2011. március 28., hétfő

Holy Terror interview with drummer Joe Mitchell

So Joe, Holy Terror was originally formed in 1986 by guitarist Kurt Colfelt (after he quit Agent Steel) and the line up became complete with the addition of second guitarist Mike Alvord (Black Widow), bassist Floyd Flanary (Thrust), drummer Jack Schwartz (Dark Angel) and singer Keith Deen, do you still recall at which point did you get in the band to replace Jack Shwartz? Is it true, that he got on the phone and strike a deal without talking to anybody and the band received a couple of contracts with Jack’s name on them so they already getting real fed up with him in general so Kirk kicked him out of the band but he won’t leave which leads up to him socking him in the nose?
That’s pretty much the story I was told. I met them a couple of weeks after Jack was out.
Did you know, that Black Widow was featured on the legendary Metal Massacre III. compilation with the instrumental track „Blitzkrieg”?
Are/Were you aware of they tried out some different drummers -one of which was Jordon Lieberman-, but they didn’t find anyone so they run an ad in the Music Connection?
Jordan was a friend of Kurt’s roommate so he was around and wanted the gig. Keith didn’t really like his playing and I think Kurt was going to see if Jordan could work out because of the studio time already booked. Kurt told Keith if he wanted someone else to put out an ad.
You were one of the guys who answered, is it correct, that Kurt played you Slayer - Hell Awaits and told you about about speed metal and he wasn’t really sold but Keith Deen liked you? Do you still recall, how did your audition go?
Only 2 guy’s answered the ad, one being me. I think since time was running out til the studio Kurt was hoping for someone maybe more familiar with Speed Metal but Keith thought I was a better fit so they took a chance on me and it worked out well.
In your opinion, was Kurt a talented, experienced musician?
Yes and so was Keith & Floyd .
Before continuing the band’s story, when and how did you discover music and rock/metal in general? How did you turn be a metalhead?
I started playing guitar at 8yrs old, switched to drums at 11. Metal was a natural progression.
What were your faves that you grew up listening to?
Mahavishnu Orchestra, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa.
When did you start playing instrument? How did you choice fall on drums? Do you play other instruments too, by the way?
I started guitar lessons with a nun at 8. I wanted to switch to another instrument, was thinking about trombone but found drums and that was it.
What were your influences to become drummer?
I was at a parade as a kid and saw a bass drummer with a bandaged hand and blood on the drumhead. That and the sound of the drums made an impression on me.
Did you take some lessons or were you self taught?
I’ve had lessons here and there and played music all through school but mostly I’m self taught.
What about your musical background? What were the bands that you’ve played in before being involved in Holy Terror?
I’ve been playing in bands since I was 15. There’s too many to remember. There’s no one you’ve probably heard of Holy Terror was definitly a high point.
Were you deeply involved in the L. A. underground scene by the way? Did you often hang in clubs etc.?
Oh yea! I lived in Hollywood and was always doing something related to music.
How do you view, that the ’80s L. A. scene was divided into two parts? On one hand were the glam/hair outfits, on the another hand were the speed/thrash/power acts…
Well, back then L.A. was mostly butt-rock. There weren’t hardly any speed or thrash other than a few bands like us, Dark Angel, maybe a couple more. Slayer was in O.C. Metallica moved to S.F. The clubs weren’t too friendly to the heavier thrash bands.
You were already booked for studio time and six weeks after you joined the band went in and began work on Terror And Submission, so it means, you didn’t play on their demo, to which extent were you familiar with Holy Terror? Have you ever listened to that particular demo?
Yea, the demo was one of the ways I learned those 3 songs. I had never heard of Holy Terror until I answered the ad.
Terror And Submission was not the original title, Kurt wanted to call it Holy Terror but the label guys wanted a title other than that, correct?
Yea, I think it was originally going to be Holy Terror. Then it was going to be Reign of Terror but Slayer released Reign in Blood so it was changed to Terror and Submission.
What about the recording sessions?
It was at a studio in Topanga canyon. It burnt down a few years later. I think we laid the tracks down in a couple of days. The guy’s at the studio had never heard of speed metal. I think they were old disco guy’s.
The intensity showcased across the album was a wise decision for Holy Terror, because unlike so many of their peers, they produced an effort that could be remembered fondly, what do you think about it?
All of us were just trying to put our best foot forward. Who know’s what it would have sounded like with better production. Through the years since, it’s seemed to hold it’s ground pretty well.
Is Terror And Submission top-notch speed/thrash metal performed with conviction? Are the songs well-constructed anthems of pure, raging metal?
Yea, that’s a good way to put it!
How do you view, that Holy Terror wrote some of the most intelligent and thematically original lyrics ever put to metal music, sung by one of the most dynamic vocalists of metal, Keith Deen whose voice gave the band a grisly edge?
Kurt’s lyrics and Keith’s vox were definitely over the top!
You had a sound that, by 1987 standards, was quite intense; filthy, aggressive thrash metal which mastered both the elements of chaos and precision into a violent experience, what’s your opinion about it?
We were just getting started. We were trying to improve with each record. Who know’s where it would have led to if the band had not been stopped!
What were the tours, shows, in support of the record? Can you tell us more about them?
Well, it was great as long as it lasted. Lot’s of great shows with most of the active bands of the day. We were on the rise and the sky was the limit. It definitely looked like we had a bright future. We were brought down by our own hand.
In the fall of 87 you went on tour with DRI in Europe, was it your first European touring experience? Did you go with DRI, because they were one of Kurt’s faves?
H.T. and D.R.I. had the same management. And that’s how we got to go with them. This was our first tour in Europe. We did 30 shows in 31 days. We played a show in N. California with D.R.I. at a place called The Farm so they could check us out to see if they wanted us on the road with them. We didn’t have the best show, but it turned out for the better. I guess they didn’t think we were much of a threat so that’s why they took us with them. One of the guy’s from D.R.I. told us this later down the road.
How did the whole tour go?
It was great! It was the Crossover tour and D.R.I seemed to be at the height of their popularity. Some of the hardcore punks were kind of stand-offish with metal bands but we won a lot of them over. I think because we were fast and not your typical metal band. We became good friends with D.R.I. They were cool, they let us stay in their booked rooms and they stayed on their bus. Great guys, we got along well with them.
When you got home, you got ready to release the Terror and Submission album in the States and got Casey McMackin to re-mix it, so it sounded more like you wanted it, but was inherently hard because of the way it was recorded, what happened at all? Were all of you dissatisfied with the sound of the album?
Terror and Submission was recorded with engineers that were not familiar with recording Speed Metal. They were pretty much disco guy from what I remember. One of the problems was they used gates with some of the mics and it affected the drums and cymbals in a bad way. The production was lacking on T&S, but it did have an overall vibe to it. Some people actually like the original better than the re-mix. Casey basically went in and tried to polish things a bit. In the end some things were sacrificed. For me, it was my toms and cymbals, because they were getting picked up through the gated mic’s. If you listen to the beginning of Blood of the Saints on the re-mix, the toms are absent and the cymbal crashes are cut off. Throughout the record there are inaudible drum parts, little things I played that you can’t really hear because of the production. I don’t think we’re dissatisfied. It is what it is. The only way to really change it would be to re-record it. It was a learning experience for all.
Do you still recall, when did you start writing the material for the second album, that became Mind Wars?
Yea, it was after T&S came out and we weren’t touring. We used to practice about 5 days a week. Mostly what would happen is Kurt would come in with a riff and we would go from there. Once we had part of a song, we would record it and take the tapes home and work on it. That’s how I would get ideas for the drum parts and then I would try them out at rehearsal. Kurt didn’t write all of the songs. I think Mike and Keith wrote some stuff. It was a collaboration.
Is it correct, that the idea was to make an epic metal record so with all the improvements and a bunch of new songs yo went into a better studio again with Casey McMackin?
Our idea was to push ourselves to do the best we could. We were trying to improve with recording from record to record which I beleive we did. We were also catching our stride and getting tighter as a band. We felt as long as we were getting better with each record then we were on the right track. It’s a natural progression, the band gets tighter and more dialed in. Having Casey on board was definitely a step in the right direction.
You tracked at The Music Grinder in LA a very expensive automated studio and then continued tracking at Track Records, what do you recall of the recording sessions? Were you more prepared then with Terror…?
Well, I was the first to record and I recorded all of the drum tracks in two days. We had the experience from the first record and were trying to avoid any issues like we had in the past. We definitely were prepared as we could be. We had Casey on board which was definitely an improvement on the engineering end. I was more prepared because it wasn’t like T&S where I only had six weeks before recording. We were trying to get the most bang for our buck. It’s all about preparation and being efficient as you can in the studio. We didn’t have the luxury of writing IN the studio or staying in as long as we wanted. The clock was ticking and we were on a budget.
How do you view, that Holy Terror’s strength lay in its command of melody and blackened atmosphere in the midst of the manic tempos and swirling thrash riffs?
Well, because of each of our past individual experiences I’ve never thought we were your typical speed metal band. We each brought alot of varied influences to the table. Kurt, Floyd, Keith and I were a few years older than Mike and between us there was alot of experience in other styles of music. Floyd, Keith and me had never been in a speed metal band before H.T. We were exploring new ground bringing our past experiences and abilities into a new style of music for us. We had alot of background to draw from. You never know what the end result will be until your done. I felt we were doing some quality stuff.
The music is largely the same pace as Terror and Submission, with dense riffing that hints at some technicality, what’s your opinion about it?
Yea, there’s a lot going on in the music. Your not going to hear everything the first time you hear it. I think this helps to keep it fresh. There’s things in there that you might never catch but in the end it all contributes to what our sound is even if it’s something little that goes unnoticed.
Did this album spend a goodly amount of time in manic thrash mode, and was ridiculously fast for the time, as well as featuring a good amount of melody too to balance out the frenzied thrash madness?
We were a pretty well rounded band. After touring with D.R.I. we were definitely faster. We were influenced by them on the speed end of things for sure. We just combined the speed with our melodic approach. We played the songs even faster live.
This album is different from what one (a thrash fan) would expect from the average thrash metal recording, right?
Definitely in a lot of ways. Again, I don’t think we were your typical thrash metal band. With any style of music I think too many musicians copy their heroes too much. Theres nothing wrong with drawing from your influences, you just have to refine it and put your own stamp on it. It’s hard to be original when your just into one style of music. Our influences were not the same as other thrash bands. Thats probably because we didn’t grow up listening to speed metal and we weren’t trying to copy anyone. We were into doing our own thing, developing our own sound. And I think at the end of the day we did that.
The atmosphere it creates is not one of evil, the melodies and vocal lines suggest an aura of sadness instead of pure hatred for anyone…
Kurt’s lyrics make you think rather than just blasting you with shallow words. The lyrics leave room for the listener to interpret the song themselves. I think Keith’s vocal melodies themselves were unique because of his varied influences. I know of many bands that have goofy, simple, non-sense lyrics. They definitely have their place with people who like that kind of thing. I won’t metion any band names but I’ve gotten some good laughs at some of the lyrics from bands that were much more popular or bigger than us.
The lead guitar busts out some lengthy, very tasteful solos, drenched in pure melodic brilliance and some solos are to be remembered as lost gems of quality guitar playing in metal…
Overall, the dent we made in the metal scene was relatively small. Being that we only released two albums, I think the third could have gotten more attention and accellerated things for the band which would have meant more a lot more exposure which might have made those gems not so lost. In my opinion, Kurt’s riffs, solos and lyrics are superior to others I’ve heard, especially back in the day. As time goes on, this seems to hold true. In the end, anything lost is probably our own fault! We were brought down by our own hand.
Is the rush of speed provided by the drums intense and precise?
Well, I was definitely going for intensity and precision. The faster you play the more you loose intensity, power and melody. I’ve always tried to be as powerful as possible, but also have a groove and some feel in my playing without loosing the speed. It’s interesting nowaday’s with blastbeats. They are amazingly fast but I’ve noticed that most of the drummers don’t really work too hard. Some I notice barley sweat. Most blasters play super lightly which translates to not much power. They have to do this to play that fast. Some of the blastbeat drummers are amazing but if they try to play another style, their lost! I think the listener can feel if the drummer IS powerful. Groove and feel is hard to hold on to the faster you play. I’ve always tried to combine power AND speed and it takes some work to pull that off. Precision is necessary to keep the band tight and everyone together. Especially with more complicated music. I think the drummers command of the groove and feel contribute alot to the overall sound and also to the songs being varied. If you don’t insert groove and feel, you run the risk of all of the songs sounding too similar. It’s sad that alot of metal drummers don’t have much groove or feel. They just play fast and after awhile all the songs start sounding the same. I think a lot of musicians, especially metal don’t even consider this. Groove, feel, and power are all necessary especially at fast tempos. The faster you go the less creative you have a chance to be. I like to bust it up. A band has to practice a lot to get together where the band is a single unit. I wrote all of the drum parts to compliment the basic guitar riff and melody of the vocals. It must work together. You don’t want to sound like your just trying to keep up...........you have to drive the band.
When slowing down, you show some interesting patterns…
When you playing slower you have more room for creativity. I am heavily influenced by bands from the 70’s that played odd time signatures like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Frank Zappa. Back in the early 70’s you had heavy bands like Black Sabbath, heavy, but not very fast. I’ve alway’s been attracted to heavy and speed and Billy Cobham from Mahavishnu was the first powerful speed double bass drummer plus he was playing some really innovative fucked up time signatures. There was nothing else like it back then. I listened to them all the time growing up. My friends used to call it headache music.
Did Mind Wars have its fair share of power, crunch and genuine anger?
I think so. It has a vibe to it. There’s alot of emotion in it. We were trying to be as powerful as we could. It seems to have held it’s own through the years.
What do you think about, that innovation is also a key factor, since one will find little to no riffs borrowed from other bands?
There was a common thread among us as players in the band and thats where where we hooked in with each other and we also each had our own little worlds different from the others. I think a lot of bands get together with too many similarities with there tastes of music and in the end you end up with a copy or close enough copy. It’s not really cutting new, original ground. As a player I have always tried to have my own style and I think it’s true with the others from H.T. If you have this, then the end result can have a style of it’s own and not sound like anything else.
The songs are jewels, such as Judas Reward is great, alternating the aggression with melodic solos and vocal lines, Debt of Pain is very catchy and fast, Damned by Judges has top-notch vocals, how do you view this?
I remember when Kurt would bring forth a new idea or riff. I would listen and be intrigued and try to complement what he was doing to intrigue him in return. I really liked his riffs, it was inspiring to me. You know, back and forth working together building a song. When there’s enough of a song you record it and it kinda tells you where it needs to go when you listen back to it. Keith was the icing on the cake. I don’t think anyone can cover the ground Keith did. I don’t know many or maybe ANY singers that have his range or power.
Is it true, that Debt of Pain was originally written for Agent Steel with the title Back to Reign, but with other lyrics?
Yea, I remember when Kurt brought that song in, I knew it was from his past. I’ve heard the Agent Steel version I think once. I didn’t care anyway. I just treated it as another new song knowing we would tweak it to our own in the end. I think Keith changed the lyrics on that song.
Would you say, that Mind Wars is the perfect melodic thrash album?
I think we’re all proud of it. As musician I think we were just trying to play that ’Perfect note! Do you ever hit it? Maybe, but then there you are trying to make the next one better. Mind Wars seems to have been well received by the people familiar with it. Who know’s where the next record would have gone. I think Mind Wars is our best effort in our short career.
During the summer of ’88 you went on tour thru America with DRI and Kreator, did you get on well with the bands? What do you recall of that our?
Those guy’s were great! It was a blast hangin with them. Ventor from Kreator used my drum kit and their road manager had to cover our name on the front of my bass drums every night before their set. He devised a system with duct tape. After lot’s of shows I remember seeing some of the tape fall off halfway through Kreators set and our name shining through. I pretty much handled the road manager position for us. I remember D.R.I. had a road manager that was a prick. He tried to ripp me off a couple of times. We drove the equipment truck with each of the bands gear in it. I think this was the only reason their road manager helped us with directions and what not to get to some of the gigs. Then, one nite one of the guy’s from D.R.I. kicked him in the face.
You got to open for Motörhead for four shows too, correct? When was it?
If I remember correctly, it was November 88. I think all of the shows were in California. Of course it goes without saying, playing with Motorhead rules!
Shortly after X-mas 88 you got ready to go on tour with Exodus, and Nuclear Assault in Europe, how did it go compared to the previous European tour?
It was supposed to be a month long but it only lasted two weeks. Exodus and Nuclear Assault were supposed to alternate the headlining slot but Exodus headlined the shows we played on. The shit hit the fan on that tour. One night in Germany, Keith and I were doing a radio interview after a show and the guy mentioned something about us getting kicked off the tour and I said ’No, everything’s great!’. The next day we were kicked off the bus. Later, I learned that MFN had found out that we had signed a deal with Roadracer. MFN had put out our first two records and were pissed we didn’t go with them for the upcoming third record. I guess they figured the only way to get us back was to kick us off the rest of their tour!? For Their Record!? Pussies! MFN immediately flew in another band for the next show. MFN had supplied the buses and crew, etc. so we figured since we had contracts with the promoters for the shows that we would just show up to the scheduled gigs and play. We didn’t need THEIR bus OR backline. I rented a van and we headed off to the next show. You should have seen the look on Rick and Gary from Exodus’ faces when we showed up. The head guy from MFN, this pompous prick by the name of Jim, I think, saw Kurt and one of our crew heading his way and he picked up a board. Kurt ended up punching him out and we split. Later that night we ended up at a restaurant and Mike quit and abandoned the band. He had his mom fly him home. We were stranded in Germany. Our airplane tickets were non-changable, non refundable. We were scheduled to fly out in 2 weeks. We were broke and finaly ended up charging Kurt’s girlfriends credit card to get back to L.A. after sleeping two nites in the Zurich airport.
What happened with the band after this Euro-tour? Did you write some new tunes for a third record? Have you ever recorded demos, rehearsals and stuff?
After we returned to L.A. Mike was still done with the band. For the next 2-3 years Keith, Floyd and I waited and waited and waited for Kurt to come out of his drug bender. We were really dedicated to the band, but it was all about Kurt. Finally Kurt layed off the drugs a bit and decided he wanted to relocate to Seattle where he’s originally from and put the band back together. I moved to Seattle then Floyd followed but Keith did not! I think it kinda put Keith on the spot. In Seattle it was just Floyd, Kurt and me. We went in a studio in Seattle and recorded a few songs with Kurt singing.
At which point and why did the band split up? What kind of reasons did lead to the band’s demise?
In the end Holy Terror was pretty much done after we got back from that European tour we had gotten booted off. Almost all communication was cut off from Kurt except for my occasional visit to his house. Floyd, Keith and me tried to keep it alive and after 3 years Kurt was back in circulation and was moving and if you wanted to be in the band you had to follow him to Seattle.
After 1989, the band, minus Keith Deen and Mike Alvord, relocated to Seattle and continued for a short while as Holy Terror before changing the name to Shark Chum and playing punk rock, correct? Have you ever anything released or performed gigs under the name of Shark Cum?
Oh yea, we played as much as we could and recorded 11 songs in the year that we were together before Kurt broke that band up. About 4 years later I got one of the old Shark Chum songs on an Epic records compilation and we reformed Shark Chum with Kurt, me and an ex-Zeke founder Dizzy. We played locally and toured. We recorded one cd and were getting ready to record another after 2 years, but Kurt broke the band up once again.
Why did you change your music at all?
It was obvious with the 3 piece line up that we weren’t H.T. anymore. I guess we just simplified things. How can you do a 3 piece Holy Terror especially without Keith singing?! Actually the 2nd time we did Shark Chum with Dizzy the band was even better because Dizzy also sang. We were more versitile. We started making some headway but Kurt stopped it. This was the third band I was in with Kurt that he broke up. I started seeing a pattern here and I needed to move on myself. It seemed like everytime we got something going on it was just a matter of time before Kurt stopped it for some lame reason or another.
After the Shark Chum thing, Kurt was involved in Zeke and in The Load Levelers later on, but what about you and the other guys? Did you remain in touch with each other? Did you follow what was going on in the metal scene?
I was asked to join Load Levelers, but I was done with the ’start – stop’ thing Kurt had going on plus I wasn’t into the style of music they were doing. I was going to move back down to L.A., but at the last minute I hooked up with a band in Seattle that was in the studio and ended up recording with them. I stayed with them a few years and recorded 2 cd’s. I occasionally saw Kurt. Floyd moved to Nevada. We didn’t see Keith for about 16 years until he resurfaced about 2007. I haven’t seen Mike since bailed on the band in Europe. I was always doing something musically. I was in quite a few bands in Seattle.
Kurt Kilfelt reformed the band (Holy Terror) in Washington circa 2005 along with you, guitarist Matt Fox, vocalist Aaron Redbird and bassist Jeff Matz, how did that happen?
I was playing in a metal band called The Undisputed Heavyweight Champions and Kurt and I started jamming at my practice space. UHC didn’t really like it so they split up and Kurt and I started looking for other members for H.T. and also started another band on the side. Jeff Matz was out of Zeke for a while and wanted to play with us. Kurt found Matt Fox and then we started trying to find a singer. We used Aaron for a short while, but that didn’t really work. We then found this guy named Trent to sing. We played one show and Jeff went to High on Fire and Trent went back to his band. It was obviously not H.T. so that was that!
What can you tell us about the El Revengo material, that was released in 2006 by Blackend?
There was I think 4 H.T. songs that Jack Endino cleaned up a bit which made them sound better. The rest of the cd was live shows or video, pretty much whatever we had accumulated over the years.
Did you rehearse, write new tracks or give some gigs with that new Holy Terror line up? Was it worth to reunite without Keith Deen and Mike Alvord?
Well, we played that one show and rehearsed alot for that. We didn’t really write any new material. Without Keith it’s not really H.T. It’s more like a tribute band. Keith was the icing on the cake. I think H.T. could have survived without Mike, but Keith? No!
Would you name Keith’s voice as a trademark of Holy Terror?
Yea, I think H.T. had a few trademarks that made us what we were. A band is like a hand of cards....you change one and it changes the whole hand.
The band has split-up again since then, what are you doing these days? Can you tell us more about it?
Presently I live in North Carolina. I moved back here to be close to and help out my family. I don’t plan on staying here forever, but for now it’s o.k. I play out locally once or twice a week. I’m not playing metal. I wish I was, but there’s none around here where I live.
How can you sum up Holy Terror’s career as a whole? What were the highlights, so the best and the worst moments as the member of Holy Terror?
I guess you could sum it up by We appeared, we kicked some ass, we disappeared!! Kurt started the band, Kurt ended it! The highlights would be the music and the shows. The worst would be the unnecessary demise of the band. Holy Terror had all of the elements I wanted in a band. I was proud of the music and felt lucky to be a part of it. Kurt, Keith and Floyd will always be life-long bro’s. We worked extremely hard to get what we had, only to have it needlessly thrown away! I’ve read fans comments regarding the band saying things like It’s a crime they didn’t get the recognition they deserved! etc. It’s like there’s someone to blame!? Well, there is!! When it’s all said and done, I’m just glad we have what we have from our short career!
Joe, thanks a lot for the interview, anything to add, that I forgot to mention?
Thanks to everyone that likes our music and thank you!

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