Thursday, December 4, 2008

Agent Steel interview with Bruce Hall

(interview conducted in December 2007 and presented here for the first time)

Has it really been four and a half years since I last interviewed Bruce Hall, vocalist of Agent Steel? Apparently half a decade can fly by before it’s noticed, because there we were in December 2007 picking right up where we left off. It was a real pleasure to speak to Bruce, as he was as straightforward as ever (nothing kills an interview more than a musician trying to be “diplomatic” when the entire point of the exercise is to reveal what he really thinks and feels!), and the latest album, Alienigma, is definitely the best the band has made since they reformed, and for my money it even bests their work from the ‘80s. It’s the sound of a band being creative, moving into new areas, without betraying their previous work. It puts the band in a tough spot from people wanting pure nostalgia, those buying into the “Agent Steel – cult 80s metal” reputation, because that’s just not what the band represents today. What hasn’t changed is that the band is still one hundred percent pure pissed off metal madness of the highest standard. And really, if I were still doing “best-of” lists, Bruce’s performance on Alienigma would get my “vocal performance of 2007” award. Here’s Bruce… enjoy!

(interview by James Edward Raggi IV)
I was reading our last interview before you called, and some of the things we were talking about… Hillary Clinton possibly running for President in 2004, Bill Maher and Michael Savage being fired from their shows for their comments… it strikes me that not a whole lot has changed in the four years…
Nothing, really!

We really did sign on for four more years.
Absolutely. There has been no change in the political climate, really. It’s a subtle change, I guess. Maybe it’s because I tried to keep myself a little bit media-free the last few years, and try to avoid watching political commentary and hearing very much political commentary, but it seems to me that… again, my perception could be really skewed because I live in California, which is not really part of the United States anyway. It’s not. We’re so different here in California and Washington and Oregon, we’re just a completely different country than the rest of the nation. It seems to me out here that there’s a lot of talk about people going out to vote and try and prevent a Republican incumbency from happening. I find it really sad that people are so wrapped up in the same idea again. They’re just playing their part and it just kills me. It kills me to watch rabid Democrats, like they’re really going to do something. It’s just going to be the exact same with a different face on it, and we’re going to continue to get fucked.

What I thought was curious, we did the interview last time in July or early August of 2003, and at that time we still had no clue who would be running in the 2004 election. In this election cycle, people were starting to run two years ahead of time.
For some reason the Democrats are out there in force trying to choose… I would bet money it’s going to be whoever the Democrats choose. I think they have to show some sort of parity within the parties to keep the ruse going. It might disenchant too many people to have the Republicans carry on. I wouldn’t be surprised that you’ll just find one of those middle-of-the-road Democrats who isn’t going to change anything until they can get the next warmonger in there. Or who knows, maybe the next Democrat will be a warmonger as well. You know what I mean?

The Democrats have the personalities with Obama and Clinton. Who the hell do the Republicans have?
The point being is it won’t even matter. They’re going to throw up a strawman, and even if they didn’t I don’t see how it really matters. Man, it’s a really sad indictment if George Bush is the personality President. If it was his charm and good looks that got him into office, we have really low standards here for charm and good looks, don’t you think?

The only thing I could think of after the 2004 election was how much of a nothing did Kerry have to be to lose that one?
He didn’t have to be a nothing at all. He’s playing his part, isn’t he? There are no real elections. There are just fake elections. It’s a nice show for you every four years to make you feel like you’re involved, then you can go back to watching TV, watching Friends re-runs again.

It’s good to see you’ve softened your political pessimism.
I’m the same as I ever was. I have no faith, none whatsoever, in anything. It’s probably worse now than it ever was. I don’t believe. I don’t believe that rulers have their priorities sent to lead people in a decent direction, I think they send them into the direction that their bosses tell them to send them in. I think the masses that are being moved along, they don’t care, don’t mind. I was talking about this the other day with one of my download-lamenting friends, he started whining about the state of affairs and why their record isn’t selling, blah blah blah. The amount of distraction that there is today compared to when I was at that prime album-buying age is so immense. It’s so immense. We had video game arcades that you had to leave the house to go fuck around with if you wanted anything half-decent. We had Atari 2600s and stuff like that, Commodore 64. Those were the computer games at home, which were really pretty shitty compared to what you would get at the arcade. Our TVs, the TV just sucked. Now I have this 57” HD TV out in my front room. Watching TV is fucking bitching, dude. It’s so great, I don’t care about anything! Therein lies the point of it all, doesn’t it? Having TVs in the house was never my decision, it’s not something I’m really into, but I’m telling you man, this new TV, it’s fucking cool! It’s frightening how it can really just take you out of the picture. I think people are perfectly happy being taken right out of the picture. I don’t watch news shows on my new TV because I don’t get shitty HD programming for news shows. I get all these little trashy shows. I get a channel called Mojo and I get HDNet and they play trashy shows about getting drunk and scuba diving in Belize. I’m not kidding. I watch them because they look phenomenal. The water, it looks like you could reach right into the TV and bask in that clear blue Belizean water. It’s a complete non-information center. With my cable system I only have thirty HD channels, and I won’t leave them. The other channels look shitty. It’s either that or watch movies. So they’ve taken me out of the picture and it only cost me $2500 to be taken out of the picture with my 57” DLP TV. Don’t think this is all comedy’s sake, it’s not. It’s the way we are being programmed, and the direction that we are all moving in is to just hang out and let the big boys run us into the ground. As long as we have these TVs and shit hooked up, we’re not going to notice and we’re not going to care. It’s just bigger and bigger what we have at home to satisfy our needs, and the reasons we interact so poorly socially when we’re forced into actually leaving our house to go grocery shopping or some sort of necessities shopping or you have to go to the video store because you’ve got to get something else for your big TV. The level of interaction has changed from little to almost none when you’re passing people in the street. It’s not like I live in a small town when it would be unusual for people to pass each other and don’t say anything, because in a small town everybody knows everyone, everyone has to say something. But here, even just glancing at the other person has become either frightening or a chore, I’m not sure which one it is.

It’s like Finland!
Is it the same vibe?

It’s a cultural thing, apparently it’s nothing new, apparently. You don’t look at them when you pass them, you don’t say, “Hi,” when you pass them.
That sucks, right? I don’t like that. That’s not one of the things that makes me… I’m so cynical too, I get suspicious when I’m in places that are considered really friends, at least to white people, like Texas. Everyone says hello, everyone’s really friendly in Texas, and I often wonder if it’s just because I’m white that they’re nice to me. But James Rivera assures me it’s just the Texas thing. But even there I’ve noticed that it’s slightly changed. It’s not quite as friendly. The friendly is being propagandized out of us.

One of the things I was going to talk to you about was the development of things like Youtube and Myspace and Facebook, I think it ties into what you’re saying right now.
It absolutely is. People get their social interaction when they’re sitting at home behind a keyboard. I interact with people via the computer far more than I interact in the real world. I’m transferring CDs to the computer because I had to clean out my garage. It was turning into a shithole, and I found boxes and boxes of CDs that had no business even being in the house. I figure I’ll put them on the computer and I’ll take them to CD Trader and I heard somebody just dumped an enormous collection, and I’ll trade them in and get something I might want to actually keep in the front room. Doesn’t that play into the whole idea of… here I sit, I download a little bit, not a ton, normally if I find myself in really love with something, I go out of my way to buy it, because I’m in the same boat. I know we’re being ripped off left and right, I don’t know how exactly to stop it, it seems the cat’s out of the bag and there’s no real way back, but… I’ve been part of the problem for a really long time. Long before downloading. I buy used CDs, I sell CDs back to places that sell them as used again and again and again, and the artist doesn’t get any money for that either. It does seem like the end of the music industry. Youtube, I love the Youtube because it pretty much means that every second that you’re on any stage anywhere in the whole world, you’re being taped. It’s true. Anything that happens can be thrown up there and you have very little say over it. So you should be on your best game. That’s kind of a positive thing that’s gone through my head in the last tour particularly. In fact the last couple, you’re bound to be recorded and thrown out into the world instantly. Maybe it’s making live music a little better, but the incentive to go out and see a band is less than it ever was. There are so many ways to not have to go out and participate anymore.

I think it’s interesting that everybody can be creative by putting something up on Youtube.
Of course they can!

Even I was having stupid ideas of doing something just to do it.
You could be Tay Zonday! Do you know who Tay Zonday is?

You’ve never heard the song Chocolate Rain? You’ve got to look it up on the Youtube, man. Find the song Chocolate Rain. It rocks to no end! I’m telling you, man, it’s phenomenal. This guy, someone just sent me a link because they know I’m a fan, it’s Cherry Chocolate Rain, and Dr. Pepper is using it to advertise cherry Dr. Pepper and they’ve got Tay Zonday, this internet creation, who’s this kid who played his original song in a vocal booth and got a recording of himself singing it, he put it out on the internet. He’s from the William Hung school of charm, his popularity, the amount of hits people have put on Chocolate Rain, actually got him a proper video done with cherry Dr. Pepper. I guess the opportunities are out there for the Tay Zondays of the world. And for anybody else. I figure if you’re exceptionally talented or you connect really well with the public, you’re probably in a better position than you’ve ever been in.

How do people find this stuff? When I go around Youtube, I don’t find many quality original…
We use the word quality loosely when we’re talking about Tay Zonday. Because Tay Zonday appeals to me, doesn’t mean he’s going to appeal to everybody. I tend to like wacky, stupid shit. I wandered around all day singing Chocolate Rain. It’s so funny. He does the funniest shit with his mouth when he’s singing. Anyway, he’s got a full-blown video. That came from the Youtube. It’s just a different world. I fear there is no longer any respect at all for intellectual property, you may as well throw that right out the window, majority is going to rule on that. I just don’t see any way to police it, really. Short of sending viruses to people and going around the law. I don’t see how it’s going to stop. It’s sad, but I don’t see how it’s going to end.

I think I’m one of the last people to actually not download stuff.
Dude, it’s so easy. As soon as someone says something, like, “This is good!” you can jump right on and get it, just like that. When our last record came out, I was told that the promos were shipped in an email, and a couple days later I casually checked the name on a Google search, doing Alienigma, because it’s unique, and if you type that in you’re not going to find it associated with anything else, it just is what it is. I typed it in, and I shit you not, there was no less than seven full Google pages with sites that you could get the record on. Some of them keep count of how many times it’s been downloaded. The majority of those ones that I saw that actually kept a count, the counts were well over 800, in some cases 2100 downloads from a single site. This is three days after the record came out. In some ways you look at it and think it’s really nice that there’s maybe twenty-five or thirty thousand people who are curious at the instant of it being leaked. Even then, I’ll bet half of those people don’t even know who we are and they just take everything that someone says is available now. They have these enormous fucking hard drives to fill up and it doesn’t even matter to them. Then they’re out there sharing it with everybody. It’s just endless, it’s just so easy, I don’t know why it would stop.

Did you manage to get to Europe for your last album?
Yeah, we were there in September.

No, not for this one, for the last album, was it with Exodus and Nuclear Assault?
We also went back again a year later and did a tour of our own with After All for three weeks. We did Dynamo and did we do any other European festivals? I don’t think so. We did some one-off shows here and there in the States, like that Chicago Powerfest thing. Just last month we were down in Bogota, Columbia for this thing called Rock Al Parque, which was pretty cool. We get around a little bit, we get to do some stuff.

I get the impression that more and more people are downloading as time goes on. It’s becoming the standard thing that people do…
I never did get to my point… I get spaced out… I download things, and I would expect the same from anybody that would touch my record. If you download it and you listen to it and you don’t like it, I wouldn’t expect you to buy it. I just don’t see the point in expecting someone just because they took the time to listen to a record, in fact I feel kind of thankful that people would take any time to listen to my record, anybody who makes a record should feel happy that anyone would spend the time… Again, in this world where there’s so many things vying for your attention, if someone takes the time to listen to your record, you’ve got to be glad about that. If you download it and you decide it’s not your cup of tea, I don’t see any reason why someone should buy it. It doesn’t bother me at all. It’s when people play it over and over and memorize it and treat it the way I used to treat a record I’d buy, then it becomes a bummer. I don’t think a lot of people who do this realize the ramifications of it. Ultimately, these things you’re really enjoying and taking forever and ever on and never paying back, the bands are ultimately probably going to go out of business. The record companies aren’t going to continue to support them. The bummer about the whole downloading thing too, there was six weeks between the time I first promo of Alienigma on the internet, and when it was actually released and available to buy on a hard copy. In the course of that time, people could end up really enjoying it and six weeks later there’s something more important that takes its place. You end up not getting paid for it, and it becomes a really… To make any money off of music, there needs to be, at the very least, simultaneous availability for people who do have a conscience to pay for things, rather than just getting them for free the day the promo gets leaked from Rock Hard.

So why is there still a traditional publicity arrangements with the magazines and everything? Why are they sending the promos out so early to the magazines?
I don’t think traditional publicity is the way to go at all any longer. If you’re a really gigantic act like Metallica, or even the cash cow for a single label, you could be Dimmu Borgir and do the same kind of thing, if you can set up listening parties for things, like Metallica did for St. Anger, you could probably avert a lot of unwanted downloads initially by just not releasing anything to be downloaded until you’re ready with an actual hard product in a store. I don’t see any reason why that can’t be controlled. That could be controlled. As far as a traditional arrangement with sending promos, I don’t understand why anyone gives two fucking shits what any reviewer says about anything…

Thank you!
Here’s my reasons as to why. Unless you know the person, and I think we probably discussed this before, unless you know a lot about them, then how can you take their opinion seriously regarding anything? You don’t know who they are and what they are. There are scads of webpages and people writing what they think… if you really want to take the time to read people’s thoughts on things, I guess you can start to decipher what something is like, but ultimately it doesn’t really matter on the artist’s end. It doesn’t matter to us that much whether we get reviewed. At least in my opinion. I don’t think it has that much effect on us to have people say things about us. I’m not even that convinced that that many people read, for one. For two, that the opinions that they read have as much credence as their friend next door playing it for them. That carries so much more weight than endless reviews of things that could be very empty and cursory. We seem to escape a lot of opportunities for really scathing reviews. I thought we would get our asses kicked really hard with the last records. I really was anticipating a lot of true metal backlash. It didn’t happen, even from places where I thought there might be a chance there we could really annoy someone. It seems to be going in the opposite direction. That said, it doesn’t mean that we sold a lot more records because we got good reviews. It just doesn’t mean that much. So why go out of your way to service people who are doing album reviews and giving them the opportunity to leak your stuff when ultimately it’s probably not adding up to more album sales, if any. So, you’re right, there’s no real point in doing it. I think it would be better if this came out in every format, CD, mp3, everything, if it came out simultaneously. Juan, he’s still mired in this oldschool record company way of thinking. The truth is, the whole thing, it’s over. It’s not what it was, and it’s never going to be that again. He’s like, “We have to get a promo out to this person…” and viewing it from an old approach. I don’t think bands on our level, who aren’t counting on eating from music, how having mp3s around are really negatively affecting us. It’s definitely much more hurting the people who need the money. And the bigger bands act like it doesn’t really matter but the truth is it kind of does. They’re losing money too. If Korn can have the number one record this last year for even a brief period of time on the Billboard charts and sell only a third as many copies as they did four years ago when they entered the charts at number three, that’s kind of freaky. That’s a big loss of revenue for the record company, if not for the band itself. That’s a staggering loss when it’s supposed to be a gain. You’re talking about one record that entered the charts at number three and one that entered at number one. The disparity in sales is epic in a direction that you wouldn’t think. If you can still keep pulling people to your live shows and you can still keep convincing promoters to pay you a lot of money, then I guess there’s a living to be made doing this. I don’t know how you do that. I don’t know how you can make an actual living. I know how you can live, but not really live. Not live off this alone. Very difficult. My band, we’re so lucky, we get so many more opportunities than most people ever do… I don’t know what it takes anymore to become huge. What did you end up thinking about the record?

I like this new one a lot more than the last one. Some of the songs really hit me and I play it over and over. Honestly the last one just kind of faded away after a little while… Especially “Wash the Planet Clean,” “Liberty Lying Bleeding,” and “Tiamat’s Fall.”
I’m glad. For us, and me more specifically, it was really a time to step far away from the whole trademark of the band. It really wasn’t mine. I was happy when the reactions have been more like yours than not. It’s at least encouraging.

When I listened at first, I was doing something else and it was just on in the background. It seemed a lot heavier, and I was thinking you were just always more aggressive with the vocals. But when I sat down to listen to it, there’s lots and lots of singing, it just doesn’t seem to be way out front. It’s really good.
That was totally on purpose. I’m glad to hear that. Too bad I don’t think we’ll be going to Finland anytime soon. Seems like a hard place to go to. I’d like to go to that Tuska thing.

Traditional bands don’t seem to do that well here, except for Iron Maiden and things like that. It’s all the modern keyboard death metal bands that get popular here.
Is Children of Bodom still a big band?

Oh yeah. It’s freaky. Bands like Children of Bodom or Nightwish, it’s beyond being a big band. It’s part of the culture. You’re seeing these bands on the cover of normal magazines, not music magazines. Like Nightwish’s old singer, it’s like her being on the cover of Redbook in the States. That’s the level some of these bands get here. This Ari Koivunen guy, from Finnish Idol, his album was number one here for like eight weeks? It’s hard to really think of these things as metal bands anymore when you see them like this.
I never viewed Nightwish as being a metal band ever anyway. But Bodom I definitely see as being a metal band. The last tour that we did, when we were there in September, we went with After All again. For a good section of the shows their real singer couldn’t be there, he got a real job. They got a guy to cover all the shows outside of Holland and Belgium. He was the Belgian Idol in 2003. He was a pop idol too. He finished in first place, he had the number one record in Belgium and all that kind of stuff. There was one time we were sitting in Greece, eating food at some place on the street, and we ran into some Belgian people who recognized Peter [Evrard] and came over and said hello to him. It was pretty funny! That show has some power, huh?

We get the Finnish Idol, the Swedish Idol, and the American Idol here. My wife had to watch all of it. The only stuff I like watching are the tryouts where you get to see the freaks.
It’s nice when a freak passes through for a little while. We had Sangia last year. To see him make him, especially with a little bit of help from Howard Stern and the people like me that listen to Howard Stern, it gave me a little bit of fun with American Idol last year. I actually picked up the phone and I did vote for Sangia.

In the tryouts, Melissa Ferlaak from [now ex-]Visions of Atlantis tried out for the Idol. She does the whole opera metal thing and she got put on the freak clips.
*laughs* Too bad you ended up as an Idol freak!

It’s freaky when the Finnish guy wins it all singing Iron Maiden and Deep Purple songs.
That’s the same thing that Peter did, although it wasn’t as retro as that. He was definitely doing more rock things. He has very long hair, he was definitely the rock guy. Out here we had the same thing with Chris Daughtrey. The year of the rock guy. When we were down in Columbia, this festival we played at was huge. It was like Wacken times three. Seriously. Huge. It draws a hundred and something thousand people, and it’s free. So everybody piles into this gigantic park and I never saw so many fucking Maiden shirts in my life. Even back in the day. Even at this show which was primarily not metal, we went over really well, and they didn’t know who the fuck we were. At all. They had no clue. They really liked Maiden and metal there in general. It’s rare that I guess it can ever be a mainstream thing, although I guess Bruce Dickinson could be on the cover of GQ.

He probably could. How did you get booked for that Columbia show?
Juan’s [Garcia] been friends with Alfonso [Pinzón] from Agony for awhile, ever since he worked over at World War Three. Vince Dennis went last year to play with Dia De Los Muertos, which is another one of Alfonso’s projects. He came back and he said it was just crazy. So many people. This year they called us up a couple weeks beforehand and asked if we want to do it. Absolutely! We’ve never been to South America. It’s a state sponsored event. It’s the government who put us up in a really nice hotel, fed us, and allowed us to play on this gigantic stage. We were actually booked to play Saturday night at 8pm on this enormous stage with these crazy lights and this huge Us Festival style PA, and that afternoon at about 1:30, the place got hit with a hailstorm like no other. They ended up having to cancel the festival for the first time in thirteen years. The next day they had devoted to more alternative acts with Coheed and Cambria closing the show, so we knew we weren’t going to get that prime spot anymore. They did give us three o’clock in the afternoon. Even at three o’clock in the afternoon, it was in an article on the front page of the paper on Monday morning, “Rock Al Parque is a bitching festival,” and there’s a sub-headline, “Agent Steel gets most applause.” I swear to god, I’m totally not making it up! We got off the plane in Atlanta, they were sitting away from me, and we get off and they said, “We have a copy of the paper, we’re on the front fucking page!” They mention us three times in the article, talking about how metal at Rock Al Parque is really important. Really trippy. Really, really trippy. In February, Maiden’s going to go there, the same place we played, Simon Bolivar Parque. It’s like Central Park, it’s huge. They’ve already sold the place out to the tune of a hundred and something thousand people, paid, not government sponsored come on in, but paid. A hundred thousand people. Which is really impressive when you consider the income level down there. There are some desperately poor people living in that country. Not all of them of course.

Here Maiden just sold out a tour of stadiums around Scandinavia. They’re not playing until next summer. Tickets went on sale, and I think for six shows there were two hundred and fifty thousand tickets sold.
How great that must be. Can you imagine how great that must be? I can’t even imagine.

How was the tour you just did in September. How did that compare to the tour you did for the last album as far as attendance?
It was a little bit better. It was good. For the most part, the places I knew we were supposed to go in and carry, went off pretty well. The places that I didn’t think we belonged in in the first place, I’d say fifty percent of those I got proven wrong on, the other fifty percent I was dead right about and there was no reason we should have shown up there. All in all, it was good. Truthfully, I saw more people at Rock Al Parque than I have in the entire time that I’ve been on stage with Agent Steel, and that includes playing Wacken and Dynamo and doing four or five tours. We were there for a month and played twenty-something shows, and we probably only saw five thousand people. A lot of work for not very much. For the crowd it’s cool when you come to a small place and you get to see a band like us who is traditional in the sense that we really play our own instruments. It’s kind of a throwback to go see a band that actually does everything you hear coming through the speakers. It’s us, nothing much more than a bit of echo or reverb on the vocals. For the band itself, you kind of look at it and go, “We just really kicked our own asses for a month, and what for really?” We sold some merch and we made some money, it’s not like we came home broke which is different from last time we went out there, I definitely came home broke, it was better in that sense. Would I do anything like that again? Probably not. I wouldn’t want to go out with another band of such a similar level again. I’d really want to be the very clear opener or the very clear headliner. Being with Vicious Rumors was really like being taken back in time to the days of Savatage and fucking weird horseshit that you used to see go on in the ‘80s when you’d play with insecure bands. That was unpleasant. Being with Geoff [Thorpe] and Larry [Howe] for a month was really more than I think most people can fucking stand. That would be the low point. The up part is I went to some new countries that I’d never been to before. We got to spend a little time in Greece which was cool, and see more Eastern Bloc countries that we hadn’t been to before. We visited a handful of places we know we do well in, like in Slovenia, going to Holland is always cool for us. We got to play a show with Candlemass, that was nice to watch them. I hadn’t seen them since the late 90s I guess, out here. Probably more like 96. There were definitely some high points, we played with Destruction in Belgium, that was fun. Being with the After All guys is always cool because they’re totally easy to get along with. It was a nice tour, but at the same time you look back at it, I don’t think I’d go back there for a month again under those circumstances. For me particularly it’s an excruciating amount of work to go out and sing the way that I have to sing for an hour or more. That means I’m preparing for that all day and as soon as I’m done I have to start preparing for it again tomorrow. When everyone else is kicking around and having big fun all the time, I’m constantly in a state of work. The difference between me and Bruce Dickinson, aside from notoriety and talent, is that he’s doing the exact same thing that I have to do, except he’s getting paid about a hundred thousand times more to do it. I’m not saying he’s not worth a hundred thousand times more than me, but I’m just saying the workload is the exact fucking same and why am I putting myself through this? So I would say the next time we go, if we go, we’re going to be the headliner and just do two weeks in the places that are solid. I found a few new places that I didn’t know we would do very well in, like Barcelona and Madrid. I didn’t have very high hopes for going there, and they turned out to be a couple of the best shows that we played. There’s little additions to the realm in which I’d be willing to go tour, but I’d much rather just play festivals. You can kill so many birds with the same stone.

How do you determine what places you should or shouldn’t go?
I determine it from past experience because we’ve done this enough times. I can look at a map of Europe and know where we’re going to do well, and with a relative amount of certainty where we are not going to do well. In France, we’re lucky if we can even step inside France and not be thrown out. For some reason, the bulk of the French don’t really get us. We had a fairly decent show in Paris when we were on the Exodus tour and people responded fairly well to us. I still don’t get the feeling that it’s that great. The very first time we were there back in 1999, we played in Toulouse, and the turnout that night was probably worse than it had ever been for the whole tour. It was the last night of the tour and was just weak. I get this feeling about France. In fact, this time when we passed through there we ended up having a show canceled there. As much as I love France, because I do, and I spend some time trying to learn French because I like the language, like the food, and I like the people, and I know that seems really strange, but I do… It kind of bums me out but France sucks for us. There’s nothing much we can do about it. I know that Italy sucks for us. We’ve never had a good turnout in Italy. We probably never will. It’s nice that the people who do come out seem to like us, they just don’t come out in big numbers. Now I would have said the same thing for Spain before this last pass, but in Madrid and Barcelona the shows were both really kick-ass. They were in smaller venues, two hundred fifty, three hundred people, they got pretty full and they were definitely into it and rabid. I would include them now. I would say in the past playing the Z7 Pratteln in Switzerland is death. It has always been really bad. It’s such a shame too. You talk to enough band guys, I’m sure when they talk about Z7 they’re talking about heaven on Earth. It’s like a monkey paw for us. You get something good from going to the Z7 but you get something equally shitty in return from being there. I don’t know what it is about this place. You go in, it’s a beautiful place, it’s got the nicest PA, and the nicest people work there, they make the best food, they’ve got a washer and a dryer and it’s clean and it’s a nice place to be. You feel, “This is going to be great!” Then you go out on stage and the first time you play there you play to sixty people, and it holds probably six hundred. And then the next time you play there you play to like forty people. And then this last time we played, maybe this is courtesy of Vicious Rumors, maybe this happened to be the night or whatever it was that happened, but this time a hundred and fifty people showed. So big improvement from the last time. But should we go to the Z7? Probably not. Every time I’ve been in that building, somebody has called to tell me that a show in the future was going to be canceled. I’m not kidding. I found out about France at the Z7. The time before I found out that we would not be going to Greece with Riot. There’s just something about the building, I don’t know what it is. They’re always really nice, and they always pay us no matter how many people show up. I love the place, it’s just weird. It comes from experience of having been through places, I’ve been to places that are nearby, or having people come up to you and say, “Will you come play here.” Here’s another place that I completely would not have included in my future plans other than what happened to us this last time. We closed the tour in Vienna. That’s beautiful. We’re going to go through this whole thing and the last night of the tour is going to suck balls and it’s going to be fucking horrible because it’s going to be in Vienna. It’s going to be awful, because Vienna is awful. People don’t come out and it sucks. The first time we were there, not very many people came out and it sucked, the next time we were there, it got canceled, and then we were booked there this last time and we played there were a lot of people there and they were all really into it and we had a great show. It was a really fun way to end the tour. It was especially fun to watch the crowd just leaving in droves when Vicious Rumors was playing. Just watching them walk away from the boring mundanity that is Vicious Rumors. It was just beautifully and sweetly poetic. I had seen it happen at other shows, I watched the audience just turn glassy-eyed and bored and decide it was too late to hang around. Most of the time I would only watch it for a little bit and then I’d need to go and get some sleep or whatever. This time I didn’t have to do that, I could drink and watch people walk away. I had a really fun time watching that. It was a nice end to the tour to watch that happen. And they argued on stage, it was fantastic. Geoff and James were arguing on the mic. It was really good.

Big Vicious Rumors fan, huh?
I love James, and Thaen, the guitar player for that tour and the one before, but never again, Thaen Rassmussen from Anvil Chorus, Stephen [Goodwin], their bass player, nice guy, really good. Geoff Thorpe, complete fucking cocksucker, Larry fucking dumb cocksucker. If I never see them again, it’s good for them. I can’t say enough nasty shit about either one of them. They impressed me as completely lost in their own past pseudo-fame. They actually imagine themselves and envision themselves to be some sort of rock stars. I heard, and I’m not lying about this, I heard Larry complain about Nirvana ruining everything for them. It’s like a joke. It’s that joke line that you hear. Didn’t Poison say something stupid like that at one point and it became a joke line? The kind of people when they walk onto a bus, not just evacuate someone else’s bunk because they choose that one… Thanks, Larry! Larry evacuated the drummer from After All’s bunk because he decided he wanted to be in that one. If there is such a thing as karma then it went into effect because Larry’s bunk was the only one that leaked on the whole tour. We got into a rainstorm and Larry’s bunk was leaking. That fucking asshole. It’s just stuff like that. Weird rock star attitudes, “We’re the headliners,” all this stupid shit that just doesn’t have any place in the real fucking world. Aside from that, it was a really pleasant tour.

You keep touring with these older bands.
I think it’s terrible, personally. It wasn’t my decision, and it never would have been my decision. In fact, I advised against it. Because Vicious Rumors was signed to our label at the time, they’ve since been dropped by the way, just another ray of sunshine, they don’t have a booking agency anymore either. Ha ha! Oh yeah, and they don’t have a guitar player and James quit and James is suing Geoff. Ha ha! So as you can see, things went real well for them going on this tour. In any event, it was something machinated by Mascot and definitely not something I wanted to sign up for. Vicious Rumors also, knowing they had this future tour with Agent Steel, still managed to book a tour with Beyond Fear back in April. It apparently did really badly and didn’t help matters on this tour either. It’s just a bad move, man. If you want to be seen as something somewhat current or having any sort of relevancy, I think you really do yourself a disservice by anchoring yourself with bands that don’t have very much forward momentum. I don’t mean that in the sense that Vicious Rumors lacked momentum, because if you’re making albums and you’re out there touring, and nothing I would ever say about those guys has anything to do with their level of musicianship, they are good players. It’s not like Vicious Rumors is a slouchy band. They are not progressing in the sense that they are not making any attempts to bring anything different to the table at all anymore. It’s really just an exercise in repetition. Too many bands from the ‘80s are busy just trying to recreate something that already exists. For us, particularly making the steps that we are making to try and distance ourselves from the past, I don’t know why we continually set ourselves up with relics from the past. We are one too, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, even if it doesn’t quack like a duck… If you’re out there roaming the pastures with these guys, why wouldn’t people think you’re exactly like that? I think that does us a pretty big disservice. Oftentimes, my solutions inside this band, while they’re acknowledged, they tend to be not followed through with, because my way of thinking is a little more radical and a little less cautionary. I don’t really care what happens, whether everything breaks. I do have obviously a vested interest in seeing it succeed, but if it broke, if shit just fell apart, it wouldn’t be the end of the world to me. So maybe my solutions are a little bit more, like, “Be able to walk across the Grand Canyon on this 2x4 or you’re going to fall off and die.” I think it’s because of that, because there’s not very much middle ground and room for error in my solutions, they don’t get used.

You guys have been playing tag with labels since the band got back together. What happened with Scarlet Records?
The grass is always greener, man. It wasn’t that Scarlet was doing a horrendous job or anything, but they weren’t doing an outstanding job either. I can’t really say anything bad about Stefano [Longhi] or Filippo [Bersani], they’re nice guys and I think they did do maybe as much as they could for us, but it just didn’t seem like enough. When we had the opportunity to leave, we took the offer from Mascot. It turns out we weren’t really allowed to take the offer from Mascot so we kind of had to pay Scarlet off to let us out of that contract. We thought it would be worth it in the long run to leave there and try someplace else. It’s not like anybody’s lives changed from having Order of the Illuminati out. Again, I’m not saying my life really deserves to be changed for making that record. I think it’s a good record, but does my life deserve to be changed for that? I don’t know, probably not. Why not work at another label, considering we already worked with this one. I definitely don’t have a Candlelight style story regarding Scarlet. They were really kind with us, even when they were looking out for their own interests and extracting some money from us to leave. I have no problem with them, I just wanted to see what Mascot would do. Same thing with Juan, he wanted to see what they would come up with. They had a lot more bands, and they have money. They have money, plain and simple.

I was curious where you say that you’re not wanting to associate yourselves so much with these bands from the past…
There’s a big “unless” there. Unless you’re trying to step forward and move your band in a direction that wasn’t necessarily perceived beforehand, if you can step up out of your skin and try and make something a little bit different, I’m fine with associating with you. If you can play what you’re playing at such a level that it’s outstanding, a la Exodus or something, I’m fine with that. It’s the ones that are treading water… As far as Mascot goes, they have the money and Roadrunner said no. You know what I mean? It would have been nice to be on a very prominent metal style label, but they passed.

One more thing about the tour, how did things go in Greece?
It would have been great, but it turned into shit mainly because we, and I have got to take a lot of the blame for this, although I don’t think I need to take one hundred percent of it, here’s what happened… Are you asking about something specifically? Athens got really messed up, we only ended up playing for only twenty-five minutes when I found out after the fact that we were supposed to be the headliner and it wasn’t written in the book that way. It also started out by not having a place to park, we ended up having to be about a mile away from where the venue was. Because I have a ritual that I adhere to before I play, I virtually one hundred percent of the time I am on the bus, or in a backstage room, singing scales with my head in a steamer. It’s just what I do, it’s gotten to a point now where it’s not just a one-off show, it’s practically a guarantee that I’m going to do it whether I need to or not. It’s just this thing that I do. It’s calming and it keeps my head straight. I had to go back to the bus, because there was no reasonable backstage area, in fact there didn’t end up to be one, this was a place called The Underworld… Before I left, I guess everybody had taken off to go see the Acropolis, which I was unaware of because I stayed with the bus to help unload gear that we had to do. We had to unload gear into a van, and shuttle it over. I stayed with the bus. Then I walk down to the venue with Bernie [Versailles] and Rigo [Amezcua], and we go inside, and there’s no sign up about when anybody’s playing, no anything about anything, just everybody went to the Acropolis. Bernie and I ask if there’s catering, is there any food. There’s no catering, there’s no anything. We’re hungry and we need to eat, so Bernie and I go out to find some food. On the way out, we run into Geoff, and we ask him if he wants to eat with us. He says no, and we can tell he’s starting to drink and he’s really angry, I guess because his band abandoned him and went up to the Acropolis. So Bernie and I eat and go back to the bus, and I start doing my thing. I figure we’re going around ten, so around nine o’clock, maybe even eight forty-five, we leave the bus and go back to the club. As soon as we walk up, Juan is freaking out, “We’re on right now!” I’m like, “Holy shit! I’m ready to go, let’s go!” They march us up on stage, and unfortunately, for everyone who’s ready to go and screaming at me, no one’s fucking ready to go. So we stand there for like ten minutes on this fucked up stage where you can’t even begin to get off because the place is completely beyond packed, the PA sucks balls, everything about this place fucking blows. It’s horrible. It might have a little bit of kitschy ambience, but it fucking sucks for holding a rock show at. We finally start playing, things are going OK, about four songs into it, I get told that we have to cut our set. We end up playing two more songs and that was the end of that. The place almost became riotous. I had to stand out there and answer to everybody for the next few hours why we didn’t continue to play. We listened to people’s stories about how they took boats and then drove and then took busses and then took a fucking mule and finally eighteen hours later with only some granola, they made it to the venue to see Agent Steel and they’re so fucking bummed out. It just fucking sucked. I go on to find out that the whole reason why this goes on is because Geoff Thorpe is being such a cocksucker that he refuses to go on and take our place even though he was there and saw that things were going in a shitty direction and it would have been very easy for them to just go up and play and Geoff refused. There was no reason for it. I could have used the help and the favor and at that point there would be no reason for him to not do me a favor. There was no bad blood, I was just tolerating their stupidity on a daily basis and keeping my mouth shut. When they did that and ended up fucking our time in Athens, I just had it. I kept it to myself until the very last day and that’s when I finally let Geoff and Larry hear what I thought of them for about six fucking hours while they were stuck on the bus. It was brutal, believe you me. It was horrifying. It had to be the worst night of their fucking lives. At least I hope it was. So that’s what happened in Athens. In Thessaloniki, we went up there the next day and it was kind of the complete opposite. A really nice venue, a really well-organized promoter, everything’s fucking great, big PA, things are cool… and only about two hundred people in attendance. Greece was a mixed bag. Awesome promoter there, Elias was the coolest dude in Thessaloniki and really had his shit together. Unfortunately, I doubt he’ll be having us or anybody like us back because he lost money on the show. And then he has to deal with these luddite Greek metalheads outside who think they shouldn’t have to pay. You know the general heavy metal mentality. Gus G is his cousin, so he’s says he’ll do some power metal, but he doesn’t think he can do these quote-unquote true metal shows. Again, all the more reason not to get yourself mired in the true business. Unless you just want to play Keep It True festivals every couple years, I don’t think there’s any future in it for anybody. Not to mention that as a musician, all you’re doing is treading water. Playing music that you’ve known how to play for twenty years is not really showing anybody very much.

It’s interesting that you say that, because everyone I know from Greece is really into the true metal stuff that could have been out in 1982.
In Athens, it’s really like that. It was a very true crowd. I’m not particularly anti-true unless it comes with a retard’s mentality. If it comes with brainlessness and the inability to think, I’m pretty much against you no matter what you like. I guess it doesn’t have anything to do with music, other than it seems true metal attracts a little more than its fair share of empty-headedness. The people were nice in Greece, it was nice to be there, I feel bad and disappointed that we let a lot of people down. I have to take responsibility, at least to a degree, in Athens and say I didn’t find a list and I didn’t know the time I was supposed to play. I got there in time. The truth is the band was ready to walk on stage. I was five minutes later than our scheduled start time. It wasn’t all me. It was really a lot more about Geoff and him trying to exert a little bit of power after he lost out on his trip to the Acropolis.

The plan that was ruined with my divorce is that I was going to go to Keep It True in April.
And who was your target band for Keep It True?

Ah, nice. You want to see the new true!

Oh yes. That’s become my favorite stuff over the past couple years.
Jag Panzer’s playing too, right?

Always good. One of the best live regular metal bands you’ll ever see. Keep It True is a tough place to be, man.

What you’re saying about a lot of brainlessness, trying to find good lyrics in that kind of music… shit!
I know. It’s brutal. The shame of it is that I think a lot of that kind of music is really pandering, and the reason you don’t get higher quality of it is that there’s a perception that the fan of that kind of music won’t accept something of a higher quality. In fact, the lower the quality, probably the better it is and more true it is. So I don’t think it’s entirely up to the band other than they are pandering to people. They deserve to be chastised for that. If you ever take a stance with something where you’re writing music and you stop writing it because you’re afraid someone might not like it, you’re making a bad decision.

I’ve never seen bands like Omen or Helstar. I know it’s not the same as if I was there in the ‘80s, but just the chance to see those bands…
You’re going to find that the bands are a lot more like I am. Whether they’ll say it or not, they’re a lot more like me than they’d want printed on paper. Again, because they’re afraid they’ll alienate this little audience they have. I think that’s a mistake. You should let people know where you stand. I like metal from the ‘70s until now. There’s not one year you could pick out that I can’t find a record that I love, and it will definitely be a metal record. But I don’t think there’s a period of time when it was any better than any other time in terms of what was produced. I can find levels of similar quality from year to year. You may not find the proliferation of it, there were certain years where there were massive amounts of quote-unquote important stuff came out, but there are still records that can be good and comparable in the same way to their peers in other years. It doesn’t have to be from 1981 or 1983 or 1985 to be great. It doesn’t have to sound like it came from that time either to be great, which is the more important part of the idea. I don’t know how you can live your whole life and feel content doing the exact same fucking thing over and over again.

I wonder if that’s true for a band like Manilla Road. They were never really anything as far as the industry goes, ever, and here they still are and there are bands that still name them as an influence. All these years later, is Mark Shelton just hanging on to the fans he’s got or if it’s what he really loves.
I can’t speak for him, I don’t know him, I’m not super-familiar with Manilla Road, obviously I know who they are and I’ve heard some of their stuff, but it’s not a big concern with me. I’m not Greek! I can’t say that they’ve been making the same record for how many times. Maybe they’re not. It’s hard for me to say what they’re doing. If you are taking things and throwing them out because you don’t think they’re things that your audience would allow you to do, I do think that’s a disservice not just to yourself, but to your audience as well.

What’s beautiful about that is that I completely agree with those words, but so many times I’ll hear a band’s new album and I’ll think, “Well shit, why did they have to do that?”
I know! It’s a really hard line to cross. Sometimes it works out well, and the change is for the better, and sometimes it doesn’t seem to work out as well. I just feel from the musician’s angle, again, if you’re happy doing that and if you’re Angus Young and you feel perfectly happy doing the same thing over and over and it’s getting your rocks off, I’m certainly never going to chastise AC/DC for making records that I like. As I’m putting all these CDs in my computer, it keeps coming back to the A-page whenever one’s done. I’m looking at all the AC/DC records that I have, and I like them all. I love them all. I love all these records that I’m looking at right now and they all fucking sound the same. So I don’t know what I’m saying. Ultimately I think I can only speak for myself. I hope other people are executing their right to be creative and not letting their quote-unquote fans dictate to them what they should be doing. It’s not something I would let happen to me. Look at you, dude! You are so fucking true! I remember going to see Cirith Ungol at the Country Club in like 1982, before you were born.

Hey, I was born in ’74.
Fine, while you were still watching Scooby Doo. While you were watching Scooby Doo, eating a bowl of Frosted Flakes, I was down in the pit at Cirith Ungol at the Country Club. That’s how fucking true I am. Do you get extra license for having been there? There’s a little extra license that those of us who actually lived through it and went through the whole thing when it was initially happening, that we feel extra license to talk smack.

I do that with death metal! “I remember when Machine Head was opening for Napalm Death and Obituary!”
Absolutely. Absolutely! I remember seeing Napalm Death at the fucking Coconut Teaser. I think Fear Factory might have opened for them. That’s a long time ago, it might have been 1992, 1993. That was a really small dump. I guess if you’re that ensconced in whatever it is that you’re doing, it’s really hard to rise above it and become an Iron Maiden. Especially now. There are so many bands out there that can satisfy a broader audience. I’m not saying that we’d ever be a band that can satisfy a very broad audience, I don’t think that’s part of our makeup, just like Napalm Death. It’s not built to cross many boundaries.

They were on Columbia Records for awhile, and were on the Mortal Kombat soundtrack.
That’s true. Probably got them the biggest payday of their lives. It probably did. Still, if you’re coming to Los Angeles, California, and you’re playing a dump like the Coconut Teaser, and that’s right around the time that Earache was distributed by Columbia, you’re not crossing over very hard.

I think we’ve gone a bit off the track here. We haven’t talked a lot about the actual album!
I guess we haven’t. Let’s get into that so we can press on.

You’ve now done more albums with Agent Steel than the old guy.
True that! I have done more albums than him, I am better looking still, and I’ve been in the band twice as long as he was too. I don’t know that that makes all that much difference. It certainly doesn’t make any difference to the people who worship those first two records. Nor should it. Tenure really doesn’t mean shit. All it means is I haven’t found anything better to do. I’ve been here a long time because it’s been a really comfortable place for me. I can’t picture another band where I would get to, particularly lyrically, get to do as much of this kind of stuff. Sometimes you run into people who idealistically are completely different than you, although you might be able to have a reasonable conversation or be able to play music with them, they could be ideologically so diametrically opposed to you that your lyrical ideas might come under some sort of fire. In this band, everything I say is golden for them. They’re perfectly happy with whatever shit I spew. For me, that’s fantastic. I’m really happy about that. As far as musically too, I wanted to make a big change on this record. Nobody complained about it for a second really. There was a little bit of, “Aren’t you going to go for a high scream there?” Once I said enough times, “No, I’m not going to do it, it’s not going to happen on this record,” I just want to see what happens if we make one without it. If you throw in a few, you’re going to throw in twenty, and then the whole idea is going to be blown so I really stuck with that thought. No one argued with me, and there was no telling me what to do. So yeah, I’m perfectly content on that level. Probably like I said the last couple of times I’ve been interviewed by you, I’m lucky to have the opportunity, and I wouldn’t have the opportunity if these guys hadn’t done something that was special to a lot of people a long time ago.

It’s amazing when you think a lot of bands, Agent Steel included, the period of time they were active and releasing albums was really short. An entire career and legend was born, and today people take that much time between albums.
It also fits into a period of time when things like Agent Steel or Anthrax or Overkill or any of these bands that came to popularity and notoriety at the time, it was a really friendly environment for that kind of stuff to occur. Now it’s not so friendly for any of us, really. You’re competing against a lot of other things that just weren’t there in the past. I’m sure over these past couple of years in the pop music world that I’m completely unfamiliar with and can’t even speak to, there are legends being creating right now that will disappear next year and will resurface ten years later and cause a stir with the people who cared at the time. I have to figure it’s going on right now. It has to. Things can’t change that much.

How come it’s taking you guys four years between albums?
Because I’m not paid to do this and neither is anybody else. It takes time to get it together. I could also say that… Bernie moving to Reno didn’t help anything at all. That definitely made things a lot harder. His contributions when writing in terms of translating ideas or taking things and moving them forward, it’s a really good thing to have around. It just slows down the writing process a lot. What you ended up with is a record that doesn’t have a lot of contributions by him, other than his actual playing. In terms of songwriting, most of the stuff wasn’t written with Bernie around. It would be nice to have him more involved, but he doesn’t live here. It’s difficult to get that to go on. He’s lived there now for a good long time. We tried to make things go faster. I hope that they go faster next time. Will they? I don’t know. I’m willing. I’ve got time. I’ve got time and the inclination, but it takes more than just me. I don’t write whole songs sitting at home by myself with the acoustics. I might write a riff here and there, or when we’re actually writing songs I contribute a lot of riffs and ideas if we’re all together. But I need people to bounce things off of and I need people to translate ideas for me. Without everyone participating it becomes difficult. I’m not Arjen Lucassen!

It’s interesting that you’re willing to be talking to me and criticizing other members of the band.
Who did I criticize.

Just talking about you’re willing to do more, but the others cause things to be slower…
You might even get the same answer from everybody. You know that I’m not so diplomatic that I would pull punches from anyone. I’m pretty much a let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may kind of person. I don’t think there’s any one person to blame, all I’m saying is that I’m ready and I’ve been sitting here waiting. I will not be ready from December 15th until around the end of January, my time is going to be really short. During that time, you could contact Juan and he could say, “Well I’m ready!” But I let everyone know three weeks ago that I’m available to start writing and we haven’t done anything about it. And I also told everybody that I’m ready until December 15, and then I’m losing some support systems that I have in place so I can split the house. Without them, I really can’t leave. I’ve also put the offer out there that people can come to my house and we can do things on acoustics and at least get skeletons of songs sitting here. Here I sit, alone. I’m not going to blame any one person for this… Again, I have to take some blame too. If I were so highly motivated, I’d probably spend more time playing guitar so I could actually play the ideas that I have. I would have them actually done so I could walk in and show people. I don’t spend my time doing that. I spend my time farting around on the internet. I don’t see any reason for a gigantic rush for Agent Steel other than personal reasons. Our own personal reasons should be enough to rush the next Agent Steel. I think that’s a good reason to hurry up. When you put out a record that is at least enough different from your past records to be noticeable, and you are still getting positive reviews and in some cases even more positive reviews than you’ve ever gotten before in your life, it seems like it would be good for you on a personal level to hurry up and make something else. To the world at large? They don’t give a fuck. There’s going to be a handful of people who really would care if we put a record out next year. It’s not enough to make any sort of dent or any reason to clamor for it other than just for our own sake just to try and move the band forward so we can do something more than what we do, which is just play sometimes. That’s the same thing I say to the guys in the band. For us, I think it’s important that we would hurry up and try and make more stuff and do things in a more timely fashion. There are such concerns as real life and people having outside responsibilities. The band isn’t our job, the band isn’t how we feed our kids or make sure our cars are paid for or any of that kind of stuff. It kind of has to take a backseat. As it stands, without my wife, Juan without his girlfriend, this band wouldn’t even exist. Guaranteed you that much right now. Rigo without his mom to lean on. This band would not be happening right now. If we were the typical forty year olds, there’s no fucking way. There just isn’t. There’s just no way the typical forty year old could carry on like this. It’s a huge amount of sacrifice, even at the level we participate in it. It’s a big sacrifice. And it’s not just a sacrifice on our end, it’s a sacrifice for a lot of the people around us. My kids were not happy while I was gone for a month. There’s just a lot of things that go into it. If there was more money riding on it, I think we’d probably be a lot more motivated to get things done in a more expedient manner. But it just isn’t there. It’s difficult to find the time to put it together. Four years when you’re eighteen seems like an eternity. Four years when you get to be forty, it goes by so fast you can hardly even fathom it.

Once the material is ready, getting the album recorded and put out seems to take awhile. You sent me one of these songs…
I sent you “Hail to the Chief” probably a year and a half ago. Maybe two. I don’t know what to tell you. We recorded the first five songs pretty quickly, and we had other songs to go in with. After having the first five demo’d, I wanted to throw out the next five. I didn’t think that they were really of the same level as the initial five songs. I pushed really hard to write more stuff. A lot of things got thrown out and we started over again. Why not?

That’s a good reason though. To do better. One of the best reasons I’ve ever heard for a delay.
They weren’t bad songs, they just weren’t fitting in to the overall vibe of it. Which I thought was moving in a decidedly more heavy kind of direction. There were some songs that stood out as being not really at the same level. Not necessarily bad songs, just not right for the album.

Every so often someone sends me a demo version of a song, or like you did without vocals. I’m never sure what to say. “They’re sending this to me. I guess they want me to say something, but…” I don’t know. I know I said something to you about a mosh part I didn’t like, but now listening to it, I think it’s the part where you’re singing the “New Rules…” verse. That sounds a lot better with the vocals on it, but I never would have known that…
It’s kind of a weird thing as you start messing around with songs… That’s another thing. That’s why it’s nice to spend a lot of time in pre-production. It’s nice to be able to play some songs live before you record them. You’d be surprised how much stuff starts coming out the more that you play things. For the most part, this record more than the other ones was played a lot in pre-production, and played for people at the studio long before we ever recorded it. Songs like “Hail to the Chief” were probably played more than a hundred times before they were recorded. In that instance, I think the older songs as they translated on the record turned out to be the better songs mainly because they were the ones that were sitting around for the longest amount of time and got played the most. They, surprisingly enough, didn’t end up losing their fire. If anything, I think they sound even more intense because they did live such a long life before they managed to get to record. The songs that were written with the record in mind once we had that kind of focus, they didn’t come off, I don’t think, as strong as I anticipated in the rehearsal room. Even though they got played a lot, they still come off as more… A song like “W.P.D.”, man, I’m telling you, I had such high high high hopes for that song, and it did not end up making the translation to the record in the fashion that I imagined it. I really imagined that being just this song that was going to… When we were writing it, I just went, “Man, that’s just the fucking coolest thing!” I still think it has a lot of really cool elements, I just don’t think we capture the right performance for that song. And again, it’s because it’s a newer one, and… “Lamb to the Slaughter” was written probably three days before we recorded it and sent it out there. I was changing lyrics patterns right up to when I recorded it. I would love for circumstances to convene and us to be able to have a couple months to really devote solely to writing a record. With no outer distractions, much in the way that bands that get paid to do this live their lives. That would be a really nice thing to have happen. I think we could come up with something pretty good if we could do that. We’ve never been able to. We have three hour bursts every couple weeks. Even when you’re trying really hard to get things done, you’re looking at maybe eight hours in a week that would be devoted to it. It’s so not a full-time thing.

So what are your favorite songs on the album?
My favorite songs are different from the ones that I think came out the best. The one that I think came out the best and is my favorite song is “Hail to the Chief.” That’s my favorite, it’s my favorite lyrically, it’s my favorite musically, to me it’s the strongest song on the album. I really like “W.P.D.” as a song. Again, it’s got so many interesting parts in it. If you want to take the time to listen to it over and over, it reveals itself to you more. But I think we could have done something to make the parts sound a little bit more distinct from one another. I don’t know exactly what that would be. The actual ideas of that song are really cool and I love the way that it ends. It’s just a bitchin’ song from start to finish. I really like “Extinct” and “Hybridized” as well. “Hybridized” is really cool, because we did exactly the opposite of what people might expect with it. It just sounds like it’s going to start with one of those *heavy metal scream* and it so doesn’t, you know what I mean? It has the possibility for so many clichés, and they weren’t exercised. That to me… there’s a little bit of special meaning in that for me as well. I look at it and go, “There is a very predictable grid one could have walked on this, and it didn’t get walked on.” It’s a personal little thing about the song that I happen to dig because I know what could have happened to it. Those really are my favorites, although I don’t think there really is a weak link on this record, a song that I have to turn off. If there’s any song that I feel like I have to turn off, it’s probably “W.P.D.” because it just didn’t meet my really high expectations for the song.

The one song that I’m playing over and over more than the rest is “Liberty Lying Bleeding.”
It’s a cool song.

I’m really into the lyrics, it’s great to try to sing along to, you should hear that, it really scares the neighbors.
It’s a demanding vocal line on that song. Not in the sense that it’s extremely high or extremely low or this harsh tonal thing, it’s more in that the notes move very slightly. There’s not big steps, it’s all real subtle. Especially in the chorus. And you have to be spot-on while you’re doing it or it sounds really fucking shitty.

I like the song. The arrangement of the song, it’s not a pop song arrangement. It builds like a real epic of a song even though it’s five minutes. I love that sort of thing. “Tiamat’s Fall,” what really makes that is the end when you start with the “History – Astronomy…” and you pick things up there. It reminds me of “Nice Day for a Funeral” by Overkill.
Oh, yeah, with the big guitar parts? Yeah. That song went right up to the bitter end with me saying every single time I was on the phone with somebody, “Is somebody going to put in those guitar parts at the end of the song? There’s just three fucking chords, can we get somebody to put those parts into the end of the song?” I was really starting to worry that the whole thing was going to leave and go to the land of pressing without those parts on. In my mind it was absolutely mandatory that they got on there. That song is real funny in the lyrical sense, I really like the far-out lyrics on that song.

Once again the lyrics on the album are very political. Why do you never do a straight politically lyrical album. Why is there always science fiction in there?
Because I like doing the sci-fi stuff too. The sci-fi stuff is fun. It’s a break from… I don’t watch all documentaries and I like escapism as well. If I can do my escapism using something that is at least a strange kind of outside possibility sort of thing, then that’s cool for me. I like including it because it’s something interesting and something fun, and an outside chance that there’s some sort of truth to maybe a little bit of it. There’s also the great government conspiracy of hiding all this stuff from us.

For about a year and a half since we last talked, I was an online subscriber to Coast to Coast AM.

That will mess you up!
I know! It’s entertainment as far as I can tell. I don’t think that there’s enough truth in it to say with absolute certainty, unless you are a person who has stood in the presence of a UFO or an alien being, and I’m not saying you couldn’t have, but I’m just saying unless you’ve actually faced that, it still lies in the realm of fantasy. There’s also people like William Cooper who have called Art Bell, Art Bullshit Bell forever and they see him as a font of disinformation. Just like they see Alex Jones as some disinformant who works for the government as well. I guess as long as things are being discussed then it’s all good. I do think Art Bell tends to make things that might even be credible seem lacking, it’s again that kind of guilt by association sort of thing.

What would it take for you to not write lyrics about this evil government that deserves a real life V for Vendetta situation?
It would take my trust in them to appear. I would use the word restore, but I never had any. It would have to be that I end up in some way, shape, or form, trusting them, or not caring. I just don’t see either happening. What is my government or any other government done to instill trust in its constituency? I just am not seeing it. I don’t see why I should be so willing to believe what they say to me. Until I find a reason to believe… One thing that would go a long way into making me feel a little bit more empowered as a citizen under this government would be the end of this graft and payoff system that we have now where basically pharmaceutical companies and oil lobbies run our government. If there was something to be done to abolish their sort of control, it’s just so unlikely to happen because money talks. As long as money talks, there is just no reason to trust anybody. So I guess there is never going to be a reason to trust anybody in a position of power. They’re all doing it for the money.

I saw this wonderful news story last week, some government official saying that people are going to have to redefine the word privacy. He was basically explaining that they’re going to have the information and privacy means they don’t release it.
Exactly! To a degree, they do now. Privacy is relative. Private to who, private to my neighbor? I guess. Kinda. The intrepid neighbor could find out everything that happens here. It would be very easy to do. We are entering into the Orwellian world of accessibility to everything about you that’s private. What you need to do is stop being so fucking private. Probably. That’s probably the solution, is to stop doing things that you need to feel private about. Or that government would free up people’s lives so that the things that you do in private wouldn’t make that much of a difference. We have kind of a weird standard, everyone seems to have private peccadilloes and weird shit they like to get all up in, and we love to find out about other people’s dirty laundry, but we hate to have our own exposed. People are just going to have to get used to the idea that everything they do is on display.

We’ve been talking for almost three hours here, we can wrap this up. What five albums have you been listening to lately?
I listened to Fair to Midland lately. I rather like that record, I think it’s pretty cool. I have been listening to and liking part of it anyway, the newer Nightrage. That’s kind of good. I’ve been listening to a lot of old King’s X. And the usual Thin Lizzy, which I can’t seem to go more than a week without listening to, and the new Down. That’s pretty much about it. More than anything, I’ve listened to the Fair to Midland in the last three weeks.

Any final words for the readers then?
Everyone, pay a little extra to Lamentations of the Flame Princess this time so Jim can buy a new Logitech mic that’s desk mounted and he can actually conduct a reasonable interview.

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