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Exclusive interview: The life, death, and resurrection of ATHEIST

APRIL 6, 2012 BY: MARK MORTON (Examiner.com)

ATHEIST (circa 1989)

Few bands are as deserving of celebrating its rebirth ATHEIST - 'Piece of Time' from the 1989 album PIECE OF TIMEas Atheist. A misunderstood entity during its original lifetime, the Sarasota, FL metal technicians recorded only three albums between 1989-1993, each of which was critically crucified and essentially betrayed by the metal community at large.

The band died a painful death, and then something magical happened. In the late 90s and early 00’s, a technical-based metal sound began emerging that more than coincidentally honored the Atheist vision. The band’s catalogue became expensive collector’s items on the secondary market, and soon enough, Relapse Recordslaunched an incredible reissue campaign, and the surge from this increasing interest and reverence seemingly caused Atheist to rise from the dead to continue to spread its inimitable metal gospel.  

It was recently announced that Atheist would be participating in select dates on the Death To All summer tour (in memory of fallen metal hero Chuck Schuldiner), and the time seemed right for us to assist in spreading the good word. Read on, as we sit down with founding members Steve Flynn (drums) and Kelly Schaefer (vocals) and celebrate Atheist!

So, I guess the Atheist ball actually started rolling with the inception of Gnostic. How did that all happen?

STEVE (SF): When Atheist broke up, I had gone to graduate school, and I wasn’t doing anything music-related for 13-14 years. And then in January 2005, I got the urge to start playing again. I can’t really explain it. So, I sent out an email to a local music exchange in Atlanta saying, “Hi, my name is Steve Flynn. I used to be in this band called Atheist. I have a lot of experience touring and recording. I want to play locally.”

I really had no aspirations at the time, because the Atheist reunion hadn’t happened yet. I was just dying to play. Kelly had been after me for years, and meanwhile, he had been having a long run of success with Neurotica and other bands, and I was just sitting there. So I started playing, and I met Sonny [Carson] and our original bass player, and the bass player was a big Atheist fan. We started jamming together and one thing led to another, and songs started coming together.

I called Kelly and told him I was playing again and had started again, and he said, “F***ing A, it’s about time!” We had written our first five songs, did a demo, which didn’t sound very good, but those songs are on the album. And about six months later, the Atheist thing came about, so it really all mushroomed.

Was one a consequence of the other?

SF: No, they were completely unrelated. So, you can thank the Lord, the Universe, or Science, or nothing at all, but it was timing and coincidence.

How were you able to recapture such an intricate style of playing after having not done it at all for so many years?

SF: It took a while to get really back in it. I could do quad-rolls and stuff like that; but sustained for four minutes…NO WAY!

KELLY SCHAEFER (KS): Were it not for Gnostic, the Atheist thing likely would not have happened, because it brought him back into playing drums again. And that gave him the endurance, and speed, and everything to get him back into that frame of mind to be able to dive back into those songs. So really, both bands are important to each other, and this whole experience is like a team effort.

SF: Kelly’s exactly right. Everything just fell into place. When the Atheist thing came back around, the only way I could have handled it was to be in shape and able to play again, and because of some issues we had with Rand, the original guitar player, and some other problems, we needed players. And with Chris and Sonny, we were able to have guys who could plug right in.

When the Atheist reunion started to materialize, where there other concerns besides Steve, like being able to play the intricate material, being able to scream, etc.?

KS: No, it was really just about Steve playing drums. If he wasn’t able to do it, it never would have happened. It really didn’t happen as a result of Gnostic, but it did help. I mean, Relapse was reissuing the catalogue, and that worked out great, so we decided to see if we could play some shows. And then all of the sudden Wacken wanted us, and we were shocked, because back in the day, we didn’t have any of that kind of attention.

Well, that’s something I wanted to touch on, because back then, Atheist had a small group of fans and did not achieve this “legendary” status until after you had broken up.

SF: DONE is where it’s at! [Laughs]

KS: Yeah, our base was super-small, and we were actually getting shunned, except for the journalists. Conrad at Relapse was just a kid at the time. And then he went on to become VP at Relapse. And when we did those reissues, the guys at Relapse were 100% fans of the band and really excited about doing it. So they worked extra hard on the art, the remastering and everything. We were just blown away by it all, because we never experienced that in the past. I’m freaking out that it took 15 years for people to finally get it.

I guess it was strange, especially for you, Kelly, who continued to work through the scene and probably saw the metal scene gradually catch up to what you were doing all those years ago, to now where you are playing shows with bands you obviously influenced.

KS: It’s weird. But it’s very, very cool. And it was always our hope that people would take what we did and just run with it. And everybody did. I mean, The Faceless is just incredible, and Dillinger Escape Plan has done some amazing things, and the list goes on and on.

SF: And we went through a lot of sh** and we took a lot of sh**! I mean, we got booed and shunned, and no one supported us, because everyone thought we sucked. “You guys aren’t metal enough!”

KS: Including the Godfather of Death Metal himself, Chuck Schuldiner! I mean, when you have that guy railing against you early on, you might as well wrap it up.

ATHEIST - 'Mother Man' from the 1991 album UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCEATHEIST - 'Green' from the 1993 album ELEMENTSATHEIST - 'Second To Sun' from the 2010 album JUPITER

SF: Oh god, yes, that guy actually went out of his way to bash us.

KS: Saying that we only listened to jazz and didn’t listen to metal couldn’t be further from the truth. He was just very insecure about people evolving something he created. He deserves all the credit in the world for his contributions, but he was very against us and said a lot of really crazy things about us. And we were just trying to push it along and try some different sh** with it. We actually had a scene at Morrisound Studios that was kind of interesting.

*(Metal-rules.com interview )

*Obviously, in the day, Atheist was featured in a lot of metal magazines but did you get much coverage in guitar magazines or modern drummer?

Never. We were never ever featured in any of those magazines. As a matter of fact, the only time we were ever mentioned in Guitar Player magazine they made fun of us.

Is that the quote about being saved. (ed. note: It was something like - "These guys better find a religion soon because they need something to save them.")

(laughter)

*What a fucking joke...

It's like awww...that's the kind of shit we went through bro, everywhere man. I'd be on stage, I can remember being in San Antonio and people were just shouting "you suck...Cannibal Corpse!!!!" we would just look at each other like - holy fuck! What are ya gonna do man? We would just keep playing, keep toughing it out and could never understand why people wouldn't give it a shot. As the years have went on, and towards the late 90's I started hearing it, people started getting it. Morbid Angel started getting experimental and technical....so look at that. All the bands made fun of us too man, well not all of them but a lot of the real hardcore death metal bands were like "what the fuck?!" The shit would just fly right over their head. As for live, we would practice for 6 nights a week and we made sure we did the very best we could but looking back on it now I realize that it was so chaotic. There are a lot of times where it would sound just like a big blur. Without the benefit of having straight beats and stuff like that, live it probably confused a lot of people. I think it's a lot different now and at least album-wise people will be able to appreciate it a bit more and understand where we were coming from. We were just trying to keep it interesting, to keep it really fun. We didn't really know what we were doing. None of us can write music or none of us can read music or anything like that. A big part of this was Roger. Roger used to write riffs that were so hard to learn. For instance if you're familiar with Atheist's music - "I Deny" starts with this bass bass line (ed. note Kelly imitates the intro bass line.) and we couldn't play it on guitar so we just went like (ed. note: Kelly imitates the intro guitar harmony of the tune) (laughter). We would write these little single note harmonies over the top of it and it would end up sounding orchestrated. We realized it was like an orchestra one guy is playing one thing the other guys playing something else...we all played something different. That's what we started doing. We sort of pre-conceived it with you play this, your play that....then ready - go! And we'd play it and it would sound like this machine and sounded crazy. We always did that, it was the formula for all of our songs, to make it a sick as possible. So every time you listen to it you will hear something different. You'll go like "I didn't know that guitar was playing that?!." On the first record it wasn't quite like that. The second record was the one. "Unquestionable Presence" to me is our best album that we could of made as that kind of band. I just love it so much, I think it's so experimental and so crazy. If you are a musician you can really appreciate the sick time changes and shit that is going on in there and realize how hard it is to play that shit.

*You were talking about how wild Roger Patterson's bass work was. He obviously was an amazing bassist and I think now people are realizing how many people have been influenced in thrash and death metal by him. I was just wondering about his technique. Did he strictly play with his fingers or was he using a pick?

No, he never used a pick. He was so anti-pick it was ridiculous. Anybody that played bass with a pick, to him, was not playing bass, they were playing guitar. His fingers....man, not just because he was our bass player, but I've still yet to see anybody who...man his fingers were like a spider. I told him he should tattoo spider legs on his fingers because he had so much control and so much attack. Usually you see bass players who can play with two fingers really well, some play with three really well, but to play with all four and your thumb as a mute and attack them all with the same sort of ferocity. It was amazing man and he had no idea man, no idea that he was a good bass player. He was just this sort of carefree soul who would bum cigarettes and just hang out and we went to school together and he was just always Rog man....just a dude with no responsibilities and just sat around and played his bass all the time and had no ego at all. He was the friendliest person, just the coolest guy...and it SUCKED when that happened. It was just so horrible. You always hear people talk about their friends after they die and they say "oh, he was such a nice guy" but Roge you know he WAS just the nicest fucking person man. It's just so tragic that that happened. His talent was so...if he were around now he'd be just shredding because he was always practicing. His technique was purely on accident. He was a big Gene Simmons fan. Gene's not a great bass player ya know but he was also into Geddy Lee but it was all self-taught. He has a twin brother who plays drums and together they would just practice in their room. When I put Atheist together it was RAVAGE at the time and when I ran into him I hadn't seen him in a couple of years and it was like - you play bass!! So he came in and none of us really knew that we was really all that good until "Unquestionable Presence" when he was gone and we needed a bass player.

*One thing I always found interesting about Rand Burkey is that he was left handed but played a right handed guitar and left the strings as they were thereby playing the thing upside down. Has he ever attempted playing or learning with the usual string setup?

His mom owned a music store when he was a kid, and he just learned that way. When you play left-handed, in a right handed world, there's not a lot of left hand guitars around so he had to learn that way. He can play both ways actually, but not as well the other way. It's just the way he learned, now he's so used to it. It's so weird though to watch him. That's a big part of why his style is so distinctive as well - just his soloing, to be able to pull down on those high strings instead of bending up. 

*So you haven't been in contact with him much lately?

I still see him, he's still here in town. He's such a mad scientist. It's really hard for him to find people that he wants to work with. He has a vision of what he wants to do and the kind of people he can do it with. I'm always busting his balls telling him to get a band instead of wasting all that talent. But we can't play in a band together. I was looking for a guitar player for Neurotica before this album came out, and he was like "how come you didn't give me a call?" - I told him it wasn't his style, just not his thing. He just comes from another planet. His soloing is just so weird and so out there that it would be strange to hear him in another band. When I hear him playing with Midnight from Crimson Glory it just sounds like Rand with someone else singing. You can tell it's him playing. But hopefully he'll get something cooking.

*It has been rumored that Tony Choy, the guy who took over bass after Roger, is now playing on a Caribbean cruise ship. Is this just a rumor, and are you are still in touch with him?

I saw Tony about a year ago and he's not on a Caribbean cruise ship anymore. That's just a gig he had right after he left Atheist, he went out and played some jazz on a cruise ship. but now, much to everyone's surprise I'm sure, he's in a Latin singing group, sort of like the Backstreet Boys (ed. note: CRAPPPPP!!!!!). He's sort of buffed up now, he put on about 30 pounds of muscle and he's got his hair all Rico Swavied out and he's a fucking fool....I love Tony, I think he's great. I say this totally ribbing him because if he reads it he'll laugh. But he's just as handsome as he wants to be. He's got a great voice and a really incredible knack for putting together a rhythm section. He's always had a lot of Latin influence obviously because he's Cuban. So he lives in that sort of community where Latin and samba music exists. I didn't think he'd be in a singing group, maybe a Latin sort of band but that's what he's doing now. Last i checked the band was called "Code 305." He had some pretty high hope. He was working with people down in Miami and were involved with 'N Synch and some of those kinda bands. I haven't heard the band's name around so...I don't know what he's got going on with it but I wish him the best of luck. He's still playing bass I think a little bit but he's mostly been focusing on his singing.

SF: And it’s really validating now, when we go to play places, so many bands and their crews telling us that they are big fans. And I’ve had so many bands that are half our age come up and say they started playing because of us. It’s an amazing thing, and it makes it worth it to have gone through all of that to now be “legends.”

Well if you wanted validation, all you had to do was go onto eBay before the reissues came out and try to get one of the original albums.

KS: That’s funny you say that, because what started the whole thing was when I went to go buy them, because I didn’t have any copies; I had given them all away. And went onto Amazon.com and saw them as high as $150, which I thought was ridiculous!

SF: My wife would send me emails at work saying, “Honey, look, someone’s bidding $75 for PIECE OF TIME.”

KS: I love music to death, but I wouldn’t pay $75 for anything!

SF: I thought it was a serious collector. It didn’t actually dawn on me that our band was that much in-demand. I thought it was random stuff…but it kept happening over and over again. And those were the seeds for the reissues.

Going back to what you were saying about Chuck Schuldiner. I find it so out-of-character to hear that he would say stuff like that, since he had worked with the Cynic guys.

KS: You have to understand that this was actually before the Cynic thing. We had battles in Metal Hammer and Kerrang. But we were actually all friends. He had his great body of work pre-Sean & Paul. But when he did HUMAN, he decided he wanted to become more musical and went in the back door of it all. And he never came out and said that he was wrong and that it was good to have all these outside influences. We were just kind of the whipping post for his banter. But in the end, he was wise enough, and a credit to him, at least he did evolve, unlike some others who did not.

And a testament to the Atheist work ethic is that you released three albums in the span of 5-6 years, and each showed extraordinary growth in such a short span of time. Nowadays, bands seem to do that all the time, but back then, it was unheard of. Of course, then, it wasn’t too difficult, really, to crack the metal mold, because you only had so many genres in the field. Now, there are so many, and thanks to social media, bands have to work extra hard just to get noticed.

KS: It’s madness. If you’re a band now and you’re making good music and you can’t get it done, then shame on you. Because you can expose yourself to a lot of people without much effort. And these guys have no idea how f***ing hard it was to send a cassette tape to France and hope that some kid with his little fanzine would do a story about you, so that someone would hopefully order your demo. Back then it was so turtle-paced.

Really, the first thing that happened for us was when Don Kaye was at Combat Records, and I just randomly sent him this horrible demo called ROTTING IN HELL. And he said, “Wow, that’s a terrible demo, but I sent it to a friend of mine who has this magazine called Violent Noise, and he thought it had some interesting stuff on it. Call him.” So I called him, and it was Borivoj Krgin. And that guy went on to become really, really important to this entire picture of technical metal. Guys like him and Ula Gehret were really instrumental!

We actually used to write songs just to try to impress that guy. We tried to write stuff that would freak him out. And on UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE, we were really in that mode. We had done PIECE OF TIME, and we really respected his opinion, and we still do to this day. That guy really deserves a lot of credit. Of course, now he has Blabbermouth.net. He’s a dick, but he knows his metal. (He’ll appreciate the “dick” comment.)

So, what exactly was it about 2008-09 that caused this massive resurgence in the resurrection of old school technical metal bands? I mean, you had you guys, Believer,Cynic, and Pestilence all coming out of the woodwork at around the same time.

SF: I know Kelly pushed Paul [Masvidal] and the Cynic boys; he was instrumental in getting them to come back into the scene. I don’t know who was first; it really all seemed to “happen.” I think it’s a testament to the quality of the music that came out of that time.

KS: I think because of all the young bands who took what we all did and progressed on it and took it to the f***ing moon! I can’t say enough about these young bands that are just playing amazing stuff. They basically created an audience, and we came back and picked up the spare, so to speak.

When you were with Neurotica, you had done some pretty big tours. Did you ever get those fans coming up to you asking about Atheist?

KS: All the time. It was really strange. And I was like, “F***, where were you in ’88? It’s a little late now; my friend’s gone off to college.”We are just the most grateful guys to come out, after all this time, and have a good time.

So, what is the mission statement of Atheist now?

KS: When Steve went to college, I always felt there was some unfinished business there. We had definitely not tapped the well; we were just starting to get our stride. For me, the songwriting was starting to get ferocious. I see this as a continuation of that era. I am not very far removed from the era when we were writing UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE. For me, it was like two days ago.

When we play, we are still in that headspace, only now, we have all these new weapons. Although we used a different drummer on ELEMENTS, it still retained that Atheist integrity. We wrote that album really quickly. So, to have Steve Flynn back on drums, I am completely elated. And the last thing we want to do is f*** up the integrity of what we created back then.

When you decided to create a new album [JUPITER] after reuniting, did you have any fears of ruining the legacy you inadvertently created?

KS: Oh definitely, that was the exact fear. When we did the reunion shows, we were just paying tribute to the catalogue. But everyone was asking for a new record, and we all lived 500 miles apart. So it really took the right situation for us to even be able to do it. But after a successful run of shows and festivals, the label was able to put together a budget that would make it work.

I went to Atlanta and got in a room together with Steve to see what would happen, and the first thing that came out was “Second To Sun.” It was as if we had gone back in time. I ended up having to fly to Atlanta about 15 times. Now, the other question was, “Is anyone going to like Atheist 20 years later.” That had remained to be seen. But hey, we just do what we do, and there’s only one way we do it. We knew in our hearts that everything was going to be fine; the hard part was convincing everyone else.

And I’m sure, in the back of your minds, the sting of people hating you when you were in the game before still lingered.

KC: People always hate what they don’t understand, and any type of complicity at all was not welcomed back then. Everybody wanted straight-forward, brutal, knuckle-dragging metal. So, to bring any kind of intellect to that was certainly not welcomed with open arms. There is a little part of me that wishes people would have understood it sooner, but I don’t think it would have made this nearly as special.

It’s always easier to look back in hindsight, but at the time, we were living through it, having dog food thrown at us, getting booed off the stage; I was not a happy guy back then. Nobody wants to come out and play their music and get that kind of reaction, especially when you work really hard on it. We were just trying to do something different, which typically should be welcomed in art, but it wasn’t.

So, I’m just glad the scene progressed, and actually progressed beyond what I would have ever imagined. It’s one of the coolest movements I’ve witnessed, to see the music create its own legacy, without us out there supporting it. We never watered the plant, but it grew into a tree anyway.

It’s funny, because I recall a similar situation happening to Nocturnus. They put out THE KEY way back then, and the majority of the metal community despised it when it was released. And it wasn’t until after Nocturnus broke up that people woke up and realized that using keyboards in death metal wasn’t actually a bad thing.

KS: Yep, and the next thing you know, every other band in the world is doing it. It’s always lonely to step out into the darkness by yourself. It’s pretty much the same with thought and religion – people always feel comfortable when there are hundreds of people on their side agreeing with them. It’s always lonely to be the one guy who says, “You know what, I disagree with every one of you!” For better or worse, we stood on our own two feet in a genre that hadn’t been created yet.

When you sat down to put JUPITER together, did you have any forethought into how it might end up sounding? I know a lot of people said that it was a cross between UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE and ELEMENTS, but I took it to sound closer to a missing link between PIECE OF TIME and UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE.

KS: Well, I believe it a more technical record than UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE; it just doesn’t sound like it. The riffing and time signatures are actually much more intricate than they were on UNQUESTIONABLE. I had written a lot of different songs over the years with various inspirations, and when I came back to write this kind of music, I think that had an impression on the way it ended up being put together, vocally especially. And it probably made it the catchiest thing we’ve ever done.

Sure, some people are going to have problems with the vocals, especially kids who came into this genre from other bands and are finding out about us through JUPITER, but I’ve never had a deep growl; I’m just not that kind of vocalist. But anyone who is familiar with Atheist knows that’s always been the vocal style, and that we’ve never been the Cookie Monster type.

Well, that’s one of the things I always appreciated about Atheist is that the vocals were always more reptilian than demonic.

KS: [Laughs] That’s a great analogy. There’s much more emotion and passion in the higher end vocal style, which is actually kinda rare in extreme music. It’s very tortured, with a lot of agony, frustration, and concern in my voice. I think it just makes the album more honest. When we were writing it, I knew that I wasn’t going to have to play guitar while I was singing, so I was able to loosely place the vocal lines, and that was never the case with the other albums.

It really allowed me to go against the grain; which ultimately created a much catchier listen, because it wasn’t syncopated with all these technical riffs. I also believe that, musically, JUPITER is the most explosive we’ve ever done, and that has a lot to do with the production of today, which allowed us to be able to do things we weren’t able to do before. It’s so clean and crisp, and it’s really nice to be able to hear all the articulation.

With the vocals, you said that they are much more passionate in the high register. I think that is something that really sets this technical/progressive extreme metal apart from other death metal bands, because the vocalists are able to actually express themselves.

KS: Yeah, well, I think a lot of that has to do with roots. Since we’re a little older than these other bands, our influences are Sabbath, Maiden, and Priest – all bands with passion in their vocals. Bands today often cite Death’s SPIRITUAL HEALING as their launching point, and, I mean no disrespect to that album, but there really wasn’t a lot of that kind of passion you would hear in much older metal.

Everything starts at Black Sabbath with me; that music always gave me a unique feeling. I love that no matter what I’m doing, I can always pop on SABOTAGE and it will give me a particular feeling that nothing else can replicate. And I think that when you inject that kind of passion into your metal that it gives it a unique feeling. Someone at the label said that our album had “soul.” And I know it’s strange to imagine having soul in this kind of intense music, but in a weird way, I think it is in there.

Do you think that you also had a distinct advantage coming up in Florida at the time you did? I mean, you were basically surrounded by great, passionate metal bands like Savatage and Crimson Glory.

KS: You know, that very well may be the case. We were three doors down from Crimson Glory, and they got a deal before we did…we were both practicing in an abandoned warehouse in Bradenton, FL – it was basically a storage complex with a bunch of garage doors. They were in one, and we were in another. We really grew up together, pre-PIECE OF TIME. They had just signed to Atlantic, did their first record when they still had the masks on. We were actually there when they got the masks.

Midnight was actually one of the ones in the band who was always really cool to us – he was amazingly talented with such a huge voice. He had serious problems with drinking and we all knew it. We all loved the guy, and it was just sad that he passed at 47. But we do keep in touch with Jon[Drenning] and Dana Burnell.

I don’t know, though, I think it had more to do with Priest and Maiden, because Crimson Glory always came off to me as more theatrical, like Priest mixed with Queensrÿche. Of course, we were into old Queensrÿche as well. But for me, personally, I’m always looking for music that makes my hair stand on end. And I try to put as much of that into our songs, and to get enough of those moments to fill an album is really difficult.

And I think that, for all the complexity and mind-boggling technicality that goes into an Atheist album, seeing the band perform the songs live somehow adds a level of excitement that brings the entire package together.

KS: I think live, people never expect what they actually get out of us. I think because the music is so complicated and busy that they think we’re just going to be standing there staring at our shoes or our instruments, being very serious. But we don’t; we come out sort of like Van Halen – very raucous and wanting to just have fun with crowd participation and all that. And that is really something you would never expect from a band that plays this kind of music.

I think it’s really important to pull an audience in to your music, especially if they don’t really understand it to begin with. It’s good to grab them by the hand and pull them in and make them a part of the show. And I think the ability I have, not having to play guitar anymore on stage, created a fresh live band dynamic than we had back in the day. I can run from one side of the stage to the other and pull people in who might be confused, and give them something they can rest their head on for a few seconds. So, yeah, I think it does all come together live and allows us to win more people over. If you can’t pull them in with the album, you have to be able to do it with the performance.

And that’s what it should be about. When you record an album, it should translate well on stage. The problem is, a lot of today’s bands are so cut-and-paste that they often lose sight of that. Sometimes it takes bands six weeks to just record the drums. For JUPITER, all the drums were recorded in six hours. Were there mistakes? Yes. Were they fixed digitally? Yeah, here and there. But it’s better to capture an organic, live performance and fix a couple of rim-shots than it is to cut-and-paste the entire section.

When you get out on stage, either sh** or get off the pot! That’s unfortunately why you have a lot of messy live bands, because they are basically hiding behind the production of their record. In the ProTools era, these kids are able to put things together that aren’t real, and when they get out on stage, they fall apart. That will never happen to Atheist!

Another thing that I find so endearing about Atheist, and it has reared its head subconsciously several times through this interview, is the band’s unabashed, brutal honesty. And that idea never rang truer than in your ballsy press statement about the replacement of bassist Tony Choy. How much crap did you catch for releasing that?

KS: [Laughs] A lot, but you have to understand…well, that’s a difficult situation, and if we had to do it over again, we probably would have handled it differently. And I think, had we said it as opposed to having people read it, it would have come off differently. The fact remains the same, whether people want to believe it or not. All we did was state the truth, which was that PIECE OF TIME and UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE really were written by Roger Patterson. And it actually hurts our feelings to hear people say, “Oh, Tony’s a better bass player than Roger Patterson!” Don’t say sh** like that! You would never go to see a cover band play “Radar Love” and say that these guys are better than Golden Earring. They didn’t create the riffs that were being played, and they probably weren’t playing them the way they were intended to be played.

That said, Tony has done an amazing job of building a career around Cynic and Atheist without actually writing anything on those albums. And for kids that are 18-19 years old that don’t know the history, we just felt like that needed to be explained, BECAUSE we were coming out with a new record. There were already enough naysayers whining because Rand wasn’t in the band anymore. And it was really the same with him; Rand was a color that we used in our music, but he was rarely a guy who would write a lot – he embellished a lot. And there’s a big difference between embellishing and writing.

It’s really hard to explain all that in a press release. We initially wanted to just put the record out and have people say, “Wow, Tony did an amazing job!” And then they would find out that it wasn’t Tony. But then, if they already know that Tony’s not going to be involved, they come into the record automatically looking at the bass just so they can say something bad about it. But Jonathan Thompson is a guitar player AND a bass player – an incredible young talent! And we were fortunate enough to find him in Atlanta, GA. And he did an amazing job. Even if Tony had been on JUPITER, the mix would have been very different; we wanted it to be a very guitar-heavy album.

Yeah, I noticed that the bass was a bit more subdued on JUPITER, if that is the correct term.

KS: We wanted to focus on writing really good songs for this album, meaning that we wanted everyone to be playing together at roughly the same volume, without specific emphasis on any one instrument. In the past, the bass and drums were a bit predominant, while vocals and guitar were secondary. Technical metal really needed a fresh breath of life. I mean, you can’t play any faster, you can’t play more notes, you can’t be heavier or more brutal, and you can’t scream any louder. So, what’s next? Songs – really good songs that last, that you can remember, without losing their complexity.

But that press release was tough; it really made it look like we didn’t appreciate Tony, which was not the case at all. We still talk; we’re like brothers. But that story’s always been untold, and it was kind of unfair to us for people to believe that we couldn’t carry on a style that we created. But yeah, I guess you can say that we are brutally honest, notoriously so, it seems. But at least you know where you stand with me.

And to be honest, it was actually Steve who put together the press release, not me. [Laughs] He did it actually because I tend to get a little over-emotional and speak way too much from the heart. And Steve is an incredibly intelligent man with a degree in Communications. He tried to be very matter-of-fact about it, but people were definitely rubbed the wrong way anyway.

But let it be known that Tony Chow and we are all great friends, and there’s a very good possibility that he will tour with us again. But the way it went down, he left us hanging again, which is what exactly happened 20 years ago. For people that don’t know, Roger died, and eight weeks later we were recording UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE. And then Patrick Mameli from Pestilence came in and outbid us and basically stole Tony away. It really shouldn’t have had anything to do with money; it should have been about the music. But we were always hurt by that, and for it to happen again 20 years later??? I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me; three weeks before we go into the studio??? We had three weeks before we were to roll tape on JUPITER and we had no bass player and no bass lines. Of course we were p***ed off!

Do you also feel that it is somehow your responsibility to keep Roger’s flame alight?

KS: Absolutely, it’ a responsibility I feel. I want him to be celebrated and appreciated for being as groundbreaking as he was. I’ve read a lot of things where people were saying, “Alright, enough about Roger, already!” And I’m like, “Well, NO, not enough about Roger! I can’t say enough about that guy!”

And much like we celebrate Cliff Burton and what he brought to Metallica, I think Roger Patterson was a huge part of our sound. And in the course of celebrating him, we know what turned him on musically. He was my best friend in the world! So, that’s also where we gauge everything, almost as if he’s there. “What would Roger think? What would he do here?”

Roger was actually a very simple guy – he was a pot-smoking, cigarette-borrowing, living day-to-day, want-to-play-my-bass-all-day kind of dude. And I admired that a lot. He never really cared what was going to happen tomorrow or yesterday. He was a huge fan of music, and yeah, we want to keep his fire alive, because he’s keeping our fire alive!

 

 

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