2010. szeptember 10., péntek

Early '80s Los Angeles thrash/speed history - Abattoir - Mark Caro

So Mark, to start this feature, I would like curious to know, how did you discover metal music?
Really by way of my friend and Abattoir band mate Mel Sanchez. He was more open to the heavier music than I was early on, and was liteneing to music ike GBH etc, before most of us even knew who they were. So, Mel brought me up to speed, no pun, on a lot of the music that became influential in Abattoir style.
What did you find so exciting in this music? What was the attraction of this music?
At fisrt it was the power it projected, after that, it was that it intimidated other bands that just labeled us a a punk band, then when Meallica, broke, just like that, we were instantly labeled a speed metal band..LOL! -
Was your goal at the age of 14/15 to become metal musician? When did you decide to be metal musician? What were your influences to be metal musician?
At 14 / 15, my goal / dream was to make my living at playing music, and at that time bands like Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin,etc, were king, so metal was not in my mind at all. – Honestly, playing metal just came as Abattoir evolved into a metal project. It was nothing planned on my part.
How did your choice fall on the guitar? Did/do you play perhaps other instruments as well?
Candidly, I tried the drums at first, but I couldn’t quite find the coordination. My older brother started playing my drums and was instantly so much better than me that I lost confidence and quit. I just gave him my drums. I tried the guitar and discovered that it was a perfect fit for me.
Were you self-taught or…?
My Dad started me off with the basic chords and after that, yes, 100% self taught.
Was it easy to get those times good quality guitars, strings, equipments, amplifiers etc.?
This is good question – On amplifiers, today’s amps are much better in my opinion, but back then, the guitars were better than today’s, unless you are willing to pay half a years salry for a custom built piece.
Abattoir were around since 1978 in one form or another, but they truly got their start when after a video shoot of „I Love it Loud”, KISS’s Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley gave Mel Sanchez and Juan Garcia a one-hour clinic on music business, is that correct?
Yes, this is correct. I was not there when that happened, but the story goes Paul and Gene explained how music was a business and gave them a few pointers; not sure what they were, but I do remember from that point on they both had a very business centric attitude with Abattoir and their future musical projects.
When was the band formed exactly?
Right around 1977 or 78.
Who came up with the name of the band?
Mel came up with the name.
Did soon Abattoir become one of the most remarkable early speed metal bands?
It wasn’t real soon after that, but by 1983 Abattoir had built a pretty nice buzz in the Los Angeles music scene, but real lift-off came right after the release of the ’Screams from the Grave’ demo that Bill Metoyer recorded at Track Recording Studio.
The line up was consisting of Mel Sanchez (b), Mark Caro (g), Rawl Preston (v), Juan Garcia (g) and Robert Wayne (d), do you still remember how did you get together? Was Abattoir the very first band for all of you or…?
The line up on the ’Screams’ Demo featured Ron Gonzales on drums; not Robert Wayne. This line up was the one we used going into the all original phase of the band. Ron left shortly after to form his own band called Commander. Robert Wayne, was a local guy that Juan recruited after Ron’s departure. Mel, Juan and I all knew each other from High School and Raul was a friend of Mel’s cousin that came down to audition and simply blew us away. He was that good. His voice and image was a great fit for the band.
You started to play your first gigs in 1982, what do you recall of the very first gigs?
Was it 1982? I take it you are referring to our all original lineup, right? Whatever year it was, the first show was at the Icehouse in Pasadena, CA and came off pretty well. I response to the new music was exactly what we had hoped for. The next after the Icehouse was on a Wednesday night at the Troubadour in Hollywood, CA. That was on August 3rd, my birthday and that show sold out. A sell out on a weeknight was unusual and made the club owner take notice, resulting to us getting a weekend slot by our next show. At that point, we knew we had something own that was special.
What was your setlist like? I mean both originals and covers or…?
At the point where we transitioned to all originals, covers where cut from the set, with the exception of ’The Ace of Spaces’. Other than the all the songs on Vicious Attack, I think we played a few songs off the Only Safe Place, like ’Hammer of the Godz’ and ’Back to Hell.’ We also did a song called ’City Turned Metal’ that was never recorded by Abattoir. I think may have played B.O.H.I.C.A. now and then too. I believe Evil Dead tracked that one.
What about the L.A scene at this point? Were you familiar with bands, that started trying its wings at the same time as you, such as Metallica, Shellshock, Slayer, Omen, Armored Saint, Sceptre, Vermin etc.?
Yes, you are right. It was a watering hole for some of the 80’s biggest metal acts. It was a non-stop record label signing party. Once the scene dies, Hollywood was like a ghost town. It hasn’t been the same since. Armored Saint were local to us and so we saw them at party’s and clubs. Slayer were also local to us, but I never saw them too much other than at the clubs and although I probably met them, Kerry was the only one I actually said more than a couple words to because he played guitar with Dave Mustaine with Megadeth when we opened for them went up to San Francisco, Dave’s first trip up there after leaving Metallica. We hung out with the guys from Metallica up there on that trip. Mel was real good at staying on top of who was who in the metal scene so, we knew who pretty much all the established, and up and coming acts were.
You etched your mark on the developing Los Angeles metal circuit alongside bands like W.A.S.P., Malice, Bitch, and Slayer, right?
This is true. I think W.A.S.P. were pretty much the act that I looked forward to playing with the most. Chris Holmes was a huge guitar influence of mine, so any chance to play on the same bill with him, was another opportunity to hang out and learn from his vast musical and business experience, and he was a super great person as well. Other than Edward Van Halen, Randy and Jimmy Page, no other guitar player had a greater influence on my playing and approach to playing the guitar than Chris Holmes.
Was Abattoir the really first metal act or did you play earlier in several acts?
Well, I can’t account for every region in the USA, but around southern Californina 1983, I don’t know of any bands that were playing the brand of metal that Abattoir was. I’m not sure what year Bloodlust broke, but they had a pretty good style of metal.
Would you say, that Abattoir was one of the first speed/thrash LA outfit?
Yes, Without a doubt.
Was it hard to find back then in LA the most suitable members for a speed/thrash band?
Yes, but its tough finding suitable members in any music genre or any business for that matter. It’s so difficult to get any group of musicians to stay on the same page for any real length of time. To have any real chance for success in music, its like any business, you need a strategic plan, structure and discipline. Even at that, its very challenging. I found that very few musicians were willing to buy into this business first way of thinking. Mel, Juan and Steve are very much business first thinkers.
What do you think about that the L. A. scene was divided into two parts? There were the underground thrash/speed outfits and the glam/hair ones and the underground outfits were overshadowed by the glam ones? Were these commercial acts more popular and known than the speed/thrash ones?
You are correct on this. Very often the two genres clashed at times. In the begining I think that glam did dominate for the most part, as they had pretty good sales generated from their albums, but as Metallica’s record sales increased, glam sort of took a back seat to the heavy brand of metal and eventually the whole scene just died out.
Actually, this worked out ok for the most part because the seasoned promoters like Gina Zamperelli who booked some of the best, most memorable shows at Perkins Palace and Mike who booked shows at the Troubador, had a good feel for the genre’s and followings of the bands and rarely mixed them on the bills. Once and while the genres were accidentally booked on the same show and it candidly, it never really ended well. But, for the most part, there was room for everyone and the majority of any disputes where just part of healthy competion between bands of both genres.
Which clubs did start opening their doors? Were there clubs both for the thrash/speed bands and for the glam/hair ones or…?
If my memory serves right, at first most clubs booked both glam and Metal, but because most metal shows resulted in thrashing/moshing pits, the clubs began booking more glam shows, probably cornered about the liabilty and safetly issues. One club that booked pretty much both was the Troubador. Mel pretty much plotted the circuit of clubs that we’d be playing. Gazzaris was what we did as we were writing originals and playing covers, and once we launch the all original phase of the plan, it was the Icehouse, to the Troubadour, the Country Club and the Roxy, mostly. All the bands shared the clubs, and the really smart and successful concert promoters back then, like Gina Zamperelli, did a pretty good job for the most part to make sure that the hard core music crowds weren’t mixed with the more glam crowds.
What about your early rehearsals? Did you strive writing originals or were you jamming mostly on covers?
Early on all covers. Mel had a good feel for what songs and bands to cover. We were doing some cool covers from bands like Riot, Saxon, AC/DC, The Scorpions, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, cool stuff like that. I mean, now, it must not sound like any big deal, but back then, NOBODY was doing that stuff, so it really did sort of clear a path for where the band was heading.
You recorded your first demo titled „Original Abattoir” in 1983 featuring „Screams from the grave” and „Vicious attack”, can you tell us details regarding the tape? How was it recorded at all?
It was recorded at Track Recoring Studio, in Hollywood. I think that was one of Brian Slagel’s (Owner of Metal Blade Records) flagged studios for his Metal Massacre bands. We went in to record ’Screams from the Grave’ for the Metal Massacre compilation. Our manager asked us to record Vicious Attack at the same time so we could send it out to as a demo. Bill Metoyer was the engineer at that session and I was so glad. He is one of the best engineer/producers I ever worked with to this day. It all went pretty smooth. And when a thief was shot dead police, outside the back of the studio, during the tracking of ’Screams for the Grave’, after he robbed a local liquor store, the tone was clearly set for everything going forward..(laughs)
Would you say, that ABATTOIR's sound was maturing from performing covers to writing original material as band leader Mel Sanchez became highly influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (N.W.O.B.H.M); a firm decision was made to forge ahead as a full blown Heavy Metal band?
Well, that’s exactly right. It all fell into lace and was a naturals progression from the influence of British Metal. And, you can hear the influences clearly on the first record. You are right on the money. As I spent all my efforts polishing my chops as a guitar player, Mel brainstormed the direction of the group. So, as the sound became heavier and faster, our writing styles (Mel and I) seemed to contrast more and more. For example, as you listen to “Screams from the Grave”, you’ll hear clearly Mel’s Motörhead influence as compared to “The living and the Dead” which reflects an Accept driving sound, a band I really grew fond of at that time.
Did you put on the demo only two tracks, because you haven’t more material or…?
No, we had budgeted recording for two songs.
Was it shopped around to attract label interests? Through which channels did you start promoting the demo?
I think our Manager, Rico, shopped it around a little, but mostly it was sent to magazines and radio stations, you know, the usual promotion channels.
The demo was engineered by Bill Metoyer at the Track Studios, does it mean that it was your first studio experience?
That was my first true studio experience, I’m not sure about the others. Juan and I spent some good hours planning our parts out, from the rhythms, to leads to layering – all that fun stuff. We were ready and pretty much got exactly what we envisioned in the final product. He was the best studio engineer and producer I have ever worked with to this day. So, my initial recording experience was very positive and then as time went on, I got to see more of the bad side of the studio experience.
Did the demo open some doors for the band in L. A. area?
It really did. I had a feeling about it too because when we played it for people we knew I could see their faces turn pale, then for the most part, their reaction was always the same ” You guys are going to make it, no doubt about it”. What a feeling to be around all that. It was an awesome experience. Then, all of a sudden folks treated you different, then came the groupies and all of a sudden, we were living the life of rock n roll, and all that comes with it. Some radio airplay, a ton of fan response worldwide; it was a huge catalyst for us.
The thrash/speed scene started with „Kill em all” of Metallica and „Show no mercy” of Slayer, in your opinion, if these records wouldn’t have released back then, wouldn’t have been any thrash/speed scene?
This is great question. I do think that thrash metal was going to emerge regardless of who it was that received credit for breaking it to a wider audience. Mel sort of showed me during that era how certain groups were getting heavier and faster before anyone ever heard of Metallica and Slayer. So, I am convinced it was a logical and natural progression of the genre.
How much, how great effect have SLAYER and METALLICA had on the thrash/speed scene as a whole?
Lets put it this way, both acts have clearly established their own place in Thrash Metal history, and on own accord. Metallica however, are receiveing credit for clearing the trees and the brush in the jungle, a pathway if you will, for all that endeavored to play thrash to a wider audience. - They’ll be know for that.
You debuted live at the Troubadour, what do you recall of that show?
I remember it was Wednesday night and it happened to fall on my birthday. The club managers were blown away and happy because we had sold the place out on a weeknight. It was the only weeknight we played at the Troubador. – It could be looked at as the commencement of Abattoir’s assault on the music industry.
The band generated a strong following by constantly performing live at the Troubadour in Hollywood and even traveled North to San Francisco to support the newly formed Megadeth on a bill that also included Trouble and that was Megadeth’s first show, that took place February 15th and 18th, 1984, wasn’t it?
I think that is correct, again, I’m not good with dates. But yes, that was the idea. Mel’s idea was to play shows, but good shows. We rarely played, just to play. Every show had to make sense. Meaning, it was either a good bill, or a headlining show at a good venue. This strategy worked pretty well as the following grew fast and steady. Right around there yes. Being a sort rookie to the metal scene, having the opportunity to go north with Dave Mustaine was a huge advantage. Dave was a person I grew a great respect for. He had a keen grasp for all the major aspects of the music business, writing, publishing, preparation, strategies, in addition to being a superb guitar player. And he was willing to share his knowledge, unlike others in this business. Back then I think I looked at Dave Mustaine as pioneer of sorts in thrash having been the main songwriter for Metallica. To have the opportunity to play shows up in Northern California where the scene was pretty darn good and where Dave was considered to be God, was more than I could have hoped for at that time. The shows were amazing and it taught me a lot about true thrash metal fans and how the expectations were more about musical substance than a flavor of the month stage presence and smoke and mirrors stage antics.
As I as know, they played with Kerry King on those shows, is that correct?
Yes. I think Dave’s Megadeth was at its very best when Kerry was in the band. He just fit. He had a style and chemistry that to me, just fit. Too bad he wasn’t able to do both projects. I think about that time both Slayer and Megadeth were on pace to get really busy with touring and recording, so it would have been real tough for Kerry to that pull off.
After receiving lots of airplay on KMET's Friday night radio show „The Mighty Metal Hour” the band started to generate a buzz within the music industry, correct?
Wow, yes, this was a very key element to our ascendance. This huge commercial radio station, KMET, was clearing air time, in prime party time, on Friday nights! This show called „The Might Metal Hour”, hosted by the legendary Jim Ladd was pumping Ratt, Malice, Armored Saint, Queensryche, Abattoir, Dio, Iron Maiden, Riot, I mean really cool stuff...! First time I heard ’Screams from the Grave’ on the radio I was freaked out. I thought I was dreaming..(laughs). A lot of the bands on that show got signed, including us. I’d say, all these bands owe Jim Ladd a debt of gratitude for his part in the eruption of the Heavy Metal movement.
Typical line up changes happened in the early days which lead John Cyriis (John Syriis at the time) (later Agent Steel) into the band, how did he get in the picture exactly? Why did Rawl Preston leave the band?
Well, best as I can recall, Raul had just fell out of love with the Abattoir and wanted to try something else. John was somebody Juan brought in to take a crack at the vocals and he got in. He didn’t last long, but he got in. No one knows for certain why. The reason at the time was that the band had gone a little heavier than he wanted. Candidly, to this day it’s a bit frustrating to speculate, as all the components for a powerhouse metal act were right there and he just walked away from it. Musicians don’t get many chances at the brass ring in this business and when you experience something like this, a straight up wasted opportunity, it’s very hard to let it go and move on, very hard indeed. It still haunts me to this day.
John left Sceptre to join Abattoir, correct? Was he the first choice of the band or…?
Mel and Juan wanted him in I think Rico, Ron and I were sort of just crossing our fingers. John came in to audition and sort of did his best Halford impression and Mel gave him the thumbs up. This was not a good fit for Abattoir, and it ended up setting us back a bit, but launched a new super metal band; Agent Steel. It didn’t take long to find out the guy was an ego – big mistake.
This line up produced a new 2 track demo tape, was it a better representation of the band? What about this tape as a whole?
It wasn’t a new demo, but yeah, John Cyriss demanded that we put his vocals on the demo and erase Raul’s. He was very insecure and lets just leave it at that. A very insecure request and what was to be a huge red flag for ugly things to come with this guy.
How did you end up performing on the „Metal Massacre IV.” sampler? Was it a good opportunity to draw more fans attention to the band?
I think it was Juan that set that up. I think he met Brian Slagel at the Troubador or something like that. That’s what the purpose of the demo was. So that demo got a lot of milage. It was distributed worldwide, so the folks outside the USA got to hear our music. Our fan mail stated to have European postmarks.. .!!. It was very cool.
How did you feel being on the record?
It was the first time I was on vinyl and it was a compilation, so I got hear what the competion was out there. It felt amazing, but in the back of my mind, it wasn’t a touchdown it was more like a field goal. The objective was a full LP release on a decent record label, but again, I appreciated what had transpired and could appreciate things were moving in the right direction.
Do you agree with, that Brian Slagel was a great supporter of the underground back then and with the help of this compilation he introduced a lot of band for the fans?
I agree with that, and would say Brian had great vision. I don’t know Brian, but I sure did respect what he accomplished. Some really good acts came out from his bullpen of Metal Blade talent. Brian was a key player in launching the careers of some of the great acts in metal music. Brian is a legend!
Cyriis made the switch from guitarist in Sceptre to the new Abattoir vocalist, how did that happen?
My guess is that he just wanted to sing, and he you know what, he had some fans that liked his vocals too. Anyway, I’ve heard him play guitar and I think he made the right descision. Well, for one, his guitar skills no match against mine. So, he had little choice, if he wanted to play in Abattoir, it was a front man role. But to be honest, I’m not sure what was going on in his mind. I’m not sure I wanted to know. John was a decent vocalist, but I like Bruce Hall way more.
This valuable exposure led to support slots to W.A.S. P. and Metallica at the Country Club in Reseda, California, how do you remember that gig?
The shows were all cool in their own way. All were sold out shows and high profile. At shows of this caliber, we could get our in front of a lot of new people, and industry folks, and get all the perks that came with being one Southern California ’s best bands. The Metallica, Armored Saint show was real cool. There was a lot of buzz on that show because Metallica was blowing up huge and Armored Saint was on their way, and a local favourite. The bad part, is that our drummer left the band just as the show was booked, so we had to break in Robert Wayne and he sort of blew it on some songs. If anyone noticed, I’m not sure, but it was still a cool show.
Every gig was pretty remarkable. Every show got better and better. I tell this story more than I should, but the most memorable moments for me was when Chris Holmes, whom was a huge guitar influence to me, played Humble Pie’s “I don’t need no Doctor” with Abattoir at the Troubadour. For just a few minutes, I knew how the members of WASP felt to play with a monster performer and talent like Chris. And as far as a humble and kind person, they don’t come better than Chris Holmes.
Did Cyriis’ voice/performance fit better to Abattoir’s music than Raul’s?
Hell no. Raul’s voice was a perfect fit! He certainly wasn’t our worst singer, but lets just say, he was meant to be the singer of Agent Steel, he had no business ever being in Abattoir. The John Cyriis era was actually a nightmare. He was not looking out for the best interest of Abattoir, the band, only his own and we’ll leave it at that.
At one point was Rich Deathcamp the singer too, wasn’t he? Have you ever recorded with him some material?
Yeah, we got Rich in the studio, but management didn’t feel his vocal performances were a good fit and released him. Too bad, he was a great performer live.
Soon after releasing the song „Screams From The Grave” on Metal Blade’s „Metal Massacre 4” sampler the band already fell apart for a short period of time, because John and Juan went on to form Agent Steel while you and Mel Sanchez reformed Abattoir in late 1984, what happened exactly?
I’m not sure it was exactly like that. It really fell apart during the recording of Vicious Attack. From what I remember, John Cyriis had been going around telling everyone that Juan was planning to leave Abattoir and launch Agent Steel with him. I don’t remember beaing all that concerned, because I had no control over whether Juan stayed or not. Anyway, guitar players were readily available and whats the point in anyone staying in a situation where they were not happy, right? Unfortunately, I seem to remember all this all led to some kind of blow up with our producer and Juan in the studio. The way I saw it, Juan wanted to lead his own band and he would not be able to do this in Abattoir. Mel called all the shots in Abattoir and although I didn’t always agree with all his decisions, he still had all my confidence back then. So naturally Juan would have to go elsewhere if he wanted full creative and business control. So he did. Look, Juan just wanted out, and more power to him. So, all the backstabbing between Juan and Abattoir, all the lies, and all the deception, eventually it led to a big blow up with Juan and the band. And then, he was gone. It all ended up for the best. He has had great success on his own and Danny Oliverio and I became great friends. I have great respect for Danny’s guitar playing. Check him out in the new Anger As Art CD, ’Disfigure’. Danny plays his ass off on that CD. Anyway, it all worked out ok. Juan and I still talk once on a while and there are no ill feeling that I am aware of.
You recorded a single in 1984 featuring „The game of death” and „Stronger than evil”, what about this material as a whole?
I really don’t recall this at all. Are you sure about this?
It was a self financed pressing before the first album came out, correct?
Oh are you talking about the demo that ended up being Vicious Attack? I believe that was financied in part by our Manager, Rico and Jay Jones the Megadeth producer and manager.
The band got signed by Combat Records in the United States, how did you get in touch with them? Were there still other label interests in the band at this point?
The funny thing is we got a deal at the same time Megadeth did. We had the same Producer, Jay Jones, and he shopped us together. I’m not sure if there were a lot of labels interested, but I think our manager did a good job getting our music in front of all the right people. Combat was it and we signed.
Did Combat ask you to record a preproduction material, a demo or whatever?
The music was all recorded. Jay jones helped finance the demo that got us signed. That demo is what became Vicious Attack.
As for the line up, Danny Annaya was brought in as the new drummer replacing Robert Wayne; the band was brought up to strength with the addition of vocalist Steve Gaines and guitarist Danny Oliverio, what about their musical background?
Starting with Danny Oliverio, he was a local player and we were familiar with his playing. From the time he walked in to audition, I knew he was a good fit. Danny-O was a real pro with tons of talent. Those two elements are still a big part of who he is today a well. He came in and had most of Juan’s parts all learned. We never looked back. Danny Anaya was recommended by someone and Mel liked him, so he landed the gig. I never knew Danny Anaya very well, so I can’t say much on him at all. With him, it was just band business and not much more than that. Now Steve Gaines, he was always one of Los Angeles’ best singers and we were lucky to get him. Realistically, he should have been signed with a major label act already, but some things are meant to be and we got him. And to this day, his voice is the signature sound of Abattoir.
At which point did you enter the studio to record your debut album „Vicious attack”? Were you prepared to record the material?
It was the demo that got pressed. We shopped the 8 song demo to Important Distribution and Combat picked it up and distributed it through Important.
Did you have a decent budget considering the recordings?
Well, you know the story on Vicious attack, no budget obviously because it was a demo, but the second release we finally had our first decent recording budget.
How did the recordings sessions go with the record?
Well, we were on a budget so we had to have out stuff down, no wasting time. I think for what we had to work with time wise, we got some ok performances on tape.
Do you agree with, that Steve Gaines got a great range and puts out a decently aggressive performance, and his shrieks fit perfectly?
Absolutely, once Vicious Attack was released, Steve received the credit and attention he deserved. Incidentally, he was also an outstanding musician and writer. So, he gave the band a great lift there too.
How do you view, that Danny Oliverio and you steal the show quite often with your incredible guitar work, and pretty original too; tons of fast and catchy riffs to be heard here, layered with solo's and the solo's are razor sharp and brilliant?
Thank you so much – That really means a lot because Danny and I set out to give the people a great show. So to hear this makes all the hard work and time we put in to it very much worth while.
Are the drums executed nicely as well, and keeps the demand for speed flowing?
I think so, on Vicious Attack anyway. On „The Only Safe Place”, not so much.
Does „Vicious Attack” basically have everything that one wants in a speed metal album; speedy riffs, outstanding vocals, and godly solos and this delivers it all, in songs that aren’t repetitive at all or feel long?
Thats great that you picked up on that because there was an intent in Abattoir to get a punch in your face and then get out in our music. Outside of that we tried to insert a hook of some kind in each song.
Is musically „Vicious Attack” raw thrash metal, roughly recorded and delivered with an almost punk like attack, while the execution is quite tight?
I think once the writing was going, it just turned out that way as all the musical influences sort of all came together. I had almost no punk influences, but I had Iron Maiden influence and they had a puck style now and then early on. So maybe thats where some of that comes from. But really, after I saw Dave Mustaine and Fallen Angel, or what is now Megadeth, I really was inspired by Speed Metal. It was a turning point for me in my writing at that time.
It is fitting that the band does a cover of Motorhead’s „Ace of Spades" as this release certainly has a heavy Motorhead influence, right?
For Sure. Mel was heavily into Motorhead at that time and it was only fitting that that would go on the first record.
Is it correct, that rumours have it that when Lemmy heard the Abattoir version he wanted to recruit you for Motörhead?
I had hear this rumor too. I was playing at my best at this time and really tons of bands were asking me to join on with them. I had never considered any other opportunity other than playing for Ozzy. I think if I had auditioned, I easily landed that gig and I would have taken it. Outside of that, I stayed loyal to Abattoir.
Was it unambigous for you to cover the song? How did your choice fall on this tune at all?
It was Mel that advised on this I believe, but not really certain. Mel was very into Motorhead at that time.
The riffs, however, are pure thrash, while the slightly more melodic vocals with variations between high screams and raspier grunts help the band to bridge a gap between speed metal and thrash, what do you think about it?
Again, you really caught something here. (laughs) All of what you mentioned is what set us aprt in many respects and Steve was so darn smart on how he used his vocals. His vocals became like another instrument to not only lay out a vocal melody, but compliment the music overall. I really appreciated that on Vicious Attack.
Is the songwriting all pretty solid?
Absolutely. We spent a lot of time going over parts – tons of pre-production and re-writes until we all agreed it was where it needed to be.
How do you view, if these songs had been recorded slightly better, without losing the edge they would have even been better?
Great question.. I think we could have done it way better.. I mean way better. But we had no say in the matter. Remember, back then not everyone got a album pressed and with worldwide distribution. So, we didn’t make a fuss we agreed and shut our mouth.
In your opinion, were you certainly one of the forgotten gems of the first wave of thrash metal to come out of California?
I think there is some truth there. Although, even up to the break up on „The Only Safe Place”, I felt there was a chance we could make some record label a ton of money.
Originally the material was recorded as a demo, but Combat Records loved the raw, vicious sound so much they released it like it was, does it mean, that you didn’t change anything on the songs? How did it happen exactly?
That would be the more sexy way of looking at it, my opinion was that Combat didn’t want to spend any money to re-record the material.
Despite you and Danny Olivero being listed as guitarists, it was actually Agent Steel’s Juan Garcia who recorded this album, wasn’t he?
Yes, Juan tracked some guitar parts on ’Vicious Attack’ and and Danny tracked some guitar on ’The Only Safe Place’. What a mess and confusion this turned into. The fact that Juan was not credited on the record created alot of problems going forward and lasted for many, many years. This is good lesson to the young folks, never let emotions get in the way of business decisions...in a crisis, step back until your are calm before making a decision - that my friends, is a good advice..
The timing was great, since in that year came out classics, such as „Hell Awaits”, „Long live the loud”, „Seven Churches”, „Skeptics apocalypse”, „Infernal overkill” etc., how do you view it?
It was a sernegy of events that created this Metal explosion and we just happen to be in the thick of it. Sometimes its better to have good timing than a good plan.
Did the great thrash/speed metal boom start at this point?
I’m not sure if this is where it started, but I can recall this is when the local promoters and record execs took notice and began to smell money.. if that is not too crude a statement..
What were the shows in support of the record?
Shows? I can’t remember that far back, then I can tell you this, all were local to the states, meaning, we did not go to Europe.
After the album came out, Steve Gaines departed to join Bloodlust; his replacement was ex-Heretic singer Mike Towers, did you take part with Steve on a friendly term at the end?
Well, all these singer changes were bullshit and the folks that made those member change decisions really hurt the band in the end.... hey, there was little I could do about it and it is very hard to maintain friendly terms with folks that depart and go their way because there is a lot of hurt feelings, egos and competition in the music business as it is..and for many, it not just business, it god damn personal..and some take any slights all the way to their graves...with Steve, I think it was mostly good terms back then. I remember recording on his Tactics demo..I think it was Tactics..I was great fun! -but, make no mistake, Steve and I have had our differences and at least on my end, to date, I have nothing but respect for Steve and thats all I can control in that regard... he’s a real talented musician and writer. I think of Steve as friend but I can’t say the same for all the Ex-Abbatoir members..but no worries; life goes on.
How did you find Mike Towers? Were there perhaps other singers in mind as well?
The management ran with those decisions, but I think once these guys had their mind made up, it was Mike all along..at least that’s what I think. I didn’t seem to remember there being a whole lot of singers that where there waiting to jump in for an audition..so, that Towers got the gig, was probably a deal done without my knowing about it..then it was like, guess what, here is our new singer..and I was like who the hell is Mike Towers and who the hell is Heretic? And we need him why??
Did Mike have a great hand into the songwriting?
Nope, some lyric changes here and there..but that’s why Mike left after TOSP, he wanted to go write Pop -commercial rock stuff like Cinderella style rock.. decisions have consequences...choosing Mike killed the band.
What about the recording sessions of the album?
The recording sessions were so different because we were working with a producer that had a vision for the band that in the end didn’t work out well fur us. I know there were folks that came up to me and asked what the hell were we thinking when we recorded TOSP? Should I bury my head in the sand about it? Maybe, but to learn from it is better...
Do you agree with, that the emphasis on speed and innovation is still definitely there, but at the same time it does feel like a very different side of the band, that maybe its the new vocalist who led these changes?
Mel was sort of the compass of the Abattoir sound in that where I was willing to let some things go more commercial, he was not..and he was having personal problems at the time, so the band sound really changed not only because he wasn’t there to direct, but the vocalist was limited on time to prepare and he was not as good a fit as the decision makers thought.
The vocals aren't bad at all, and the chorus’s here are as catchy as ever, but Mike lacks the aggression and originality that Gaines had, the vocal style is of the standard thrash/speed metal fare, with variations between higher screams and raspier thrash vocals, what’s your opinion about it?
I’m in agreement with that. And to your point, Wouldn’t it makes sense for Manangement to want to get those things you mentioned resolved before bringing a new guy in at a critical time for Abattoir? But, the guys that made the decision to get Mike are at fault and I’ll leave it at that.
Would you say, that while „Vicious Attack” was an almost thrash metal oriented album his follow up „The Only Safe Place”, showed the band from a more melodic side best described as speed metal on the border to power metal?
Yes, some of that, but also, that a producer with no real experience maybe should not have been given our follow up record as his fuckin laboratory experiment! As everybody knows, the tremendous influence having the right producer has on the success of a record. Look, again, Mel was out with his problems and up to that point, although I was a founding member, my role in Abattoir was to be a bad-ass guitar player and not much else. So when it came to stepping into Mel’s role of laying the hammer down, I fell short and I do take responsibility to a some degree, but not 100% of it. My primary responsibility was to lay down guitar tracks that would help the album sound good and I think I succeeded in that. But, how the end result of the sound, production, whatever, got fucked up, EVERYONE had some part of the blame, some for making bad choices that caused them to not be there at a pivital time for Abattoir, and others for contributing to the god damn mess, while being there.
Do you find the production is superior to the debut and the production is a step up from the previous album, and the songwriting is more developed, compared to the first album?
No,the production had to sound better because Vicious Attack was essentially a demo pressed as a album. But, I always wanted the follow up to be on parr with the legenday records of that era, such as ’Ride the Lightning’, ’Hell Awaits’, you know, TOSP, should have landed the band a major record deal, but all it did was destroy all the momentum we had built off of Vicious Attack.
Is another major improvement the length of the album?
I’m not sure the amount of music time on the record meant too much, because in my mind at least it was never a thought at all. I wanted more songs, but good songs that contribute to our catalog in a positive way.
Have the raw power you had on „Vicious Attack” is a bit lost here?
And there you have the producer. I assure you that I could re-record these songs and it would sound fuckin heavy, but the girly background vocals would be gone and the drums would be played completely different.
One other thing Abattoir have going for you that has helped you retain your underground cult status is that you knew how to right a catchy refrain and were not afraid to mix in some melodic moments into their heavy metal, correct?
Thank you for that, and credit Steve Gaines for that. Also, credit Raul Preston on Screams from the Grave for the vocal melody line. You see, the vocal lines really helped to create the catchy refrains and hooks. If you listen to the rhythm tracks and isolate them without vocals, you can see they are good, but the vocals bring them to life.
How happened, that „The only safe place” was released on Noise Records in Europe and Combat Records in America? Didn’t you/Couldn’t you find a bigger label considering the European distribution?
You got me there. I feel if the record had been a better effort, we could have received the Cadillac treatment, but even our label knew this record fell short of expectations and although its a bitter pill to swallow, it’s just how things work in the music industry..the flavor of the month gets all the attention.
Did it success for Abattoir to make a name in Europe?
Yes, absolutly! That’s why it was so strange that we never got over there in the 80’s.
Is it true, that some of the band members were unhappy with the „commercial feel” of this album and felt the band should go in a more „speed-core” direction, did they think, that Abattoir lost its originality at this point or…?
Yes, yes, and yes. Look, the intention was to go more commercial, to reach a wider audience, certainly not to the point of losing our core sound. I looked at ’Ride the Lighning’ and said shit, here is the model right here. It's fuckin heavy, but it’s produced to reach a wider audience, while maintaining that core Metallica sound. And who can deny that it did just that. But TOSP, didn’t do that at all. It changed our style and sound too damn much. It missed the mark in very bad way.
This turmoil about musical direction within the band caused the band to split up not long after the album was released, was only this reason that led to the band’s break or…?
And, anyone close to the band had to suspect that something was going to come from the disappointment of TOSP. Mike Towers, Danny Oliverio and Danny Anaya were writing new Abattoir music for a third album and believe me when I tell you IT SUCKED! Over my and Mel’s dead body would it have ever make it on an Abattoir record let alone without our consent under the name Abattoir. Then at that point Mel was jamming with Juan Garcia in Evil Dead with Jimmy DiAnda, Rob Alaniz. And the material they were writing was excellent and damn heavy. Exactly what Mel wanted - So, Mel quit and when he told me he was out, I was out too.
„The Only Safe Place” turned out to be the last album of the band, by the way, did you have some material written that didn’t make up on the record? Did you have any plans considering a third album?
After Evil Dead and I parted ways, I got Danny Oliverio and couple of other guys and we tried to start the band up, but when internal conflicts started right away, I walked away and never looked back until around the year 2000. After Evil Dead, I needed a break to get my life in order and build some structure and discipline.
Did you go on tour to support „The only safe place” by the way? What were the dates? How did the shows go as a whole?
We did some shows, like the Country Club, Roxy, stuff like that. Nothing resembling a major tour.
At which point did Mel Sanchez quit? Was it a bloodletting for you?
Mel quit at around the time he and Juan were starting Evil Dead. I wasn’t too surprised, but I did go through years of sort of a quiet depression. The idea of knowing that Abattoir would never attain the brass ring bugs me to this day, its very hard to let go of that reality.
After Mel was gone Abattoir went through several line up changes and you recorded a three track demo in 1987 featuring „Necessary evil”, „Unbroken” and „School daze” (a W.A.S.P. cover), what was the line up of the band exactly? What about this material as a whole?
Oh, ok. That demo was recorded in 2000. We were just tracking to test the waters.
You never found a constant line up and finally split up in the late 80’s, correct?
That is correct. It's really tough to keep a line up together.
Mel Sanchez formed Evil Dead with Juan Garcia and drummer Rob Alaniz how did you end up joining them?
I can’t remember how I joined them, but it was right after Mel left Abattoir. So, it possible that I was invited to audition by either Mel, Juan or maybe both.
Rob was very young at this point and he wasn’t as experienced as you were, he drummed previously in a band called Necrophiliac, were you familiar with this act?
Uhmm, not really. Rob wasn’t inexperienced at all. He was actually a better fit for Abattoir than any of our drummers overall, but somehow our management missed that. So, here is how I see it, if Rob had drummed on TOSP, you would see what I mean about how heavy that record could have been. My choice for a drummer would have been my friend Ron Shaefer. He has always been the best drummer I have known.
He was also the drum technician of Danny Anaya, wasn’t it?
Yes, Rob helped Danny out from time to time.
The band took its name from the Sam Raimi horror film „The Evil Dead”, were all of you into horror movies or…?
Mel and Juan and I think even Rob were into horror films.
You recorded a three track demo titled „The Awakening” in 1987, how did you approach the songwriting? Can you tell us everything about that demo?
For me, not much. The other guys had already formulated a chemistry that I just add my style of guitar playing to. I walked into something really cool and it was great, to have helped them, for the short time I was there.
On April 11, 1987 Evil Dead played its first live show in front of about 2500 crazed thrashers at Fender's Ballroom, in Long Beach on a bill with Possessed, Dark Angel and Cryptic Slaughter, any memories about that gig?
Oh yeah, I was amazed at the response to Evil Dead..these folks knew who this new band was and they even knew all the words..blew my fuckin mind..I think there is a photo of me somewhere where I was looking our into the crowd with a stunned look on y face,,,hahaha
Was it already a „pay to play” gig or…?
Not sure about that..
How did you view the L.A thrash scene at this point with popping up thrash outfits, such as Wargod, Viking, Recipients Of Death, Bloodcum, Bloodlust, Death Force etc.?
It was a thriving scene to be sure... I didn’t get us to see other bands that much to be honest.
Do you agree with, that thrash metal was on its peak?
I think in 1987 it was beginning to peak a bit, but I seem to recall it was moving along pretty good throughout the 80’s and into the early 90’s.
Why and when did you leave Evil Dead?
Right away. I had too many problems to take care of at that time and need to get some structure in my life and also, I didn’t like the name of the band too much. I guess I was wrong because the band did ok, with that moniker.
The line up of the band became complete with the addition of singer Phil Flores and second guitarist Albert Gonzalez, they released an EP, two records and a live record –they also went through line up changes after the first record- did you follow Evil Dead’s career by the way? Did you like their materials?
OK, Phil was singing for my re-formed line-up of Abattoir when I tried to record a third record, after Evil Dead and I parted ways, but when internal fighting occured in the new line up of Abattoir, I was too burned out to go through all the ego and internal fighting bullshit again and I canned the Abattoir resurrection and Phil went over to Evil Dead. As far as their material, the first release was great! The follow ups to the first record didn’t hit me the same way..but Evil Dead wrote some great music and I think they were way ahead of their time.
What have you done after your departure from Evil Dead? Did you keep an eye on what’s going on in the underground?
I resurrected Abattoir to try and record a follow up to TOSP. But when the member of the new line-up began to fueled, I let it go and canned it. Some people have said that the material I was writing at that time for Abattoir was the heaviest Abattoir material since ’Vicious Attack’.
Eventually scuttled by continuous line up hassles ABATTOIR finally split, but more than a decade later the band came out of retirement debuting with cover versions for tribute albums; Abattoir lent their touch to Dwell Records IRON MAIDEN tribute „Call To Irons”, W.A.S.P.’s „School Daze” and SAXON’s „Motorcycle Man”, how did it happen exactly? Was it hard to „regroup” the band?
Mel and I were jamming in this Blue Band called ’Money Shot’ and needed a bass player and got in touch with Steve Gaines. That re-connection led up to the recordings you mentioned.
Did you remain in touch with your early Abattoir mates during the years? Were they involved in the scene?
Not really, I was living my life away from music for a long time. I kept in touch with Ron Gonzales here and there, but really, the only former member that I even thought about contacting was Danny Oliverio. Mel and I have never lost touch. Juan and I a little here and there.
With interest resurging in mainland Europe German label Century Media re-released both albums of the band, how deeply were you involved in the making of the re-releases?
I had nothing to do the re-release. Had I been involved, I certainly would have requested a re-mastering of Vicious Attack and The Only Safe Place.
Didn’t you think about to add bonus materials to the re-releases?
Yes, that would have certainly added value to the re-relaese.
Abattoir, now comprising of Steve Gaines, Mel Sanchez, you and drummer Kevin McShane prepared for a full blown return, was the first step of your comeback the re-releases of your classic records or…?
The plan was to get some music written and on tape. So, we were also getting to know each other again as it had been a while since Steve, Mel and I had worked together and Kevin was new to the process. The good news was Steve came in with material, the bad news was when we took some of this material live, the fans rejected it. We went back to drawing board and went back the roots and steered away from the any modern sounding material. In retrospect, and I don’t kow why or how it didn’t register on me while we were playing together that the sound could never have been true as long as Mel was not on bass. Mel’s bass playing was a integral part of the Abattoir sound. So, if we really wanted to return to the true Abattoir sound, it would have been best to have Mel on bass and Steve on guitar, or had we been smart, maybe bring Danny Oliverio or Juan Garcia in on guitar and allowed Steve to return as a sole frontman. But hindsight is always 20/20.
Why didn’t Robert Wayne or Danny Annaya take part in the reunion? How did Kevin get in the picture exactly? What about his musical background?
We actually did audition Robert Wayne but it didn’t work out. Many of the same problems from the past began to resurface and we decide to part as friends. My understanding is that Danny Anaya is an Attorney and real busy, so we thought not bother him. Kevin was a guy that Mel knew from work and so when he was helping us out with a little project Mel and I had called ’Money Shot’ help agreed to help us thought the Abattoir venture as well.
Abattoir would bounce back in October of 2001 with the live album „No Sleep 'Til Kalamazoo”, what can you tell us about that effort?
The show was booked and someone had the idea to record with the possibility of releasing it as a limited edition Live CD. We asked our good friend and recording Engineer/ Producer Eric Anderson to record it for us. As raw as it turned out, it actually received a real good response from the metal world.
Why was the album a strict limited edition and made only available through your website? Did you sell all of the copies?
We just felt that a limited amount would make it a more valuable and cool keep sake. Yes, all packaged units were quickly sold. I still have a handful of CD only units shrink wrapped with no covers that were over-runs.
Abattoir were busying themselves with recording of a fresh studio album provisionally entitled „Evil Incarnate” during the latter half of 2001, but the project was put on hold due to recording difficulties and later unleashed as a limited release re-titled: „From the Ashes”, what happened exactly? How about the songwriting, recording sessions and stuff?
Evil Incarnate ( a CD title Mel came up with ) did go through three recording format changes. When we set out to do the record, Eric Anderson had committed to record it, but due to an incident in the studio early on the recording process, he resigned for the project. Our drummer Kevin McShane took the recording responsibilities on was sort of learning on the job. So, we did go from this to that to that to this and finally settled on a format that he felt worked best for him. After a couple of years we were at the finish line for the record, completing a few tracking touch ups and ready to mix when Mel and Juan Garcia were working with a label that was considering releasing it, and Mel had asked Kevin to burn us three good mixes for their review and strangely Kevin was slow and unresponsive to this request. I was also working with Kevin on a solo project of mine as well, and he was a lot not returning my calls as well. So I called him one night asking him to be ready to give me th files for my solo project because i was taking it to another studio and then came the bad news. He called me back and let me know that my solo project and worse yet, Evil Incarnate had been accidentally completely erased. Just like that, Evil Incarnate was no more. All we had were some rough mixes on a CD. These rough mixes became what is now known as ’Out from the Ashes’ – appropiatley named, right? My good friend Richard Sandoval of Rich media Design productins came up with a CD cover but we never released it because some in the band thought it would give a poor representation of Abattoir. Some folks got a copy of it as a courtesy because they asked for it, but it was never released formally.
What would you say about this material compared to the first two records? Do you consider it a kind of „back to the roots” material or rather a nu metal oriented one?
I would go back to thoughts I had before. It could never sound like old Abattoir as long a Mel was not bass. So it was not really abattoir and could never have been. –If anything, it was just a new Mel, Steve and Mark project and call it what you will Anger As Evil Abattoir Dead....ha ha..whatever man...
Mid 2002 found frontman Steve Gaines in league with Dark Angel and Dreams Of Damnation guitarist Jim Durkin in the project band Pagan War Machine, then he signaled his intention to issue a solo album, billed „Anger As Art”, in August of 2004; Anger As Art concept flourished into a band with releases on Old School Metal Records, did the band split up again or were you on hold? What was Abattoir’s status exactly at this point?
Candidly, Steve is a work-horse professional and really, I for one didn’t have the energy to keep up with him. Meaning, I didn’t want to play all the small shows. Plus there were other internal things going on that was quickly taking the air out of the balloon. If you know Steve, this goes against everything he stands for. If there is a chance to play; he plays! To his credit he is an amazing musician, writer and businessman. Juan Garcia is exactly the same way; a hard worker and savvy businessman. But, getting back to Steve, he wasn’t going to wait around and sit idle, he went off to seek other avenues and Anger As Art came from his shere determination and he crafted a real nice project that I really like. I really like ’Disfigure’. That is great CD.
Abattoir readied a new album for 2005 release through Artillery Music a special concert being filmed for DVD to mark the 20th anniversary of the „Vicious attack” album was set to include appearances from original members Mel Sanchez, you, Juan Garcia and Robert Wayne, what can you tell us about it? Why didn’t come it to reality?
I really cannot comment on this as I do not have amy recollection of this event.
Would you say, that „Vicious attack” left his mark on the scene and became an influential record?
I really do. I think most people knows by two songs Screams from the Grave and The Ace of Spades. The energy that came for this album was noteworthy.
German band Powergod cut the cover version of „Screams from the grave”, have you ever listened to it? Were you satisfied with their performance?
Really? I have never heard it. But I will go out and listen to it. I would bet they did a great job on it. But, I look forward to hearing just the same.
To the present; Abattoir has once again regrouped, what’s the line up of the band?
The band lineup that went to Europe and played the KIT festival was Steve Gaines, Mel Sanchez, Juan Garcia, Tim Thomas and Rob Alaniz.
How do you view all of those reformations that happened in the last 7-8 years, such as Metal Church, Agent Steel, Nasty Savage, Heathen, and list goes on?
These legends of metal know how to bring it and to have them here still doing it serves the metal world in a very positive way. I hope they continue to write, perform and contribute as long as they want.
Evil Dead plans to regroup as well, correct?
Yes. I spoke to Mel after he returned from KIT and he said that is the plan. I hope they can get Albert back because that would really keep the integrity of Evil Dead.
Abattoir is confirmed to make their European live debut at the upcoming „Keep it true” festival XII. to take place in Germany on April 24-25, 2009 on a bill that also includes L.A's own ARMORED SAINT, LIZZY BORDEN, and many others well known metal acts.
In your opinion, if you would have had the chance to play around 1985/86, would you have been a more popular or known act? How happened, that you never played in Europe?
This is now a past tense for the band as they have played that show and a few more in Europe as well. – Abattoir just never got around to a Europe tour back in the day.
The band is also planning additional selective European live dates, does it mean, that you make up leeway?
Not sure.
Is Abattoir’s name still big and in people’s minds?
Yes. I do get good response even today. How great is that?
What were your best and worst memories with Abattoir? What would you change on the band’s career?
The worst is easy, the erasing of Evil Incarnate. The best might be when Chris Holmes from WASP joined us on stage at the Troubadour for a song called I Don’t Need No Doctor.. that was one of the best memories to be sure.
Mark, thanks a lot for the answers, anything to add, what I forgot to cover?
I want to thank you, L.D. for the opportunity to interview with you. 100 questions – wow! ..and you really covered a lot of good questions.
I want to also thank every single person that has supported Abattoir over the years. We owe so much to these people.
In addition I want to thank all the internal support we have have over the year, meaning the road crew, I remember every single one of you and our stage managers Ope and Dirk and last but now least, our former band Manager, Rico Aiello for all those hard work and sacrifice. I appreciate it to no end and will never forget.
I wish all your readers the very best and if any of them should have any questions, they can email me at: surfcity62@gmail.com or connect with me on Facebook or Myspace.
Take care and all the best to you!

Over Kill - Rat Skates

So Rat, when and how did you get in touch with the metal music? What did you find so interesting in this music?
It really was a very long time ago. Over 30 years! The most significant record for me at that time was Kiss ’Alive!’ Where I grew up in suburbia, New Jersey, in 1975 the most popular record that everyone had was the Eagles ’Hotel California’... well the Kiss ’Alive’ record was out at that exact same time... so there was a very big contrast from what everyone else was listening to and what I loved, which were bands that were playing heavier rock like Kiss... and of course their show absolutely blew my mind. I continue to be attracted to heavier rock bands like Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Led Zeppelin, Foghat, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Those bands really did change my entire life, because I had grown up listening to Elton John. So, my attraction to heavy metal goes way back really before it was even called ’Heavy Metal’, before Priest, Maiden, AC/DC etc. The bands we listened to were really just rock 'n roll bands playing a little faster and dirtier than everyone else, and they had energy and an attitude. Heavy rock, heavy metal or anything that is different from the mainstream will always stand out from the crowd. I think I was attracted to all of that because I was a skateboarder, not a football player. Skateboarders stood out from the mainstream crowd just like the bands did.
Do you consider yourself a metal head or were you rather into punk?
Of course I'm a metal head. I grew up that way and I'll die that way. However, punk was more of an attitude. Remember, heavy-metal started out as an exxagerated form of rock 'n roll, punk rock music is also rock 'n roll. Hanging out with the punks in the late 70s is what gave me the attitude in playing heavy metal to help push it to a new extreme... it ended up being called Thrash Metal. If I had to pick one or the other, I which choose punk without a doubt. Punks were real people...none of them were ’Rock Stars’ and the music was about real issues in the real world Heavy metal was all about fantasy things, and I did enjoy the imgination behind it.
At which point did you pick playing drums and how did your choice fall on this instrument?
I was about 15 years old when I started taking drum lessons. I had originally played guitar and I still do, but I am a very basic player. However my hands are small, and I got frustrated with guitar very easily. The drums were much easier and natural to me: I could figure out parts very easily and I could definitely take out all of my aggressions on them. Plus I enjoy the physical motions of playing drums. I had grown up always playing sports: basketball, football, surfing and of course skateboarding. So the drums were definitely a natural fit for me!
What were your influences to become drummer?
Of course I really admired Peter Criss from Kiss. He was a very recognizable and of very musical player. I wanted that. I wanted people to like my drumming, and to also recognize me. Drummers were always kind of stuck in the back and hidden by everyone else, and no one knew they ever existed. I was out to change all of that. Drums are the most powerful component of a rock 'n roll band... drums are about a feeling more than anything else, and it was something that I always enjoyed the power from them.
What kind of drumkit, cymbals and equipment did you have back then?
Well, I was lucky to have any drums or cymbals at all! My parents didn't want to spend a lot of money on something that they thought I might not stay with. Most of the cymbals were always Zildjian’s, but they were used Zildjian's... I had about two drum kits before my Ludwig double bass drum kit. (the white one with Tama heads that I used towards the end of the Lubricunts and with Overkill. I had a Slingerland Marine pearl kit that was around for a while, I practiced all my Jazz stuff on that..
Were you self taught or…?
No, I took lessons! I cannot stress enough how important I think it is for a musician to take some lessons and understand his instrument! A great musician is something that will come from your heart, and it is a gift that some people are blessed with. It is great to be self taught, and every musician will be self taught to some point. I think understanding your instrument makes it more fun to play and taking lessons helps everyone to understand what it is that they're doing, especially younger players. Taking lessons for your instrument is the best thing that any musician can do, it can only help you... it can never hurt you!
OVER KILL was formed in 1981 by you and bassist D. D. Verni after you left the hardcore/punk outfit LUBRICUNTS, what about this act? Did you record several demos, rehearsals etc.?
First of all let me say that the Lubricunts was NOT a hardcore band...’ hardcore’ was a word that didn't even exist yet! We were a punk rock band in every sense of the word...pure rock with the punk attitude. We recorded our live shows, and I still have tapes of those shows, they are absolutely great. We couldn't play very well, but that’s what was so cool about it. We were funny and very entertaining, and the songs were very good. We never recorded any demos in any kind of recording studio. We never had any money to do anything like that!
Did you gig a lot with this band?
Actually we did play quite a lot of gigs! We were all under the legal age to drink alcohol and play at nightclubs, which was 18 at that time. I was able to play at CBGB’s, Max's Kansas City, Great Gildersleeve's, The Mudd Club, Botany Talk House, The PlayPen and The Peppermint Lounge. And, all of these great underground clubs in New York were very small. And every one of them is gone. They are all legendary in their own right. It really was a lot of fun doing that because we were so young and we couldn’t play very well...we fit right in with all the other bands in that scene!
Why did you leave the band? Was your goal to form a more brutal and aggressive band or…?
Well DD and I had always been listening to the heavy rock bands that I spoke about earlier. We wanted to be more like that because punk wasn’t professional enough to go to an arena concert level...at least thats how we saw it.. But we wanted to be heavier. We were very attracted to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and all of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands.
The original incarnation of Overkill was completed by ex-D.O.A. vocalist Bobby „Blitz” Ellsworth and guitarist Robert Pisarek, how did they get in the picture exactly? How did you hook with them?
I had to place a lot of the ads in the local music newspaper to find a guitar player and a vocalist that were into the heady music just like I was... DD stayed with me after splitting from the Lubricunts, he was into the exact same music that I was and we always thought about everything the same way. DD was also very unsociable and was not comfortable talking with other people, but I was the opposite so by staying with me he knew that eventually he would get the chance to ’make it’ because he saw that I would never quit, and that I was going to ’make it’! So it took quite a while, but eventually one of my ads was answered by Robert, who brought the other Robert (Ellsworth) with him. It was really Pisarek and I who formed Overkill: DD was the partner with me and blitz was the partner with Pisarek. I was the one who always spoke with the other musicians and made the connections for DD and I, because he always had trouble talking with people and Ellsworth just didn't really have any iniative or opinions. I think it was just a beer and girls that he liked about playing in a band during the very beginning.
Would you say, that you found the best, the most suitable frontman for the band in the person of Blitz?
Well, at that time, and even to this day, singers and frontmen are very hard to come by, you can find someone with a great voice, who is a terrible performer and not a good entertainer. If took many years to develop this with blitz, he ended up doing his job very well. But it took a while for him to get good in his position, just like all musicians who are also learning to become professional entertainers. I really had to had to help him a lot in the early days with his stage performance and learning how to connect to the crowd, and to be comfortable on the stage. We all got along very well and he was very agreeable to learning the songs that we wanted to play. He really didn't know much metal at all before he met Pisarek, who was the one who got him listening to Priest and Maiden and all the stuff we wanted to play!
All of the members did have punk roots or were they into metal as well?
Well DD and I had the exact same roots, meaning that we were listening to Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, The Damned, Sham 69, The Vibrators, The Sex Pistols, Iggy, The Ramones, and of course the Dead Boys. Pisarek knew most of the same punk style music as well but Ellsworth really didn't know too much of it. I think he knew just some of The Clash, and not too much other real underground punk stuff.
How was the New York/New Jersey scene as a whole back then? What do you recall of those times?
The New York, New Jersey scene in the late 70s and early 80s was absolutely amazing! It was something that you really had to experience to understand how great it was. There were lots of clubs to play at, and they were packed almost every night. We would go out to see a band in five nights a week and not have to drive that far to see a great band like Twisted Sister. However, the difficult part for people like me was that I wanted to play original music and most of the nightclubs only booked cover bands to play. There were only a few very small clubs who didn't draw too many people that you could play original music at. And of course we never made any money at all! But that really was a great time...there were always a lot of people out, bands to see and lots of girls around! Everything was very cool, and of course the bands who did play the cover songs were making a lot of money. They didn't have to work any day jobs, all they did was play at night, and that's it. The scene was absolutely thriving and it was a lot of fun. I really do miss it, and it sucks that it will never come back again.
Which clubs did start opening their doors for the metal groups?
The main club that comes to mind was called The Showplace. It was in Dover, New Jersey. It had a pretty big stage. Almost no lights, but they let us play there and that was the important thing. We always recorded our shows from there and took a lot of pictures. Yes, the showplace was very important for bands like us. The really cool thing to know is that a lot of national recording acts played there, meaning that the Ramones played there and the Plasmatics and the Dead Boys and bands that already had records out and it was great because I would see all of those shows and stand in the front row. I never missed out on seeing a good show!
You began gigging locally with a mainly cover dominated set, which covers did you play mostly? Did you choose mainly metal covers or rather punk ones?
We were playing covers of anything that was heavy, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, MSG, Accept, Y&T, Motorhead, very obscure stuff for that time. We did play some punk covers like Sonic Reducer from the Dead Boys of course, but Sonic Reducer is very much a metal song, isn't it? When Overkill first started playing the clubs we were definitely a heavy metal band. It was mainly DD and I that carried our punk attitude, and of course some of those songs into what we were trying to do with Overkill.
Robert came up with the name of the band, did you like his idea? Did you choose the name on the base of the classic MOTÖRHEAD song?
We had to run around a lot of different names, one of them was ’Virgin Killer’ named after the Scorpions record, but the name ’Overkill’ was perfect, especially because it had the word ’kill’ in it. We thought that was cool, even though it was the name of the Motorhead album. And of course we knew that when we decided to take that name we didn't really care because at that time not too many people at all ever heard of Motorhead! Yep, it was Pisarek who really thought of that. We had thrown around the name of ’Overdose’ and ’Overdrive’, but they didn’t have the word ’kill’ in it!
Robert left the band and instead of him joined Dan Spitz and Anthony Ammendolo, what about their musical past? Why did Robert decide leaving the band?
Robert had left because he was very unhappy with the way the Ellsworth was acting, he was very unprofessional. A few of our shows were very embarrassing for us, he would drink too much before we played, and that made us sound very sloppy. Also, Robert had this girlfriend who was brainwashing him into being a rock star. He got this white leather jacket, which was the exact opposite of our black leather jackets so obviously this was a big problem, our show and our image was very very important to us! So all of these things added up, and it was mutually agreed that he would not be in Overkill anymore. So, a friend of ours referred us to Danny Spitz and Anthony Ammendolo. They were both from Rockland County New York and had been playing the guitar together for quite a while. They were into most of the same music that we were like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, etc. They were also pretty agreeable to do the theatrical showand make-up that we were doing. And that was important because it was very different than everyone else, and that gave us our unique identity.
They spent a short time in the ranks of the band, because in 1981 they left the band and they were repalced by Rich Conte and Mike Sherry, in which groups did they play earlier?
I don't remember what Bands they were in before they played with us but I'm pretty sure they were just small garage type bands who weren't very popular.
Did Dan leave the band because he joined ANTHRAX or…?
As I said, Danny and Anthony were a team: they stuck together. So, they both left at the same time, and Danny didn’t join Anthrax until probably at least one year later. There were two reasons why they left, one of the reasons was that they were never really that comfortable with doing the leather and studs and makeup and all of the theatrics that we were doing and I can completely understand that. But, without a doubt the single main biggest reason is the fact that Danny especially wanted to be Eddie Van Halen! Back at that time, every single guitar player in this area.... and I mean EVERY single one wanted to be Eddie Van Halen. I can understand wanting to be like Eddie Van Halen, he was an innovative new guitarist and played better (technically) than everyone else. But we were on a mission: DD and I had to focus on being the heaviest band to ever exist, and Eddie Van Halen wasn't exactly the heaviest guitar player to ever exist. He was a very talented, and I respect him immensly for what he does. However, we were about something else. Actually we were about the exact opposite thing: Van Halen would smile. We would snarl.
Would you say, that you had so many member changes in the early days, because it was hard to find the suitable members for the band?
Yes, of course! Finding suitable members is why band members changes so frequently in any band of any genre! I spent many years in trying to find the right musicians for Overkill. It was very difficult and I spent an awful lot of my time doing that.
At this point, you started writing originals, including „Grave Robbers”, „Raise the Dead”, „Overkill”, and „Unleash the Beast Within” respectively more originals would follow, including „Rotten to the Core”, what about this early period of the band?
In the early days, playing covers was about the only thing that we could do! We didn't want to play covers, but we had to! If we never played covers we would never have had the chance to play anywhere.... so it was actually a good thing because we got our stage experience and learned a lot of things until we were ready to start writing originals with the right musicians in the band.
Would you say that „Rotten to the core” was the most popular and most known OVER KILL tune?
Yeah, I guess so, aside from’Fuck You’, which we didn’t write...obviously the first two Overkill albums had all the classics on it, never to be repeated. If I had stayed in overkill, of course there would have been so many more, and much stronger too...hey, my songwriting was just getting started!
Somewhere around this time Rich and Mike left the band and Bobby Gustaffson entered with Joe somebody on guitars, at which point did he get in the band exactly?
It was late 1982 or early 1983. We had just gone through so many players, and I was so tired of it.
Would you say that Bobby Gustaffson was a talented guitarist back then?
Yes, Bobby was a talented guitar player and he showed all lot of potential that's why we brought him in. He was very young and very shy, but he showed potential.
The band became a staple at New York and New Jersey clubs around 1982, and soon Bobby lived up to his "Blitz" nickname, earning an ejection from the band for a few days in 1983, did you gig a lot these days? Did you want to built up a strong fan base? Did you want to make a name for OVER KILL?
Yes we gigged as much as possible. Actually that was the one thing that DD had usually taken care of, was booking the shows. I didn't do too much of that. It was very very hard for us to build up this fan base, but we slowly did it because the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands like especially Iron Maiden became so popular, so there was a slowly-building market for Overkill, but it was a very very hard time for me.
Around this time, the green logo was adopted - it was specifically chosen to stand out on a poster with lots of red logos of other bands on the bill, do you still remember who created the logo?
Yes, I was the person who created the logo! I drew it by hand and decided to make it green...Didn't you watch my film’ BORN IN THE BASEMENT’? It is all explained there very well. Go to http://www.ratskates.com immediately!
You recorded March-Sept, 1983 the „Power in black” demo at two shitholes, Staten Island NY and Sterling NJ, do you still remember how was the demo recorded? Was it your first studio experience?
Yes, none of us had ever been to a recording studio before. Three songs were recorded in an 8-track, (or was it 16-track?) studio in Sterling, New Jersey. But we had also recorded ’Theres No Tomorrow’, and the song ’Overkill’ in a very small 4 track studio in someone's basement in Staten Island New York...I still have all those original reels. It was all that we could afford to do.
It was dedicated to all the false faggot poser wimps of the clubs, stick this tape up your ass, would you say that made it your purposes clear?
Yeah, I put all that ’stick it up your ass’ stuff on there because I really wanted to make a statement. I think I did! Looking back at it now, it really makes me laugh, but at the time I really felt that I had said something that was so important and so rebellious!
Did you shop around the demo to attract some label interests?
I did every single thing possible that I could with our demo! I sent it to magazines. I sent it to management companies. I sent it to record labels. I was on a mission to get this band signed, and because I persevered without ever stopping, I eventually did get us a record deal!
Did you distribute it in the tapetrading scene as well? Did the demo draw the fans attention to the band?
’Power in Black’ was very successful in the tape trading underground. It was probably the most heavily traded tape of the underground tape trading scene from the very early 1980s. I was selling the tape, I was not trading it in the underground, because of course I needed to try to recoup some of the money that was spent on it. So I sold it but I purposely did not trade it, but it was sure traded by everyone else!
A second demo was recorded in 1984 featuring „Feel the fire”, „Second son” and „Kill at command” (both live versions), did this tape sound much closer to what you want to achieve with OVER KILL?
Overkill never recorded a second demo! That cassette tape that you are referring to was bootlegged from the tape trading underground. I actually thought it was very cool because the tape traders would bring cassette recorders to all the shows and tape the entire concert, these guys were fanatics about doing this! Then the next week it would appear in all of the underground magazines and was being traded all over the world. When a band played brand-new material everyone in the underground was hearing right away through the trading!
Did you spread this demo as well or was it done only for labels and radio stations?
No, I knew that I was going to sell this demo before it was even recorded! Because of the tape trading underground, it gave us the opportunity for people to hear the music all over the world. Back then, there was no internet, and there was no MySpace, no CD burning, downloads or anything at all... this was the only way that I ccould get our music heard around the country and around the world.
The live tunes were recorded 1/13/84 (in the "fucking snow"), what do you recall of that show?
I recall that there was a lot of snow outside, and that it was really really hot inside!
„Feel the fire” appeared on Metal Blade’s famous „Metal Massacre V” compilation and „Death rider” included on the 2New York metal ’84” compilation, in your opinion, were these records good opportunities to introduce more fans the band?
Yes, I had no choice but to have our songs appear where ever they could, meaning through the tape trading underground and the compilation records that were being circulated. I had to take advantage of ANY opportunity that I could! Plus, I thought it was so cool to finally have one of our songs appear on an actual vinyl record...that was the ’Holy Grail’. By the way, you got the songs messed up a little: ’Feel the Fire’ was on ’New York metal 84’ and ’Death Rider’ was on ’Metal Massacre Five’.
In November 1984 you recorded the „Over Kill” EP featuring „Rotten to the core”, „Fatal if swallowed”, „The answer” and „Over kill” which was originally a demo, but you strapped for cash, sold the demo to Azra/Metal Storm Records, who pressed it as a EP in 1985, how did you get in the touch with label? Did they perhaps want you to sign?
No that's not exactly it.... those songs were recorded specifically for that EP. We had to take some money out of our pockets, but we had also saved up some money from the gigs to finance the whole project. As I said, I was marketing the band and promoting the band anyway that I could. Azra was one of the labels that I had approached because they had released some other heavy metal records. And I did sign a contract with them for that EP. It was a terrible contract, I knew that we would make no money at all, but I was finally able to get our songs on vinyl...so it was a good thing and a bad thing. But, it was something that was past the appearances on compilation records with all these other bands... now we’ll have our very own record. It was by Overkill!
The almost 9 minutes tune „The answer” became a slow, epic one compared to the other songs, what made you to write this track?
It's great that you mention this song ’The Answer’ because in my opinion it's the best that we've ever done. This song was not written purposely to be an epic or anything like that. When we rehearsed. I always insisted on playing for a lot of extra time. The song just came about naturally, by having a lot of parts put together I would just start playing another part, because thats how I felt...and it would lead to another section of the song....it just went on and on, kind of like Merciful Fate, but that’s what I wanted!
It reminds me to BLACK SABBATH, do you agree with me?
Of course, it sounds like Black Sabbath, but that was one of my main influences, and the others as well.
They released a year later the first EP of JAG PANZER plus the classic „Ample Destruction” record in 1984, did you like these materials?
Sorry, but I can't say that I ever remember really hearing it.
Was Azra/Iron Works an independent, small underground label those times?
No, they weren’t a small underground independent label...they were a piece of shit. He was a man who had absolutely no intention of having any of the bands signed to his label make any money at all. He knew that he could take advantage of young musicians and he did just that. To this very day, it disturbs me a great deal that someone can sleep at night knowing how badly they hurt the early careers of young musicians like myself. As I had talked about in my film BORN IN THE BASEMENT, I had supplied him with very detailed artwork that took me a lot of time and he never even used it. He tried to save money, and he did save money by using only black-and-white on the album with no printed sleeve. He destroyed my vision at that point, that is not the way I wanted Overkill to debut their record. But, he’ll get what he deserves one day, right?
Before you entered the studio to record the „Feel the fire” record you signed Megaforce and the owner of the label Johnny Zazula had been the fan of the band since the releasing of the „Power in black” demo and he sold 1.500 copies from the tape in his record store Rock ’n’ roll Heaven, would you say, that he helped a lot for the band back then? Was he a symphatic guy for you?
Johnny wasn't really such a great huge fan of Overkill back then. I was friends with him because I was always in his store, ’Rock 'n Roll Heaven’. I had become friends with him because we liked talking to each other about all the underground bands and cool things that were happening at that time. Johnny was amazed that I was able to sell so many demos out of his store without any major promtion or anything. Again, Johnny really believe in what I was doing and was confident in in my efforts to make Overkill succeed, no matter what the odds were.. And that's why he signed us... he knew that I would never give up.
You were signed after seeing you live open for ANVIL at the L’Amours club in Brooklyn, what do you recall of that show? Would you say, that you satisfied Johnny that it’s worth signing the band?
Well that was a great show for Overkill. We absolutely blew Anvil way that night, and I do love Anvil, they are my friends and a very important band. We just happened to have a much better night than they did. I very much respect Johnny Z., and his efforts in helping to push the new genre of metal that became’ thrash metal’. By Johnny also is a capitalist. He is very much about making money and that is what is important to him. So, he saw the potential to make a lot of money from Overkill. As with all the bands he signed...Metallica, Anthrax, Raven etc, that's the ultimate reason why he signed them...to make money.
Was OVER KILL the first signing of Megaforce?
No, he had signed Metallica, Anthrax, I think Manowar, Exciter, Raven maybe even Mercyful Fate? But Overkill was not the first at all.
What made Johnny to establish the label instead of a record store? Was he a great supporter of the underground scene those times?
Well like I said, the Zazula’s were capitalists. They are business people. They were very much in tune with the heavy metal scene that was going on. It was rebellious and he definitely had a rebellious nature, he decided to try to do things his way...which I do respect him for, because that’s how I was doing things with my band as well... he did a lot in those early days to help grow the genre. He had put on some very key shows around here. Like Metallica opening up for Venom... that was a classic. So John saw that there was a new market for these newer bands. But no labels would give them a chance. Also, he saw that he could make a lot more money from having a record label than just a record store in a flea market. So he definitely did take some chances in starting up a label.
Were there any interests in the band from the part of other labels as well, such as Metal Blade, Combat or New Renaissance?
Yes, I kept in very close contact with all the labels and constantly send them updated press kits. They were interested, but...none of them were ready to take a chance on us, meaning that they weren’t ready to bet their money on Overkill.
What about the recording sessions of the album?
It was a great learning experience for all of us...the musicians and producers as well. We learned about commitment, professionalism and matured a lot in that recording session. We also learned about how partying and recording an album do not mix...(that is why I played sloppy drums on ’Hammerhead’, I had partied too much the night before).
As far as the title track, what was the difference between the demo and the record version? How much did you alter the song?
The song ’Overkill’ was recorded three different times: for the ’Power in Black’ demo, for the EP, and of course for the ’Feel the Fire’, LP. All are different versions were based on how we felt the song should be portrayed at that time. And of course they all sound different, because of the studios and money for the recording gear.
„Over kill” became the first part of a story, what can you say about it? Is/Was it a concept story?
I had decided that we should have a theme song, meaning that we should have a song like Motorhead did or Iron Maiden, or even Manowar....the name of the band should be the title of the song. I was mostly inspired by the song, ’Iron Maiden’, to make the song ’Overkill’. I decided we should try something very different from our other songs meaning that the beginning for example, should be just vocals and guitar. Blitz had some cool lyrics and Bobby had a guitar part.that sounded like the horror movie ’Halloween’. I put all the parts together to make the song: simple powerful and memorable, and it worked. It has no guitar solo, but it didn't need one...Bobby thought it was supposed to have a solo...why?
„Hammerhead” was the only brandnew track on the record, right? Why didn’t you put more newer material on the record prior to that the demo songs were known for the fans?
Every song that is on ’Feel the Fire’ was already played live at our shows. That's how we got them tight! The whole album was heard well before it was released... that’s due to the tape traders. And that's cool. That's just the way it was back then! We (my metal friends, not the band members) had been listening to ’Bonded by Blood’ for two years before it was ever released! What the fans don't understand is that bands can not just write endless amounts of material and have it be worthy of a record release
Do you think, that Bobby „Blitz” Ellsworth is among the most distinguishable vocalists in the genre and his voice gave Overkill a unique identity from the very beginning?
Yes, absolutely Overkill had a very unique and strong identity in the very beginning, but obviously after I left, their overall identity dissolved and merged into what all the other bands are doing, being influenced by all the other thrash bands and ignored all of the roots that we grew up with. Each one of us had a unique style and approach and that's what got Overkill noticed in those early days.
„Feel The Fire” is a fairly strong release with a coherent and energetic feel and although the differences between Overkill’s early albums are not that big, this one is quite an entertaining release, do you agree with that?
Unquestionably ’Feel the Fire’ is the best Overkill release and I don't just say that because I played and wrote songs on it...you just used the word ’coherent’, which makes a lot of sense because we did play very much together as a unit, there was a cammaraderie amongst us that you could actually hear in our songs.
The traditional/NWOBHM influences are definitely abound but there’s a lot more raw intensity and speed here and not to mention the aggression is pretty over the top, what do you think about it?
Yes, you said that correctly: raw intensity and speed. And all of that slowly disappeared album by album after I left, that's very easy to hear. I wrote and arranged music from my heart and from my influences, which were the bands I grew up with, which all disappeared when I left.
From start to finish, this album („Feel the fire”) is a relentless assault of memorable thrash riffs, crazy pentatonic shredding, double bass drum beats, and a rather impressive set of rough yells and banshee screeches and with the release of this album, a new breed of thrash metal was born, what’s your opinion?
As I've been saying the early stuff was the strongest. It's not my opinion, it's just a simple fact, that it’s very easy to recognize that the early songs will that I was invoved with writing with are the classics... this is something that the Overkill fans have decided...not me!
What about the DEAD BOYS cover „Sonic reducer”? Was it the idea of Blitz to cover the song or was it a common choice?
All of the choices made in Overkill were mine and DD’s. Blitz did not make any decisions.
The producer of the record was THE RODS drummer Carl Canedy, was he the perfect person for this job? Were you satisfied with his work or could have sound the record better?
Carl was a great choice for producing the record. He had just worked with Anthrax. And of course he was in a heavy band himself (The Rods). We've all learned a lot from that session. I think he did a great job considering that no one was really quite sure on how to produce thrash metal music at that time. So that's why all of the bands first records sound much different than the ones that came after, because everyone was figuring out how to deal with this new unprecedented speed and heaviness. In retrospect, I think the record lacks some heaviness, especially in the low end, but it makes up for that in it’s raw, thrashy, straight out approach.
What were the shows to support the record?
Some of the shows that come to mind were quite a few with Nuclear Assault opening for us as well as S.O.D. and Carnivore. Then we opened for some bigger acts like Venom, WASP, Anvil and Metallica too, they were pretty big at that point.
In 1986 was released the „US speed metal attack” video, featuring OVER KILL, ANTHRAX and AGENT STEEL and it was recorded live in Bochum, Germany on May 12th, 1986, how did the whole tour go?
Well, like everything else for all the bands involved it was a great learning experience. It was our first tour, and it was also Anthrax’s first tour. We became great friends, and we still keep in touch. The tour was a huge success for all of us and actually for even breaking the thrash metal scene. It was a big advance forward for the genre, especially for Germany.
I suppose, you were in Europe for the first time, what kind of experiences did you gain during the tour? How was the European crowd compared to the American one?
When it I first got to Europe, I thought I was in the twilight zone. It was very very strange. That was my first tour, so it was my first experience in living out of a suitcase. And I didn't enjoy it. I hated everything about touring actually... but I did what I had to do. This was a huge advancement for Overkill and for Anthrax. The European fans went absolutely crazy for us. I really did think that the European fans totally blew away the American fans. To this very day, Overkill has a much larger fan base in Europe. Most of the American ’metal’ bands do. Europe is a much better market for them. That's why they go there to play all the festivals. That doesn't happen in the United States like it does in Europe. Overkill and everyone else now goes to Europe and plays in front of 40,000 fans at a festival and take these really great live picture of the crowds, but they don't sell even close to that many records!
Did you get on well with the other bands? What kind of memories, stories do you recall of that tour?
We all got along great. It was a real lot of fun and we all became good friends. The most difficult thing for all of us was the language barrier. My fondest and most bizarre memory is sleeping in people's houses, because there were no hotels in some of the small suburbs that we were playing in, throughout Holland and Belgium especially. We would actually stay in someone's house, meaning that we would sleep in someone's bedroom of a family that we didn't know and they most certainly didn't know us! That was just so bizzare, but we did what we had to do. It was very hard for us to understand the Germans, but they understood us a little better. I remember warm beer and lots of schnitzel!
Around this time was thrash/speed metal on its peak, would you say that OVER KILL belonged to the first class, the first league of thrash, such as METALLICA, EXODUS, SLAYER, MEGADETH etc.?
Yes, that was definitely the time when thrash metal was at its peak, meaning 1985 to 1986. However I do not think that Overkill was in that first league of the thrash as you call it. I say this because the other members of Overkill were picking up their influences from the other thrash bands, meaning Exodus, Slayer...and Gustafson was obsessed with James and Metallica. But those bands didn't pick up any influence from Overkill, did they? I would define the first league of thrash as the bands that influenced other bands... even though I am very proud of our songs and what we were doing, I still don't think we were near as strong as the other bands you mentioned.
Why was thrash so popular back then?
Thrash metal became so popular because it had pushed the envelope of traditional heavy metal. Since heavy metal has always been an extreme form of music, thrash metal blew the lid off all the previous parameters of what was considered heavy. Much too quickly the mosh pit and stage diving became commonplace. That is one of the things that ruined Thrash: the widespread mediocrity of all that, especially by kids who didn’t understand it, but they were following the trends.
As far as New York/New Jersey scene, was it a common scene or a separated one? Would you say that the whole NY/NJ thrash movement started with the appearance of OVER KILL?
The scene became unified in the United States when hard-core elements merged with metal elements. As I said many times, Thrash Metal was an evolution. It didn't start with one single band, or one player. Other bands like Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, Carnivore and Whiplash were all around at that exact same time, playing fast heavy music, just like it was out in the Bay Area. It was a group of bands that developed thrash, not just one...Overkill had the same timing.
A lot of bands started popping up, such as NUCLEAR ASSAULT, REVENANT, RIPPING CORPSE, TOXIK, WHIPLASH, were you close to these groups?
I was close friends (and still am) with Anthrax and the guys from Nuclear Assault. The other bands I don't really know that well. Too many bands started popping up, and they all sounded like each other.
New York was famous about the hc movement as well, did the hc movement have a strong background, fan base as well? Did the thrash and hc scene exist parallel side by side?
The hardcore scene and the thrash scene were all descendents from the mindset of the 70s punk scene. As I explained in BORN IN THE BASEMENT, the music from these scenes was genuine, it wasn’t based on hype. That's what made them so special. And that's why the fans were so obsessive about this music because it was true and only understood by a limited amount of people within their scene. It took a few years for the hardcore guys and metal guys to coexist in the same place, but once we all realized that we were all about the same thing... mainly the energy...everything changed positively and grew from that point on.
One of the most know club was the CBGB’s, right?
CBGB’s is a club whose name is very overly mis-used. This club became legendary because of the great bands that broke out of there...the Ramones, Blondie, the Dead Boys and other late 70s punk acts. When that all disappeared, it became a home to the hardcore bands of the early 80s, like Agnostic Front and the Cro-Mags. However, there is a great history to that club before most of the metal guys knew that club even existed!
How do you view the other US thrash centers of those times, for example, LA, Texas or Bay Area compared to the NY/NJ one?
I don't remember any really significant ’Thrash’ scene to speak of in Los Angeles...even though Slayer was a Hollywood area band or not too much either in Texas in the early or mid 80s. There was a developing scene here in New Jersey/New York, but the stronghold was definitely the Bay Area of San Francisco with Exodus being the absolute leaders of that scene. They really were ahead of everyone else, and are responsible for everything that came after that in my mind. Exodus led the way for everyone else, including Metallica.
Talking about your shows back then, instead of playing with ANTHRAX at the Hammersmith Palais, you returned home, what happened exactly? Why did the show miscarry?
I think it was all just political bullshit...Anthrax was signed by the Zazula’s. And they were managed by the Zazula’s as well. We were not managed by the Zazula’s and that Hammersmith show was not part of The Metal Hammer Roadshow. So, for one reason or another Anthrax got to play there and we didn't. Anthrax was never really a part of the Thrash underground from day one. Anthrax always had money behind them. Scott Ian was always a businessman, so him and Johnny were always good friends from the very beginning. They never really worked that hard for anything, I mean as far as D.I.Y. stuff like I had to do to break Overkill. A lot of their early success was because there was money behind them.
You did, however, return to Europe later in the year opening for SLAYER, how do you remember about it?
Well, the shows were great, and Slayer and Overkill were obviously still breaking the Thrash Metal genre. It was another difficult tour, the money was very limited to support the tour, but the success for both bands helped push Thrash Metal well forward.
In 1986 you entered the studio to record „Taking over”, how did the recording sessions go with this album?
A lot of it was better than the ’Feel the Fire’ sessions because we were more experienced. However we did make some very big production mistakes, especially with the guitars. We just did too many guitar tracks, and we layered it so many times that it ends up sounding really muddy... I told everyone that we had a heavy guitar sound, and that was great, but we are doing too many tracks of it and that's enough! The clarity of the other instruments was going to get buried and they did...you cannot clearly hear the drums on ’Taking Over’ hardly at all, it really has a terrible drum mix. I told everyone that the drums should sound clear and punchy, and they should sit in the music mix the same way that they did on the first Metal Church record...I thought that Metal Church record was produced very well, and that we should get our mix to sound like that. Well, no one listened to me until the next album after I left...they brought in Metal Church’s producer (Terry Date) to do just that very thing!
It was released on the 1st of January 1987, so you have celebrated really a happy new year, haven’t you?
Yes, that was a very cool, especially since we were now co-signed to Atlantic Records. That was a big label, the same one that Led Zeppelin was on.
Would you say, that you became more aggressive, brutal and faster compared to the first record?
Know I would not say that... I think ’Feel the Fire’ is a much more aggressive and raw and definitely more true to the way Overkill started, in the tradition of Sabbath and Maiden. I'm still proud of the songwriting on Taking Over, but it sounds too much like Metallica guitar parts to me.
As far as myself „Deny the cross”, „Powersurge”, „Wrecking crew” and „In union we stand” are the highlights of the record.
Yes those are definitely the highlight songs... they’re the classics, the strong ones that were never duplicated again. I'm very proud of my contributions to those songs... the very simple guitar part of ’Wrecking Crew’ came from me showing Bobby a very simple snare drum pattern, and the song ’In Union We Stand’ was never going to be written because it wasn't super-fast and heavy like everything else we were doing. None of them wanted to do it. Blitz had some interesting lyrics laying around and a basic melody that I really liked. I told everyone ’let's just give this a chance and try it’, so I arranged some ideas to get their interest. I thought it could be a song that was a very reminiscent of ’Take on the World’ by Judas Priest. We all liked that song so what's wrong with doing something like that? So what if there’s no big guitar riff, let’s just open up our minds here! If we don't like it we won't play it... Well I'm glad I kept pushing for that song to be written because everyone says that's one of the best songs we ever did.
How happened that „Fatal if swallowed” was featured on the record, prior to that is was an old demo track?
That song always went over very well when we played it live. And we weren't completely ready with some of the other songs that were written for the next record to follow, which they used for ’Under the Influence’. So we stuck that one on there as kind of a filler song.
As far as „Deny the cross”, was it written against religion, against the Church?
I thought that Blitz wrote some very creative lyrics, but I didn't necessarily understand all of them. I was pretty embarrassed by the title of that song...actually I was VERY embarrassed. It's really stupid and confused the young kids even more than they already were.. He explained to me that ’deny the cross’ meant. ’Don't put yourself in a position to get crucified’. I never would have figured that out by myself, it’s just a little too abstract.
Was „Wrecking crew” dedicated to the OVER KILL crowd or was it rather a philosophy of the band?
It was neither of those... the title ’Wrecking Crew was the name of that was given to our road crew, also it was the nickname of our local football team, The New York Giants, they were very popular and everyone's favorite, and a great team in those days. So the combination of those two formed the title of the song.
The story continued with the track „Over kill (The nightmare continues)”…
It seemed like a cool idea to continue with the whole theme of this imaginary figure of ’Overkill’, but obviously the original song ’Overkill’ from ’Feel the Fire’ was so much stronger. I was really out to make a lasting statement with that song, especially with the scream by itself and the ending: ’KILL’-’KILL’-’KILL’-’KILL!!!!!!!’... it was so heavy for that day, and again it’s something that I’m very proud to have thought of.
Do you agree with that „Taking over” sounds essentially like „Feel The Fire” with a heavier production?
No, I don't agree with that... ’Feel the Fire was much more raw and straight-ahead and it was very much in your face! As I said earlier, ’Taking Over’ sounds a lot like Metallica riffs. ’Feel the Fire’ was more like Iron Maiden riffs!
Do you think, that the actual differences are very minor, but the band got the right attitude and it shows?
’Feel the Fire’ was just a much better record! For example, the way ’Taking Over’ starts off is with a long musical introduction...just like Metallica was doing, and all the other thrash bands were doing the same kind of thing... that really bothered me, and I could forsee what was happening to the band, and it did!
„Taking Over” is indeed a worthy follow-up to the awesome debut, right from the start, we get two of your best songs ever: „Deny The Cross” and „Wrecking Crew”, but the music is still not extremely thrashy, and a couple of songs have even some reminiscenses of traditional metal, „In Union We Stand” in particular is an amusing metal anthem or in your opinion it’s fast, lengthy, heavy, and has a more thrash sound to it that „Feel The Fire”...it”s a transitional album between Overkill's speed/thrash metal days into their late 80’s early 90’s thrash sound and it combines the best of these two different Overkill styles and delivers thrash greatness?
I think you're beginning to understand all this... all of these so-called ’thrash bands’ had started to rely on the production and the heaviness of their SOUNDS. The songwriting aspect was getting pushed aside by that and it was a big mistake! Once all of the bands figured out how to get that really heavy scratchy-chunky guitar sound, the sound was all that mattered! That's the reason that I so much love the hardcore bands. They did not have a very heavy sound and were always produced pretty poorly. But their playing was so hard and had so much energy and aggression that it was very easy to hear, and it was genuine and it was a pure, and I love it! To this day, I keep saying the same thing about it: ’Forget the sound, how about the song?’
Would you say, that you gave the old Overkill a punk feeling at times because of your style of drumming, Blitz’s vocals are very diverse on this album, ranging from low and melodic to very high pitched screams and the guitar work is top notch?
Oh sure, my drumming was driving a lot of our musical direction, those songs were arranged primarily by me. Mostly, they were always random guitar riffs, and some lyric sheets laying around, and they had some really great parts, but no one was ever able to put the ideas all together. That is the thing that I always loved to do, to make those parts into songs...and they now approach all of that much, much differently. I definitely think that Blitz and DD are very good at what they do, all of us had talent with our instruments. But, as I said earlier, the differences between then and now are very easy to hear...whether or not you like the old stuff or the stuff that they're doing today, the approaches are entirely different!
„Taking Over” is like the debut straight up thrash metal, with insanely catchy and very memorable songwriting and a good awareness of melody, but on this album, you reach higher extremes, and the very first song („Deny The Cross”) is heavier and thrashier than anything on „Feel The Fire”, how do you see it?
Yes, ’Taking Over’ is definitely is a very catchy record. Thank you for the compliments. ’Deny the Cross’ is a great song, but most of it does rely on the chunky guitar sound. Most of that song just stays chugging on the E-string... I love the chunky guitar just as much as everyone else but you cannot rely on just that sound to make great songs. That's what made Metallica so great. They had the sound, AND they had the songwriting. So what makes the band endure and become successful? Is it the sound? Is it headbanging? Is it a cool logo? Hey, all of those things are help but no matter what, at the end of the day it's all about the song... without a good song, you won't last long!
A video was made for „In union we stand”, what about the footage of the song?
At that time, music videos had gotten very popular and were very much a necessity for bands to do. So again, with the limited amount of money we had and my homemade stage set we just lip-synced it ’live’ in front of a few dozen people. I think it turned out as a bad video, because like ALL the early metal video’s, it focuses way too much on just the singer!
Was the purpose of the song to make popular of the record?
That song was the most sellable song on ’Taking Over’, so that's why we made the video for it: to try to sell more records and grow our popularity obviously.
How often was it broadcasted by the MTV or by other music channels back then? Didn’t you think earlier about to make a clip for „Rotten to the core”? It would have been a good idea…
That was in 1987, and when MTV first came on the air they were showing very few heavy metal videos, so we were lucky to have gotten played on MTV at all! Doing that song was in not our choice alone, it was the choice of Megaforce and also Loud and Proud, who was our management firm. Again, we wanted to sell more records and become more popular, although we wouldn’t admit that at the time, because our thrash-head fans would have thought we were ’selling-out’ But that song had the most mass appeal to it without a doubt.
The record was produced by Alex Perialis who did a great job, were you satisfied with him?
I love Alex: he did a great job and is very very talented at what he does. However, every record requires good engineering AND good producing, both of which are two extremely different positions, and require different thinking... so I would say that Alex served us better as an engineer more than a producer.
Would you say that his name was a guarantee for a good work?
Well, just like it was with Carl Canedy: these were two guys who had worked with a few other thrash metal-type bands so the chances of the product coming out well was much greater. But no matter what the production is like, or the budget or anything else, it all comes down to the songs... if the song aren't good then othing else really matters. I think that's been proven over the years
How happened that the record was distributed through Atlantic?
Since Johnny Z. sold off most of his stake in Metallica to Elektra and Metallica became so unbelievably huge, it was obvious that there was a need for mass distribution of these newer, heavier ’thrash’ bands. Especially the bands that Megaforce was working with, so that’s why Atlantic picked up Megaforce’s distribution...everyone had their hand out looking to make money. And everyone did make money, except the musicians!
In your opinion, did OVER KILL’s status rise rise sharply in the States through „Taking over”?
Well, it's not my opinion, it's a fact that the status of Overkill did rise dramatically through ’Taking Over’. But, however, ALL of the thrash bands had equal amounts of success going forward during that period of time. As I said before, the genre of thrash metal had then broken and it was here to stay. So all of the thrash bands sold very well in 1987, ’88, ’89 and ’90...Thrash became the new mainstream.
You provided backing for Helloween’s tour dates to Europe, what do you recall of that tour?
That tour was a lot of fun because Helloween was such a huge band in Europe and we blew them away every single night. I remember some of the German kids telling me that Helloween were just a bunch of rich kids who got popular too fast and did no hard work to deserve their success. So they were young and didn't have much experience playing in front of these big crowds, so it was great for us to steal the show away like that.
Your next release was the „Fuck you” EP, which is a cover song of an Canadian punk outfit D. O. A., was it Blitz’ band or did he sing in another D. O. A.?
Are you serious? No really, the band called ’DOA’ that Blitz was in was just the name of the cover band that he was in with Pisarek and I think they only were around for maybe six months or a year, anyway. But, the Canadian band DOA is one of my all-time favorites!
The live tracks were recorded at the Phantasy Theatre, Cleveland, OH, June 2. 1987, didn’t you think about to release rather a whole live album?
I had decided that we should do a cover of the song ’Fuck You’ from DOA. It always went over incredibly well when we played it live. So we recorded it as an extra track when we went into the studio to record ’Taking Over’. We released it separately with those live tracks in the form of an EP for two reasons: so people would hear this extra song, and of course to try to make a little extra money, which we never did. All of these things are explained very well in the DIRECTORS COMMENTARY bonus feature of my DVD ’BORN IN THE BASEMENT’.
At which point and why did you leave the band? Do you still remember your last performance with OVER KILL?
Once again, this is explained in great detail in my film BORN IN THE BASEMENT (http://www.ratskates.com). To sum it all up, the road sucks. The music industry sucks. I had worked my ass off for 8 years to put Overkill on the map and I had not made any money. I was broke. I did not like the direction that everyone else wanted to go in, meaning that everyone was becoming generic and mainstream and just trying to copy Metallica like everyone else. That used to bother me so much! It is one thing to be influenced by another band, but when you're copying someone directly...it is an embarrassment. And I'm talking about the music, about the way he they were dressing, and everything else. Overkill was an original band with our own identity that came from the heart of what I thought, and also what DD thought...that all started to slip away, and I saw that it was not going to come back because of the direction that the thrash metal scene had taken. I was right.
Does it mean that you didn’t contributed in the songcomposing process of the „Under the influence” record?
No, most of the songs on that record were written with me in it. I have a very interesting tape of all of those songs that we recorded in the studio as some scratch tracks during the ’Taking Over’ session, meaning they were almost completed songs for our next record. So they used many of my ideas that continued on with them after I left: doing the Ramones cover ’I’m against it’, etc.
Did you part ways in a friendly term in the end?
There really were no terms at all, good or bad. I know they were upset and nervous that the main guy was leaving them by themselves to run things, but we were friends, and friends should understand the needs of their friends. I learned my lessons in a very hard, very disappointing way.
Did you follow what’s going on in the metal scene after your departure from OVER KILL?
I almost did not follow it at all. It had disgusted me. The little bits and pieces that I did see had proven my thoughts about the mainstream trendiness of the metal scene. It had become generic. Thrash Metal especially became a big race, and everyone had lost most of their identity. I had then gone back to playing straight-ahead rock 'n roll, and I could not have been happier... and happiness is why I play music.
Do you like the other OVER KILL records? In my opinion, „Under the influence” and „The years of decay” are classics and I would say, around the „The years…” record was OVER KILL on its peak, do you agree with me?
I guess everyone has their own opinion. Well opinion or not, the fact remains that all the Thrash Metal bands had their best sales in that same time period that you’re speaking of...every single band with no exceptions. I had left, so obviously the songs were very very much different. Whether that was good or bad, the fact remains that they were very different. So to say ’peak’, this means what? The best songs or the most recognized period of time for record sales and visibility? This period of time, which ironically is right after I left the business for a while, is when the Thrash Metal scene started to implode because it had become so generic and mainstream, that mediocrity of all the thousands of Thrash bands that appeared superseded the songwriting that established Thrash Metal bands in the first place. A good example of this: look at all of the major thrash bands first records compared to the records they did in 1988 and 89. Obviously, their first records all sound very very much different from each other, whereas the ones recorded in 1989 all sound very much the same, don't you agree?
How would you describe the career of the band as a whole?
Well, I and definitely very proud of what I was able to do with Overkill, and DD should be proud too, he also worked hard. I think the shame of it is that Overkill will never go down as a sincere iconic legacy to Thrash Metal, because their current mission seems to be in putting out records just to pay their bills. When we were putting out records in the 80s...of course, we were much younger then and did not have as many responsibilities, but it was all about the songs, and all about the fun, and all about the passion. I think that's all gone, and obviously that can never come back. I very much admire and respect bands like the Dead Boys for putting out only 2 records...but they were 2 absolutely legendary records! The Sex Pistols only put out 1 record, but it's one of the best records to ever exist. So, what's more important, 1 or 2 absolutely great records or 20 that are pretty average?
Have you heard about the successful fight of Blitz against the cancer? He has almost died…
Yes I did hear about it...he will be in my prayers, and I wish him the best of health.
Are you still in touch with them? What about Bobby Gustaffson these days?
I got together with Bobby to film some interview material for another film that I co-produced, ’Get Thrashed’, and we talked a few times on the phone, but I don't talk with Blitz or DD at all. Since my separation from the band, they have things on their agenda that are more important than keeping in contact with their friends.
Would you have thought in the early days that OVER KILL will exist these years as well? Did you regret back then leaving OVER KILL?
My regrets in leaving Overkill was not covering myself with our contracts to make sure that I get paid for the all the work that I had done. That was my fault and it was a mistake. I have started to talk about this on BORN IN THE BASEMENT, but we had purposely cut it off. I do not wish to publicly discuss the details of money because it is one of the things that has ruined friendships and musicians lives for many years, and it will continue to do that. My big regret is that....well actually it's just a disappointment...is that I never got a chance to finish writing the songs that I wanted to...Overkill could have been a very big band, should I have stayed. It really is a shame that we will never know how Overkill could have turned out, and it really is a shame that the business is so horrible that it forced me to leave playing music (professionally), the thing in life that I loved the most.
Is there any chance to see live on stage OVER KILL with classic line up? I mean, Bobby Ellsworth, Bobby Gustaffson, D. D. Verni and Rat Skates?
Ask them.
Rat, thanks a lot for interview and wasting the time for me, anything to add to the feature what I forgot to cover?
If you have not yet seen my film BORN IN THE BASEMENT go and see it now! It is available exclusively for worldwide delivery at http://www.ratskates.com. There is also a lot of never-before-seen historical Overkill information on my website, be sure to check it out. I have many exciting new projects in the works, both film and music, and be sure to check out my band BOMB SQUAD. I'll be releasing a CD later in the year from this amazing rock band (not Thrash!) that I had played in after my years with Overkill. It's a kick as heavy rock CD that I recorded in 1990-’91, it's absolutely my best drumming and songwriting....and yes, I still do skateboard!