2011. június 7., kedd
Interview with Michael Zaputil (Sexist, Agent Steel)
Mike, do you still remember, how did you discover music and how did you turn into hard rock/metal?
My parents always had music in the house, my father was a radio announcer/DJ in Billings, Montana in the 1950’s, so he had had a shit-load of records. All bigband, polka,& swing music from the ’30s, 40’s and ’50s. He HATED rock music, so you can about imagine what he thought of the music his son made. He attended only one Agent Steel show we did at the Whiskey in late ’86, he shook his head and left before I had a chance to introduce him to Dave Mustaine and Dave Ellefson who were backstage with us in support. Oh well. I discovered hard rock on the radio when I was about 11, but also discovered and loved (and still do) the ’60s and ’70s soul and R&B at that time as well.
At which point did you decide playing an instrument? Was bass the first instrument that you’ve picked up?
My first instrument was the accordian, at 8 years of age, my folks being Croatian (Yugoslav) and German/Hungarian set me on that path, as you would figure. I was really a good player, read sheet music and did recitals at the school I was trained, and everything, but I hated it, they had to force me to practice. I picked up guitar at 15, but my brother got a bass guitar at a swap meet so I started playing that as well. I only switched to bass because no one else at the time played that instrument well. In a way, that was a good thing because I play the bass very guitar-like, alot of chords and with a pick so I can play very fast rhythms and licks. This style I formed from punk rock, Klaus Floride of the Dead Kennedys especially.
Do you play other instruments too?
Nowadays aside from bass is my guitar, which I use to write material with.
What were your influences become a musician? Were you self taught or did you often take lessons?
My influences began with Geezer Butler. Self taught. I took a couple of lessons from the guy in Steppenwolf, can’t remember his name when I was 17, in 1977. I decided it was a waste of my time, so I did what I always did and taught myself songs from my favorite records, usually Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper, and sad to say, Kiss. (I hate Kiss now, lol!) Around 1980 I started listening to the DKs, and took it from there.
As for you musical taste and interest, were you into established, well known outfits or did you rather prefer the underground ones?
I was into the typical mainstream stuff (see above) at first, not knowing any better until about 1979 a friend that I grew up with was really into punk rock and turned me on to the Sex Pistols, the Clash, X, Black Flag, Germs, and the Dead Kennedys. A whole new world opened up for me with those bands, but I also got into stuff like Wall of Voodoo, The Tubes, Oingo Boingo, Killer Pussy, X-Ray Spex, Plasmatics and a lot of out-there stuff. To this day, I always prefer the underground- it is by far much more honest, interesting, and real to me.
Being based in Los Angeles, what do you recall of the early ’80s L. A .scene?
Well, I haven’t been based in L.A. for twelve years, however back then it was an interesting time. If you were into punk, you had the Circle Jerks, Fear, Black Flag, X, etc. on the outskirts of town. On the Strip, you would have Y&T (Yesterday & Today) come down from San Francisco to play at the Starwood, you had the early Quiet Riot and London, Ala Carte, and Snow, you even had Judas Priest come over to play in the clubs back then, believe it or not.
Would you say, that it was great underground buzz with a lot of new bands, that started their career, such as Armored Saint, Metallica, Slayer, Shellshock (later known as Dark Angel), Vermin, Sceptre etc.?
Absolutely. It was like we were all like-minded, we all discovered Judas Priest, Scorpions and Iron Maiden, but had punk influences too. We all grew up on Black Sabbath - the band that started it all. Well sort of, alot of us like myself learned hard rock from Cream, and Jimi Hendrix.
Do you think, that the L. A. scene was divided into two parts? There were the glam/hair bands (Mötley Crüe, W. A. S. P., Ratt, Dokken etc.) and the thrash/speed/power etc. underground ones…
Oh yes, you got that right. There was always these two concurrent scenes going on, at first it was the punks vs. the Hollywood hard rock hair people, then the European influenced thrash bands took the punk’s place. Sometimes, stupid club bookers would force us to play together, not a good idea. We did not like them, it was almost a gangland sort of thing, I had punk-thrash friends who would kick a glam-metaller’s ass every chance they got. I did not approve of this, but that’s the way it was.
Was it hard the metal bands getting shows? Were they overshadowed by the glam/hair outfits?
Pretty much, especially when slam pits got going in about 1984. Not to be confused with the slam-dancing/pogoing the punks did many years earlier. That is why alot of us went to San Francisco to play, they were much more open to our type of thing. Los Angeles was completly over-run with faggoty poser metal stuff. Mustaine use to call glam Gay L.A. Music.
What were the clubs that started opening their doors for metal at this point?
Two come to mind, the Woodstock, and Radio City, both in Anahiem (Orange County). Strangely enough, those two clubs were literally next door to each other. Another place was called Dancing Waters, down in a city called San Pedro, off the coast. Down the coast from there, in Long Beach was a place called Fender’s Ballroom. But the real mayhem occured in two places-the Olympic Auditorium and the Balboa Theater, both downtown. Not for the meek or timid, let me tell you.
Please tell us about your early musical experiences as musician! Was Sexist the very first band, that you’ve played in?
No, I had played in many outfits not worth mentioning, however I was a member of Armored Saint and Malice before that time. I even went down to Lars Ulrich’s place in an attempt to form a band in 1981, but he was such a shitty drummer I never called him again. Who would have thought? I also tried out out for W.A.S.P. but I guess Blackie didn’t think I was tall enough, lol!
How and when did Sexist form exactly? What about the musical background of singer Dan Mateik, guitarists Doug Pittam and Mark Anderson and drummer Robbie Blackmore? Robbie and Mark played in Energy before, correct?
Yes, Robbie and Mark and Dave had Energy before. I happened to catch one of their shows at the Troubador, and wasn’t impressed. Sexist was a band that Doug Pittam and his asshole brother Tommy had with Gilby Clark on bass originally, believe it ore not. Their band dissolved, so Doug and I re-started the band from scratch and Jake Williams ( E. Lee) was our first lead guitarist.
Before Mark joined the band your guitarist was Jake E. Lee, but he left the band to play for Ozzy, right? Did you consider him a talented guitarist by the way?
Yes, an amazing player, but he was incredibly arrogant. He was into punk rock however, so when I’d pick him up to drive down to Redondo to band practice, we would listen to the Germ’s first record, maybe some Ramones. He didn’t have a pot to piss in back then, had no money, car, or anything else. Just his axe and his Marshall half-stack. He was cool to me, but he treated Doug like shit. After he left to join Rough Cutt, before Ozzy, me and Doug hooked up with the three Energy guys somehow.
You released a four track demo including „Fire & Wind”, „Friday Night”, „The Jet Stream” and „Slice Of Life”, do you still recall, how was the demo recorded?
It was at a place called Total Access Recording in Redondo Beach, Doug was drunk thru most of it, but we got the tracks down somehow. By the way, I hated this stuff we were playing, but there just wasn’t anything else for me at that time.
Was it the first recordings experience for all of you?
For them, yes, for me, no. I was in a Led Zep wannabe band called Angeles when I was 19, about ’79 or ’80. My first recording experience was with them.
How would you describe the demo as a whole?
Interesting, though a lot of time wasted so certain members could go out and score some coke.
Through which channels was it spread around? I mean, did you send them to fanzines, radio stations, was it available at record stores and stuff?
I answered an ad in a newspaper called the Recycler where Brian Slagel was looking for bands to record. I sent him our demo when it was done, and it was as simple as that. He called me after that, and the rest is history.
How did Don Dokken end up becoming the producer of the demo?
Hate to say it, but he and Doug Pittam were partying buddys there in Redondo, so he asked him to help out with backround vox, and then he (Don) then took the bull by the horns and produced the whole thing. Maybe that isn’t fair of me, Doug did know Dokken for quite some time.
„Fire and Wind” was featured on the Metal Massacre III compilation, was it good opportunity drawing the fans attention to the band?
Actually, nothing really changed for the better. Immediately after MM III came out, Doug was fired from his own band for his chronic alcoholism. I didn’t want it that way, but the other guys would have it no other way.
How did you get the offer being featured on this legendary record at all?
Like I said above, it was really nothing more then sending Slagel our demo.
Did this feature open some doors for the band?
I wish I could say yes, but things within the band went to a downward spiral, after that. Our new singer, Robert Sykes, Mark, and Robbie Blackmore were adament. They no longer wanted to play with Doug, and they wanted to start a new project altogether- that being Letchen Grey.
In your opinion was Brian Slagel very supportive of young, unsigned, talented metal bands?
Of course, who else was there? There would be no Metallica, Slayer, or even Megadeth if it wasn’t for him. One could argue that Jon Zazula (Megaforce) had his place in getting unsigned metal bands recognition, and in a way that was true, but in L.A., it was all Brian. One thing of note, Brian turned down Agent Steel. Zazula was very interested and was gonna sign them originally, but couldn’t come up with the money John (Cyriss) wanted, so they went with Combat Records instead. I wasn’t in the band at that time, but I knew Juan, Chuck, and John very well, and kept in touch, so I knew what was going on. I was there to observe the drama when Juan and John left Abattoir to form A/S as well.
Why and when did the story of Sexist come into the end?
When Doug was fired, we scraped Sexist altogether, because it was his name, and morphed into Letchen Grey. Interesting side note, Doug and John Cyriss were good friends, they went to G.I.T.(Muscian’s Institute) together.
You joined Agent Steel, while Robbie and Mark founded Letchen Grey and released an Ep titled „Party Politics”, but what did Dan Mateik and Doug Pittam do? Were they also involved in several outfits?
Actually, I too was in L.G. for two years, a founding member, starting in late ’83, but I was never happy with what they were doing musically, so I left in late 1985. The only reason I stayed on with them at all was the women and drugs. Sad to say, but true. When John found out I was available again, he immediately called me. What Doug and Dan did afterward, I have no idea. I think they were both good guys, just not that talented.
Was Letchen Grey an improved line up of Sexist?
You might say that, however Mark on guitar in my opinion was a complete incompetent, one of the main reasons I left, aside from the crappy songs he was writing. Plus I was so musically incompatible with them. They loved Kiss, Bad Company, and Led Zeppelin-bands I can’t stand, while I really loved Slayer, the Sex Pistols, and the Dead Kennedys, they couldn’t understand why I loved those bands so much, a mystery to them.
As for you, please make the things clear, because I read, that you played in Malice too. Did you only help them out, were you a session musician? At which point was it exactly?
I played with them for two or three months in late ’81. It became more and more clear to me the more I worked with them that the guitarist Jay Reynolds was a complete jerkoff, and I was wasting my time. Sorry for the strong words, but its true. One need only read Mustaine’s (there I go, bringing him up again!) book where it mentions his bad experience with him to know what I’m talking about. Believe me, we are not exaggerating about this. No wonder they made only one album, on a major label no doubt, and still failed miserably. Last I heard of Reynolds, he was hired, then fired from Metal Church, then went to prison, for what I couldn’t tell you.
Do you still remember how and when did you join Agent Steel to replace George Robb? What was the problem with him?
The problem became evident when the band was recording the Mad Locust Rising EP in late 1985. The recording engineer informed John and Juan that the tracks Robb was putting down were barely usable in a professional capacity. John called me and asked if I was available to finish up the project, but I just didn’t have the time. They then went with what they had, but fired George soon after. A few months later, John called me after I left Letchen Grey, I then accepted, and joined the band. When the EP came out, they gave me full credit for being on the album, photo picture and all. I didn’t think that was fair to Robb, but that is how they wanted it. Abattoir had just done the same exact thing to Juan, on their first release on Combat.
Were there auditioned other bassists besides you or were you the first choice?
Nope, John didn’t waste any time. Once he found out I was available, that was it.
To which extent were you familiar with Agent Steel and with the previous bands of the members, such as Vermin, Sceptre (John Cyriis), Abattoir (John and Juan Garcia)? Were they kind of cult L. A. underground bands?
I knew all of them. I went with John when he auditioned for Scepter(on guitar). They were two brothers, the Sardos, who had that band. John ended up marrying their sister Layla,(yep, just like the Clapton song) and had a son with her. When that didn’t work out(both with the band Sceptor, and his marriage), John decided to switch to vocals, instead of guitar. The first band he sang with was Medusa, the same band that appeared on Metal Massacre III with Sexist. He quit them, and then joined Abattoir. He did the Screams from the Grave demo with them, then quit again. It was at this time I met Juan, very late 1983. It was also at this time Dave Mustaine happened to hear the Abattoir demo right as he began Megadeth. Cyris was his first choice as a singer. They got together for a few weeks to try and work things out, but I don’t think they clicked together very well. Dave was a heavy drug user at that time, and John wasn’t at all. Plus, they were both very strong, personality wise, they both had their own ideas as to how to proceed, song-content wise. This is an important piece of history many people don’t know, that John was gonna be in Megadeth, and I’m surprised Dave didn’t mention this in his book, as this was very significant. Megadeth and Agent Steel however did go on to have a friendship, being lablemates on Combat, and all. Juan is a very close friend of Mustaine to this day. John then had a brief fling with Vermin, in 1984, which I thought was a very good, heavy, fast band. He stayed with them for most of that year,but quit them because he thought they were too punk influenced(not a bad thing in my eyes at all), then got together with Juan, Chuck, and George, in August of 1984. Agent Steel was born.
Do you consider Abattoir as one of the first speed metal bands by the way?
Well, to be honest, no. But they were miles and miles ahead moving metal forward to the future then bands like Armored Saint and Malice which were stuck in the past. You mentioned Vermin, which I thought never got the credit they deserved. They were doing the crossover punk/thrash thing a full year and a half before anyone heard of D.R.I., or Stormtroopers of Death. I would say that the first speed metal songs were as follows: alot of Judas Priest’s Sin after Sin album, Exciter on the Stained Class album, and He’s a woman, She’s a man on Scorpion’s Taken by Force album. Also, much of the Virgin Killer record. Those were the songs where it really all began, but I must mention also the first two Iron Maiden records. That was what really lit a fire under everyone’s ass, so to speak. But really, that title belongs to Judas Priest and Exodus.
Do you think, that Agent Steel made their mark incorporating all the aggressive elements of the Bay Area Thrash scene with soaring vocals inspired by Metal gods Judas Priest and Iron Maiden?
I think the Bay Area thing in the media was a bit over-generalized. They lumped everything going on in California in one place, and it just wasn’t that way. I mean, really, the bands that changed the world forever came from Los Angeles, that is just a straight-out fact. With the exception of Exodus.You hear about the so-called Big Four of thrash. Anthrax is one of those bands out of default. We –Agent Steel may of been one of those bands, but lost our place because we fucked-up so badly in a critcal time when we (and our management) should have been making better business decisions. I may get strong and violent disagreement on this, but that is how I see it. Thrash metal was borne and bred in Los Angeles, that is a fact that some need to deal with. The other cities-New York, and San Francisco, copied us. Again, Exodus being the exception. They were at it a long time, they were one of the first, and they deserve all the credit they get, if not more so. I think they deserve to be one of the Big Four over Anthrax too, my opinion, kids don’t get excited –lol! Now, I’m talking about modern thrash as we know it, not the earlier influences like Venom, Priest, or Motorhead.
In fact, Kerrang magazine dubbed Agent Steel, Iron Maiden on speed, right?
Yep, they sure did. I was always trying to get the guys to do the song Iron Maiden(from their first album) Agent Steel style. That would have been a hoot, don’t ya think?
What was your debut at all? I mean, did you perform some shows to check out your skills before you started writing the material for the second album titled Unstoppable Force?
Naa, they knew full well what my skills were. I’d known Chuck and John for five years by that point, and we had tried many projects together before this. When I joined, it was straight into a writing situation, immediately. No time wasted. They needed material for a new album post-haste. The song Unstoppable Force is my music alone, with John’s lyrics. Everything else on that record was a collaboration between all five of us. My first show with them wasn’t until we began our first European tour. It was in Antwerp, Belgium, and it was a disaster. It was in this old airplane hanger they turned into a venue, solid concrete everywhere, even the ceiling. Terrible acoustics. On stage, it sounded horrible, we could barely hear each other properly. But it was what it was, and we got thru it.
How about the song composing considering Unstoppable Force? Was the material ready when you joined them or did you have a big hand in the songwriting?
See above. I would say they gave me a lot of freedom to contribute. They had some ideas ready to go, but nothing complete. A lot of re-arraingment going on.
Have you recorded some pre-production demo and stuff? Did Combat ask you to hear the newer material before you entered the studio or did they still have complete confidence into it?
Yes they did request pre-production, but we went straight in, and banged that record out as we saw fit. Combat was gonna take what we gave them whether they liked it, or not. We had our vision, and we wern’t going to compromise on any level. As it turned out, I’m glad they saw it our way in the end.
How long did it take to write Unstoppable Force?
The writing part was very quick, we had a lot of ideas that went together fast. Recording it took some time, as we had to interrupt the process to go on tour. Plus, when we got back, John pulled some shit which I will get into later.
The album was recorded at the legendary Morrisound Studios in Tampa, what made you to record the material in Florida?
That was John’s idea. He wanted to be there for inspirational reasons.
Is it correct, that the band moved to Florida that John and Chuck wanted being closer to the Bermuda triangle?
Well, we didn’t move there to record, just stayed for the duration of the work being done, but later on, (early 1987) those two did, and I’ll address that very issue later on in the interview.
Unstoppable Force was one of the first records (besides Nasty Savage’s debut), that was recorded at the Morrisound Studios, would you say, that was a kind of work preference (preference work) of Scott Burns considering the future?
No, it was entirely John and Juan’s choice.
How did the recording sessions go? Can you tell us detailed about it?
It was alright, John was the most professional in that situation than I ever saw him, before, or after. Us four in the band were sharp as a knife, our parts didn’t take too long to record at all. Our recording and mixing engineer, Tom Morris really knew how to get the best out of us as well. One of the things he would do is write different shit on Chuck’s drum heads like ’’HIT ME HARD YOU FAG!’’ to motivate him to pound loud and hard for the sound he was after. We lived in the Embassy Suites in downtown Tampa for that month and a half, but boy did we ever rack-up a bill staying there. I remember that time, it was March of ’86, Metallica had just released Master of Puppets. Juan and I found a record store in town, and bought a tape of it, we just had to know what they were up to. He and I were impressed, John thought it sucked. It figured, he was listening to nothing but Queensryche at that point. Also, the guys in Nasty Savage use to come by our suite and hang out. Very cool dudes, we went to parties they had going on in their hometown of Brandon, good times.
The band interrupted the recording for a few months to tour in Europe, you toured through the month of May with Anthrax and Overkill where the split video US Speed Metal Attack was recorded, what do you recall of this tour? Did you get on well with those bands?
Well, here’s the thing- when young, up and coming bands like the three of us are thrown together like that-same tour bus, same hotels, many times same eateries, same everything, there’s going to be be competition, we all had everything to prove. Plus, we didn’t know them, nor they us. So with that, there is going to be a lot of tension as well. I wish I could say we all got along, but not really. From the start, there was this New York vs West Coast attitude thing, also Megaforce vs Combat type of shit, but to be fair, alot of the crap was started more by their tour managers and crew members then the bands themselves. It certainly didn’t help that when John gets into a position where he feels threatened,or mocked, he gets very belligerant and in your face. John also brung over a friend of his that did nothing but cause problems. He use to push him over to fuck with Anthrax’s guitar tech, a very shy, nerdy, jewish kid named Irv. It was like school at times, a bunch of kids fucking with and teasing each other. Every one of us were 24 and under. Personally, I thought Charlie, Frank, and Joey from Anthrax were very cool guys, but I found Scott Ian off-putting and a bit of a stuck-up douche. The biggist asshole of all was a crew member that Overkill brought with them, a complete obnoxious, incendiary jerkoff. I have no idea what this guy’s problem with us was, he did everything he could to get us thrown off the tour, and start shit with us time after time unnecessarily. But all in all, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, it was an experience very few people get to enjoy.
Was it an opportunity that you couldn’t miss out? Did the tour, the shows help the band getting new fans?
That tour projected us into a spotlight none of us had ever dreamed of, it was surreal. We felt like the Beatles, everyone was so enthusiastic and rabid about what we were doing. Constant photography flash in our faces, everywhere we went.We could do no wrong in their eyes. I kind of think the other two bands were jealous of the attention we were getting over them. Success for us at that point was easily obtainable, all we had to do was let it happen. Sad to say, we didn’t.
You returned in June to finish recording the album and it was released in 1987 due to delays in the recording sessions, what happened? What kind of reasons did lead to the delay at all?
It was at this point John became more and more difficult. He was holding the record company hostage, and was refusing to complete his vocals unless they came up with more money for him alone. In a word, he became greedy. He had them over a barrel, and took advantage of the situation. When he gets that way, there is no getting thru to him on any sensible level either.
Do you think, that the most improved aspect on this album compared to their debut album has got to be the guitar work, there are many more riffs in the songs, and no two songs are structured the same nor sound the same?
Oh absolutely. The first album’s music was very raw, basic, and punk-influenced, as four of the original members-everyone but John, were into punk rock. When Bernie came in, the song writing changed dramatically, he and John were much more on the same page as for more melodic arraingements.
Is the dual guitar approach of Juan Garcia and Bernie Versailles a highlight of the album? Are both their high-energy riffs and their slick soloing extremely memorable and catchy?
Yes, they became the new dual guitar team to follow in the footsteps of KK Downing & Glen Tipton, or Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Juan and I however, really liked the dual guitar work done in Thin Lizzy as well, and emulated harmonies and soloing as such. I myself am to this day in awe of the work those two came up with, and am proud to have been a part of what they were doing. I am a fan of them both, and love them as good friends to this day.
The overall song composition is very well executed, right?
I would say yes, considering being on Combat and Music For Nations,(no major label) we sold untold numbers of records, so we must have been doing something right. I am very proud of what we did, wouldn’t change a thing.
How do you view, that the songwriting is catchy and contains loads of dynamics, the band knows when to slow it down to create a good song and when to speed it up?
Let me put it this way, Juan, Bernie, and I had that special connection that just worked wonders, its hard to explain, all I can say is that the writing chemistry was so right on, so perfect. Very rare to have that going on.
Are drum and bass magnificently done here, with a fair amount of fast double bass and grooving rhythms and both instruments are clearly listenable (audible)?
Yep, just listen to that record. With George Robb(not to slag him at all) the bass was barely audible. For needed reasons, I guess. With U.F., that changed, to much more over-driven bass and drums carrying things along. I felt that Chuck and myself could really kick people’s asses when we really got going.
What do you think about, that the bass has a rich organic tone and your work here is impeccable and highly memorable, and you almost has the same presence as the guitars?
It was all part of the vision we had. I played with Juan and Bern as part of a three-guitar team, if you will. I am always right there, riffing right along with them, it is all in my style of playing. Just like with my current band. There is very excellent bass work in the title track and Never Surrender for example… Well, thank you I tried. I can’t stand boring bass lines-drives me nuts.
Do you agree with, that compared to the debut only the speed was reduced a bit gets a lot more melodic?
We wanted to try many different ideas for Unstoppable. It was make or break time for us at that point, we needed to prove that we could do anything. Every song had to be outstanding, and no crappy filler material was acceptable, wouldn’t have it any other way. As it turned out, this was our seminal work.
How did The Ripper end up becoming on the Japanese version of the album?
That was a choice of the satellite record/distributor over there. We really didn’t have a say in that.
Were all of you satisfied with the end result or would you have changed something on the record?
Except for the very few clinks and mistakes my ears can hear on those recordings, I would say otherwise, nothing. We are very proud of our end product, and it stands the test of time.
Both Agent Steel album are excellent, classic heavy/speed masterpieces and the band succeeded in leaving its mark on the scene, correct?
I would say yes, but I want to be humble here, and not an arrogant jerk off. At the end of the day, we were writing and playing to please us. We wanted to put out music we would go out, buy, and enjoy ourselves, let alone anyone else. But we managed to impress alot of our peers as well. There also are a bunch of young bands now that tell us how much what Bernie, Juan, and myself did to impact their lives.
What were the shows in support of the record? How did they go compared to the previous ones?
Well, I wish I could say. Unstoppable Force was released in mid 1987. The lineup that recorded it had broken apart at that point. Juan, Bernie, and myself were doing other things by then. It was John and Chuck alone with new guys supporting it.
Internal difficulties forced Juan, Bernie, and you from the fold, what happened? Were the problems unavoidable or…?
This is how it happened-like I mentioned before, when it came time to finish the record, John was holding Combat hostage for more money. This was creating strife between us and him. We then did a showcase for no less then 7 or 8 major labels. At the end of the showcase, the same A&R guy from Capitol Records who signed Megadeth approached us, and shook all our hands, saying he thought we were great, and that he would get in touch. This was in December of ’86. Over the next several weeks they were in negotiations with our our management, and with Combat over money matters I won’t get into here. There was a pending deal going on.(unknown to most of us in the band). John then, out of the blue gave all of us band members a call, demanding that we move to Florida. We tried to talk him out of this foolishness, it was a piss-poor excuse to disrupt a successful band’s career for all the wrong reasons, but he wouldn’t listen. And it would have been nice if our management talked some sense into him, but they did no such thing, as a matter of fact, they enabled him.These were the people hired to know better, they were the adults in the situation. But they had the mistaken belief that John WAS the band, and thought everyone else was expendable. What complete, fucking idiots they were. How wrong could they possibly be? Juan, I, and Bernie, we had girlfriends, our families, and lives based in L.A., we mulled this nonsense over as to what to do, but we had no choice. By the way, the three of us were kept in the dark by them as to what was going on with Capitol, but we heard nothing, until long after the fact. So we told John, if that is where you want to go, then go, we are not interested, and this whole thing is very unfair and selfish of you. So he and Chuck went to Florida, and that was that. When Capitol got wind of this whole situation, they pulled the deal. They wern’t interested in us if we were this unstable and dysfuntional. John and Chuck re-formed the band, they did one more tour of Europe, then Agent Steel broke apart for good.
How would you describe personally John Cyriis whom I consider as one of the best singers of all time and who is my absolute favourite one? Why was it hard getting well with him?
I liked John. He was a fan of my talents, as was I of his. He is one of those rare people that the very same gifts he has, also drive him to destructive impulses. He would give me a place to stay, if I needed it, like any good friend would, but could be the most ridiculous, irrational, paranoid, out of control asshole ever. And usually over small issues that amounted to basically nothing. Another thing with him is, he has a tendency to be very selfish in his choices and movements without considering the other people involved. He is by complete definition, an enigma.
Richard Bateman, James Murphy and Jay Weslord joined the band, did you follow the band’s career?
At the time, no, wasn’t interested. It wasn’t until much later Chuck gave me some videos of their shows in London, and elsewhere.
What did you do after your departure from Agent Steel? Did you join The Mofo Homeboys right after that?
No, Bernie and I formed a project called Phobia that lasted a year. When that folded, he wanted to do other things, and I really wanted to do something more hardcore punk oriented. The Mofos approached me, so I joined up.
What about this band and their Peace In Anarchy demo as a whole? How did they sound like?
They were what you would call a ’’crossover’’ band I guess. I recorded both of their demos, with a bunch of my material thrown in, along with some Black Flag covers. We had an interesting sound, our vocalist Tom Baile sounded a lot like Kurt Cobain,(Nirvana) and Mike Ness of Social Distortion. The band’s music sounded like what Sick of it All does, only more sped-up. I thought they(the demos) turned out really well, Brian Slagel was very interested, but nothing became of that. This went on from 1988 to 1991. When I first heard Nirvana’s Nevermind record, I thought to myself Whoa! he sounds a hell of a lot like Tom!
The band usually played Agent Steel’s The Day at Guyana, correct?
Yes, but looking back, I don’t know why. We had plenty of our own material to go with, so we certainly didn’t need to go with that. I think they talked me into it because it wasn’t my idea. I had moved on (from A/S) by that point.
The Mofo Homeboys disbanded in 1991, did you follow what’s going on in the metal world, in the underground? Did the new trends (grunge, pop/punk, nu metal) almost kill the traditional metal?
I had quit playing for a while at that point, but I did follow Nirvana and Soundgarden, and the new crop of death metal, grindcore bands. I really liked what they were doing. And, yes, I think music fans had had enough of the hair-metal thing, for very good reasons, but Megadeth, Slayer, and Metallica went on to even bigger things in the Ninties, and I say good for them. Plus, you can’t deny all that was going on in Norway and Sweden at that time. Also the rise of bands like Death, Obituary, Cryptopsy, Cannibal Corpse, Nalpalm Death, and of course, Sepultura. Metal never went away, it was dormant for a time, but look, we have Lamb of God, Norma Jean, Slipknot, and a host of others, doing it up now.
Do you think, that a lot of bands lost the thread and started playing something new that wasn’t familiar with their original approach, such as Metallica, Megadeth, while a lot of bands got on hold or fell apart?
Sadly yes, Metallica totally lost it, in my opinion, and never got it back. Megadeth has been touch and go, some of the stuff Dave comes up with are alright, some-well, not so much. Slayer, on the other hand, has kept it going, who would have thought that these four green kids I saw playing the Troubador at one of their first shows would become one of my all-time favorites. Consistantly so.
After 10 years hiatus (silence) Agent Steel regrouped in 1998 with Bernie Versailles and Juan Garcia on guitars, you on bass, Chuck Profus on drums and Bruce Hall on vocals, how did you get together again? What were the background of the reformation?
Those three just called me one day, so I invited them to my home, we talked, then I helped them audition vocalists.
A lot of cult ’80s bands started working again at this point, such as Metal Church, Nasty Savage, Necrodeath etc., how did you view this?
I thought it was a good thing, I mean, why not? As long as you can still pull in a significant number of fans to your shows, then go for it. But they should have as many of the original members as possible, otherwise it becomes just a cover band.
Did you feel, that you found the perfect replacement in the person of Bruce Hall considering being the new singer?
I liked him as a person, but to be honest, I am not a big fan of his voice, but remember, this is my opinion, and the type of music I am now into isn’t really driven by the vocals anyway, so you should take that for what its worth. That said, I think he did a good job for what they did for ten years, and I do love the Omega Conspiracy album.
You recorded three demos (Agents Of Steel – including New Godz, Into The Machine, Fighting Backwards, Bleed Forever – 1998, a second demo – including Deny The Poison and Eradicate – also in 1998 and the Deny The Poison demo – including Deny the Poison, Eradicate, New Godz, Into the Nowhere, Fighting Backwards and Bleed Forever – 1999, how would you sum up these recordings? How did you write the songs?
Well, I have to be honest, I had left the project by that point, and wasn’t involved in any of those, as a matter of fact I had left California by that point too. Karlos Medina did the bass chores. He and I talked, and I gave him my complete blessing. He has done more with the band then I have, and I think the world of him, a truly talented and great guy. He however, is not in the band anymore too, and is now a cardiological examiner in a clinic in a California town named Temecula.
As for the first demo, some internet versions of the demo add the Black Sabbath cover version Sweet Leaf, but that is taken from the Hell Rules tribute album and was not part of the official demo, wasn’t it?
Don’t know, I wasn’t there.
Were all of these demos sent to labels to attract labels interests?
The comeback record of the band was released in 1999 titled Omega Conspiracy, but why didn’t you play on this album? Why did you leave them again?
You have to understand that when they approached me, I was 38 years old and was pretty burned out. At that time, I had been slugging it out in the music business for 22 years,and after my previous project at that time which I had just spent 3 1/2 years, and a lot of time and money with had fizzled out, I had had enough. I had already bought property in Arizona(where I am now) and already had a job waiting for me there, and was about to get married and start a new life. You reach a point when you are tired of being broke, and not having anything, and putting in tons of hard work, your time, blood, sweat, and tears, all for nothing. Also, for all the records, CDs and what not that Agent Steel sold, I have yet to see a penny of it. Back then, our corrupt managment had us all sign promisary notes without the oversight of a good attorney, or even our parents, but we were dumb young kids-what the hell did we know? And I realize that time and again in this interview I keep bringing up things our managment did,or didn’t do, but it always seemed like at every important junction in our career, they did the wrong thing. Always. All that said, I love O.C., the material is excellent, and I wish I could have been a part of it. If they had asked me one or two years earlier, I’d have been all for it and right there with them. Totally bad timing again.
In your opinion, did it become a classic album too? Did it satisfy the needs of the Agent Steel fans? How do you view the other Agent Steel albums Order Of The Illuminati and Alienigma?
O.C. absolutly is, the other two, time will tell. But thats just me, a little too melodic for my taste.
Are you aware of John Cyriis returned to them?
Yes, but it is my understanding that he is already out of the picture, things didn’t work out after they toured Japan. They already are recording with a new singer named Rick, and sadly, they are having difficulties using the name Agent Steel again. Which to me is a joke. John never came up with the name ’’Agent Steel’’ a mutual friend of ours by the name of Brett Phillips did.
Mike, how would you sum up your career as a whole? What were the highlights and the lowpoints of your career?
My career as a whole, well, for obvious reasons I wish the payoff would have matched the hard work and effort put in, but I’m not complaining. I would have done the same thing again, but I wish I knew then about some things what I know now. A real low point for me was the last 6 months I was in Letchen Grey. I was beyond disappointed that after two years, and much gigging and recording, nothing much was really happening. I was seriously drug and alcohol addicted, I was depressed that I chose to score some coke or some crank instead of bettering myself musically as well as building my career. I was constantly going to jail that year(’85), drug possession, drunk driving, traffic warrants, assault and battery, all kinds of shit. I was also very unhappy with what we were doing in that band song wise, and it was not really their fault, they loved what they were doing, it just wasn’t my thing, the Sunset Strip hair metal scene. But that band did give some very high points, for what it was, we drew a lot of people to our shows, and it was fun in its own way. Agent Steel was of course, the very high point(when we were kicking-ass successful) and the very lowest, when we broke up. What was so pathetic was, we didn’t go out with a BANG as much as a whimper. Truly sad for the fans, let alone us. I use to be very bitter and angry at John, but no longer. Everything happens for a reason, I guess, but one can’t help but imagine what could have been. You have to move on, or go crazy.
Are you proud of playing (taking part) in Agent Steel?
My proudest ever. And let me say this, I am proud of people like you Les, and everyone who loved our band and loves thrash metal in general. This very Easter weekend about 275 miles west of me in Coachella California , the Big Four played. Juan was there backstage sending pics and videos to us on Facebook and it was crazy packed with thrash metal heads from all over. Those bands are almost 30 years old, and yet they still draw tons of people. Most of them young kids, like my 19 year old niece who was there, and her boyfriend. Yes, that does make me proud and happy. I like to think we, and the other bands in our genre, took what punk rock and English metal started, and took it to entirely new levels.
Thanks a lot for the interview, anything to add, that I forgot to mention?
Just one thing. (ok, maybe two). You haven’t heard the last of me yet. After twelve years of inaction, I was approached by some good friends of mine-the band Unforseen, to join up. They are Phoenix’s top thrash metal kings, my two guitarists and lead vocalist are half my age, but who cares?(bigtime Agent Steel fans btw). We can be found on Facebook either my page, or the Unforseen page there. Or go to unforseenonline.com. Incredible music, you just won’t believe how awesome this band is. Our upcoming CD release was produced and mastered by none other then our very own Bernie Vesailles. And let me just say that Les, you really did your homework on this, and came up with some very smart and well-thought out questions. And I wish you much success. One more thing, some of the comments said by me may seem more than a little harsh, and to the point, but everyone who really knows me knows what an opinionated bastard I am. I just call it as I see it. Some of my friends say (and also my wife) I am a music snob. Maybe thats true too.
Bejegyezte: Leslie David dátum: 1:47