Steven Rice of Imagika
Interviewed By EvilG, November 2000
If you’ve been a reader of metal-rules.com for any amount of time, then you no doubt already know who IMAGIKA are and what I think of them. The below interview is the second I have done with Steve and this time we discuss the newest Imagika CD, …And So It Burns, thrash metal, playing live, and lots of other interesting stuff.
Ok, first let me congratulate you on the release of ‘And So It Burns’. What has the reaction been to the CD so far from other fans and from the press?
So far the reaction has been pretty positive. We got a good response from the fans…and then a lot of the European press where we got most of the press from has also been pretty positive. Done a lot of interviews overseas and a lot of media over there so things have been going well on that end. The only really negative review we got was from Rock Hard Magazine in Germany that’s probably one of the biggest magazines in Germany. I think they’ve had a problem with IMAGIKA since the day one, I guess, but they… they gave us kind of a lukewarm response on it which is pretty consistent with what they’ve given the rest of our records so it was no surprise but the rest of it’s been really good. This time around with Massacre records and their promotional company we have covered a lot more territory getting everywhere from Greece to Israel to Northern Europe, Denmark…so it’s been good in that response.
Cool. I think this one, again, tops your previous works. Do you guys feel the same way about ‘And So It Burns’?
I think that… to me, it’s… if anything, it’s a little more cohesive record, a little bit more compact and a little bit more straightforward and I think the the songwriting is more focused this time around. The WORSHIP album had a little more melodic edge to it and, I don’t know, to me, maybe a little darker vibe to it and maybe a bit more progressive stuff. I think with the new one, you know, we don’t really… we never do anything intentionally. We kind of start putting material together and see what happens but for some reason this record we just… it came out a little bit more impactive and heavier in some ways and I think it’s some of our better material. Plus it helped that the fact we had a lot of material to choose from. We only put nine songs on the CD with the intro. There was a lot of material left over that we didn’t get a chance to either record or didn’t fit, you know, with what we were trying to do on the record. It gave us a good opportunity to be a little bit more selective and get better songs out of it.
Regarding the leftover songs, are they ones that are just going to fall by the wayside or do you think you’ll be using them again?
I think there’s going to be a couple that we’ll probably use eventually… maybe for the next release. They’re really good songs. I think that, you know, one of the things we look at is what kind of direction are we going in and what’s the main focus… When we do the next CD I think that, we have new material we’ve been working on. It’s the same kind of, you know, vibe and heaviness and stuff like that, but there’s more melody to it. A little bit more melody in. Some of these other songs might fit in better. By the time we end up recording the next CD I’m sure we’ll have a good batch of songs together and they might just be songs that never get recorded but we’ll see what happens.
It seems it was a somewhat of a hard road to the release of ‘And So It Burns’. I know that there were some labels and comments made about, like – you guys aren’t “hip” or your sound isn’t “updated” and crap like that. Do comments like that from labels or from PR companies or from whoever ever make you rethink what you’re doing or does it just, you know, make you more pissed off and write even more aggressive music? (laughs)
(laughing) I think that, yeah, it probably pisses us off in some ways and I think that gets reflected in some of the songs on ‘And So It Burns’ because it’s some really heavy subject matter lyrically and it’s a little bit more aggressive sounding but I mean, if we had to rethink what we were doing we should have rethought it in 1994 when we started the band because we must have been out of our minds in the first place to be a thrash band at that time. You know, rethinking what we do.. it’s not something we really focus on. If anything it’s been positive even though there’s been some negative response as far as the industry thing and whether it’s going to sell or not. The positive response has been that we’re one of the few bands still playing this kind of music and there’s been a lot of focus put on us as a result. People can’t believe someone would waste their time doing this. Gives us a little more of a visible status as far as the underground goes. People go “Oh yeah, IMAGIKA that thrash band that’s still playing thrash in the Bay Area.” It gives a little more focus that way.
So, tell me the story about how you did hook up with Massacre Records and are you signed to them or are they just distributors for the CD?
Ah, yeah, we’re signed with them for a three album deal. (Cool) Yeah, we did… it really came about, you’ve heard the three song demo we did a year ago. We started shopping around and, you know, Massacre Records was one of the labels that was interested at the time of the demo and wanted to hear some additional material. We said ok, we’ll go ahead and start recording the CD and when we get it done we’ll take it back to the labels that were the most interested. Massacre seemed to want to put it out the most. They didn’t have any comments about what we were trying to do or try to change us or anything of that nature so we felt comfortable with that. A couple of the other labels were hemming hawing around about whether it was marketable or if it was going to be something they wanted to put on their label and whatever else they had, you know, issues with…and Massacre didn’t really have any of those issues. It’s one of those things they said “hey let’s do this thing, lets get it done” and we just said “Hey, you know, that’s great”. By the time we gave them the record, by the time they had it all together.. I mean, they had it all done basically in a month so they were obviously willing to put it out.
So is this a European deal only or is there a plan for North America?
It’s a European only deal for now… well, actually they’re covering Europe and South America for us so North America’s still wide open and that’s been a continuing problem with the band is that North America hasn’t been something that’s come very easy for us as far as finding a label and finding a situation to put out the record in a proper way. We talked about this last time we did interviews and talked to various labels and stuff and it’s come down to the same issue: “Aw, you know, we don’t know if it’s going to sell” and whatever. Maybe the problems are involved with that. We’re still at that same point but hey we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and if somebody wants to do it then we’re more than happy to try and work with them but if not it’s not the end of the world.
So how have you seen things change now that you are signed to Massacre? Have you noticed things changing for the better already?
I mean, I think to me, it’s basically things have… I won’t say things have changed dramatically or things are like it’s all of a sudden just because you’re on a label everything’s become a lot easier, it’s still the same struggle of trying to keep the band going and keep things happening with what we’ve got to deal with. And now that, you know, that Europe has always been a little bit better situation for us it’s just trying to continue our focus on the marketing and providing us with the means to do that and hopefully make the next steps so that the record will do well enough as far as saleswise and be able to get over to Europe and do some touring and do some festivals in the summer. So it’s the same struggle.
An interesting thing that I’m sure everybody asks you about, about the new album and that’s the involvement of two guys from Gravedigger: (Right) Chris and Uwe is it? (Yeah.. Uwa)… Uva? (Uva) Oh yeah that’s right Germans pronounce their w’s as v’s don’t they?! (laughing while saying UVa) (laughing following up with an emphasized UVA!). So can you give me the background story of how you hooked up with those guys and how it led to, you know, Chris doing some backing vocals and Uwe doing engineering and production?
Sure. You know, obviously we did the tour with them in 99, January of 99 when we did the tour with Gravedigger and Iron Savior. We know Uwe from that and Chris has been handling management for the band in Europe for a better part of three years now so we obviously know him from our business dealings. When we decided to start the production on the new record and we were looking for somebody to produce it. The guy who produced our last two records, you know, Alden… he was kind of in a transitional phase with his home studio and his career. He didn’t really have the time to work on our project and, you know, we thought it’d maybe for the better that we’d try someone different, get a different perspective. Chris had mentioned that Uwe does a lot of production work in Europe and in Germany and he’d be willing to fly out and work on a CD so… it’s one of those things where he figured “Hey, I’ll come out to California, work on a heavy metal record..” take a little vacation because he’s never been to the States before so he was willing to do that. He came out and it ended up being that he’s a big fan of thrash music in general because some of his favorite bands are like Annihilator and stuff.. he was really up for doing it. He had just finished a record for a band called Warhead, I don’t know if you’re familiar with them? (From Germany, yeah) yeah, from Germany. He had just finished their record so he was looking for some additional work. So, he came out here and we had the studio set up already from some previous dealings that we had with them so we had that ready to go. We had like three weeks booked to record the CD. He came out and then Chris… this was around the Easter holiday so he was looking to take a little bit of a vacation with his wife and himself. They came out to stay with my wife and I for a week and he came out here and went to some of the beaches and stuff like that.. came up for a couple days to the studio and just did the background vocals for a little bit of fun and that was it. So, it was all kind of an impromptu, you know, thing to happen but it all worked out for the best.
So is this the kind of thing that your label had to pay big bucks for Uwe, or is this more like the guys kind of believed what Imagika was doing so they did their best to help you out kind of thing?
Yeah, it was one of those kind of situations where Uwe, you know, he basically did the thing on the cheap for us which was cool because he’s one of those kinds of guys that he just loves to be involved in the production of music, writing music, playing music… His thing was “hey I just want to come out to California hang out for awhile, work on a record”. It wasn’t a big buck deal or anything like that it just lended a little bit more credibility maybe to some of the European fans familiar with Gravedigger, they recognize the name but it wasn’t a big buck thing or anything like that. It was really cool in that retrospect.
The end result of their involvement, in my opinion, is probably the best sounding Imagika CD to date. I was wondering if you guys are satisfied with, I guess, both the songs and the overall sound of the album itself?
I think the songs on the CD are probably some of the better stuff we’ve come out with and the production is cool to, I mean, it’s a little bit different production than our last record. It’s a little bit more rough and raw. But I think that that was… because the songs needed that. The production kind of went hand in hand with it. I’m pretty satisfied with it. Obviously being in the band things and recording music, writing music, you always think you can always do better and things can be better than what they are. For what it was and the time frame we had to do it and the financial means we had to do it, I think the production came out great.
The only place on the album where we can actually hear any kind of a Gravedigger influence is ‘Fade Away’ which you can actually hear a bit of Chris in the background. (Yeah!… laughing) Was that the one he had the most.. that’s the one where he did the most back up vocals?
Yeah. He did the most back up vocals on… we had that song put together and ready to go for the record. It was one of those kind of songs where I just sat down and wrote the music very quick to. I just came up with it in a very short time frame and I presented it to the band and we actually, you know, put the song together probably in less than a week. Dave worked on the lyrical stuff and we never, you know, thought of it as another Imagika song and then when Chris came in to listen to some of the songs of what we were doing and said “hey what will you feel comfortable singing back ups on?”. This obviously had the biggest chorus, you know, anthem type thing so he saw this my vocal ideal style so let’s go ahead and do this one and then when he put his vocals on it obviously gave it that kind of a little bit of a Gravedigger feel. They obviously do a lot of those big choruses like that and kind of fit in with what he’s used to doing. So when he ended up doing the background vocals and putting it down it give it that Gravedigger feel.
A couple questions now about, I guess, a style of music that for the most part you fall under or people say you fall under and that is Thrash Metal. I guess you do consider Imagika to be a Thrash Metal band or do you just prefer heavy metal?
I have no problem with the tag Thrash Metal. To me Thrash Metal is probably one of the most important forms of heavy metal, you know, to ever come out. I mean, it has all the things I really like about heavy metal. It has the speed, the aggression, the melody, you know, strong structure and I think that it’s a great genre within the heavy metal style. I have no problem with anybody tagging us with that. We always have our influences from classic metal and power metal too so… I mean, it’s, I guess if I was to listen to Imagika’s music and in the end put it in general terms what the band was there’s definitely the Bay Area influence, Bay Area sound to it so it would definitely fall in the Thrash category. I think we have a little bit of a different twist on it and we don’t sound exactly like what people would consider Thrash to be but that’s fine with us.
There seem to be three kind of, to me, three kind of schools of like Thrash Metal. There’s the Bay Area school I guess with your Forbidden, Death Angel, Testament, Heathen, you know, those types of bands and there’s the German Thrash bands, your Kreators and Sodoms and Destructions, all those kinds. (Right) And then recently there’s been a lot of the Thrash bands from Sweden who seem to mix more of the Black and Death metal sound with Thrash and that’s like Carnal Forge, Defleshed, The Crown. Out of these three “types” of thrash it seems like the one that has suffered the most is the US one because most of the bands are either broke up or don’t exist anymore, (Yeah) well that’s what it seems to me anyway, whereas, you know, Kreator and Destruction… bands like that are still at it but you can’t say the same about the US Thrash scene. Most of the bands are unfortunately no longer in existence. (laughing)
Yeah, that’s true. I think that, to me, all those bands wouldn’t exist without the Bay Area influence especially some of the latest stuff that’s coming out of Sweden. You know, the Bay Area sound was a unique and original sound, it was never done before. It kind of became something that happened. All the bands from the Bay Area were obviously influenced by all the same bands anyways like Maiden, Priest, you know, Sabbath and they just kind of popped the speed up a bit and took the aggression up a little bit and you know took some of the influences from later day punk and stuff like that. I mean, to me when I listen to, especially here in the Bay Area, I think that Testament and ourselves are like probably one of the only thrash bands still in existence, you know, obviously all the great Bay Area bands have gone by the wayside. I think it’s just a matter of since people took their focus away from thrash the popularity went down a bit it was only obvious that some of these bands were going to disappear. Then you have some of these guys who used to be in these thrash bands or play in a band or don’t even have anything to do with thrash anymore like Manmade God which is a completely different situation (the guys from Forbidden). (Yeah) I mean, obviously these guys are probably doing these things because they think that commercially they need to go in a different direction to continue with their careers and stuff like that but I think that a band like Testament is an obvious thing. They had some low points, you know, going through… coming out of the Thrash in the early 90’s and stuff like that but they stuck it out and I think that now they put one of their best records ever their on the upswing again so I think it’s a matter of sticking to your guns.
They are definitely one of the only bands left that are like waving the flag of Thrash Metal and now you have Imagika. I can’t really think of any others. Overkill, kind of but they weren’t really the Bay Area but…
There’s another band… I know you’ve talked to Ken Jacobson from UP and they’ve, he’s working out of here with his band which is pretty much the technical thrash stuff. He’s had, obviously, some difficulties trying to get his thing going (Yeah) at the level he wants to get it going at but he’s still trying to do his thing too so hopefully that’ll work out for him. That’s basically about it as far as Bay Area bands go.
Yeah, definitely. So what do you think of other bands in the Bay Area scene today that are playing Metal or just Hard Music in general and is there much of a scene?
You know, the scene here is kind of, it’s one of those kinds of things that’s kind of strange. We played a show with Testament a couple weeks ago up in San Francisco. It was a really well attended show, I mean, there was probably like 900 people there and we played with a few other bands. The bands that were on the bill ran the gamut from some kind of techno metal to thrash to death so it was a pretty good mix of bands. You know, the obvious thing I think with a lot of bands around here is they’re more into the “nu metal” new school type sound, you know, there’s really not a scene here for old school metal like Testament and ourselves because a lot of the people that are into “metal” now are younger kids that relate metal to Korn or to Limp Biskit (Laughing) or something of that genre, that direction which is (BLASPHEMY!)… yeah, well it’s a kind of fad. I have no problem with people wanting to play that music or like that music but I just think that you know putting it in the same category as metal is the only thing I have a problem with because it doesn’t really have anything to do with metal except for the fact that maybe it’s heavy and it’s loud. But you know there is some hope, like the band Total Eclipse which is really good friends of ours, they just finished their new CD and actually Uwe.. (Laughing…that was my next question)… (laughing) actually Uwe, he produced the CD for them because they’re good friends of ours and I hooked them up. I just got the copy of their finished product the other day and it’s, you know, it’s really really good. I mean, it’s good classic metal, I mean, you know we’re a thrash metal band and these guys are definitely a classical, European metal with tons of guitars, tons of harmony vocals and stuff like that. I know you’ve probably heard their (Yeah, I’ve heard their first one) yeah, but their new CD just blows it away. It’s incredible how much of an improvement the guys have made in themselves and the band. They’re great kids, all really young guys which is really, you know, cool (Yeah, it is). To me it’s “hey I can talk to someone he’s in his early twenties and he’s like a classic metal fan and he’s like a thrash metal fan so that was really cool with that. And then I was really surprised when we went to see Dio the other night here in San Francisco and I was surprised at how many young guys, you know, young kids were there, young girls. So it gives me a little hope that there’s still a lot of young people that really enjoy this type of music and it’s just to try to get them all in the same place at the same time.
Right. Yngwie played with Dio too, didn’t he?
Yeah, he did.
Did he do the instrumental set when he played?
Yeah, I guess, you know, nobody showed up to do the vocals so he decided to do all his classic instrumental songs which is fine by me being a guitar player because I got to watch him shred for like, you know, 45 minutes. (laughing.. yeah) He was amazing as usual so that was great. (Yeah, cool) Then Dio came out and Dio was kick ass also, I mean, he really.. for a guy I guess he’s probably pushing 60 now to sound that great on vocals is amazing!
Yeah, that’s cool. So what albums or bands have you been listening to recently or have you really had much time to be checking out anything?
You know.. I haven’t, my problem is as of late is I just had my daughter about a month ago. I haven’t had a lot of time to listen to anything new lately I mean, I heard a little bit of the new Overkill which I think is pretty cool and I’ve heard some of the new Nevermore which is cool. I haven’t had a lot of time to listen to a lot of different bands. Some of the stuff I’ve been listening to from the past is I really liked the last Soilwork album, I think that albums great. I really liked the last Lefay record. I thought that album was awesome also. (Yeah it was). Things like… I just heard some Carnal Forge the other day I thought, think it’s pretty cool. My listening tastes range from Power metal to classic to really heavy thrash. I’ve heard some good stuff but I haven’t obviously had time to sit down and listen to a lot. Trying to work on a lot of new material for the band and the time frame I guess you know that Mike, our bass player quit the band. Spending a lot of time doing some composing and stuff like that to get the new material together so when we break in a new bass player we can start focusing on some material.
Ok, well that’s a good time for me to ask about your bass player thing. Why did Michael leave, was it just because of other commitments?
Well, he’s been with the band for seven years and he’s obviously been working with us for a long long time and he just came to a point in his life that, you know hey, he wanted to make some decisions about what he wanted to do for his future. He had the opportunity to move back home to Michigan where he’s originally from to join his family business because he wanted to start his own business… or maybe start a career there plus he’d also met a women that he worked with that they’re going to get married and she’s originally from Peru. So I guess he’s going down to Peru for a couple of months and they’re going to get married and they’re going to come back and move to Michigan. So I mean, it was one of those types of things that we completely supported and completely cool with it. It’s like you’ve been in the band for seven years and obviously you know you’ve got to do this thing for the love of it because we’re not making a lot of money off of it. He just wanted to focus, change gears and we’re cool with that, it’s no problem. It’s a shame in a sense because he’s always going to be a big facet to the band, being a four piece with just a guitar and bass, he’s got to carry a lot of weight on his side of the stage, you know, playing the songs and stuff. He’s a great bass player. Yeah, we’ll miss him but we’ll have to move on and it’s not going to stop the band because we’ll continue on.
Yeah. So, have you been trying anybody else out yet or have you just been…?
Yeah, we’ve been working with a couple guys, you know, to try and find out who’s going to work best with this, we’re going to audition a few people. Right now we figure it’s an ok time to be working on the stuff with the holidays and stuff coming up. As long as we get somebody together in the band and stuff like that by January it would be cool because we’ve been talking to the guys in Agent Steel and we might do like a small West Coast little tour with those guys at the end of January. Then we also obviously hoping to look into some touring in Europe by springtime so if we can get someone in the band by then everything will work out cool and if not we have some people that we could obviously have fill in just in the short term to make it happen. Our hopes are to find somebody permanent by then but if not then we’ll just go ahead and get somebody for the dates.
Are you trying out people that are known from other bands or are these new names?
We don’t really care who we try out. I actually talked to the bass player that played on the last Exodus album, but he’s kind of tied up with some other projects he’s working on. The guys we’re looking at now are guys that haven’t done anything of any kind of major importance been in some local bands and stuff like that. Really our main concerns with anybody we’re going to play with is obviously their playing ability but also what kind of a stage personality and what they’re going to be like in a live situation because Imagika’s been doing this thing for a long time. We have a lot of live experience so we look for somebody that’s going to be able to get up there and kick everybody’s ass. To cover their weight on their side of the stage. To me that’s one of the biggest facets of it is someone’s going to go out there and not just stand there and look at the bass. They’re going out there and give the audience’s face so we’ll have to see what happens with that.
So there’s been no talk yet with like Gravedigger or someone like that of maybe doing a tour in Europe?
Well Gravedigger, they’re kind of in a little transitional phase right now because they’re going to be working on new material and stuff like that. They’re going through some problems with their label, you know, trying to resolve their legal issues with the label so their not going to be involved in any project this year coming up. We’re talking to a couple people, couple bands and stuff like that in hopes that we can hook up with. The kind of time frame looks like maybe like in March, March/April for the tour. I don’t want to kind of talk about who it’s going to be with or try and figure out who it is because these things have a way of sometimes not working out and I’d hate to have mud on my face! (laughing)
(Laughing) Yeah. How about the festival thing, you did mention that earlier, have you talked to anyone yet?
Yeah, I think our manager is going to try and hook up with that and our manager is talking about that. One of the things that has to be worked out is that obviously, you know, since we’re from the Bay Area flying all the way over to Germany and doing these things you know, you have to work out the money situation with getting a little support from the label and get in the right situation with the festivals. This is a band and hey, we’ll kick in a few bucks ourselves just because I think it’s important that we go over there and play. That’s the most important thing if you put out a CD and put all the effort into promoting it and stuff like that, I mean, it’s really kind of a waste to not get out there and bring it live to the fans because in Europe the live scene is a very important thing because people want to see what the band is like live.
Right. Please play Wacken because I’m saving up to go! (laughing)
You know, that’s one of the places that we want to play the most. Hopefully that will work out, I mean, I know that with Wacken there’s a lot of bands and our chances are probably pretty good at that so hopefully we’ll be able to get out there one of those days.
Yeah, that’d be excellent. That’s all the questions, just the close off question. Since you’ve been at this for awhile now a bit of perspective on what it’s like to be in a band. The question will be what have you found to be the most rewarding thing about playing this type of music and what has been the most frustrating thing?
Well, I think the most rewarding thing about playing this style of music, is just.. playing this kind of music in general is the response you get from fans. It’s important to us. I think that, to me it’s always been a point that we get some kind of respect as a band and musically what we do that people respect us. Any kind of ideas about being rock stars or making a ton of money off this thing, you know, that was something we never considered in the first place because obviously we’re not playing the kind of music that’s going to be at that level. We said to ourselves in the early stages, hey, we want to play music that we enjoy and we want the respect from the people who enjoy this music and respect from the fans that like that kind of music and I think that for the most part we’ve got that. I mean, people like yourself that really like the band and other people that really like the band so that’s what makes me want to do this.
The most frustrating thing is just the business side. Dealing with the people who put out your records that maybe don’t believe in what you’re doing because they’re doing it for completely different purposes than what you’re doing it for. They’re doing it for money. I mean, they’re doing it because hey this is a business, we need to make money. Need to put out a record to make money. That’s the negative thing. I can understand it because hey if you’re going to have a business putting out albums and stuff like that you have to make money on it because you’re going to spend money on it. So, being a reality it’s important for us to also sell some records because if we don’t sell records then the band can’t continue, we can’t put out records and we can’t tour so we understand the points of both those. Those are probably the only frustrations I really have is not being able to reach as many people as we’d probably like to reach but….and not being able to record at the level that we maybe want to record. It would be great to have 100,000 dollars for a deal for an album. (Laughing, Yeah) That’s not a reality that’s going to happen anytime soon so we just have to do the best we can do. But as long as you get the press and respect from the fans that’s all that’s really important.
OK, is there any other news or things that’s happening with the band that you want to let people know about?
We’re just going to work on what we need to work on here for the next couple of months and be ready to go for the new year so that’s about it.
Thanks to Steve Rice for taking the time to answer all my questions…you rule brother! Also thanks to all of IMAGIKA for producing one of the BEST CD’s of 2000!! Keep it burning!!