By Jay Rollins
You seem to have had a healthy working relationship with David Ellefson for many years, first being labelmates on Combat records, then having him produce 1995’s Multiples of Black, and now you have signed to EMP Underground. What brought you guys together this time? Did you bring your new album to him right.
“Well you’re right, Dave and I have been friends since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, I guess, or so it seems, but yeah, we started out as labelmates. Back in 1986 we toured together for the first time, they were touring on Peace Sells, we were touring on Remanence of War. We did a few select shows with them and we stayed very close friends throughout that whole ordeal. As time [went] by, we ran into each other all the time when he came through town, he’d either contact me or I’d contact him and then I would get backstage to hang out with the guys. Then he mentioned to me he was going to start producing bands and asked if we were still together. I surprisingly told him about what was going on, we were actually going under another moniker at the time because so many original members of Helstar had left and he was the one who convinced us to go back to the name. [Dave] just said, look the name is well known, he ended up producing half of Multiples of Black. So that happened and years went by, still remained friends, and then he was out of Megadeth … I’m trying to fast forward this all … but we ended up in a project together called Killing Machine, along with Jimmy Degrasso, Juan from Agent Steel, Peter Scheithauer, the guy that is the founder of the band, and we did that 2004 I believe, or . Then he got back with Megadeth which was probably the best move for him ever, obviously it is. A mutual friend of ours had mentioned that he had started a label and we originally were offered to re-sign with the label we were previously with for eight years but they were offering us less and we were kinda feeling like we’re getting older. We’re not a bunch of young kids and usually when you devote yourself to a label like that you go up the ladder not down the ladder. It felt like a slap on the other cheek, it was one of those things where we had just gotten so frustrated we were like ‘we’re going to do our own thing’. After talking to Dave and all, well first of all, me looking into what it all takes to do your own thing and it’s not as easy as people think. It’s like, ‘Oh, I’ll do my own label, this way we make all the money.’ Well you got to spend a lot of money to make that wheel turn.”
“[Dave’s] deal was similar, you couldn’t get as close to having your own deal, but without all the headache. So it was the closest thing we could come to and feel like we got what we were looking for and now look at the results. This is the most press we’ve gotten, off this album. In Europe it’s just blowing up like a rocket, every day the reviews just don’t stop. We are getting tour offers from countries who never gave us the time of day. Even the French love us! So we are ecstatic about it and I think we made the right move. I was asked a question the other day in another interview ‘did you feel like this was risky?’ I said ‘you know what, everything is a risk these days in the music business so why not take this chance this one time. It’s not like he is asking us to sign our lives away to him, it’s one deal at a time and let’s see what happens.’”
Vampiro is out now and the reviews coming in are staggeringly positive. The concept behind Vampiro was to revisit the same themes found on Nosferatu in a conscious effort to connect the recent work as a follow up to the 1989 record. Even though you have mentioned that you do not view Nosferatu as a success at the time of its release, was there ever any fear of tarnishing what has become Nosferatu’s legacy by trying to build from similar material?
“Yeah, it was my idea to reconnect with the whole Dracula/vampire theme. I actually even ran the idea past Dave and Thom Hazaert at the label that this is what I wanted to do and I explained my reason, they felt very confident and backed me on why I felt so strongly about this idea. I have always been into vampires and things like that and I guess after Nosferatu I really became overboard with my attire, my image, and as a matter of fact Dave Ellefson nicknamed me ‘the man in black’ all the time. I even wanted a pet African fruit bat at one point. I was fascinated with it and to relive that, I didn’t have any fears of going back to Nosferatu, I just knew we could do it even better now. We were much younger then, now of course if we had did what I wanted to do when that album came out who knows what could have happened. But see it might have been too much ahead of time, just like when the album came out it was ahead of time. Although, like you said, you’re right, we didn’t feel like it was a success, or we felt it was the killer of our career but that’s because at the time it was neoclassical polished kind of metal and then in 1989 death metal was about to be born, the grunge scene was coming out, so something like that just wasn’t appealing to the masses anymore. But having a fear of going back and tarnishing something like that? No, that’s why we knew we had to do it better than what we did then. Although, there’s never going to be better but knew we had to do it so much stronger than what we were thinking back then and [still] fit with what’s going on today. I’m happy that we finally did because look at the results.”
“There’s always going to be that part of me that wonders though, what if we had done that? Ya never know. What if, what if? I wanted to be brought out in a coffin and have the fangs, the red contacts, and the whole stage thing you know. Some of the members of the band thought it was a little overboard and ridiculous, they were happy in the black skinny jeans, high top white tennis shoes, and the cut off concert shirts, and of course the label was like ‘no no no no’, they were afraid of how much money [it was] going to cost production wise. So, it got shot down. Then all of a sudden, maybe less than nine years later, here comes a band called Cradle of Filth living out the whole vampire thing. Dani Filth now owns all the Hammer Film movies, made millions. So it was that that made me angry, sort of in a sense, and then the Twilight movies, I mean, just on and on and on, vampires are as famous as McDonald’s these days. So I’m like, okay, that’s just not cool. We’re the ones that started it, we did it before anybody else and I’ll be damned if we’re not able to take a shot at it again, and it’s working. Thank god to Dracula.”
The production on the album is damn near ideal. How crucial was it to have Bill Metoyer behind the boards to achieve your vision for Vampiro?
“Well, having Bill do it? We had to, I mean it just made sense. You’re talking about going back to Nosferatu, the most acclaimed Helstar record, now. Why wasn’t it well accepted back in 1989? Again we already talked about that in the last question, but having Bill come in was just the missing piece to the puzzle. When he found out, not only that we were doing a new album, he loves the band, always has, and we’ve been good friends since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour. It was me, him, and Dave that were playing’ cards there when we heard the planes come in and we heard that and said ‘ah, I think we better get out of here’, so we survived it, ha ha. Anyways, you know he wasn’t begging but sort of like, you guys got to consider me, and I think he would have been heartbroken if we would have just went with somebody else. The minute we were starting the recording, and the minute him and Larry met at NAM, they talked about it. I said ‘you know I love Bill like a brother we’ve been through so much, ups and downs together, independently, he works his ass off and he’s an underrated producer and it’s unfair.’ It’s just the way the cards were dealt for some people in this world but the passion I have for the guy, I was like ‘ya know what man, I really want him to do it.’ I said, ‘with what it is and everything, we gotta get Bill’. So, we did it that way and look at the results again. Every move we’ve made with this record we did all the right way on the chessboard so far.”
In anticipation of your upcoming shows, how did the crowd react to the new tracks live on this summer’s Vampyric tour and what can fans expect when you head out to the Illi-Noise Metalfest coming up later this month?
“Well so far everywhere we’ve gone people have been just blown away! I was expecting at least one dickhead, ha ha or smartass person, to be like ‘okay, what are you doing with the cape and the fangs? Come on.’ No, most people are like ‘can I get a picture with you? Yeah, could you put the fangs and the cape back on?’ Ha ha, and I’m like ‘okay, ya know what, are you kidding me?’ I have people that are asking me when I go to do a special guest thing at a show, ‘hey, would you get up and sing that Judas Priest song with us next week? We are going to be playing here.’ ‘Oh yeah of course guys.’ ‘Hey can you wear the fangs and the cape?’ I’m like ‘okay, wait a minute now, this isn’t what I look like every day.’ But no, people were really ecstatic and the new songs just blew everybody away. I mean we are playing as much of the new album as we can. If it was up to me I’d like to do the whole album from beginning to end, which I think would be awesome, but hey, we save that for another twenty years down the road and we do [Vampiro] all the way through. It’ll be a selling tool, so we are going to put that idea in the treasure chest and lock that up and we’ll do that twenty years from now so we can make some money.”
“What everybody can expect: it is a play, an opera, it’s everything that I wanted to do with Nosferatu. So now we are doing it with Vampiro. The whole first three quarters of the show is a play all about Dracula and vampires. We do all the little intros inserted in-between and we are offering everybody a show now. No, I may not be brought out in a coffin just yet, that’s in the works for when we start getting some bigger tours and we have a bigger crew and that kinda thing, but we have a nice little stage show for everybody. Even during “Black Cathedral” I get a wine glass, a crystal clear looking wine glass, and I put apple cider, or if I am out of apple cider sometimes it’s just water, and I put red food colouring in it. [I say], ‘drink and you will see’ and let everybody in front, that’s in front of me, have a little drink of it. They have no idea what they are getting it’s just like ‘ah that’s boring, it’s water.’ Yeah, with my luck though, I wouldn’t want to be giving alcohol to somebody, it could be some minor, you never know. So we are going way out with the whole thing and I think people are going to enjoy it. If you are into vampires you definitely will enjoy. And who isn’t? I mean it’s all a good stage show. Look at how long King Diamond has been doing’ all kinds of cool stuff. My whole thing is when I was a kid I really wanted to be an actor before I wanted to be a singer. It was Alice Cooper that kind of gave me the best of both worlds when I was really young. Not only was he a singer but he also did some theatrics on stage. So I guess, you know, I’m kind of stuck in that situation but I never got to live it out until now though. That’s what you guys can expect. Vampiro is alive and well, and coming for you! Thanks a lot!”