics with the idea of someone stalking someone and killing them. Not an original concept, but a fun one none the less. For “The Headbanger,” that song was about what we liked to see at our shows, a raging crowd going fucking nuts. Lastly, for ”No Penitence” that song was written after I got fucked over by a girlfriend. It had to do with me getting fucked over by her and then killing her for it. It takes place while I’m sitting on death row awaiting execution. I thought it was a fun way to deal with what had happened.
Can you tell us details regarding on this demo?
After we recorded the demo, we tried to get it out to as many people as we could. We gave it and sold it to whoever wanted it. We probably could have done a better job getting it out there, so we could get more exposure than we did. Hindsight is always 20/20.
Did it succeed for you to make a name for the band and to spread the band's name around?
Not as well as I would have liked.
How many copies did you manage to sell from the demo? What kind of reviews did you get on the demo?
To be honest, I have no recollection how many demos were sold or given, or traded. It’s funny, but at the time, I don’t remember people making too big of a deal about the demo. It wasn’t until years after we broke up that I heard good reviews about it. Oddly enough, not too long ago, I was talking with Rich from Sadistic Intent. Besides being in a Death metal band, he owns a local metal record store, called Dark Realm. It’s in Downey California. It’s a cool place, I recommend everyone to visit it if they get the chance. It might even be online by now. Anyway, he told me that he had just listened to the Death Force demo on his way in to the store. Rich said that he listens to it everyone in a while. I thought that was a great honor, especially after so many years.
How much promotion did you do for the demo? Was it important for you to sell hundreds or thousands from the tape?
No, we just wanted to get our name out there any way we could.
Would you say, that Death Force was one of the hopes/trusts of the thrash scene?
I think that Death Force could have been a very successful thrash metal band. We were getting a really good following and people were getting into us a lot. Had I not left Death Force for Dark Angel, I think we would have achieved great success in the thrash metal scene. Death Force was getting better musically and our writing was getting better too. After I left Dark Angel, I tried to revive Death Force with everyone except for Chris. However, I think that there was some resentment of me for leaving Death Force in the first place. It was never quite the same again. There were many factors involved in the final demise of Death Force, I can offer all sorts of reasons that I think caused it to end, and I’m sure they could offer their reasons for the breakup. But that’s all water under the bridge. I miss those guys and would love to get together for a jam session. I think that would be a blast!
How did you view the developement of the L.A. thrash scene? How about bands, such as Viking, Majesty, Bloodcum, Recipients Of Death, Evil Dead that started the same time as you or a little bit later?
L.A. thrash metal bands never really got the recognition that they deserved. The Bay Area thrash bands like Testament, Violence, Heathen, and the like were getting all of the recognition. The European bands were also huge in the scene. Whenever they came to town, they stirred up a lot of attention.
The L.A metal bands were all good bands, and played some great music. As a matter of fact, I remember Death Force played a show with Viking at the Waters Club. I think it was their very first show at a club. They came on stage dressed like Vikings, with fur and all kinds of crazy shit! I don’t think they ever wore the Viking costumes ever again after that. Each year, new bands started popping up everywhere. Some were outstanding, and others were not so good. Its like with everything, once something starts new, it just multiplies and multiplies. The older bands that stuck around, got better and better. They really took the scene to the next level. Unfortunately, by the end of the 80’s, there wasn’t much a metal scene left. Just as it seemed like some of the bands were starting to get big, the local scene had just about dried up. There were only a few shows here and there.
In my opinion, one of the biggest factors in the demise of the metal scene in L.A. was the “Pay to Play” formula. Basically it went like this. Out here, club promoters no longer paid bands they signed up to play at the clubs. Bands would try to get billed at a club. The band would then have to pay the promoter a set fee to play at the club. In order for the band to recoup their cost to play at the club, they would have to sell their own tickets to the show. The promoter would not spend any money promoting the show. The bands were responsible for their own promotions. This way the club made money and didn’t have to spend any of it on advertising or promotions. It was all left up to each band. The harder you worked the more tickets you sold. At least that was the theory. It really got to be cut throat for all of the bands. Depending on how many bands were on the bill, there would be that many bands all trying to sell their tickets to the same people. It really made it hard, because it took a lot of money just to play regularly. No matter how hard we all tried, it was hard selling enough tickets to each show to get our money back. It wasn’t until you got to be really established that you eventually got paid to perform. Or, you tried to play outside of the LA area. Which wasn’t that easy either, if you weren’t established.
I think the biggest step in your career happened late 1986 when you joined Dark Angel, were they already a well-known, established band at this point?
Yeah, I would have to agree with you. Joining Dark Angel was a huge boost in my music career. I went from an up and coming band to a band with an established fan base. Dark Angel had just released their second album, Darkness Descends. They were planning to go out on tour in support of Darkness Descends. Dark Angel had been around for several years and they had been playing regularly for a while. They were getting on some really big bills, supporting some big acts. They appeared regularly in magazines, and had sold a decent number of copies of We Have Arrived. After I joined Dark Angel, was when I realized just how popular they were. No matter where we played, we were known there, it was great.
Did you consider it a big jump in your career?
Of course it was a huge jump for me. People knew who Dark Angel was. They hadn’t yet had a chance to know who Death Force was. At the time Dark Angel had problems with Don Doty and he ended up leaving the band. Gene Hoglan and Jimmy Durkin were both friends of mine. I invited them to come to one of my Death Force shows. After the show, Gene and Jimmy, asked me if I was interested in auditioning for Dark Angel. They told me that they were about to embark on a North American tour, and asked me if I was interested in joining Dark Angel. That was a very tough decision, because I was very interested in Death Force and the development of that band. It was my music and something I helped create from nothing. On the other hand, here I had an opportunity to join an established band that had a record contract with Combat Records, and was about to go on tour with Possessed. With Death Force there was a chance that things would work out and we would get the recognition that we all wanted. With Dark Angel, it was certain that I would get the recognition that I wanted, because they were already established, in many parts of the world. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the personal recognition that came with being an established musician. I was more interested in getting the chance to perform in front of crowds all over the country. For me, the best part of being a musician was performing live, for an audience that was familiar with your music. Having the audience sing along to your songs, and getting crazy at the same time, that’s what it was all about. Joining Dark Angel was going to give me that opportunity faster than Death Force would have, or might have. I discussed this with the guys in Death Force, because no matter what, I was loyal to them. I let them know what an opportunity this was and how important it was to have their blessing. After some soul searching, I quit Death Force and joined Dark Angel. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out for me with Dark Angel, and I left the band. I wish I could say for sure what had happened with regard to Dark Angel, but truth be told; I don’t know. Things don’t always turn out the way we expect them to. I got a lot of personal satisfaction out of being in Death Force and Dark Angel, back in the days, and still to this date. I have no regrets about my decision, and I appreciated all of the opportunities I had with both bands. I had the chance to experience things that most people only dream of. I was extremely fortunate!
I would like to finish by saying thank you for the opportunity to talk about a part of my life that was very important to me. Especially after so many years of being out of the music business, it is nice to know that there are people still interested in my music and the work I put into it. HAIL METAL!