Interview and pics by Arto Lehtinen
Transcription by Duke
TROUBLE has been, and still is, one of the most important and influential doom metal bands. They have had a huge impact on various metal styles from extreme death metal to above all majestical doom metal. The legendary five piece doomsters from Chicago made a visit to the prestigious SwedenRock festival where I managed to catch the band’s guitarist Rick Wartell to have a conversation about the new seventh output SIMPLE MIND CONDITION and of course the past, the present and the future.
RETURN TO SWEDEN… AGAIN !!!!
This is the second time that you play here at Sweden Rock?
Yeah, it was called Karlshamn last time we played.
95. That´s a long time, 12 years.
So it basically wasn´t the same Sweden Rock that we have now?
It´s different, but that one was pretty good too. This seems more to me like a hard rock festival than that, that was a combination of softer stuff and harder stuff, a different combination of bands. They were both good.
I remember that Black Sabbath was one of the headliners when Tony Martin was in the band at the time.
We got an interview with Eric Wagner in Stockholm and he told us you got ripped off.
That´s… very possible.
Very possible? But you don´t remember? Or you don´t wanna comment?
I don´t recall. Actually, that´s all been taken care off, everything´s fine.
So you were ready to come and play at Sweden Rock again when you got the offer?
Well, when we got the offer to play here our manager negotiated with them and made a deal that everyone was happy with. So it was all behind us at that point.
This is the third time that you´ve visited Sweden? You were in Stockholm…
Stockholm in 2003, Karlshamn and this show, yeah.
For the 2003 show a lot of people travelled all the way from Finland and other European countries, even Germany, to check out Candlemass, Trouble and Force of Evil. were you surprised that so many people arrived to check out Trouble?
I think it was because we just got back together. I don´t think fans realized that we were gonna stick together. We didn´t either to tell you the truth. That might have been the only Trouble show that we did at the time. Then when things were going so well and we were getting along as a band and with the record company, we decided to continue. But there were no promises that we would stay together at that point so I think fans were like “Well, if I wanna see these guys I´d better go now”. That was basically it.
When I found out that Trouble would play in Sweden with Candlemass and Force of Evil, the same week there was a Sweden Rock kick-off party. So there were a lot of phone calls and e-mails, then we posted at a Finnish metal forum that Trouble would be in Sweden and whoosh, a lot of Finns were there.
Cool! That worked out good for us.
As for the dvd, I´ve seen some clips on YouTube, unfortunately I haven´t picked it up yet.
That´s about the only place I´ve seen it too. I haven´t seen it yet.
You haven´t seen it at all?
I was just about to ask what you think about the dvd.
I don´t know. When I see it, I´ll tell you. They sent some to the office in New York and we haven´t seen them since so I´m waiting. I´ll probably see it when I get home.
THE SEVENTH OPUS OF TROUBLE
Let´s talk about the new album, SIMPLE MIND CONDITION. It took some time to get it out, I got the impression when we interviewed Eric in Stockholm that you were about to release the album at that time.
We were ready to record it at the time for sure. The record has been recorded for over a year now. There were just so many loose ends that needed to be tied up with the business of Trouble because we were still under contract with Century Media. There were a lot of legal matters involved with getting Trouble back together as a corporation. It looks money, time, lawyers and a pain in the ass to get this thing back together. Now all of that is behind us but unfortunately we sat there waiting just as long as the fans did for this thing to get released. We couldn´t release anything until all the finances were in place, the producer was paid, the mastering was done and a lot of things had to be taken care of. We were frustrated just as the fans were, we sat there waiting at home wondering when this thing was gonna get done. And finally it all came together, everything.
How did you manage to get out of the deal with Century Media?
To be honest I think it had most to do with the lawyers and the Escapi record company dealing and dealing and dealing. That´s basically it, it took a lot of negotiations and a lot of time.
Was Leif Edling of Candlemass the driving force to get you back together and make an album?
He was the driving force to make us come to Stockholm and do the dvd. We weren´t going to do it, I was just saying “No no no” and he kept calling and bugging me and e-mailing and he wouldn´t take no for an answer. Finally I went “Oh, why not do the one show?” So he was very influential in getting Trouble back together actually.
Thanks to him!
Thanks to him or it´s his fault. (laughs) Blame him!
SIMPLE MIND CONDITION is your seventh album. I read that the working title was SEVEN.
How did you end up with the title SIMPLE MIND CONDITION?
We were working on an acoustic album at the same time and then working on the new album, SIMPLE MIND. At first the title was gonna be SEVEN but I was talking to Eric about it and it just didn´t seem to cut it. To come back with the first album in ten years and just call it SEVEN, it didn´t say enough. So we went back and read the lyrics, every single lyric, from the album PLASTIC GREEN HEAD. We read the lyrics to the song “Opium eater” and when we read the line “Simple mind condition” we both stopped and went “That´s it! That´s the name of the record! It´s just perfect for the new album!” That´s what we decided at the time, it just deserved a better title than SEVEN.
How do you write the lyrics, where do you find inspiration, like smoking a joint and get the lyrics?
Eric writes all the lyrics. He uses experiences from his own life basically. What he´s writing about is basically things that he´s been through and uses them in a subtle way where you have to read between the lines to understand what he´s saying. I don´t think he uses drugs to inspire the writing, he just uses experiences that he´s been through in his life. Pain, suffering, good versus evil, the same things that anyone goes through.
Do you think the song writing process was more agonizing than on some of the other albums?
This was even easier. This was the easiest album we ever did. In less than a month we had the album written and done. I think it was because we didn´t put any pressure on ourselves, just went “Let´s put a record together”. And we did. We didn´t fight over it or try to change it or try to make it this or that, just “Here it is, let´s leave it alone!”
Did you feel the expectations from people because you have so many classic albums and classic songs from the past?
You know, I don´t know if that even came into consideration. It was more like “Let´s write a record of riffs that we like”. That´s what we always did in the first place. If we start overanalysing it, then it could be a mess. We just went back to the roots and became more simple again. We didn´t want to overproduce it or overdub it to death, we put some heavy guitars down with some good riffs and some vocals.
Sometimes I feel like I have to concentrate to listen to the other Trouble stuff, that it´s not very simple stuff at all.
Yeah, sometimes I feel the same way. Sometimes the Trouble stuff, if you listen to it as a musician, it could be a little bit complicated. When I kick back and listen to it as a fan I don´t understand the complications of it, but if you write down or play the riffs there´s a lot more going on. There´s harmonies where both guitars play different things that work together but are completly different. It´s just the way we write, it´s just Trouble!
I always have to concentrate, it´s not like you can listen to it and do something else.
Right. Exactly. It´s not such a bad thing. It´s heavy, makes you think a little.
The producer, Vinny Wojno, was he an obvious choice again?
Well, that was Eric´s choice. Personally I didn´t want him on the album if you wanna know the truth. I won´t use him again, he was more trouble than he was worth on this record. He cause us delays, he ended up doing a good job but I think that it could have been better. Another producer could have done a better job.
What about Rick Rubin?
I think he would have been way better. Obviously. But Rick Rubin and Trouble have parted ways so unless we pay him a couple of million dollars I don´t think he will produce our records.
He´s more busy with Metallica, Slayer and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Vinny Wojno has worked with some more extreme bands like Machine Head and Kreator so Trouble is a little bit different.
Yeah, like I said, the reason we used him was to pacify Eric more than anything. Eric wanted to use him for the vocals and it´s kinda hard to use two different producers so we thought we´d just let him do the whole record at that point. So we got what we got.
It´s a good album actually.
I don´t mind it. I think the guitars sound great and the drums sound great, I just think the lead tones are a bit lacking. They could be a little thicker, but it´s too late now.
Have you been reading the reviews? I feel that it got very mixed feedback from the reviewers and the fans.
I haven´t heard anything yet to tell the truth. The things that I have heard have been good, but I haven´t really read any reviews yet. It was too soon and we´ve been on the road for the last few months. Maybe when I get home I will see more reviews pop up but I really haven´t seen anything about it yet. I´ve been hearing good things from the record company, so…
CREEPY, PSYCHEDELIC COVERS
Let´s get back to the new album. The front cover is creepy.
That was my thought too, creepy.
Is it a real body?
It´s a real body.
Eric´s. He´s a sick dude, man! (laughs) He found it in a library, this picture, and it was just freaking him out so he copied it and started working with Chuck on putting it on the album. At first I didn´t like it but it kinda grew on me. It´s so real, it just said something. It´s more important than just a drawing.
What are the things on the eyes?
They´re coins. That´s what they did with bodies in the old days, put coins on their eyes so the spirit wouldn´t go through the holes of the eyes. There´s a lot of secrets about that album cover, lots of holes and lots of circles. That has a lot to do with spirits and what´s going on with the world.
Does that cover describe the sound of Trouble?
It describes the lyrics of Trouble, yeah, definitely. If you look at the cover there are so many things there that you find in the lyrics. But you gotta put it together yourself, we can´t tell you. It´s a secret!
You had very different covers for the first albums, landscapes and paintings. Then you had band pictures and then strange and psychedelic, PLASTIC GREEN HEAD was… let´s say different. Do they signify the Trouble music and lyrics?
Yeah, I think we try to hook the cover up with the music as much as we can. In the early days we didn´t have as much of a choice because we were a new band. The first album covers were done by an artist friend of ours and I thought they were awesome. I live them, THE SKULL´s album cover is still one of the best album covers I´ve seen. But we evolve so as we go along we try to find new ways of expressing the music on an album cover instead of doing the same thing each time. Some bands get stuck where it´s dragons and devils and the same old thing, but that´s a cliché. We try to be different and more creative about it. So we try to keep searching for new things all the time.
FROM ONE LABEL TO ANOTHER ONE
You were with Metal Blade in the early stages of your career, was that your first choice?
I think we were really young and Metal Blade sent us a contract offer from out of nowhere. We were just young kids and didn´t know what we were doing and just thought “Yeah, why not do a record with these guys?” Obviously if I had a choice I would rather be on a major label. But at that time we had to learn all the steps to get to the big label. Metal Blade put us on the map and then it was up to us to take it to the next level.
Then you signed a deal with Def Jam.
Def American, yeah.
And you released TROUBLE and MANIC FRUSTRATION.
How did you end up with the deal with Rick Rubin?
Eric ran into Rick Rubin in New York during a conference. He just asked Rubin “Hey, you wanna do this album?” and Rick said “Sure, let´s go!” So we just left Metal Blade and went to Rick Rubin. Who wouldn´t? The guy had a bigger label and is a better producer.
There are new editions of your albums with some new footage, can you tell me about that?
Well, we had some extra footage lying around in our truck basically. What we decided to do was to find concerts and tapes and footage from each album´s era and put a little bonus something on each cd. I thought we did a good job matching it up. We still have a lot of extra footage that we may re-release in the future to try to keep it changing and more interesting for people. But we thought it would be nice to introduce a little something from the past with the re-releases.
You re-released the first two albums and PLASTIC GREEN HEAD. What about RUN TO THE LIGHT?
Metal Blade won´t give it up. For the first two the contract ran out so we took it back from them. Now I think they´re a little bit mad at us so they won´t give us RUN TO THE LIGHT. Nothing we can do about it.
There´s some cable tv show from 1982 or something like that on PSALM…
Yeah, it´s so funny that we put it there and hoped the fans would like to laugh with us.
I saw it on YouTube, the whole show is there.
Yeah, it´s hilarious! It´s so funny, we´re lipsynching without even really playing.
FORMER MEMBERS OF TROUBLE
The former members, like Barry Stern who passed away, did you manage to talk to him when he left the band before he passed away?
Yeah, I did actually. I´m very happy that I did, because Barry and I had an evening together where we talked about the band and life and just how much we meant to one another. Him and I were friends when he died and it´s very sad that he´s gone. But I´m really happy that I had a chance to speak with him and make amends for anything that may have gone wrong between us in the past. I have a clean concience and I know Barry is up there looking out for us.
I can´t help asking why he left, was it because Jeff Olson came back?
Because him and Eric didn´t get along, basically. Who are you gonna kick out, the singer or the drummer when things are going like that? We really didn´t have a choice.
What about Ron Holzner?
Ron Holzner just quit. He just quit. I have no idea why, to this day I have no idea why he did it and I never spoke to him about it. He left and we said “OK, if you´re leaving, see you later!” And we got a new bass player.
Then you had a player called Dennis Lesh?
Dennis Lesh, he was the drummer on RUN TO THE LIGHT. He came in after Olie left the first time. He did the one album with us and he just wasn´t our style of drummer. So when we met Barry about that time we asked Barry if he could do it. Barry was more of a hard slamming metal drummer so we took him instead.
The late 90s were a quiet period for Trouble, you basically broke up?
We would play a show now and then with a different singer, Kyle Thomas. But all in all we weren´t together as a band until Leif insisted that we get back together. We probably still wouldn´t be back together pursue it as hard as he did. Most of us had no desire to do it again. But once we started doing it and realized how much we missed it, we continued on.
Was it easy to get Kyle Thomas to sing in Trouble?
Oh yeah, Kyle is a great friend. Whenever we had a gig we called him up and he flew in from New Orleans. He was awesome, never a problem at all. I feel kinda bad, almost like we used him but we never did, it was all just for fun than any other thing. I hope people don´t look at it the wrong way.
Now he´s in Alabama Thunderpussy.
Yeah, he´s doing really well and I´m happy for him. He´s a great singer and a great guy.
I guess his other band Floodgate has broken up?
Yeah and it´s a shame. They were really good, I loved that band! One of my favourites.
Exhorder was another great band.
You know, I wasn´t really familiar with Exhorder. But he did give me a cd from Floodgate and I listen to it all the time.
You´ve had a bit of an inflamed situation with members of Trouble in the past.
In the past, yeah.
Did you sort all of those out when you got back together?
I think that when we got back together we just laid down the law and said “Look, if we´re gonna do this, it´s gotta be as a family and as a business. Everyone´s gotta respect one another and everyone´s gotta do their job.” I think everyone understood that if everyone wouldn´t do their job, we wouldn´t do this. We´re all more humble now. We´re older now and understand that it takes five guys to make it happen. It´s not one guy or two guys, it´s a band effort. I think everyone appreciate what we have now and the problems are gone. So it´s much easier.
SIDE BANDS AND OTHER METAL RELATED ISSUES
I can´t help asking about your side projects. Jeff has this Retro Grave, did you or any of the other guys do this thing with King´s X members?
That was Bruce with Supershine.
How did you form your other band?
I formed my other band with this guitar tech I met on the road with Trouble, Shane Pasqualla. On the last tour that Trouble did in -95 he was my tech and he used to sing during the soundchecks. I loved his voice so much that when the tour was over I asked him if he wated to do a side project and we formed Wet Animal. We´ve been writing together ever since. We´re like brothers, you know, no matter how much I work with Trouble I always work with Wet Animal too.
And Eric had this band called Lid. What do you think of their more psychedelic stuff?
It´s Eric and Eric´s into that thing. It was really a very good thing for everyone to do their side projects. It took a lot of tension out of the band because with Trouble everyone wants to use their material all the time. This way we get outlets for new material even if it doesn´t sound that much like Trouble. Then it can be done with this other band and the juices are flowing for Trouble more. I think it works out good for us, it´s a release like a fighter who hits a punching bag and gets out the frustration. That´s kinda what these side projects do for us.
I was just going to ask you about that, if it´s a good thing.
It is, and it keeps us busy too. When Trouble is lying dormant it´s hard to sit there and do nothing. This way, you have another project to keep you busy.
You´re from Chicago and started in the late 70s, 79 or something, and played with other bands in the Chicago area. Did you ever play with extreme bands like Abomination and Master?
No. Never. (laughs)
Are you familiar with them?
No. Let me try to remember from back then. There was a band next door that we liked, errr… Witchslayer? Yeah. We actually got our bassa player back then, Sean McAllister, from that band. Another band was called Thrust. That´s about it, man! I can remember the other ones, those were the two bands I liked back then.
I used to pick up a lot of Chicago extreme death metal stuff like Master.
Master I´m not familiar with.
You don´t follow that type of music?
Not really. We´re in our own little world here, we do Trouble stuff and don´t worry about what anyone else does.
Many times it is said that Trouble was one of the biggest influences for doom metal.
Yeah, I´ve been hearing a lot of that lately.
Like Solitude Aeturnus, you know, the band from Texas, and Candlemass. Even some brutal death metal bands like Autopsy mention you. Are you kind of flattered by been seen as a doom metal legend?
Yeah, you know, I´m honoured. I don´t know if we deserve this honour but it is very flattering that people use us as an inflence the same way that we do with Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. You don´t realize what kind of impact you have on other people until years later. It´s humbling. It´s a big honour and I hope that we can live up to it.
Do you check out new bands or have any interest in that?
You know, unfortunately I just stay home a lot so really I don´t. I listen to the same stuff that I was listening to 20 years ago.
The 70s stuff?
Yeah, like Montrose, Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath, I still listen to the same stuff. I even reorder the same cds over and over again, its drives my wife crazy but there´s some kinda stop there.
Well, Montrose and Black Sabbath – or Heaven and Hell now – have played here at Sweden Rock.
I know, it´s a great festival.
Trouble in Stockholm 2003
CLUBS VS. FESTIVALS
In my opinion a band like Trouble should do more outdoors festival in Europe.
Well, this year the timing wasn´t quite right because the album is just now coming out and the festival were booked nine or ten months ago. Our manager said that he will try to get us on the big festivals next year because we will probably continue to work off the new album next year. Also we´ll probably try to record the unplugged record so we have a new product out. It´s all a matter of timing when you do stuff like this and we weren´t sure what was going to happen with it. We didn´t know if anyone was gonna show up to any of our shows, but they did so we´ll continue on. If noone had showed up we probably wouldda said “Ah, forget it!” and gone back home.
Frankly, being the first band on the main stage today was a little bit…
Hey, what are you gonna do? (laughs) We haven´t been out for ten years so you gotta start over again a little bit, that´s all. It´s not a bad thing, we´re just starting the fire again and we´ll keep throwing more wood on it. That´s all we can do. We´re gonna go play the clubs for the rest of the winter and by next summer we´ll see what happens.
Do you prefer playing clubs to festivals?
The clubs are definitely more personal with the fans, you really get to know the fans better. But at a festival you´re obviously playing to a hundred times more fans. They both have their good points and their bad points. If I had to choose one I´d rather play in front of 10 000 people to tell you the truth, but there are those nights where you´re playing to 300 people and it´s the coolest thing in the world. It´s a hard one.
When PLASTIC GREEN HEAD came out you did some shows like Dynamo -95 in the rain. It was a horrible experience I guess?
It kinda fits us. This beautiful sunny day then Trouble walks on stage and it rains like crazy. Trouble walks off stage and the sun comes back up. I guess that´s why they call us a doom band. (laughs)
I remember reading in Metal Hammer and Kerrang that when Paradise Lost were playing it was like “Oh no, rain again!”
See? Trouble brought rain!
RARE OLD DEMOS AND EP
I used to do tape trading. For some reason I never came across demo tapes of Trouble. Have you ever thought about putting them out?
Yeah. We may. Just not yet, maybe later.
But you have the old cassette demos?
We have tons of them, a whole bunch of stuff that noone´s ever heard.
When you played in 2003 Eric sold a five song promo cd that I have in my collection since I immediately bought it.
Right. Was that ONE FOR THE ROAD?
That was a demo we did and we were selling it a little bit here and there. We have like 50 copies left and we´re not gonna sell them, just hold on to them. Maybe we´ll have a contest and give them away one day. That was a little something for the fans to let them hear what a Trouble demo sounded like before we went in and recorded our albums. That was the main purpose for it, but then it became a big thing and people wanted it so bad. We said that we wouldn´t mass produce it or it wouldn´t be special any more. So we´re gonna hang on to it.
FUTURE AND CYBERTROUBLE
When will you be planning a new album? I´m sure you have leftover material from the recording of SIMPLE MIND CONDITION.
We have no plans of doing another Trouble album.
Is it a one-off deal with Escapi?
It´s just a licensing deal, we´re free to do whatever we want. So as of right now, there are no plans to do another Trouble record, this is it.What we decide later, we decide later, but right now there are no plans.
And no plans?
No plans whatsoever.
I hope we won´t have to wait another ten years.
I don´t know. Can´t answer that, there´s no decision made yet. I´m sorry, that´s all I can say!
This is the last part of the tour.
When are you going back home?
Any plans to come to Finland A lot of people are wondering because there´s another festival during this same weekend…
As I said, this is just a trial tour. We just wanted to see if people still like us and wanna come.Now that we know that people still wanna see us, we´re gonna go back home and get together a bigger tour. Real big hopefully.
How important is the Internet for you? Do you check out what people say about Trouble and gig reviews and so on?
I think it has become very important. It helps people understand where we´re playing and when we´re playing. In the past we always had a problem with promotion and people not knowing that we were playing shows. Now with these new Myspace things and whatever people can go and find out whenever they want. A lot of people on the US tour especially would show up and say “I read it on Myspace”. So I think it´s very important nowadays.
So you think Myspace is an important tool for you?
Yeah, definitely I do. I wouldn´t believe it if I didn´t see it with my own eyes, but yeah.
As for the Trouble website, I found it very uninformative.
Yeah, it´s really boring.
Any plans to make a new one?
Yeah, by the time this hits the newspaper it´s gonna be a whole new website. When I get home next week it´s gonna be all brand new.
You do it by yourself?
No, but it´s ready to go and the guys are wait for me to give permission to hit the button. So when I go home I´m gonna give them permission and there will be a whole new website for everybody.
All right I think my time is up and thanks for this interview.
The interesting TROUBLE material