Heart of Steel: Interviews

Juan Garcia and Bernie Versailles of Agent Steel

Questions by Arto Lehtinen

Here is the long in-depth interview done with Juan Garcia and Bernie Versailles of L.A speed metallers Agent Steel or should they be called now Order of Illuminati. Regarding the name hassle going on at the moment between the band and the ex singer, it is unsolved yet and for the further information on that and in general what's up in the AS camp visit their official website www.agentsteelonline.com 

But here is the interview with Masters Of Metal - Agents Of Steel

 

Hmm Good morning there, what's up there in California and what's up in Agent Steel at the moment ?!?

Juan : Hi there! let see...... at the present time, we have a new record written "untitled" we also have an important show coming up in Kalamazoo, Michigan on June 16th at the Classic metal festival; we are performing under the name "Masters of Metal" because our old singer John Cyriis had an attorney file some sort of paper work the freaked out the promoter claiming he owns the name "Agent Steel" (ridiculous reality actually). We are also seriously considering changing the name of the band, until this is settled in court.

Bernie : Hi Arto. Haven't talked to you in a while. Nice to hear from you. Well, we've written some new material that we're very happy with. Recording has been put on hold due to an injury our drummer Chuck has sustained. Also, some legal matters with the name Agent Steel has arisen since the resurfacing of John Cyriis. He's claiming that we've been deceiving the fans, stealing his music, and profiting from using the band name. What he doesn't realize is that we've brought Agent Steel to a higher level than it ever was in the 80's. If it wasn't for the reformation, Agent Steel would be dead and buried like it had been for 13 years.

We never made any claims that Cyriis had anything to do with the new Agent Steel. We had a lot of proving to do. We had to make a kickass album that the old fans would appreciate, as well as take the music to the next level. Also, we had to back that up in our live performance, which I'm sure most people who have seen the new A.S. would agree that we've succeeded in that. So Cyriis thinks that all of this positive acceptance is because of his ghost, and now that we've made a mark in the metal scene again, he can't handle it, because he's not in the band anymore. And he knows that if he ever attempted to do his own reformation of Agent Steel, it would be as unsuccessful as his last attempt. In his first interview since his reappearance, he congratulates us on our efforts and our new career. Then after the jealously set in, his next interviews are nothing but accusations and lies about us. We don't want to lower ourselves to his level, so as to not further his crying game, nothing would please us more than to change our band name and become even more successful. To be honest, there were many skeptics about Cyriis not being in the band, but those people have changed their tunes as soon as Omega Conspiracy was released. If it were true that Cyriis alone was Agent Steel, then there would be no way that the new Agent Steel would be on the level we are now, simply because of the fact that he's not even associated with us anymore. Fans would've have just disregarded the new record as a farce. On the contrary, we've been received by the fans with opens arms.

 

First off let's start with the updated things of Agent Steel and then later I will take a glance at the early days of Agent Steel, Evil Dead and of course Abattoir back in the 80's… And as for Agent Steel you are apparently at the moment working on the material for the second come back album, the fourth one in a row, so what kind of stuff are you writing, composing and what will be the biggest and major improvement and difference compared to Omega Conspiracy ?!?

J : The new material is more true metal than ever! Everything is in standard tuning and there is no down tune songs like on "Omega Conspiracy" (I believe on omega there was 3-4 down tune songs in the key of C). The new recording will have more guitar harmonies, and the pace of the drum beats are much faster than "omega conspiracy". We've really taken our time in the songwriting department. We got new songs like "enslaved" "avenger" "forever black" "insurrection" "vyriis" etc.. (Bruce is still writing lyrics at this time). The material is a cross between our debut "Skeptics Apocalypse" and "Unstoppable Force".

 

Omega Conspiracy was indeed a pure speed metal blitzkrieg from the beginning to the end and it only testified you hadn't forgotten and abandoned the well known trademark and roots of Agent Steel which the band is known for, being razor sharp guitar works with the futuristic elements tied up with the lyrics dealing with the alienation and the rise of Atlantis etc… And I am pretty much sure the next album will follow the same path futuristic speed metal attack ?!?

B : The new record will definitely have all the aspects of our previous albums. Although we've leaned more towards blending melody with heavier riffs. As with our last album, we're trying to step up to higher ground musically and intellectually. Whether we release this as Agent Steel or a new name, it will be a great album to the true metalhead nonetheless.

 

I was kinda surprised when hearing the former Sabbat fellow and the current producer wizard (Testament, Nevermore, Arch Enemy), Andy Sneap, has been responsible for the production of the whole album, how did this come about ?! Did you already know him from the 80's, or did you just dig his works with the bands stated above ?!?

J : We contacted and asked Andy Sneap to mix the record, and it looks like perhaps he will mix it once we finally get in the studio and recorded here in Los Angeles, then we will send the tapes over to Andy in England so he can do his magic. If not we will mix it ourselves here in Los Angeles, but we are planning on having Andy Sneap involved if he is available. He told us he definitely is interested in mixing the new material.

 

As for lyrics well I already stated above that you hadn't abandoned your roots as still penning about the alienation and the rise of Atlantis, of course these alien influenced lyrics are quite popular among metal bands of nowadays and also a bunch of bands have lyrics about Atlantis like our domestic Stratovarius and of course there are a plenty of all kinds of various sci-fi programs and a one tv channel only dedicated to the sci-fi stuff, but were Agent Steel ahead of time in the early 80's when started to write about the outer space and the sci-fi stuff since that sort of stuff wasn't that "hot" like during the last few years, especially thanks to X-Files ?!?

J : This is true. Agent Steel has always been ahead of its time, and we will continue on this path. The new lyrics are about conspiracies, and the unknown, and also about war crimes.

 

When reading these predictions and apocalyptic visions written by Nostradamus. So have you ever started thinking of them seriously, do you rely on them 100% that some day or one day his destructive thoughts may happen ?!?

J : Anything is possible, Nostradamus was a brilliant man, and very clairvoyant. I hope for our sake and the future of Planet Earth Nostradamus is wrong on his predictions!

 

If I have understood right, you are still under Candlelight rec, but otherwise Omega Conspiracy was licensed by Metal Blade for distribution in the US. Is that license deal still valid with Metal Blade, cos as far as I know Candlelight recently opened an office in Philadelphia judging by that they might have a better distribution system than earlier I guess and basically would you rather prefer Metal Blade to Candlelight, or what do you actually think of both the labels in general ?!?

B : Metal Blade believed in Omega Conspiracy enough to license it even thought it was released six months before in Europe. We've seen the album in all the major music chains, and they've supported us as much to be expected for a licensing deal. So we're satisfied with their efforts.

 

Both the old albums of Agent Steel and of course the ep were released by Combat Rec which was also responsible for several other killer albums back in the 80's like Dark Angel, Possessed… But when signing a deal with Candlelight and a license deal with Metal Blade, didn't you have any juridical commitments to Combat or either Century Media which kinda brought the rights for all the old albums of Combat or a label to which Combat basically belong(s)ed (Music For Nations) ?!?

B : We had no legal ties to Combat nor Century Media when we signed to Candlelight. 13 years had gone by with no releases. I don't think any contract can bind a band that long without any recordings within that time.

 

After the reformation you have done I guess one tour in Europe with Anvil(right?), a shit load of festival gigs in both US and Europe and now you have been booked to play at a few festivals. So have all important factors for example "interest, excitement, enthusiasm" toward the band been such good and positive and even encouraging on gigs and all the feedback and mail what you have got so far compared to what you got and achieve in the early 80's, what's the biggest difference in your point of view ?!?

B : The main thing that I've noticed is that we have a lot more respect these days from other bands, promoters, club owners, and fans. Back in the 80's, we got pushed around sometimes, even had the electricity turned off during our set once. These days, we're treated much better, and the venues are much more accommodating to our needs. Plus, because of new technology, emails are much easier to receive and answer than regular mail. So obviously, we have gotten a significantly more amount of fan mail than in the past.

 

When the reunion of Agent Steel was announced a few years ago, I couldn't believe since to be honest I truly didn't expect to see the reunion of Agent Steel at all even though there were some websites on the net and despite some bands named Agent Steel as one of their major influences, but basically the band had entirely been forgotten, but after the reunion came up and especially reissued versions of the old AS albums must have paved the path for you to get more needed attention from the metal genre ?!?

B : It's true that the reissues helped with the interest of the band, but it was up to us to regain our place in metal. If we sucked, we wouldn't have gotten a deal, let alone kick ass live, and gain even more fans, especially in the U.S

 

The moniker of the compo had been switched to Agents Of Steel in the first place, and to be honest I was like many other people confused and amazed by this choice, why did you after all decide to use that name picked up from the debut album's (Skeptic Apocalypse - 1985) one of tracks, did you feel back then the band was some sort of project when got back together or… ?!?

J : Yes, personally I felt like it was a project, but then we started rehearsing and writing new songs and it sounded like Agent Steel !!! and our record company influenced us into using the name Agent Steel. Then we started thinking about the fans and how Iron Maiden got Bruce Dickinson after Paul DiAnno, and Ripper Owens replaced Rob Halford in Judas Priest, so we thought well then why can't Bruce Hall replace John Cyriis. So we decided into using the name Agent Steel, but now it seems to be a problem with Cyriis or Havlok whatever he calls himself now.......I have not even heard a note of music from this guy and he claims he owns the name when in fact he has not been involved in Agent Steel since 1987!!

 

Well under that moniker you did "not so official" demo mainly recorded in Bernie's bedroom (???) and had a drum machine and shopped the demo all around, but why did you use the drum machine instead of Chuck, or wasn't he available back then ?!?

B : Chuck was available at the time, but we had no money or resources to record real drums. So I just copied what Chuck played onto my machine. I know it's a little cheesy sounding, but it was a vehicle for us to get rolling again.

 

When Agent Steel split up in 87 you guys continued your musical career, but when speaking of you, Juan, let's take a short glance at your bands now, so you teamed up with the former Abattoir dudes and roadies and founded Evil Dead releasing a few albums and especially the debut "Annihilating of the civilization" was advertised quite well here in Europe, but somehow Evil Dead never managed to gain the same cult following and success as Agent Steel did before ?!?

J : This is true. Evildead was a great thrash band, "Annihilation of Civilization" has great riffs on it, and the second Evildead record "The Underworld" both on SPV gave us a chance to tour Europe with Laaz Rockit, but let's face it there is only one Agent Steel.

 

Evil Dead did at least one tour in Europe opening for Laaz Rock It, I still remember some articles, I guess from Metal Hammer, according to them not that much people showed up to your shows and in general the tour didn't go that well because of alternative waves came on… ?!?

J : This is also true, some shows were really good, like in Holland but Germany at the time was really into Black Metal so the only people showing up to the shows were the die hard Thrash fans....and also Evildead headlined the shows in Germany, which probably at the time the best thing for Evildead would of been to support a bigger band, but the promoters insisted the we headlined.

 

Evil Dead was disbanded to two separate bands, Rise and Terror and Rise was more brutal deathrash stuff, but Terror..Hmm.. Totally unknown band for me indeed, could you shed some light on it…By the way wasn't John Dette involved in Terror as well ?!?

J : Rise was a brutal death band yes, and at the time I wanted to do something totally different, so I formed a Spanish metal band called Terror and released an album in Mexico called "Hijos de Los Cometas" on Culebra/BMG Records, we were actually quite popular in Mexico and toured down there extensively, believe it or not Mexico has a great metal scene, the problem is that the economy is horrible!!! But it gave us the opportunity to tour and visit the culture of Mexico and we went to some really great archeological sites like the pyramids which is has a great impact on my life, so the fact that Terror wasn't popular doesn't really bother me, and yes John Dette was the original drummer in Terror and recorded on half the record before leaving to Testament, and then Slayer....the album is now out of print, maybe someday I will make it available again. The music was kinda like Evildead and Pantera mix together with Ministry influences, and the current bassist in Agent Steel; Karlos Medina did the vocals in Spanish!! Very obscure stuff... But we played some amazing shows in front of huge crowds!!!

 

Let's return a little bit more back in the time to the history of Agent Steel, after Unstoppable Force had seen the light of day, problems began in the AS camp cos John Cyriis decided to relocate down to Florida and obviously wanted to bring other guys to Florida, but you decided not, apart from Chuck Profus who went, afterwards he has claimed that he fired the whole band… ?!?

B : Juan, Mike, and I were not fired. We stayed in L.A. because we thought it was a bad decision to relocate to Florida. Knowing Cyriis, we felt it just another rash decision on his part. His indecisiveness made us question his logic. By leaving the majority of his band, he in turn fired himself from the real Agent Steel.

 

I can't help asking if you were anyhow surprised Agent Steel did the official home video shot in London called "Mad Locus Rising" with the hired line up and to be honest what did you think of it as an ex Agent Steel member when seeing it for the first time…Hmm James Murphy was in the hired line-up, but I don't remember who were the other guys ?!?

B : I just recently saw the video for the first time, and to be honest, it was strange seeing another person's interpretation of my playing. I think it might have been better if the guitar players were allowed to play their own solos. I spoke with James Murphy last year about it, and he told me that Cyriis forced him to learn all of my solos note for note. Even though his versions of my solos were not note for note, I can understand the pressure he was put under, and I think it's unnatural to play an entire show without the freedom of expressing your own style.

 

Obviously that tour, could it be said now, a farewell tour didn't go that well after all, all what the crazy stories have been told and heard… ?!?

B : Just like all the other tours, Cyriis made enemies with almost everyone he met, burned bridges left and right, and forbade his band members to even associate with the other bands.

 

The last studio album recorded with John Cyriss was done at the now legendary Morrisound and had a chance to work both Tom and Jim Morris who became damn well known for their works with several death metal bands and of course Scott Burns, it was obvious it must have a great experience for you to work them ?!?

J : Absolutely so. Tom and Jim Morris are amazing people, and we learned very valuable insights about music from those guys, not to mention Scott Burns!!

 

But speaking about the albums, Skepticism Apocalypse was a pure speed metal attack from the beginning to the end with the more hard core attitude at least in my opinion whereas Unstoppable had more polished sound policy and Cyriss' voice a little bit different on Unstoppable whereas he sounded much rawer on the debut album, what do you think of that standpoint ?!?

J : I agree with you 100 percent!!! Personally I like the vocal attack on "Skeptics Apocalypse" much more. The truth to the matter was that when we were recording "Unstoppable Force" right in the middle of the vocal tracks Mr. John Cyriis heard the new Queensryche record at the time.... "Rage for Order" and he started changing his vocals to a cleaner softer approach like Geoff Tate.......I had to get on his case and tell him he was nuts.... to get back in the studio and stay aggressive!!! trust me; if I wasn't there the vocals would of been totally different.... he would of sounded exactly like Geoff Tate, don't get me wrong I like Tate's vocals but come on now, John wanted to sound just like him....listen to "Chosen To Stay" that to me is Geoff Tate all the way, specially in the intro acoustic part. Although I must admit John did a fantastic job with the vocals on "Unstoppable Force'"

 

I recently came across some interview where you said Cyriss tried to imitate Geoff Tate's voice and wanted to do some ballads ala Queensryche, did he really get freaked out by the Queensryche stuff or why did he want to go to the Queensryche direction ?!? ?!?

J : I'm telling you it's true!!! we were recording the "Unstoppable Force" record and on an off day I went into Peaches record store in Tampa and bought the new Metallica "Master Of Puppets" which I thought was the best thing I ever heard at the time, and Cyriis picked up the "Rage for Order" Queensryche record and got totally influenced by Geoff Tate to the point were he wanted to start all over on the vocal tracks, and at this time we were half way done with the vocals. Combat records freaked out and sent a representative down to Morrisound to keep an eye on John because he was starting to powerplay all kinds of scenarios arised!!! I had to convince Cyriis to keep an aggressive approach vocally somewhat.

 

Agent Steel did a tour with Overkill and Anthrax in 86 crossing several European countries…Hmm.. Once again I can't help mentioning that a few years ago Scott Ian and Charlie Benante of Anthrax were interviewed by the German music channel Viva 2 and the guys started recalling their craziest tour ever done and mentioned that one done with you and they said they got along with the Overkill guys damn well, but Agent Steel..As Scott said "We were so amazed the AS guys used to fight every night and especially the singer, Cyriss, was a real strange person as kept writing a year 2011 on the wall everywhere and when we asked what that means he said they will come to get him back to the home land in the year of 2011"… Did he really believe in this "the truth is out there" philosophy ?!?

J : Scott and Charlie from Anthrax are correct!! Cyriis did sign his name "2011" trying to make reference to the Mayan calendar which runs out on the year 2012... So his message was basically 2011 was the last year the Human Race would survive because in 2012 it would all come to an end... He really believed this!! I think it's cool if he believed it, everyone is entitled to an opinion. We did fight on tour amongst ourselves because Cyriis was very difficult to deal with... He had a negative energy to him... He complained about everything!! Personally I was sick of his attitude... Why do you think Agent Steel broke up?

B : He truly believed that the aliens were taking him "home" in the year 2011. I hope he's right.

 

In general how was that tour anyway apart from some major fights between other guys in the band ?!?

J : The tour was great all three bands kicked ass!!! Overkill-Anthrax & Agent Steel.

B : For me, it was a dream come true. I was only 19, and playing to rabid metalheads every night in Europe was more than I could ever ask for. Plus, opening for heavyweights like Anthrax was also a privilege.

 

Before starting doing the Mad Locus Rising ep Kurt Colfelt had been kicked out of the band and he went to found Holy Terror with the former and original Dark Angel drummer. So Bernie, how did you manage to end up to replace John then ?!?

B : After being in a garage band for a couple years, I decided to look for a pro metal band. In a local paper, I saw the ad. I then auditioned a week later, where Cyriis gave me a tape of the then unreleased Skeptics Apocalypse. He said they've tried out 17 guitar players, but I'm the only one to receive the tape. So I went home, learned all the songs, and after my second audition, they asked me to join.

 

The fastest and the most furious AS output gotta be Mad Locus Rising ep indeed featuring the Judas Priest cover "Ripper", I for one was more amazed by the fast aggressive speed metal, but as far as I know you weren't basically happy with the final result of the ep even though the ep definitely kicks ass ?!?

J : True. At the time we were really influenced by the speed and fury of Slayer songs, and we did a few shows with Slayer around that time, so you can say they had an influence on the songwriting, at least my songwriting for sure!! We wanted a fast song like Slayer but with different vocals than them, and I think we accomplished that with "Mad Locust Rising". The production could of been better, much much better though, but we ran out on our budget.

B : You're right in the fact that it does kick ass, but we were just dissatisfied with the production. For the time, it was ok, but listening back, we could have been much tighter, and the guitar tones could have been better.

 

All right Juan, you used to play in Abattoir before AS, if I remember right now Abattoir did three albums in a row and but basically the whole band was plagued by several line up changes and the band split up and surprisingly they are back now…Hmm…Will you take a part in the reunion in a way or another or what's up in Abattoir ?!?

J : I played on the first Abattoir album "Vicious Attack" and it is true that band has reformed and we just did a show with them here in Los Angeles; Agent Steel + Abattoir + Steel Prophet + Sadistic Intent and other bands like Dreams of Damnation featuring Jim Durkin of Dark Angel.... it was a great show. As far as me being involved with them who knows never say never.

 

And then you, Bernie, have worked with the Fates Warning vocalist on their side project Engine, how is that project at the moment ?!?

B : Ray Alder and I are still in the midst of writing the second Engine album. He's currently on tour with Fates Warning right now, but as soon as he gets back, we will continue to write the rest of the album. The first song on the first album, "Monster", is featured in a vampire movie called the Forsaken, out in the theaters now. So we're pretty excited about that.

 

All right I for one thank you for this interview for Metal Rules.com so if you have something to say, go ahead now……….

J : Check out "Omega Conspiracy" I feel it's a great comeback record for all true metal fans, and keep an eye out for our new record regardless if its called Agent Steel or another name like "Order of the Illuminati" and visit our website www.agentsteelonline.com - Stay metal!!!!

B : We just want to thank all of our fans all over the world for staying metal and supporting Agent Steel. Thank you, too, Arto. Keep cool.

All rights reserved and contents ©2004 Metal-Rules.com
Keeping the Metal Faith Since 1995!